§ 2.37 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden)
The debate which took place at the beginning of August revealed, I think it will be agreed, a remarkable measure of unanimity of opinion in this House and in the country. There was, I think, general agreement that the measures which the Government had taken in dealing with the crisis up till then had been wise and had been timely. There was also general agreement that Colonel Nasser's arbitrary action in seizing operational control of the Canal could not be allowed to prevail.
There was wide acceptance of the proposition that to prevent any interference with the free use of the Canal, and to maintain the efficiency of its operation, the Canal should be placed under an international system designed to secure the rights of all users. There was also acceptance of the view that the precautionary military measures taken by the Government had been justified. [HON. MEMBERS : "No."] I am talking about our August meeting. The Leader of the Opposition himself said that any Government would have had to take them. Other speakers, including the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman 3 the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), agreed that circumstances might arise which would necessitate the use of force.
Nothing which the Government have done since that debate took place has in any way changed the policy which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I described in our speeches on that occasion. On the contrary, the Government have done and are doing everything in their power to obtain a peaceful settlement which takes account of Egypt's legitimate interests and which adequately safeguards, as it must, the interests of the many nations vitally concerned in the Canal.
The operation, the maintenance and the freedom of navigation through the Canal touch the lives and the prosperity of everyone in these islands. That is true not only here but in Western Europe as a whole, and in many eastern lands. Our economy is increasingly dependent upon oil, much of which has now to be brought through the Canal. In this country alone our oil consumption has doubled since 1949. It has increased by 8 per cent. in the last six months. More than half of Western Europe's oil passes through the Canal. That concerns not only the consumer countries ; it is vital to producers as well. I give just one example. A large part, for instance, of Persian oil production, which is now steadily rising, and upon which Persia's prosperity largely depends, is shipped through the Canal ; and for other eastern lands the Canal matters almost as much, for purposes of ordinary trade.
In the weeks while we have been away many alternatives have been canvassed, with zeal and, sometimes, excessive optimism. The fact is that none is immediately practicable. The alternative route round the Cape would be very expensive and there are not the tankers to maintain the supplies we need. It is true that larger tankers are being built, but it would take several years before they could be ready in sufficient numbers, and the capital cost would be enormous. Meanwhile, the longer sea haul would increase the freight charges and would add to the cost of production and the cost of living in this country.
It is, therefore, beyond dispute that any prolonged interference with the traffic 4 through the Canal must be a grievous blow to the economy of Western Europe. In this country, at least, there would be serious industrial dislocation and un-employment. It has been said that what matters is the right of free passage through the Canal, which is granted by the 1888 Convention.—
§ The Prime Minister
—and that so long as Colonel Nasser is prepared to uphold that Convention all will be well. I have two comments to make about this. First, the 1888 Convention is not in itself sufficient to safeguard the rights of the user countries. The 1888 Convention, and the various concessions granted to the Company, are, in fact, closely interlocked. Not only is the Suez Canal Company mentioned in more than one Article of the 1888 Convention, but the Preamble to that Convention states that the purpose of the Convention is to complete the system under which the navigation of the Canal was placed by the concession granted to the Canal Company.
In other words, the operation of the Canal by the Suez Canal Company was part of a comprehensive system, designed by the Agreement of 1888 to ensure the free use of the Canal for all the Powers concerned, and by purporting to nation alise the Company Colonel Nasser has destroyed the balance of this system—
§ The Prime Minister
—and removed one of its essential guarantees. In all the circumstances it is perhaps not surprising that the White Book published by the Egyptian Government on 12th August last—I have a copy here—in quoting the 1888 Convention, omits the Preamble.
But there is more to it than this. As the House knows, the rights of the user countries are not derived from the 1888 Convention alone. They have also become established by long and uninterrupted use of the Canal. They are not limited to the right of free passage defined in the 1888 Convention. The users are also entitled to insist upon the efficient operation, administration and maintenance of the Canal, in the interests of all countries, without any discrimination. They have also the right to expect that the level of 5 dues shall be reasonable, and it follows from this that the Canal and its revenues cannot lawfully be exploited by one country for its own purposes.
It may be argued that the Canal Company is an Egyptian company and that in nationalising it Colonel Nasser is only exercising his sovereign rights ; that he is only doing what we have done here. That is not so, of course. The Canal Company has always had an international character, and with the passage of time this character has become increasingly apparent. For many years the British, French and Egyptian Governments have had the right to appoint directors to the Board, and it now includes also directors from the United States, the Netherlands and Norway.
By the terms of the original statutes of the Company it conducts its affairs according to the principles of French company law. Again, under the statutes, the administrative headquarters are in Paris. So I say that, quite apart from the international character of its functions, it could hardly be argued that such a Company was a purely Egyptian enterprise. What Colonel Nasser has, in fact, done is to take away the international character from the Canal Company. There is really no analogy whatever with the industries which have been nationalised here and which were and are entirely our domestic concern. Nationalisation—if I may dare to define it—in the accepted sense of the term, means the transfer of an enterprise from private control to public control. It does not mean the transfer of an enterprise from international control to national control.
"Nationalisation" is, indeed, a wholly inappropriate word to apply to Colonel Nasser's action. I suggest that the word "seizure" would be more accurate, but if that should offend anybody—and I do not want to offend anybody—we shall have to coin a new and hideous word, the accuracy of which cannot, I think, be challenged. What Colonel Nasser has done is to "de-internationalise" the Canal.
I submit to the House that it is quite certain that no nation has the right, unilaterally and in defiance of existing agreements, to remove its international character from the most important waterway in the world. To do so is entirely 6 an illegal act. It is the breach of a contract—it is implicit in the Preamble to the Convention of 1888 that so long as the Canal Company's concessions exist the operation of the Canal should not be entrusted to any single Power, but that it should be operated by the Canal Company for the benefit of all nations.
As Mr. Unden, the Foreign Minister of Sweden, has rightly pointed out in a recent speech, Colonel Nasser could have sought a revision of the terms of the Canal Company's concession by negotiations with the other interested Governments, if he had wished to. The sudden dissolution of the Company twelve years before the Concession runs out must clearly be regarded as a breach of Egypt's international undertakings. If the House wants further evidence of that, it has only to read the full text of Colonel Nasser's speech at the time, reported in The Times today.
In those circumstances, including the way in which the Company was seized and its valuable assets confiscated, it is hardly surprising that Her Majesty's Government and the other nations principally concerned found themselves unable to accept the assurances which Colonel Nasser has so far been willing to give. They decline to leave the operation of this Canal, on which the livelihood of so many nations depends, in his hands alone.
The last time I spoke in this House about the Suez Canal we were in consultation with the French and the United States Governments, and I was, therefore, unable to give any details of the ideas we had in mind. A very few hours afterwards we were able to announce agreement to call a Conference of the principal maritime Powers. In view of the completely unjustified charges that have been made against us, I must repeat what was said by the Foreign Secretary weeks ago ; that it was from the first our intention that there should be such a Conference. It is ludicrous to pretend that we were dragged into it ; we promoted it. It took place here in London, and the Powers invited were selected by agreement between ourselves, the United States Government and the French Government, after discussions, according to three categories. There were, first, eight parties to the Convention of 1888, including Egypt. There were, next, the 7 eight maritime Powers most concerned in the use of the Canal through ownership of tonnage ; and there were, thirdly, the eight nations most concerned by reason of the pattern of their trade. We thought that this was a fair arrangement.
There were many—and I do not blame them at all—who had little hope that the Conference could achieve results. There was always the possibility that, having agreed to come, some of the Powers would engage in wrangles over procedure—such things have been known to happen before—and we had no code of rules at all. And, of course, the greatest difficulty of all was to secure agreement to a common view. However, in the event all these fears were falsified and the Conference, in fact, showed a remarkable consensus of opinion. No fewer than 18 nations, with the one reservation by Spain, supported the plan put forward by Mr. Dulles.
That this result was achieved was due, I must say, in large measure to the skilful and patient steering by the chairman, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. I have heard that on all sides from the foreign Powers who were present. It was also due to Mr. Dulles' effective and vigorous advocacy of the plan, and it was a notable feat to reach so much agreement on so com plicated an issue in so short a time. I regret to say that the only Government which appeared consistently to be opposed to any form of internationalisation of the Canal was the Soviet Government. The Soviet representative perpetually repeated attacks on the alleged colonialism—
§ The Prime Minister
—of the maritime Powers. He constantly ignored the fact that, alone among the 18 nations, Soviet Russia had in the years since the war enormously extended its territorial boundaries and increased the number of its subject peoples.
§ The Prime Minister
As to what we sought to do in these proposals, they recall, of course, the words of the Preamble of the Convention of 1888. This provides for the establishment of a definite system guaranteeing at all times for all Powers the free use of the Suez Canal. In the view of the 18 Powers—that was 8 what was agreed on—such a system should be established with due regard to the sovereign rights of Egypt and should assure the efficient operation, maintenance and development of the Canal ; the insulation of the operation of the Canal from politics, a fair return to Egypt and Canal tolls as low as is consistent with their payment.
To achieve these results the 18 Powers maintained that there should be established by a Convention with Egypt institutional arrangements for co-operation between Egypt and the other interested Powers ; that the operation, maintenance and development of the Canal and its enlargement in the interests of world trade would be the responsibility of a Suez Canal Board chosen from among the States parties to the Convention. That, I think, is a fair summary of the proposals of the 18 Powers and I do not believe that many, indeed any, hon. Members of this House will dissent from them or think that they are in any way unfair to Egypt. On the contrary, hon. Members may well consider that they represent the minimum requirement in the light of what has happened and of the interests which all the user nations have at stake.
The 18 Powers having agreed within a week on these proposals, the next question was how to present them. To this we gave much thought. The proposals could have been, and our first thought was that they might be, handed over through the diplomatic channel by the chairman of the Conference. That would have been quite usual. But we thought that this would not be the best method, since we were the principal users of the Canal and, in that sense, the party most concerned in the business.
A few days before the Conference I had invited the Prime Minister of Australia, who was then in Washington, to return to this country and to join in our counsels. I was delighted that he was able to do this. A further fortunate outcome of his visit was that the 18 Powers were able to invite an able and experienced chairman to lead the carefully selected team to present these proposals. There were representatives from Australia, Ethiopia, Persia, Sweden and the United States—one drawn from each Continent, the four corners of the earth.
Mr. Menzies and his colleagues went to Cairo. They explained the proposals 9 of the 18 Powers with great care and patience. They did all they possibly could to persuade Colonel Nasser that the agreement which they sought was reasonable, fair and, indeed, profitable to Egypt. They made it abundantly clear that such an agreement would fully recognise Egypt's sovereignty, and they explained that it would provide the basis of confidence for the maintenance and future development of the Canal.
But unfortunately, despite the fair and eloquent pleading of Mr. Menzies, supported by his colleagues with unanimity—I ask the House not to fail to note that, including a country like Sweden which, I suppose, even hon. Members opposite would not regard as bellicose compared with the present Prime Minister of this country—unfortunately, despite the fair and eloquent pleading of Mr. Menzies, supported by his colleagues, no progress was made in Cairo.
Colonel Nasser rejected the proposals without weighing their merits or listening to reason. That was certainly no fault of those who travelled so far to see the President of Egypt ; the committee of five worked with unity and wisdom. Mr. Menzies led it with a distinction which was recognised not only by his colleagues on the committee, but by all the nations represented.
Colonel Nasser was surely ill-advised not to heed so powerful a combination of nations, representing more than 90 per cent. of the traffic which passes through the Canal. I cannot help feeling that when the history of these times comes to be written President Nasser's refusal of the plan brought to him by the committee of five will be quoted as a classic example of how a man threw away a great chance of permanently benefiting his people.
Not everyone yet realises the advantage the 18-nation plan offered to Egypt. The traffic, of course, particularly in oil tankers, is steadily increasing. It is, indeed, expected to double in normal conditions within the next ten years. The Canal needs constant maintenance. It is going to require major capital expenditure. The latest estimate is that £100 million or more will have to be spent there if it is to continue to handle the expanding traffic—
§ The Prime Minister
It might be yet.
The Menzies mission's offer to Egypt was that this great financial responsibility should be taken over by an international authority while Egypt should be internationally recognised as the landlord and should draw an income based on the traffic passing through the Canal. This plan has now been rejected out of hand ; the more the pity.
I think that the House will agree that the 22-Power Conference in London and the mission of Mr. Menzies' committee represented a very considerable effort to reach a solution by agreement. That offer has failed. In consequence, we have carefully considered, in consultation with our French and American allies, what our next step should be. We have decided, in agreement with them, that an organisation shall be set up without delay to enable the users of the Canal to exercise their rights.
This users' association will be provisional in character and we hope that it will help to prepare the way for a permanent system which can be established with the full agreement of all interested parties. Although discussions are still proceeding between the three Governments—the United States, France and ourselves—about the details of this plan, I can now give the House the broad outline, by accord with the other countries.
It will be as follows : the members of the users' association will include the three Governments I have already mentioned—the United States, France, and ourselves—and the other principal users of the Canal will be invited to join. We hope that the pattern of membership will be as representative as possible. The users' association will employ pilots, will undertake responsibility for co-ordination of traffic through the Canal, and, in general, will act as a voluntary association for the exercise of the rights of Suez Canal users.
The Egyptian authorities will be requested to co-operate in maintaining the maximum flow of traffic through the Canal. It is contemplated that Egypt shall receive appropriate payment from the association in respect of the facilities provided by her. But the transit dues will be paid to the users' association and 11 not to the Egyptian authority. Through this organisation it should be possible to establish a system of transit of the Canal for a substantial volume of shipping. Of course, we recognise that a provisional organisation of this kind, designed to meet an emergency, cannot be in a position to provide for the major developments which are becoming urgently necessary if the Canal is to continue adequately to serve the interests of its users and we also recognise that the attitude of the Egyptian Government will have an important bearing on the capacity of the association to fulfil its functions [Laughter.] Yes. But I must make it clear that if the Egyptian Government should seek to interfere—
§ The Prime Minister
—with the operations of the association, or refuse to extend to it the essential minimum of co-operation, then that Government will once more be in breach of the Convention of 1888. [HON. MEMBERS : "Resign."] I must remind the House that what I am saying— [An Hon. Member : "What a peace maker."]—is the result of exchanges of views between three Governments. In that event Her Majesty's Government and others concerned will be free to take such further steps—
§ The Prime Minister
—either through the United Nations, or by other means, for the assertion of their rights. [HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."] I think that hon. Members might let me develop this. There is more to come.
I shall no doubt be asked what are the intentions of Her Majesty's Government about the reference of this dispute to the United Nations. As I stated just now—if it was heard clearly—I certainly do not, and Her Majesty's Government do not, exclude that. Quite the contrary, it might well be necessary. Meanwhile, we have considered it our duty, jointly with the French Government, to address a letter to 12 the President of the Security Council informing him of the situation which has arisen.
That letter does not ask for any action at this stage, but it puts us in a position to ask for urgent action if that becomes necessary. At the same time, there are certain considerations about a reference to the Security Council which we should face—which the House should face—frankly.
Let me take the Abadan precedent as an example, because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South mentioned it in our last debate on this subject. The Government took that issue to the Security Council. They tabled a resolution which was opposed by Russia and Yugoslavia. In an attempt to meet this, our resolution was whittled down. Even so, the Soviet Government would not have it and, consequently, the resolution was made dependent on the final findings of the International Court. I make no criticism of this ; it is quite inevitable in view of the existence of the veto. When it reported many months later, the International Court said that it had no jurisdiction, and, therefore, our resolution before the Security Council lapsed and we never went there again.
I say that because we have to face the realities of this situation. I also recall that the Labour Government of the day, in their wisdom, uttered a warning that the Security Council's failure to act effectively might create a most serious precedent for the future. I think that they were right.
I must now make some reference to the question of the pilots. The Company agreed, at the earnest request of the French Government and ourselves, to urge the pilots to remain at their posts, first, until the London Conference had taken place and then, again, until Mr. Menzies' mission was completed. How little they liked this can be illustrated by some comments of a Swedish pilot. I do not choose a British or a French pilot. He said :I have no intention of going back to Suez so long as the Canal is under Egyptian administration, and the same applies to my 60 colleagues who are at present in Europe.He went on :I have no confidence in the Egyptians. I was there during the days of terror in 1952. For my part, I hope no sea captains get caught on Nasser's hook.13 After Colonel Nasser's sudden seizure of the Canal Company it was not, I think, unnatural that the non-Egyptian staff of the Company should consider their own future very carefully. They were expected to work for a Government to which they owed no allegiance—and the House should not forget that they were threatened with imprisonment by the Egyptian Government if they did not continue at their work.
§ The Prime Minister
They deserved to be threatened with imprisonment? I hope that the hon. Member is almost alone in his view. I do not know how he reconciles it with the right to strike.
§ The Prime Minister
If these pilots decide to leave Egypt it will clearly, in our view, be the responsibility of the Egyptian Government. It is they who created conditions in which these men have taken the decision that, despite their many years' service on the Canal and their many personal ties, they feel that they must leave. [An HON. MEMBER : "What have they been offered?"] In view of certain statements which have been widely made, I must make this clear beyond any mistake : it is not the Government who have taken out the pilots. On the contrary, twice, as I have mentioned, our efforts have been made to keep them in, to give negotiations a chance, although keeping them in was, of course, facilitating Colonel Nasser's task in working the Canal. But there really is a limit to which men can be pressed, and this limit has been reached.
There has been much public discussion about the question of the use of force in relation to these events in the Canal. I must point out that in this instance it was Egypt who used force. The operation of the Canal has been taken over in complete disregard of Egypt's international obligations. The assets of the Company and its offices were seized by armed agents of the Egyptian Government. As I have said, the Company's employees were compelled to continue at their work under threat of imprisonment. To condone such actions is to invite their repetition and, I think, to bring international law into contempt.
14 In recent weeks certain military preparations have been made in the Mediterranean. They are limited in scope. On account of them we have been charged in some quarters with sabre rattling. How ludicrous that is. It might be regarded as provocative if I were to retail all the circumstances which could arise in Egypt. I will, therefore, mention only one, for hon. Members will recall it. I have not forgotten the appalling massacre of foreigners which took place in Cairo in 1952. Many people of several nationalities, not by any means only our own, and including 10 British, were murdered in the most brutal conditions. I happened to be in charge of the Government here at the time, for my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) was on his way back from the United States.
It is quite true that on that occasion the Egyptian Army intervened to stop further bloodshed, but hon. Members must judge for themselves how much that action was due to the knowledge that we had a plan to intervene by force in the last resort. If military precautions were justified a month ago, they are justified today, and I must make it plain that the Government have no intention of relaxing them.
It is also, we think, right and proper that our French allies should be placed in a position to defend their numerous nationals and interests. We have, therefore, extended to them any facilities available to us which they require.
I should like to finish, if I may, on this personal note. In these last weeks I have had constantly in mind the closeness of the parallel of these events with those of the years before the war. Once again we are faced with what is, in fact, an act of force which, if it is not resisted, if it is not checked, will lead to others. There is no doubt about that. If Egypt continues to reject every effort to secure a peaceful solution, a situation of the utmost gravity will arise.
Many other eastern lands now begin to understand that the fate of their country is included in Colonel Nasser's schemes. The Leader of the Opposition warned us the other day of what would happen if he had his way. He said :If Colonel Nasser's prestige is put up sufficiently and ours is put down sufficiently, the effects of that in that part of the world will 15 be that our friends desert us because they think we are lost, and go over to Egypt."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd August, 1956; Vol. 557, c. 1620–21.]That is true. I would only add that the consequences of this would be that the standard of life in Western Europe and many lands in Asia would be at Colonel Nasser's mercy.
Of course, there are those who say that we should not be justified and are not justified in reacting vigorously unless Colonel Nasser commits some further act of aggression. That was the argument used in the 1930s to justify every concession that was made to the dictators. It has not been my experience that dictators are deflected from their purpose because others affect to ignore it. This reluctance to face reality led to the subjugation of Europe and to the Second World War. We must not help to reproduce, step by step, the history of the 'thirties. We have to prove ourselves wiser this time, and to check aggression by the pressure of international opinion, if possible ; but, if not, by other means before it has grown to monstrous proportions.
As has been rightly said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, for this country military action is always the last resort and we shall go on working for a peaceful solution so long as there is any prospect of achieving one ; but the Government are not prepared to embark on a policy of abject appeasement, nor, I think, would the House—or most of the House—ask them to, because the consequences of such a policy are known to us. A stimulus is given to fresh acts of lawlessness. With the loss of resources the capacity to resist becomes steadily less, friends drop away and the will to live becomes enfeebled.
We will continue to make every effort, in concert with our Allies, to secure our rights by negotiation, but should those efforts fail the Government must be free to take whatever steps are open to them to restore the situation. That is the policy of the Government which I ask this House to approve
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
At the beginning of his speech the Prime Minister referred to our debate of 2nd August, and spoke of the general agreement 16 which then prevailed. I do not deny that over a certain part of the field that agreement certainly existed, but I must point out to the Prime Minister that since then wide differences of opinion have emerged in the country, and there has been, indeed, a very animated and serious debate in the Press. I had hoped that these differences, of which I shall have a good deal to say, would have been narrowed by the Prime Minister today. I am sorry to say that what he has told us this afternoon cannot but divide the nation even more deeply. Some, indeed, of the steps of which he has spoken have the very gravest implications, and of these I shall also speak a little later.
In a free democracy, differences of opinion on matters vitally important cannot and should not be suppressed. Issues of this kind must be argued out ; argued, of course, with a due sense of responsibility. I wish to make it plain that, far from opposing the Government for opposition's sake, we have always recognised that there are moments, in international affairs particularly, where restraint by the Opposition is clearly enjoined. I must remind hon. Members that for many months, despite the gravest misgivings on our side, we refrained even from pressing for a debate on Cyprus. I wish I could say that at certain difficult moments during the period of office of the Labour Government, and particularly during the Abadan crisis, the same degree of restraint was shown by the Conservative Party.
But restraint of this kind must never be carried so far as to involve the suppression of differences of vital importance. On such occasions it is the duty, not only the right, of the Opposition to speak out loudly and clearly. That is what, on this side of the House, we feel we must do today.
What is the precise nature of the difference between us? I shall shortly criticise the Government for what they have done and for what they have not done during this past six weeks, but before I do that I wish to make it abundantly clear that because we attack the Government here we in no way condone or excuse the original act of President Nasser. Hon. Members opposite really must not get into their heads the assumption that because we condemn Colonel Nasser we must support, without reservations, everything that they do.
17 I made clear my views about Colonel Nasser's action in my speech on 2nd August, and I stand by what I said at that time. We criticised that action, not because of the act of nationalisation but for other reasons. May I say in passing that if, in fact, it is the view of the Government that the act of nationalising the Suez Canal Company was illegal, then it is their duty to refer the matter to the International Court? I do not propose to argue whether or not this act was legal, but there are undoubtedly differences of opinion about it. There exists an international body to settle differences of this kind and it is our duty to refer this one to it.
Our objection to Colonel Nasser's action I explained on three grounds. First, because—and here I do not think there is any disagreement—the Suez Canal is an international waterway of vital importance which had been under the control of an international body, and we could not be indifferent to the change of ownership involved in Colonel Nasser's act. Secondly, we objected to the method by which the nationalisation was done and the circumstances surrounding it. Thirdly, I gave a very definite warning to the House of the possible implications that that act might have for the Middle East. I stand by that, too. I believe that, by and large, the House accepts all these things.
I would also endorse without hesitation the general aims which, I think, we all have in mind and which were set out very fully in the so-called Dulles plan ; that is to say, that while there should be proper compensation—and I am glad to say that the implication of that was that opposition to nationalisation as such had been dropped—that while there should be proper compensation, while Egypt should get a fair return financially, the users of the Canal should be assured that the charges would be reasonable, that there would be no discrimination, that the Canal would be properly developed, and that there would be full freedom of passage. All those things are agreed and, indeed, those things are agreed by President Nasser, too. [An HON. MEMBER : "What about Israel?"] I shall come to that point later.
I also accepted—and I have no reason to withdraw in any way—the desirability of a Suez Conference taking place, as it 18 took place, in London. I certainly believe that the Conference did a good job. I think that it undoubtedly brought us somewhat nearer a solution of this problem. I also say—and I do not withdraw from it at all—that the Government were entitled to take genuinely precautionary military steps. I have no idea—nor have the Government told me—exactly on what scale those steps were taken, though I must say that they appear from Press reports to have been very much more substantial than many of us, at any rate, expected originally.
But these are not the points at issue between the parties in this country. The points at issue are, I think, fundamental and quite specific. They concern the attitude of the Government to the use of force as a means of solving this dispute and the closely related question of the Government's attitude to the United Nations and the United Nations Charter. I propose to devote a little time to both these subjects.
The Prime Minister has spoken of the Government's attitude on force, but he has not told us the full story. At first, after the announcement on that Thursday evening of what Colonel Nasser had done, the general impression that most of us had, and certainly the Press had, was that military measures were not being contemplated. Some five days later, however, largely, I think, as a result of a report of the Foreign Secretary's address to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Conservative Party in the House, our views on this subject began to change—so much so that my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and I twice before the debate on 2nd August saw the Prime Minister. I do not think he will mind me saying that amongst the things which were discussed was the question of force. I then gave him some warning that if he contemplated the use of force to impose a solution, then he could not rely on the support of the Opposition.
The debate followed. The Prime Minister, in his speech, made virtually no reference to that subject at all. All he told us was that certain precautionary measures of a military nature were being taken. When he said just now that the Government stuck to the policy which they had adopted, the plain fact is that no policy of force was then announced. 19 During that debate I myself, however, made a very specific reference to this subject. Perhaps the House will forgive me if I read one or two sentences which I used. I said :I must, however, remind the House that we are members of the United Nations, that we are signatories to the United Nations Charter, and that for many years in British policy we have steadfastly avoided any international action which would be in breach of international law or, indeed, contrary to the public opinion of the world. We must not, therefore, allow ourselves to get into a position where we might be denounced in the Security Council as aggressors, or where the majority of the Assembly were against us.I went on, a little later, to say :We should try to settle this matter peacefully … While force cannot be excluded"—and I had already mentioned the circumstances in which it might be necessary ; that is, in self-defence or as part of some collective defence measures—we must be sure that the circumstances justify it and that it is, if used, consistent with our belief in, and our pledges to, the Charter of the United Nations and not in conflict with them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd August, 1956; Vol. 557, c. 1624–25.]On the day following the debate, there appeared in virtually every newspaper a story that it was, in fact, the Government's intention, after the Conference and if Colonel Nasser refused to accept the conclusions of the Conference, to impose that solution by force. I do not think I need read all the extracts from all the newspapers, but I will trouble the House with one or two. The Times said :The position is that Britain and France are prepared to take action, if reasonable agreement cannot be reached.The Daily Telegraph said :If no unanimous agreement has been reached by the end of the time limit, Britain and France will feel called on to act to impose whatever solution has been agreed to by a majority. Britain and France have spared no pains to make perfectly clear to the United States their intention to use force if peaceful means fail to persuade Col. Nasser to accept international control.The News Chronicle said :If necessary both countries are prepared to impose the international authority by force.We had not been told that in the debate on 2nd August. I see several hon. Members opposite shaking their heads. If I have correctly quoted what I said, it is quite clear that what I said was in flat contradiction to the imposition by 20 force of the conclusions of the Conference. It may be asked why the Government, if that had been their intention, did not say that they disagreed totally with what I said
The question, however, is this. Here were these stories—and it is within the recollection of all of us that they went on for several days. They came from Government sources, of course. What the Government were not willing to tell the House of Commons was put out through Downing Street and the Foreign Office news department. If those statements were authorised, as I think they must have been, they should have been made publicly by Ministers ; and if they were unauthorised I think it is a major scandal that civil servants should be given such powers, and such dangerous powers.
As the Prime Minister knows, when I read those reports I was indeed so dismayed by them that I sat down and immediately wrote him a letter, again warning him about what our attitude would be. I wrote to him again while I was on a short holiday, making perhaps even more emphatically the same point.
On 13th August we had a meeting of our Parliamentary Committee, and again, because of these statements which were then still very current, we thought it right to refer to the matter in the statement which we issued. We said :In view of public anxiety, the Committee call upon the Government to make plain that the military measures taken in the last ten days are purely precautionary solely intended for defence against possible aggression and not preparations for armed intervention outside and inconsistent with our obligations under the Charter of the United Nations.We went to see the Prime Minister and his colleagues the following day. We argued with them on this point. We begged them to issue such a statement. Unfortunately, they did not do so ; they did not do so presumably because they were not in agreement with what we suggested they should say.
There was another development at this time which cannot be ignored, and that was the very considerable publicity being given to the troop movements and to the scale on which they were taking place. There can be no doubt that the combination of these two things—the stories emanating from the Government that they intended to use force, and the scale of the military measures as they 21 unfolded—gave the impression that the Government intended simply to impose a solution by force.
What was the effect of that? I do not think there is much doubt about the effect in the rest of the world. In the Middle East, far from diminishing Colonel Nasser's prestige, it in fact led to a rallying of all the Arab States to him. In Asia, it produced upon the people and Government of India a profound shock. In Europe, it certainly had no support whatever. There is not the slightest doubt that the United States was extremely worried about it. Above all, it gave Colonel Nasser the best propaganda opportunity he could possibly have, because he was able to represent his action and all that followed as part of a struggle on the part of Eastern against Western nations, of the darker races against the white races, of the small countries against the large countries, and of the ex-colonies against the imperialists. This was as he was able to represent it, a piece of nineteenth century gunboat diplomacy.
The London Conference did something, in my opinion, to restore the situation. Some hon. Members seemed to doubt my words when I said that this implication as to the use of force had no support in Europe. I can assure them from personal knowledge that none of the countries there, and this includes our Allies in N.A.T.O., were in the least favourably inclined towards the use of force, with the exception, of course, of France. If hon. Members are really content to "go it alone" with France, the rest of the world being against us, then they are simply making for disaster.
The London Conference, I quite agree, achieved some considerable improvement. It reduced the temperature. It pushed force into the background. Above all, it broke the line-up between East and West, and that was extremely important. I should like to say straight away that I think the choice of the five nations was wise, and I have no criticisms to offer of the way in which those five nations presented the case to President Nasser.
The fact remains, however, that this sabre-rattling—because that is what it was—had a disastrous effect on world opinion and is still a very grave handicap in the way of a proper solution to this 22 problem. I ask myself why the Government allowed these statements to be put out. They have not said them in public, of course, but they allowed them to be put out. I can conclude that there are only two explanations, either that they did and do seriously intend to use force—and what the Prime Minister said this afternoon certainly seems to suggest that—or they were simply bluffing.
If the Government intend to use force in this way, in the absence of any further deliberate provocative action or aggression by Colonel Nasser, and if they propose to do so simply to get a solution of this problem, the consequences to this country, far from being good, will be disastrous. Such a step involves abandoning the whole basis which we have accepted and which is set out in the Charter of the United Nations. It means that in future other countries will have an open invitation from us to do the same. It means that if, for instance, in the next few weeks North Korea were to launch a further attack on South Korea, we should not be able seriously to object to it. [HON. MEMBERS : "No."] Hon. Members must understand that in ignoring the Charter of the United Nations and taking the law into our own hands, we are reverting to international anarchy. We are asserting the view that each nation decides in its own right what it is going to do, and we are saying that only power counts.
I ask hon. Members to consider rather more seriously than they have done so far whether we should gain from that. If they feel indifferent to these moral considerations, I would ask them nevertheless to look at the probable consequence of military action taken in these conditions. There can be not the slightest doubt that the other Arab States will rally wholeheartedly to the side of Egypt. There can be no doubt at all that if there is anxiety about oil supplies now, those anxieties will be enormously aggravated.
There can be no doubt about the reaction in India, which may leave the Commonwealth in consequence. If hon. Members are indifferent to what happens in India, I would ask them to read what the Foreign Secretary of Australia had to say on that subject, as reported this morning, when he came down very firmly against the use of force, there being an implication in what he said that that was the view also of Canada.
23 I ask hon. Members to consider something even more serious. Have the Government really thought out and seriously considered what Soviet Russia is likely to do if we go to war to impose a solution by force on Egypt? The Russians may not come in, but is it not extremely probable that within a very short time indeed there would be Russian volunteers sent to the help of Egypt? [An HON. MEMBER : "Khrushchev said so."] Exactly ; and if we believe him, we should consider seriously what that means. Does it mean that the Government are prepared to risk what might even become a general war merely over this issue? The attitude of the Government to Russia has changed somewhat since last April.
I dare say that the Government may believe—I have seen reports to this effect—that they can achieve a quick victory, that it is a matter of landing a few parachute brigades, seizing the Canal, overthrowing Nasser in Egypt, and then they will have got control. Control over what? Exactly how is one then to proceed? Exactly how is one to bring about a settlement there? Are we to leave there the troops which the Government themselves withdrew only very recently, or are we to withdraw again? If the Government do this, they will leave behind in the Middle East such a legacy of distrust and bitterness towards the West that the whole area will be thrust almost forcibly under Communist control. That is the greatest danger of all. If the area is simply destroyed, if a savage war is conducted there, can there be any doubt that that would be the greatest breeding ground of Communism that there could possibly be?
I am, of course, not saying, nor have we ever said, that there may not be circumstances in which force is justified. I have said it again and again. [An HON. MEMBER : "Tell us."] I will tell hon. Members. If they have read the Charter, they should know. Of course, we should be justified in using force if in fact the United Nations, by its collective decision, so decided. We were perfectly justified in using force to resist aggression in Korea. We should also be justified in using force if, under Article 51, we or Allies of ours were the subject of Arab attack. [An HON. MEMBER : "Israel."] Certainly ; if Israel were attacked by the Arab States, we should be bound, under the Tripartite 24 Declaration, to go to her assistance. That is perfectly true.
Where hon. Members make an appalling mistake is to assume that the act of nationalising the Suez Canal is comparable with an attack by armed force against the frontiers of another country. If hon. Members really still doubt that, let them consider what, in those circumstances, the American reaction is likely to be. I shall have some questions to ask about the latest proposal in a moment, but there is not the slightest doubt, from what President Eisenhower has said, what the attitude of the United States would be.
If, on the other hand, all this talk, re-emphasised again this afternoon, is merely to frighten Egypt, well then, is that not a tremendous risk to take? If in fact President Nasser calls the bluff, as so far he has done, then there is, of course, the gravest danger of a second and perhaps even more substantial prestige victory for him.
Indeed, our indictment against the Government is that they have brought this country into a position where we are in this dilemma, that either we carry out the threat of force or we face the greatest diplomatic climb-down in our history. The Government could have avoided this. They could, while standing completely firm on their attitude towards Colonel Nasser's action, which, as I said, does not differ from our own, have accepted in the first place the statement which I made in the debate on 2nd August about the United Nations Charter and the use of force. Or they could have refrained, even after that debate, from putting out those reports that they intended to use force to impose a solution. Or they could, again, have disavowed subsequently the use of force. But they have done nothing. They have increased the stakes, and indeed the Prime Minister this afternoon has done it once more.
Our second major disagreement is concerned with the United Nations. We asked originally that the plan for international control over the Canal should be under the United Nations. No answer was given at the time of the debate, but I was glad to see that that proposal was accepted by the 18 Powers ; nor was there in the Prime Minister's speech on 2nd August, apart from a rather slighting reference connected with Israeli shipping, or in his television broadcast, a single 25 mention of our obligations to the United Nations. That, frankly, inevitably added weight to the opinion that the Government were ignoring it and were indifferent to it.
We also made a proposal on 13th August that the Government should refer the whole issue—the dispute—after the Suez Conference, which we did not contest at all, to the United Nations, to, in fact, a special Assembly. But that, too, was ignored. I regret that. I think that it would have been much better if the conclusions of the London Conference had been referred directly to the United Nations because we might have avoided the position that Colonel Nasser took up, a very rigid attitude which, I think, in the light of what had gone before, was almost certain to happen.
I turn to the future. The Prime Minister has told us a little of what it is intended to do. I will first make some reference to this users' organisation. If it were the purpose of the organisation to provide a bit of machinery for negotiating with Egypt, I should not object to it. There are good reasons for having an association of user nations to conduct negotiations. But what has alarmed me, and I think alarmed my hon. and right hon. Friends, is what it is apparently proposed that this organisation should do ; above all, the statement that it intends to employ its own pilots to pilot ships through the Canal and that it intends that the payments or the dues should, as I understand it, be made not to Egypt but to the organisation seems to me to be dangerously like a highly provocative step.
I really must remind the House that whatever our views may be—and they do not differ about the act of nationalisation—these ships are going through Egyptian territory, and it is extremely difficult to see by what authority they can go through that territory on the lines of the arrangement suggested by the Prime Minister. He has told us that if the Egyptian Government refuse, it will be in breach of the Convention of 1888. That may be a very clever legalistic statement—I should very much doubt its validity myself—but it is not likely to convince anybody that this kind of step at this kind of time is justified.
We are told that if the Egyptian Government refuse co-operation our Government 26 reserve the right to take further steps, either through the United Nations or by other means. What do the Government mean by "other means"? [HON. MEMBERS : "Answer."] Why should there be any other means? Why should the matter not go, if there is such a dispute, to the United Nations? That is what the Charter enjoins, and that is what should happen.
I should like to put one particular question here. As I understand it, the United States has indicated its support for this user organisation. Are we to take it that it also agreed with the proposition that the ships are to have pilots of their own and are to go through the Canal whether or not Egypt likes it? Are we to take it that the United States itself will employ pilots in this way and will be prepared to send its ships through the Canal? I think that we must have an answer to that question.
I would remind the Foreign Secretary of what President Eisenhower said this morning on the use of force ; it hardly seems consistent with the statement that the United States contemplates that should Egypt not co-operate, force will be justified. [An HON. MEMBER : "That was not what was said."] Heaven knows, we have waited for six weeks to try to get some clarity on this. Let us have it. I do not feel that the vague reference about informing the United Nations in the least meets the situation at the moment. The United Nations Charter, which the Foreign Secretary referred to at some point during the six weeks, in defending the procedure hitherto adopted—Article 33, was, I think, the Article he called in mind—also provided as follows :—Should the parties to the dispute of the nature referred to in Article 33 fail to settle it by the means indicated in that Article"—by negotiation, etc.—they shall refer it to the Security Council.On what grounds do the Government refuse to do so? Why should they not go to the Security Council immediately? That is surely the clear answer.
We are members of the United Nations. I thought that we stood by the Charter. We did until six weeks ago. Why do not we take the matter to the Security Council? I do not say that the Security 27 Council will produce an automatic solution ; of course not. We are all very well aware of the veto rule. Indeed, what worries us—I must make this quite plain—is lest, even if the Government were to do that, they would be in fact from their point of view going through a mere formality. I want to emphasise with all the strength that I can that that must not be the attitude adopted. The purpose of taking this dispute to the United Nations is not just to go through formalities so that we may thereatfer resort to force. It is that there may be a further period of negotiation ; and negotiation is what I mean on this occasion.
I should have thought that if that were the intention of the Government, which, I am afraid, does not appear to be the case, they would at least make some effort at this stage to win over world opinion to our side. They really cannot try to ride both horses at the same time—the threat of force and the appeal to world opinion.
I believe that as a matter of fact it is not particularly difficult to find a compromise solution. The 18-Power plan was never regarded by the Powers themselves as the last word in this dispute. What matters in this are the ultimate aims, to which I referred earlier, and I again say that President Nasser is on record as having said that he quite agrees on that.
I have never said that we could accept his word. I do not think we can. However, he has said something else as well. He has said that he is prepared to agree the tolls, the charges to be made for the Canal, and he has said that he accepts the Convention of 1888. That Convention provides—nobody seems to have noticed this—that :The Agents in Egypt of the Signatory Powers of the present Treaty shall be charged to watch over its execution.I do not see why it should not be possible to have an agreement under which there is a supervisory board of the users concerned, which would negotiate with Colonel Nasser the tolls which should be charged, and I do not believe that it is necessarily impossible that it should agree also with the Egyptian board the development plan and the disposal of the Suez Canal revenues.
28 But we have to ask ourselves, if Colonel Nasser does not agree to negotiate, is force then justified? I must repeat again what I said before. Force is justified in certain circumstances clearly laid down under the Charter. It is not justified if no actual, violent armed attack has taken place or if the United Nations has not approved it. It is as clear as that, and I must again say that so far, although I would not deny that Nasser's action involves threats to us, they are threats only. It is nothing more than that ; and I cannot believe that the world in general or indeed public opinion in this country would really support going to war on the difference between having a supervisory board or an advisory council.
Finally, let me remind hon. Members that what we are faced with is not only that Egypt has now seized the Canal Company but the fact that she has, and always has had since we withdrew our troops, physical force. The real thing that will stop the Canal, obstruct the Canal, is the use of force by Egypt. It is not the same thing or indeed necessarily associated with the ownership and management of the Canal. Therefore, to go to war on the question of the ownership of the Canal, on the management of the Canal, is in effect leaving on one side what is the main issue here, which is her decision, which might be made at some time and has been made in the case of the Israeli ships, to use force herself.
I would interpose here that if the matter goes to the United Nations I hope that the question of the freedom of those ships will be raised again, as I think it should be, though I cannot accept the argument that, because the members of the Security Council have not been able or seen fit to implement the Resolution which was passed in September, 1951, therefore the United Nations has failed. That argument really will not do. Everybody knows that the reason why the British Government have never lifted a finger to enforce that Resolution is the fear that the Arab States would not like it.
Force is not justified as a solution of this problem. Force is justified in self-defence, and that is a totally different matter. I say that if Colonel Nasser refuses to negotiate we should cling to the line adopted by Mr. Menzies and his committee in presenting this case to 29 Egypt. We should go for the alternatives. I think we should say to Nasser, "Very well, if you will not come to terms with the Canal users you cannot blame them if they have no faith in the future of the Canal and if they decide to make alternative arrangements—if they go in for building large tankers, if they build additional pipelines through Turkey".
The Prime Minister spoke of the extra cost. Is it so very great? Does he know how much difference it makes to the price of petrol? I think I am right in saying that it is about a penny a gallon. When one remembers that two-thirds of the traffic through the Canal is oil, it is not terribly convincing. If he says, as he did say, that it will take a long time to build the tankers, the Canal is open meanwhile. It is a different situation if President Nasser, in the absence of any provocation from us, blocks the Canal.
I am pleading for an absence of provocative action. I want to make that plain. If the Canal is not blocked and traffic can go on we can certainly say -I think we should—that we do not think that Colonel Nasser is going to be able to develop it and we can take steps accordingly. [HON. MEMBERS : "What steps?"] The large tankers. Really, hon. Members ought to know the facts of the situation, and they are that two-thirds of the traffic through the Canal today is oil, and in ten years' time it will certainly constitute four-fifths of the traffic.
That is the problem, and I say there is an alternative. It is an alternative which is less convenient for us. It is very much less convenient for President Nasser as well, and I do not think myself that there is much doubt that had this question been negotiated he would probably have seen the validity of the argument.
I come to the question of the pilots. I regard this as a very grave matter indeed in the light of what the Prime Minister has said. Today's news is that the Company has informed the pilots that they are authorised to withdraw. I can well understand that there are many pilots who feel great uncertainty and dissatisfaction about staying in their posts. I think that that is genuine, and independent of anything that may have been said to them by anybody outside, but frankly it seems to me so clear that our policy in this matter 30 should have been from the start to do everything possible to avoid any outside pressure upon them to withdraw, and indeed to get the maximum of influence upon them to stay.
Let us just see what happened. What did the Canal Company do? On 6th August it sent out a circular, which seemed to me totally unnecessary, telling the pilots they must choose by 105th August whether to continue with the Egyptian administration or to resign altogether. Most of them appear to have said they would resign. Why was this statement issued? Was it issued with the authority of the British Government? Did the members of the board appointed by the British Government vote for it and support it? That was the first step which I think was unjustified. There are rumours of very handsome offers made to them to withdraw, but I do not press that, though I should like some facts about them.
Now we have a statement by the Company that the time limit has expired, and it is really a plain invitation to stop the use of the Canal. Again I ask, were the British Government party to this decision, as they are said in the Press to have been? If they were, since they are talking about other people breaking the Convention of 1888, I would ask the Government if they have considered whether they are not themselves in breach of that Convention. [HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."] Oh, yes. Hon. Members should not speak too soon. They should look up the Convention first, because it pledges the signatory Powers to do nothing whatever to obstruct the Canal in any way.
The other thing I want to say about the pilots, and I am saying it on behalf of our party, is that if there is a slowing down of traffic through the Canal as a result of shortage of pilots, I must make it plain that in our view that would not on its own justify war by us. I shall not say more than that but I want to make that perfectly plain.
I want to make one further general comment. Surely it is of some concern to hon. Gentlemen opposite what is the reputation of this country abroad? Do they really want it to be said all over the world that the British and French Governments deliberately provoked an excuse for armed intervention against Egypt, because that is exactly what will 31 be said? I can only say that hon. Gentlemen opposite are desperately wrong if they think that we are the only people saying this kind of thing. They really should try to find out what people in other countries are thinking.
I want to say positively what I think we ought to do. We ought to take this matter at once to the Security Council, and we ought to take steps to influence world opinion in our favour. We can do that in two ways. We can first renew the appeal which was made up to a certain point by the British and French Governments to the pilots, asking them, despite their difficult conditions, to do everything they can to keep the Canal open. It is obvious that if the Canal traffic is blocked in this way, we should want everybody to accept that it was the direct result of Colonel Nasser's action and not the result of any provocation from Britain and France. That is the argument—[An HON. MEMBER : "Who started it?"] Are we trying, or are we not, to get a settlement of this dispute? Of course I know that many hon. Gentlement opposite do not want a settlement at all, but I understood the Prime Minister to say, despite other things in his speech, that the Government would do all they could to get a settlement. Well, here is something they could do.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Secondly, the Government should make a declaration now that they will not use force except in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. Thirdly, they should make it plain that they will accept any decision of the United Nations on this dispute.
The issue which is before us today is not whether we are pro- or anti-Nasser. It is not what our case is—I think we have a good case. It is not what our aims are for the operation of the Canal. They have been stated by the Government and I repeated them earlier. We agree with them. The issue here, in this House and in the country, and indeed beyond, is whether we are to press this case through the United Nations in accordance with the Charter or whether we are to try to decide that for ourselves. Yesterday's statement referred to the intention of the British and French Government 32 to uphold the rule of law, but all that we have heard since then from hon. Gentlemen opposite is that they intend not to do that, but to take the law into their own hands. Upholding the rule of law means allowing other people, independent persons, to decide for us and not deciding for ourselves.
I realise, of course we all do, that the United Nations is imperfect and not yet the world authority which we, at least, would like to see it become, but the real issue before us today is a fundamental one. It is whether we wish, as a country, to create that world authority or whether we wish to relapse into international anarchy. Every motive—self-respect, self-interest, our responsibility for world leadership, our membership of the Commonwealth, our alliances—all these things point to the same conclusion : that we should stand by our pledges to the United Nations honestly and fairly and, by our restraint and our patience, set an example to the world
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
With the statement that was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister at the beginning of August, and with the steps and actions that have since been taken by Her Majesty's Government, I can say that I was in agreement. Colonel Nasser had committed a gross, flagrant breach of international law. He had done it not in the interests of the Canal or of free navigation ; he had done it in retaliation, as he said in his speech, and he had done it in a most provocative way.
Undoubtedly the Government were faced with one of the most difficult problems that ever faced any Government, because this was a matter which affected not only ourselves but really every country in the world. Thereupon what was the decision of the Government? It was that before taking any action they would consult with other nations. Very naturally they consulted with the Commonwealth. They consulted with France, who had been largely, if not almost entirely, responsible for the building of this Canal originally, and they consulted with the United States of America against whom the retaliation had really been made.
Then, as a result of that consultation, the representatives came together. So far, so good. They then took the very 33 bold step of sending out invitations to 24 nations. They might easily have had a refusal but they did not, and 22 accepted. Thereupon the 22 discussed fully what should be done, what kind of control would be satisfactory in the interests not only of Egypt but of the whole world ; not merely in the interests of those who were using the Canal, but of those on whose behalf, not maritime countries, it was also being used. They arrived at certain conclusions. Unfortunately they were not unanimous but, with one exception, the same ideas underlie all the proposals which were put forward, and 18 were in complete agreement.
Thereupon the 18 decided that the right thing then to do was not to send those proposals to Colonel Nasser as a kind of ultimatum, but to appoint a delegation of five, headed by the Prime Minister of Australia, to go to Cairo, present the proposals, discuss them, explain them. The whole world is deeply indebted to these five people, and particularly to their chairman, for the way in which they did their work. Unfortunately, Colonel Nasser rejected their proposals. I do not think it is of any advantage whatsoever to discuss these proposals or to put forward other proposals or do anything like that at the present moment. They have been discussed solemnly for days by the representatives of 22 Governments.
Thereupon, the five representatives came back, and having come back, what then happened? Now, instead of the five representatives reporting back to the 22 countries—and I agree that all the world knows about the rejection of their proposals—so far as I understand, the chairman has reported to the chairman of the Conference, namely, the Foreign Secretary, and to nobody else.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)
The chairman of the committee, Mr. Menzies, reported to the 18 countries and had a meeting with their representatives.
§ Mr. Davies
But, personally, he reported only to the chairman of the Conference. [HON. MEMBERS : "No."] The members of the Conference have scattered. They have all gone. Of course, they have.
34 Thereupon, for some reason or other, the Government changed their policy and their attitude, and I must say that that shocked me profoundly. This is a matter which the Government realise concerns not merely ourselves alone, but every country in the world. The Government sent out that invitation to 22 nations, and they received replies, and I should have thought that surely it was merely courtesy and the right thing to summon them back again and tell them what had happened.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
I think there is some misunderstanding. Mr. Menzies summoned a meeting of the 18 countries to whom he made his report.
§ Mr. Davies
But summoned them back again in exactly the same way as they were summoned originally? I do not know why the Prime Minister should be surprised. I should have thought that that was the right thing to have done. [HON. MEMBERS : "It was done."] But not in the original way. The Foreign Secretaries of the various countries who came here on that occasion were not here on this occasion. It was merely a report which was conveyed again to the various countries through their Ambassadors here, saying "This is what we were told." I should have thought that the right thing to have done was to have asked them to come here again and to have said to them, "This is what has happened ; what is our next step to be? What do we do now? Do we start again with fresh negotiations with Colonel Nasser?".
Certainly, Colonel Nasser has put forward other proposals which are a great improvement upon what he originally suggested. They might have come to the conclusion that it was not worth their while to come back ; I do not know ; but they might, on the other hand, have come to the conclusion that it would be worth while, and in that way we might have got a direct agreement which we would all prefer to have. But, if not, surely the right thing then to do would be to pose the question "What is the next thing to do?", and the next thing must be an appeal to the United Nations. I should have thought that an appeal to the United Nations would have been all the stronger coming from 22 nations, all combining together and saying, "We have done our best, 18 of us, in complete agreement, and here we are now coming before you as 35 the Council of the World in the United Nations and saying 'You will have to deal with this matter.' "
Instead, for some reason or other, Her Majesty's Government and France decided to go alone, for that is really what it is. [HON. MEMBERS : "No."] Of course, it is. They decided to take some separate definite action on their own, which is a most dangerous thing to do. They are going to organise this, and appeal again for something else to happen, but surely the right thing to have done, if they had failed in their negotiations acting with 22 countries, was to call them together again and say "Let us discuss what our next step should be. Let us see if we can agree on the next step, and, failing that, take the matter before the United Nations."
When I listened to the speech of the Prime Minister today, it looked to me really as if the United Nations Charter had never been drawn up. That speech, coming from the right hon. Gentleman, was disappointing to me, for the right hon. Gentleman represented this country in the signing of that document, and indeed it was very largly due to this country that that amazing document was drawn up. Why has it now been ignored?
§ Mr. Davies
That it can never be. Even if Her Majesty's Government do not have the due regard for it which it deserves, other countries, and especially the smaller ones, which regard it as their one safeguard to which they will always refer, know it can never become a scrap of paper. We of all countries owe it a duty, because of our position, because we are the centre of a great Commonwealth, and because of the fact that at all times we have been regarded as the main supporters of the rule of law. It is for us to show an example to all the other countries of the world, and at the moment we are not doing it.
May I warn the Government of this? In the act which Colonel Nasser committed, he may have done something which appealed to the emotions of the Arabs, who might regard him as a great political leader who dared to flout the rest of the world : but we carried with us 36 the sympathy of all the world, and that is a most valuable asset which any country can have. I beg the Government not to endanger that position. The moral strength of this country today is a force of greater power to us than any material power which we may have, and therefore I beg the Government to reconsider this action. Surely, the right thing to do is what they did at the outset. Call these people together again and get them to decide on what the next step should be, and urge upon them the fact that, failing everything else, the right thing to do is to take the matter to the United Nations.
I want to say one last word about the pilots. All of us are anxious that the Canal should be kept open. Surely, it is our duty, on behalf of all other countries, to make an appeal now to these pilots. If some do not answer the appeal—and it is a matter entirely for them—we should do our best to replace them for the time being. By doing that, we shall make it plain that we do so not because we are anxious for any quarrel, but because of our anxiety to maintain the Canal open for the traffic of the world, without any selfish motives at all, and acting in the best interests of all nations. I appeal once more to the Government not to endanger by any foolish act the great position of leadership which really belongs to this country
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ Sir Victor Raikes (Liverpool, Garston)
I feel that this debate is one of the most vital that we have had in this House for very many years. In many ways, it resembles the problem that arose in 1936, and I want to say this about that problem. In 1936, I was one of those who accepted the specious arguments then advanced in order not to oppose unduly the advance of Hitler into the Rhineland. I did it honestly ; I was utterly and completely wrong.
If at that time, the last opportunity of avoiding a major war a few years later, Britain and France had acted, the whole position of 1939 would have been transformed. Instead, the matter was referred to the predecessor of U.N.O., the League of Nations, and nothing was done, and from that time onwards the clouds of war—world war—grew darker every day.
I think it would be as well, in view of the way in which a certain number of excuses are made for President Nasser, 37 to look clearly for a moment or so at what we are up against. We are up against the dictator of a police State. It is a police State which today is giving third degree to British citizens before trial. It is a police State which is in the closest co-operation with the Communist dictatorship outside.
We are dealing with a man who not only is at war with Israel, but has sworn to destroy that country and has imposed a blockade upon that country in defiance of the Resolution of the United Nations. This may amuse hon. Members opposite, but it is a good example of showing how little a dictator cares for pious resolutions unbacked by force.
Not only that, but we are dealing with a man who has boasted, as his Government have boasted, that in due course he intends to set up an Arabian empire which will include most of North Africa. If such a project were ever started, the carnage which it would ensure would be beyond all words.
Finally, Colonel Nasser seized the Suez Canal Company with the deliberate intention of inflaming the Arab world and causing dissension among the peace-loving nations. To some extent he has been successful in both aims.
The Government had two courses open to them. One was for immediate action to be taken by Britain and France as soon as the Canal was seized, within 48 hours. It may be that if that had been done much of our troubles might not have taken place. On the other hand, risks were entailed. The Government took the other possible and reasonable course of joining together with those nations who mainly use the Canal to try to formulate some way by which justice to all could be ensured.
We have had the report of the eighteen nations. It went out to Cairo. Whether it was advisable, in view of Nasser's mood, for a delegation to seek to see him in his own country I do not know. Maybe that strengthened Nasser in the view that we were bluffing, because victims do not generally go out in a polite delegation to the home of the offender. Be that as it may, the committee went to Egypt and received a blank snub.
It has appeared during the last week or two as though Nasser believed that the 38 West was bluffing. The one thing in which I agree with the Leader of the Opposition—it is almost the only thing—is that if the West is, indeed, bluffing and we are not prepared to carry conclusions, if need be, to the final resort, then we should have the greatest diplomatic reverse in our history.
§ Sir V. Raikes
Nobody wants force. Nobody wants war for the sake of war. I may be interrupted by the apologists of Soviet Russia opposite, but that is not going to keep me quiet today. I repeat that no one wants force, but unless one is prepared to use force in the last resort one will get no sense out of Colonel Nasser.
The intransigence of Colonel Nasser in Cairo was backed up by two things. On the one hand, he knew the desperate anxiety of the United States to make some form of settlement at almost any cost. Secondly, he was encouraged by the voices of those in this country who had been saying in the Press, and on the platform, "Everything but force, but never force." I say deliberately that those who have taken the opportunity to say time after time that in no circumstances should there be force—I am not including the Leader of the Opposition—have done more harm to the chances—[Interruption.] They have indeed done so, and they have written letters about it, too. One letter was signed by an hon. Gentleman opposite.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
The hon. Gentleman is mistaken. The document to which he refers is exactly in accord with what the Leader of the Opposition said on 2nd August and has repeated today, namely, that force should not be used except under the authority of the United Nations.
§ Sir V. Raikes
Perhaps the hon. Member will keep quiet for a moment. He has made exactly the point that I wished to hear made. The Leader of the Opposition went further than that, saying that for self-defence force need not be used. 39 The letter to which the hon. Gentleman refers spoke of force with the sanction of U.N.O., the hon. Member knowing in his heart that if one goes before the Security Council, where Russia has a veto, there is no opportunity of ever using force.
§ Mr. Silverman
The hon. Gentleman has correctly said that this is a very important debate, and, therefore, I do not apologise for interrupting to make the matter clear. The hon. Gentleman will realise that the document to which he refers spoke of force only in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. If he would take the trouble at his leisure to read the Charter of the United Nations he would find that to repel an attack upon one, one does not need to refer any question anywhere. One can defend oneself against that attack, and one's obligation under the United Nations Charter is then to refer the question to it but to continue to defend oneself.
§ Sir V. Raikes
If the hon. Gentleman is right in his somewhat wide interpretation, I wonder whether, if in the course of the next week or two a pilot employed by the new international organisation were forcibly stopped in the Canal and cast into prison, the hon. Gentleman would say that that was force to which we could reply by force. I should be astounded to hear him or any of the extreme left of his party accept that as an interpretation of the Charter of U.N.O.
§ Mr. Silverman
The hon. Gentleman should look some time at Article 31 of the Charter, which says that nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individuals to collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations.
§ Sir V. Raikes
I will not carry the matter any further except to say that it is still my view that if the form of attack which I mentioned were to take place in the next week or two the first to howl against the use of force in defence of an international pilot would be the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman).
This is a matter which could well be discussed by U.N.O., but we cannot wait for further interminable discussions before we decide what steps we are prepared 40 to take to keep the Canal open meanwhile. If we give way on that, the end of all that talk, the end of U.N.O. consultations and Russian vetoes will be an increasing number of cold feet among the international pacifists of the world who have been working even during the last few weeks to disunite a country which was almost united a month ago.
I welcome the steps which the Government are taking. I welcome the attitude that we are prepared at all costs to maintain the principle of international control. It is no good for the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party to say that Nasser has come a great deal nearer since recently he put forward his counter-proposals after we left Cairo. He did not come one step nearer. He laid down in no uncertain terms that the question of international control was not even a matter for negotiation. For this country and for other countries using the Canal international control is absolutely vital.
I know that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will be attacked in various newspapers tomorrow as warmongers and everything else, but they need not trouble unduly, because no one except a fool or a knave could seriously put forward the view that Britain wants war for the sake of war. What we do want is to prevent a situation which, in a few years' time, may mean that a triumphant Egypt, having got away with this, having increased her power with Russian aid throughout the Arab world, with Russian weapons and Russian prestige backing her, will sweep Israel to the sea, as Egypt has sworn to do, and cast out, perhaps to death, another million Europeans. By the time the Egyptians have done that, I have no doubt that hon. Members opposite will have brought the matter to U.N.O.
Today, I honestly believe that courage and determination can pay great dividends. I welcome the attitude of the Prime Minister and I say without hesitation that weakness or faintheartedness now can mean carnage for our children within years
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Henderson (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
The hon. Member for Garston (Sir V. Raikes) has clearly crystallised the differences between the 41 two sides of the House. Although he believes that we are dealing with an international problem—he reiterated on several occasions that the point of issue was the international control of the Canal—he believes that it is not a matter which should be taken to the United Nations, very largely because he thinks that there might be too much delay.
At the beginning of his speech he indicated that in the inter-war years he had great faith in the old League of Nations, but that in the course of time he realised how futile and ineffective it had become for dealing with the developments which took place just before the outbreak of war in 1939.
§ Sir V. Raikes
I do not want to be innocently misrepresented, nor to misrepresent myself. I did not say that. I said that I accepted the specious arguments which were put forward to permit Hitler to occupy the Rhineland. I did not say that I had any enormous faith in the League of Nations at that time. I said that the matter was referred to the League of Nations, but nothing was done. It is only fair that I should say that.
§ Mr. Henderson
I hope that the House will agree that I did not unfairly misrepresent what the hon. Member said. The point is that he expressed the view that the old League of Nations failed to deal with the great international issues which arose between 1930 and 1939. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition dealt very fully with that aspect this afternoon when he pointed out that the old League of Nations—and, indeed, its successor, the United Nations—was not a world government. Like the United Nations, the League of Nations did not have its own forces at its disposal.
In the old League of Nations—as in the United Nations—we had a great alliance and association of 70 nations, each of whom insisted upon retaining its sovereign equality. Therefore, if there were a failure in the old days of the League of Nations, it was a failure of those Governments which constituted the League. What we are now saying is that if we do not want history to follow the same course as in the inter-war years, we must prevent the United Nations falling 42 into the moribund state of the League of Nations in 1939.
In 1950, when South Korea was invaded by North Korea, many of us thought that the action of the Security Council, subsequently approved by the General Assembly, to which a very large number of members of the United Nations loyally responded, made it clear that the present generation of world opinion would have no repetition of what took place between 1930 and 1939—which eventually led to the outbreak of the Second World War. It is because we are apprehensive that the destruction of the effectiveness of the United Nations may lead to the Third World War that we want the United Nations to play a powerful and effective part in dealing with disputes between nations.
It may be argued that this is not an international dispute, but merely an argument about whether there should be a different form of institution in control of the Suez Canal than was the case before the speech of President Nasser. The Prime Minister has again indicated today that there have been considerable movements of naval, land and air forces, not only those of the United Kingdom, but those of our ally, France. If we require more evidence of the existence of a dispute between countries than exists today, with Egypt on the one side and France, Britain and perhaps the 16 other countries associated with the London proposals on the other, I should like to have that evidence produced.
The acid test of the attitude to be taken by our country and the others associated with us in this dispute with the Government of Egypt is our compliance with the Charter of the United Nations. Are we to exhaust all the machinery in the Charter of the United Nations, or are we to visualise that in certain circumstances it may be necessary to go outside the Charter and adopt the other means to which the Prime Minister referred this afternoon, particulars of which we have not been given? I hope that the Foreign Secretary will tell us what the Government have in mind when they talk about other means outside the United Nations.
Do they mean other means when the machinery of the United Nations Charter has been exhausted, when the United Nations Security Council and the United Nations General Assembly have both 43 failed to carry out their responsibilities—because they have responsibilities just as much as do the Governments of the United Kingdom and France?
Do the Government mean that in the remote future the possibility of the United Nations refusing to take any action whatsoever and to implement the provisions of the Charter, the Government reserve the right to take military action? If that is so, why do the Government not tell us so? The House and the nation might be prepared to listen more than carefully, perhaps sympathetically, to such a statement of future policy, provided that before that position is reached the British Government have gone to the United Nations. When I say "have gone to the United Nations", I do not think it sufficient for the Prime Minister merely to tell the House that a letter has been written to the President of the Security Council under Article 33, informing the Security Council that there is a dispute between this country and Egypt. I say that Article 34 should be invoked. I refer to that Article because it is very relevant to my argument.
The Prime Minister has referred to action under Article 33, which permits of information being sent to the Security Council bringing the existence of a dispute to the attention of the Council or of the General Assembly. The British Government are a member of the Security Council. Why is it necessary to rely on the machinery for sending information to the Security Council when, under Article 34, the Council is given power to investigate any dispute or situation which may endanger world peace? Why are Her Majesty's Government so reluctant to have this question of the Canal placed on the agenda of the Security Council? This is the acid test of the sincerity of this country in relation to the obligation which it undertook when, in San Francisco in 1946, its signature was appended to the original Charter.
It may be asked what is to prevent Russia from exercising the veto if the matter goes to the Security Council. The Prime Minister referred today to the way in which the issue at Abadan was dealt with by the Security Council in 1950. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary would agree with me that there is a great difference 44 between the question of a refinery belonging to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. at Abadan and what the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and every other speaker for the Government have reiterated in recent weeks is an international canal and therefore an international problem. There was nothing in the treaty between the Persian Government and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. of the kind that there is between this country and the Government of Egypt in the matter of the Suez Canal.
§ Mr. Henderson
That may be one of the difficulties about having this matter taken to the Security Council and having it referred to the International Court. Just as the contract between the Persian Government and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. was held to be outside the purview of the International Court, so the agreement between the Egyptian Government and the Suez Canal Company might be held to be in the same position.
As to the control of the Canal following the arbitrary act of President Nasser in taking it over, there are treaties which have a direct reference to the international status of the Canal. The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 and the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement of 1954 contained direct reference to the fact that the Suez Canal was of international importance from the strategic, commercial and maritime points of view. Both these treaties have the signature of the Egyptian Government to them. Therefore, there has been an acknowledgment by the Egyptian Government in 1936 and again in 1954 that they agreed that the Suez Canal is a waterway of international importance.
Reference has been made from the other side of the House to the question of the veto. We had experience in June, 1950, of what might have happened if the Soviet Union had attended the meeting of the Security Council which within 24 hours authorised the use of force in resistance to the aggression of North Korea. In November, 1950, the General Assembly of the United Nations passed Resolutions which are known as the "Uniting for Peace" Resolutions to deal specifically with the problem of the use of the veto.
I notice that an editorial in The Times this morning rather brushes on one side the validity of these Resolutions on the ground that they were neither designed 45 nor capable of overriding the use of the veto on the Security Council. One Resolution, incidentally, was adopted by 52 votes to 5—I do not think I need indicate to the House who the five were.
The Resolution states that the General AssemblyResolves that if the Security Council, because of lack of unanimity of the permanent members, fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in any case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression, the General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately with a view to making appropriate recommendations to Members for collective measures, including in the case of a breach of the peace or act of aggression the use of armed force when necessary, to maintain or restore international peace and security.The main purpose of the Resolution was precisely to overcome the use of the veto. The Times also suggested that that is merely a recommendation and therefore would not imply authority on the part of the United Nations if action were taken on it.
I suggest that his is really splitting hairs and that following the reference of the dispute to the Security Council—as we on this side of the House suggest—and possibly to the General Assembly, with majority decisions both in the Security Council and the General Assembly, there would be, even in spite of the exercise of the veto at the Security Council, moral authority behind any country which sought to enforce the recommendation.
What is the alternative? It is not to go to the United Nations. It is to ignore the provisions of the Charter. It is apparently, in certain circumstances to "go it alone" or to go it with our French [...]. That would be a gross betrayal of our obligations under the Charter and would be a step which would split this country in two and make the position of the Government impossible.
I was very sorry indeed that the Prime Minister should have spoken as he did this afternoon. I remember that in the days between the wars he was a stalwart supporter of the old League of Nations. He risked his political career and his reputation on his loyalty to the League of Nations. I expected the right hon. Gentleman to come to the House today with a clarion call, even at this late stage, to rally round the Charter and the United 46 Nations. I was very disappointed, and I am sorry that the Prime Minister is not here to hear me say so.
I agreed with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when he said that in the Prime Minister's speech on 2nd August there was nothing more than a perfunctory reference to the United Nations and a reference to the fact that it took no action over the embargo on Israeli shipping in the Suez Canal. That was not the fault of the United Nations but, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, the fault of the nations represented at the United Nations.
If we were to take this issue to the United Nations and the Governments of the United Nations for the second time contented themselves with recommendations and refused to take any action, that would be a clear indication that we cannot look to the Charter or to the United Nations Organisation as the instrument for safeguarding the security of the various nations of the world, whether small or powerful.
President Nasser may think that he has done a smart thing in seizing the Canal in defiance and in breach, as I think, of international obligations. Before the League of Nations was formed, the small countries were continuously complaining that they were subjected to the sovereign interests of the great Powers. The complaint was not against the rule of law but against the rule of power and of power politics.
The Prime Minister will, I think, agree that the United Nations gives greater security to the small nations than to the more powerful nations. By his action President Nasser is weakening the United Nations, the one international organ of protection to which all the small nations owe so much.
If I could speak to President Nasser, I would say this to him : "It is all very well for you to keep on reiterating the fact that you must have sovereign status and independence, but if you are to be a member of a great association of nations like the United Nations you must realise that the very essence of that association means that sovereign independence and sovereignty itself, whether of the small nation or the large, must be qualified to the extent that it is necessary to live in peace and harmony, and, indeed, to 47 enjoy the equal status that is provided in the United Nations Charter for the small nation as compared with the large nation. If you take away the Charter, you will be back again in a situation in the international world in which the great nations will again dominate the small nations."
I believe that President Nasser has done a great disservice, not only to his own country and to the small neighbouring Arab nations, but to all the small nations of the world. Therefore, I appeal again to the Prime Minister and to the Foreign Secretary to reconsider the view that we on this side hold so sincerely and passionately. We are not suggesting that we have a monopoly of interest or of loyalty to the United Nations, but I repeat to the Prime Minister that I for one believe that this present situation is the acid test of our concern for our obligations under the Charter.
If we fail the United Nations on this occasion, we shall have set an example to other countries. We shall destroy the effectiveness and validity of the United Nations Organisation and the Charter. I believe that if the Prime Minister would think again, he could carry the whole country behind him provided he employs all the machinery of the United Nations, not merely as a prelude to making war upon Egypt but by placing the responsibility for dealing with what is admittedly an international problem on the shoulders that should bear it : namely, the international organisation represented by U.N.O.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Major Patrick Wall (Hull, Haltemprice)
I will not attempt to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) in discussing the subject of the United Nations, about which he knows so much more than do I. For three generations a branch of my family has lived and worked in Egypt, and I should like, therefore, to put before the House some of the factors of the strength of the present President of Egypt and of his weakness, not only in his own country but in the Middle East as a whole.
The modern history of Egypt, before and during the last war, has been one of the interplay of three major forces : the British, the Palace and the Wafd. 48 Sometimes two of these three combined against the third, and sometimes another two combined together. Now the British have gone from Egypt, the Palace was eliminated by Neguib and Nasser has eliminated the Wafd. Therefore, there are no longer three powers in Egypt who are playing off each other, but only one power—the President, the dictator of Egypt. Therefore, he is in a very strong position. At the same time, he is in a weaker position, because he now has the responsibility of power firmly on his shoulders.
Like any dictator, he must have success to continue in power with the support of his country. He must have success in his own country and he must have success in leading the rest of the Arab nations. He has used the fear and hatred of Israel, he has used Arab nationalism and invoked it against the West and—let us face it—since he has been in power, since the overthrow of King Farouk, Nasser has had an uninterrupted chapter of success, and to that he owes his present position.
I suggest, however, that Nasser also has great weaknesses. In his own country, he is unpopular with practically every section of the population, with the possible exception of the army. Neguib was venerated by the Egyptian fellahin. They regarded him, rightly, as a man who at last would do something for them. Nasser has made promises but all he has done in his own country is to produce great schemes of road development, statues, and so on, to glorify the régime without helping in any way the fellahin in the fields, without helping to raise their standard of living in any way. Therefore, Nasser is not popular with the peasants of his own country.
He displeased sections of the navy and air force in Egypt during the revolution. Obviously, he is not popular with all the educated and literate opinion in Egypt because he has dethroned, possibly justifiably, the pashas and has eliminated the Wafd. There are therefore many factions in Egypt who dislike him and support him only because he is successful the Arab world in general, we must remember that Egyptians are not an Arab people. Many of the Arab nations dislike and are jealous of the Egyptians, because they are the most developed and the strongest of all the countries of the 49 Middle East and because they have had such an uninterrupted run of success.
The Arab States realise and appreciate that in spite of Egypt's lead she has feet of clay, because her population is increasing to such an extent that her own soil can no longer support even the present population. Therefore, unless she can be the leading nation of an Egyptian empire, she is doomed. Other Arab nations know that and fear these facts. Our ally and, I believe, the future leader of the Arab race—Iraq—knows that only too well. She, on the other hand, has money, which Egypt does not have, and sufficient territory to absorb a greater population. In this crisis, therefore, there are great elements of unity in the Arab world as long as Nasser is successful, but the certainty of disunity once Nasser fails to be successful. This applies both in the Arab world in general, in the whole of the Middle East, and in Egypt in particular.
The effect upon this country of the seizure and, possibly, the closure of the Canal has been discussed ad infinitum during the past few weeks, with its effect on oil supplies, the standard of living, the resultant unemployment in Western Europe, and so on. There are, however, bigger factors than that. It is not purely an economic question. The whole future of this country as a great Power is involved. If Nasser gets away with this act, British prestige, which has suffered many blows since the war, will be completely eliminated from the Middle East. Our friends will fall away from us and Nasser will, I believe, have a very good opportunity of creating his dream empire, which will stretch from Casablanca to the Caspian.
Let us remember what such an Egyptian empire could mean to ourselves, to the Commonwealth, and to the world as a whole. Nasser has had to rely for his success on help from the Soviet. This new Egyptian empire, when created, might well try to become a neutralist bloc. The idea of politicians in Egypt is that it would stand between East and West and play one off against the other.
However, Egypt has had to rely so much upon the Soviet that it seems very likely that the new empire would fall under Communist domination. That is a factor the importance of which we have to realise because the future of the Commonwealth is directly involved. Such a 50 neutralist bloc might well attract India and if Egypt and her new empire became dominated by the Soviet Government, India might go the same way. The future of this country and of the Commonwealth, as undoubtedly the future of France, are affected intimately by a solution of the present problem.
I would digress from my main theme in order to put before hon. Members one or two points about the importance of joint Anglo-American policy in this part of the world. I myself am very pro-American, but I believe that American policy in the Middle East since the end of the war has been wrong in almost everything it has done, and that a lot of the troubles we are facing in the Middle East today can be laid at the door of American diplomatists and business interests. This applies to Persia, to Egypt before and at the time of the revolution, and to other Middle Eastern countries.
If Nasser wins once more and we are defeated over this matter, the United States will also be defeated. Some economic interests in the United States might think that by taking over British influence they will absorb British oil interests and British economic interests in the Middle East, but if the Egyptians get away with this it will mean, in the long run, that American economic and oil interests will be eliminated from the Middle East as well. It would also mean that two of the firmest and most loyal allies of America, namely, Britain and France, would have passed away as great Powers. I hope that American politicians will give this point of view a great deal of thought in spite of the lobbying of certain business interests that might be putting the opposite point of view.
§ Mr. Stan Awbery (Bristol, Central)
Is the hon. and gallant Member for Haltemprice (Major Wall) telling us that war will satisfy the problem of the Suez Canal and will not aggravate other and greater problems to be thrown up afterwards?
§ Major Wall
That is a point that I was coming to. I was pointing out that the weaknesses of Nasser have not been fully discussed, certainly not in the Press, during the past few weeks.
Now what do we do? I agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite who said 51 that we should try to march with our Allies as we have done throughout this dispute. There was a conference of 22 nations, and the representations of 18 nations have been put to Egypt. We have heard my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister say that the United States and France are with us in the users' organisation which is to be set up. We heard my right hon. Friend say that we are going to the other nations represented at the recent London Conference to ask for their support. I maintain that we are marching with our Allies, although to listen to some of the speeches made from the Opposition benches it would almost appear that the Prime Minister declared war on Egypt this afternoon.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
When the hon. and gallant Member says that Britain needs Allies against Egypt, does he mean that we shall go at the speed of the slowest, which is no speed at all? When we make this trade union of users and we are told that the Americans are in it, does the hon. and gallant Gentleman realise that we are handing the leadership over to the country that has been the leading blackleg throughout?
§ Major Wall
My point was that we should go as far as possible with our Allies. Let me develop that theme a little more, and first say a word with regard to the pilots. Anybody who has lived in Egypt will know how extremely unpleasant it can be during a period of crisis to be in a country where the mob can take charge, especially if it is supported by the leaders of the country. The situation is very grave.
These pilots have done great service to all nations by running the Canal efficiently. We must leave it to their good judgment whether they intend to work for the Egyptian Government or not. It has been said that they could be replaced by pilots from Soviet Russia and other parts of the world, although we have been told how difficult it is to pilot ships through the Canal. We have been told that it needs ten years' experience on a master's ticket and five years' training on the Canal itself. Can we imagine that pilots brought in from the Soviet and other countries will be allowed to take ships through the Canal, or that insurance 52 companies will insure ships placed in the hands of such pilots?
That is the kind of thing that Nasser has brought upon himself. He is stopping the navigation of the Canal by his own action. The people who will suffer in the short run will be the Egyptians because they will not get anything like the revenue that they got in the past and they have sacrificed the greater revenue that was promised to them by Mr. Menzies.
What should we do? We should apply economic pressure wherever possible and as far as possible we should boycott the Canal, although as has been explained we cannot do that altogether. We could take one or two other measures. One I might describe as the nationalisation of the head-waters of the Nile. Any threat to the Nile waters has been the great fear of Egyptians for 3,000 years. Control imposed on the head-waters of the Nile in Uganda might bring Nasser to reason. I appreciate that there are very great difficulties about that, but it is a point that should be borne in mind on both sides of the House.
We should go to the United Nations. Indeed, the Prime Minister told us this afternoon that a letter was being sent to the Secretary-General. My right hon. Friend did not exclude in any way a reference to the United Nations eventually ; but can we rely upon that? I have tried to paint a picture to show that Nasser is not really strong and that he will be strong only as long as he continues to win. Can we leave him the three, four or five months during which the ponderous machinery of the United Nations turns round, and possibly nothing happens in the end?
We should do all we can from the economic point of view, short of war, and we should take the matter to the United Nations. However, if all else fails, I believe that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House will be at one with us in saying that we must win, even if it means war
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
In the course of the analysis made of the present situation by the hon. and gallant Member for Haltemprice (Major Wall) he attempted to face some of the problems. I do not think we can 53 say that about the Prime Minister. It will be interesting to follow up some of the points which the hon. and gallant Gentleman raised.
He suggested alternatives to the rule of Nasser in Egypt, he described Nasser's weaknesses and he told us of the other forms of power that went before. Are we to accept responsibility for reinstating some of those other forces which proved their weakness in Egypt? What sort of alternative government has the hon. and gallant Gentleman in mind as preferable to Nasser? It is no use talking in general terms.
§ Major Wall
Let us remember that General Neguib is under house arrest and is still the idol of the mass of the Egyptian people.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
However much Nasser may have offended different groups in Egypt the one thing most likely to add to his prestige and importance is the kind of action which this country is taking against him. It is most likely to encourage support. Some of the proposals of the hon. and gallant Gentleman would be the very best for Nasser's prestige.
Many of us came here today almost certain that the Prime Minister would at least make clear that we were making use of the United Nations Organisation as the proper avenue of appeal on this issue. Although the hon. and gallant Member for Haltemprice appears to have been convinced that that was in the mind of the Prime Minister, we on these benches certainly are not. Indeed, we were deliberately told that the reference of the dispute to the United Nations was one of the possible alternatives in the future, but only that. That is not good enough for hon. Members on this side of the House.
We have, in fact, been asked to give the Government a blank cheque with which to do whatever they like. I hope that the House will not give that blank cheque and, what is more, that the House is not quietly going back into Recess in order to enable the Government to write out any sort of cheque they like. I very much hope that until we are given much clearer undertakings from the Government as to their future course of action the House will not resume its Summer Recess. If we are to pay some regard to our democratic procedures—and we are 54 all conscious of the critical situation with which we are faced at the moment—this is surely not the time to send the House packing as soon as practicable after the Government have tried to win a party Division in the next day or two.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
The Prime Minister may very well be the cause of a bitter division in this House. Indeed, his speech today is already the cause of a very real and bitter division throughout the country. The right hon. Gentleman must accept full responsibility for that. There is no doubt that the majority of feeling in the country was that every attempt should be made to solve this problem through the available channels.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition rightly pointed out that the issues of division are now so modest in character that it seems obvious that a solution to the practical issue of the transit of shipping through the Canal could satisfactorily be found without Naser winning a complete victory, and certainly without the Prime Minister winning a complete victory. That, surely, is the very basis of the kind of compromise that we expect and have to accept, and certainly the basis of the work of the United Nations.
What appalled me more than anything both in the debate that took place in this House before the Summer Recess and again today was and is the obvious glee of hon. Members opposite in their effort to destroy the effectiveness and openly strip away all the responsibility of the United Nations. I have always had my suspicions about the sincerity—
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
The hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend stated that the United Nations had failed over Abadan. Because of that failure circumstances might well be created in future which would debar a matter in which action was necessary being taken to the United Nations.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I regard the pledge which we have given concerning the Charter as a binding pledge. I accept the fact that we may not always be satisfied with the decisions come to by the United Nations, and that the case which we put forward may not always receive the 55 support which we think it ought to have, but that is no reason for throwing overboard an international organisation which already exists and which has the opportunity of development.
Hon. Members opposite are quite willing at election times to sign all sorts of declarations affirming their support for the United Nations Organisation and for what it stands, but when it comes to the test, what do those pledges amount to? They amount to just about as much as we expected from hon. Members opposite before the war. Of course, there are now some converts on the benches opposite. Indeed, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Sir V. Raikes) has confessed that he was wrong from 1931 onwards—presumably to 1939. Pretty soon we may have the Lord Privy Seal making an apology for doing a deal with Hitler before the war. But what relevance has that to the issue which faces us at the moment?
Hon. Members opposite are back at their old game of attempting to destroy, just as they did before the war, the international organisation which, however weak it may be, offers the hope, chance and opportunity of progress for the future.
§ Mr. R. Brooman-White (Rutherglen)
The hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition have been delivering great tirades against the alleged intentions of hon. Members on this side of the House and saying that we wish to strip away the responsibility of the United Nations. Does he not seriously think that we all want to build up the strength of the United Nations? The hon. Gentleman knows the realities of the situation. He knows that the attitude of the Soviet Government has been made perfectly clear during the negotiations. He knows the General Assembly attitude of the Arab nations. Does he really think it is helping the United Nations to demand that, whatever the circumstances, a problem which that organisation may not be able to solve should be shoved on its plate?
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
The hon. Gentleman has been making a speech. I do not blame him because he may not get another chance. The comment which he has just made is precisely the kind of comment that was made before the war. The comment then made was that 56 because the League of Nations was weak we must assert our own individual power or, rather, give in to Powers which were great and menacing. The benches opposite are now in favour of military action being taken against Nasser.
Not only have we on these benches not been impressed by the determination of hon. Members opposite to weaken the United Nations, but we have had other evidence of that determination quite recently. Indeed, just before the Recess an Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office made a speech which was widely commented upon throughout the country about how this nation could not afford the miserable contributions which it was making to the United Nations Agencies, and that those contributions were affecting our whole financial economy. The noble Lord the Member for Dorset South (Viscount Hinching-brooke) supported that view. That is the true voice of the Tory Party.
It is true that hon. Members opposite have covered up their real intentions for a number of years and have made some foolish people believe that the Tory Party was anxious for real international action and international authority. Of course, it is not, and this is the real test and evidence of it. In his statement today the Prime Minister has, in fact, shocked very many of us who were hoping that he would make a kind of appeal for the use of the United Nations which we had expected, and would take the opportunity of rallying the support of many parts of the world on the issue of the use of the Canal.
As has often been said, this is not a matter that concerns us alone. The Prime Minister of India and others have made it clear that they are also anxious about it. But it seems to me that we are doing everything in our power to make enemies rather than friends of all those who have common interests with us in the use of the Canal.
I wonder who has thought up this "canal hauliers association", which has apparently been proposed by the Prime Minister? We want to know a good deal more about it. It has been said, rather glibly, that this association has been approved by France and America, but when the question was raised whether America was prepared to support the use of force if Egypt did 57 not accept this form of association, or did not make facilities available, there were some mutterings on the Treasury Bench. I take it from those mutterings that America is not prepared to go that far.
She may be prepared to go as far as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said he was prepared to go—and as far as many hon. Members on this side of the House are prepared to go—namely, the formation of some sort of association of users to discuss the matter further. That may be a possibility, but, so far as we could understand it, the only country that supported this proposal, in effect, was France. We should like to know how many of the 18 countries that were joint signatories to the proposals put forward to Colonel Nasser in Cairo recently—never mind the 22 countries who were parties to the Convention—would support the full implications of this new brain-child of the Prime Minister's. How many of them would be prepared to support, with force, the implementation and development of this association—of it providing pilots and taking dues—irrespective of the attitude of Egypt? These are essentially matters for us to be clear about before we can know what is really in the Government's mind.
We come again to the question, to what extent did the Prime Minister suggest that the matter should be referred to the United Nations? He has said that he has made the United Nations aware of it. I am sure that we are all very grateful for that—but I should not be surprised if the United Nations was aware of it already. As I understand the matter, Colonel Nasser has already made the United Nations aware of it. There is not very much in that suggestion. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that it was possible that an approach might be made to the United Nations. What a wonderfully slighting reference to the United Nations.
The right hon. Gentleman says that there are other measures than taking the matter to the United Nations. Of course, he did not specify them. But he must specify them before this House has any right to give a blank cheque to this Government to use them. Are we, as a House of Commons, going to say that this Government can ride roughshod, and do what they like? We already have very 58 grave suspicions about the extent of the call-up. It was understood when the House rose that although a special Proclamation had been issued, this was merely in order to collect together a relatively small number of special people who were needed, and we were assured that we should be recalled if anything more were needed.
We are recalled, Presumably that means—or does it?—that something more is needed. It seems to me that in all these ways the Government are showing their utter disregard of the one international organisation that can be of avail and was of avail in a very vital case which arose not so long ago, where our own Labour Government were responsible for taking action jointly with the United States.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
No ; in Korea.
The Prime Minister spoke, no doubt very properly, of the work which the Prime Minister of Australia has done on the committee of which he was chairman, but we wonder how strong is his position. Reference has been made to Colonel Nasser's weakness, but when there is published to the world the declaration of the views of the Foreign Secretary of Australia—it is here for all of us to read—which seem to be widely different from the views of his Prime Minister, it would seem that even in Australia there is not unanimity.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
The hon. Member has not given chapter and verse of the quotation to which he is referring. Is he, possibly, referring to what appeared in this morning's Manchester Guardian, which, as I read it, appeared to be a bit of speculative journalism?
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
The hon. Member may say so. It is the report of a speech which, I understand, has been made publicly and has been circulated in Australia, and it is there for any hon. Member to read, if he cares to do so. I am only asking, in view of the very grave doubts even about Australia's attitude in this matter—and we must not forget the possible doubts about all the other 18 nations which supported the proposal for discussions with Colonel Nasser—what evidence there is that these countries are prepared 59 to support the sort of action hinted at by the Prime Minister and his supporters.
I can assure hon. and right hon. Members opposite that this is a bitter issue and a very real division. I warn them that feeling in this country is deeply divided upon the issue, and that that feeling is very real. There is a great mass of opinion that the Prime Minister, after allowing placards of his features to go on the hoardings at the last Election as a peacemaker, is, now that the Election is over, leading us into very different waters. I ask all hon. Members opposite to realise that we have the combined determination of the Trades Union Congress in its recent resolution—[HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."] Hon. Members can scoff at that as much as they scoff at Nehru, the leader of India, and at others, but what does it profit us in the end?
Militarily, I am sure, we can again occupy the Suez Canal zone, but did we not occupy it before? Did that prevent the blockade of Israeli shipping? Will it prevent it now? Is not it true that Her Majesty's Government today are proposing actions which will lead us, in the Suez area and in Egypt, into a further development of what we are already suffering from in Cyprus and elsewhere? Is it not therefore clear that the Prime Minister must be prepared quickly to sacrifice some of his personal feelings in order to secure a real and satisfactory settlement of this issue—or would not it be better if we got a new Prime Minister altogether
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)
The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) has treated the House to a lot of loose talk about the Government's wanting to overthrow the United Nations. He even went so far as to say that many hon. Members on this side of the House were attempting to destroy the United Nations. All I want to say about it at this moment—although I shall come back to the subject of the United Nations later—is that there is not one scrap of evidence that that is true.
§ Major Beamish
The criticisms made of the Prime Minister I will also touch 60 on later, but I should like to say that I think the Prime Minister has made a very great speech indeed, which will be widely acclaimed throughout the country.
I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition is not in his place—[HON. MEMBERS : "Why should he be?"] I am not blaming him, but I wanted to make a brief reference to his speech, which I regarded as being full of special pleading. I was very sorry that he could not see some of the most unhappy faces of those sitting behind him, and especially the look on the face of his right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), who I hope especially will contribute to this debate.
The Prime Minister referred to the remarkable degree of unanimity that he had noticed during the debate in this House at the beginning of August, just before we rose for the Summer Recess. That was something which was widely remarked on in the Press of the country and it appeared to be true from what was said by the Leader of the Opposition. I know that the right hon. Gentleman "got it in the neck" from Tribune and very quickly changed his mind.
However, the main reason why I wish to contribute to this debate is because I want to make some comparison between what the Leader of the Opposition said on 2nd August and what he said today. I also wish to look briefly at the Suez crisis in its rather wider setting of the whole struggle in the world which has been going on since 1945, and, in fact, earlier, between international Communism and those countries which wish to stop the spread of Communism.
I cannot help remarking that it would seem that one of the main reasons why Parliament has been recalled is to enable the Leader of the Opposition to apologise to the House for making such a good speech on 2nd August. I think it as well that some of the things he said then should be on the record again today. He said then—I am paraphrasing—that while the nationalisation of the Canal might not of itself be wrong—given fair compensation which he thought it improbable that Egypt would be able to pay—he was strongly opposed to the termination of the concession.
§ Major Beamish
If hon. Members opposite will give me an opportunity, they can judge later whether I am right in saying that there is all the difference in the world between what was said then and what was said today. Perhaps they will listen to what I have to say.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that he "resented," he "objected and took strong objection to" Colonel Nasser's action on three grounds. First, he regarded the promise to maintain the principle of the 1888 Convention as of "very doubtful value" because of Egypt's attitude to Israeli shipping and Nasser's reply to the United Nations Resolution of September, 1951. Secondly, he said that his confidence in Nasser was "profoundly shaken" by the manner of seizure by force and the promise to finance the Aswan Dam to the tune of 100 million dollars a year which he described as equal to the "whole gross revenue of the Canal"—[Hon. Members : "Hear, hear."] Well, I was just repeating these things.
The third reason why the right hon. Gentleman was unhappy was because he thought the episode must be recognised as "part of the struggle for the mastery of the Middle East"—[HON. MEMBERS : "Hear, hear."] That is still agreed, is it? [HON. MEMBERS : "Hear, hear."] That is rather an extraordinary thing—[Laughter.]—but I am glad to hear it. The more we can agree about these things, the better.
What the right hon. Gentleman also told us was that Nasser "wanted to challenge the West and to win." He even compared Nasser with Mussolini and Hitler. The right hon. Gentleman went so far as to do that. Hon. Members opposite do not cheer that, so I will give them an opportunity to do so. The right hon. Gentleman said that he saw a greatly increased threat to Israel, that the effect on British interests in other Arab States would be very dangerous indeed and that the economic measures taken by the Government were fully justified. All I can say is that if that speech, which was violently attacked by Tribune and other Left-wing newspapers, is compared with what the right hon. Gentleman said today, it will be found that he has turned a complete somersault.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has given the House the pleasure of hearing him read out parts of a 62 speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) on an earlier occasion. Perhaps he will go on and repeat the rest of that speech, which may be more interesting to the House than any remarks which the hon. and gallant Gentleman may himself make.
§ Major Beamish
If the hon. Gentleman is not interested in my remarks, he is under no compulsion to stay in the Chamber.
In the same debate the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South strongly denied the legality and morality of Egypt's action. He described recent Government policy towards Egypt as "excessive appeasement". He asked himself the question whether force should or should not be a possible element in settling the matter. I hope that hon. Members opposite will listen to this. After saying that he favoured taking the matter to United Nations which, in his own words, should "stop dodging vital international issues," the right hon. Gentleman clearly stated that if the Government and "our friends" came to the conclusion that the use of force would be justified it might well be, to use his own words again,the duty of hon. Members, including myself, to say that we would give them support."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd August, 1956; Vol.557, c. 1666–7.]There is now dead silence from hon. Members opposite. Do hon. Members opposite still agree about that? Do they agree with the views of their ex-Foreign Secretary? Perhaps, later, some hon. Members opposite will have an opportunity to say whether they do or not. All I could gather from the speech of the Leader of the Opposition was that they radically disagree with these words of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South.
§ Major Beamish
I am going on to deal with the same subject. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman said anything of the kind ; not in those words, anyhow. When the record is examined it will show whether I am right. In my opinion, directly the House rose the rot began to set in in the Socialist Party.
63 I listened to a broadcast speech made by the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) and the clear impression left in my mind, and the minds of some of my hon. Friends who also heard the broadcast, was that the right hon. Gentleman, speaking on behalf of the Socialist Party, was opposed to the use of force in any circumstances whatsoever. It was only a couple of weeks before that the same right hon. Gentleman was recommending in this House that there should be an arms embargo on all countries in the Middle East after more arms had been provided for Israel. I interrupted the right hon. Gentleman's speech and asked whether he meant that there should be an arms blockade.
I should also have liked to have asked him at that time what he meant by "the Middle East" in that context. After giving me a short lecture which, when paraphrased, amounted to the statement that politics was the art of the impossible, the right hon. Gentleman made it perfectly clear that it was definitely the view of the party opposite that there should be an arms embargo in the Middle East after Israel had been provided with more arms.
Mr. R. H. S. Grossman (Coventry, East)
It was made perfectly clear, both by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) in the last debate, and today, that we have always been prepared, as in Korea, where there is aggression, and united action against it, to regard our support as inevitable. My right hon. Friend said that there might be cases where there is a direct attack on oneself and where one has to defend oneself and ask the consent of the Security Council afterwards. Those are two occasions in which we would feel that the use of force was justified. What is the good of all this dreary reading out of former speeches?
§ Major Beamish
I am sorry that the hon. Member does not like it. I make no apology to the House for reading the quotations, as I wanted them to be on the record in today's debate. [HON. MEMBERS : "They are on the record."] I wanted to compare what was said on 2nd August with what was said today.
Let us look back for a moment at the Abadan crisis, which occurred in June, 1951. The Foreign Secretary at that 64 time told the House, on 21st June of that year :I have said we are prepared, and we have given an undertaking that we would do everything we can to protect British lives."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st June, 1951 ; Vol. 489, c. 829–30.]The right hon. Gentlemen said, five days later, that the cruiser H.M.S. "Mauritius" had been ordered to proceed forthwith to the vicinity of Abadan. Personally, I thought that those precautions were very proper. I think that every hon. Member on this side who was then on the Opposition side of the House agreed. I did not hear anyone talking about "gunboat diplomacy" then, but if we had taken those same precautions that remark would have been made by some hon. Members of the Socialist Party.
Whether our military preparations at the time of the Abadan crisis were inadequate and Mossadeq called the bluff I do not know, but I certainly do not agree with the right hon. Member for Blyth, who said in his broadcast that in his opinion it was probable that the military preparations the Government are now taking were too large. I say that it is much better that they should be too large, although I do not think they are, than that they should be too small.
I want to make two more quotations. I am very glad to see the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) in his seat. I was going to leave out this quotation, but now that I have the advantage of seeing him here perhaps the House would like to hear his words of wisdom. It was reported in The Times quite recently that he said :Of all the foolish and wicked things which the present Government has done over Suez this inviting of French troops to Cyprus is the most dangerous.The right hon. Gentleman went on to ask :Are we to try to occupy every Arab State from Iraq to Morocco?How very different was the tone of that from what the Leader of the Opposition said on 2nd August. There is no resemblance whatever.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
As the hon. and gallant Member has quoted my remarks I should be very glad if he would try to answer the two points I made. That would seem more relevant.
§ Major Beamish
I can very easily answer. What I say is that we have in France a friend and ally, and I cannot see why we should not work in concert.
In a Sunday Times article quoting an extract from a forthcoming book by Lord Strang there is an exceptionally good and brief analysis of "appeasement", a word which will no doubt be bandied about in different ways during this crisis. Lord Strang writes that appeasement acquired its evil repute when too heavy a price began to be paid, a price which not only failed to bring permanent easement, but also carried with it an impairment of national credit. That is an excellent description of what we have come to know as appeasement.
§ Major Beamish
I am very glad that the hon. Member has said that. It has not taken me nearly so long to find it out. The trouble is that he and most of his colleagues have not found it out yet. Whatever mistakes were made in the 'thirties, we on this side of the House have learned our lesson. We know what appeasement can mean. I remember the Prime Minister saying upon an earlier occasion that the people who hate war most are those who have seen most of it.
§ Mr. Silverman
Does the hon. and gallant Member attach no significance at all to the fact that those who, in 1935, took the view of appeasement which he did not take then but does take now, are the very people who think the Government today are wrong, whereas those who supported appeasement in 1935 are the very ones who now think that the Government are right?
§ Major Beamish
I do not want to get into a detailed argument about this, but really that argument is completely topsyturvy. Since the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) asked the question, I would say that what characterised the Socialist Party between 1934 and 1939 was a quite pathetic belief in unilateral disarmament and in collective security on paper. As a matter of fact, I was not guilty of appeasement in the year the hon. Member mentioned because I happened to be a Regular soldier then. Quite apart from that, whatever mistakes we made in the late 'thirties which may 66 have caused Hitler to think that we had not the will or power to resist, we are not going to make the same mistakes today.
Because of the very helpful interruptions I have suffered I am afraid that my speech is getting very long. Before getting on to the Suez question in its wider context, I wish to say a little about the United Nations. It is a very grave mistake, indeed at any time to use the United Nations Organisation as an excuse for not defending vital British interests. That does not mean that I do not want to see the United Nations working. I want to see the machinery improved. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh ; I have just as much faith in the United Nations as any other common-sense person, but I realise what is deficiences are.
§ Major Beamish
I cannot give way again. I wonder what hon. Members opposite would have done at the time when North Korea attacked South Korea if the Soviet Union had not been in a huff and had attended the Security Council and vetoed condemnation of the North Korea aggression. I wonder how many would have used that as an excuse not to oppose that aggression.
§ Major Beamish
I am very grateful. As a matter of fact, I do not believe that that would have been so. I believe that a very large section of the party opposite would have decided in those circumstances, veto or no veto, that appeasement at that particular time might have led to much worse things. I do not like to think that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne was right in saying "all of us."
In my opinion, it is escapist to state flatly that force will not be used in any circumstances unless the United Nations agrees. I do not believe that any responsible Government can be bound by United Nations inaction to do nothing to protect its own security. As an example of that I should like to quote once again—I prefer to quote than to paraphrase-what the Leader of the Opposition said on 2nd August about the use of force :Force is justified in certain events. Indeed, if there were anything which he had done.…67 "he" in that context was Colonel Nasser—which would justify force at the moment, it is, quite frankly, the one thing on which we have never used force, namely, the stopping of the Israeli ships."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd August, 1956 ; Vol. 557, c. 1625.]In other words, the Leader of the Opposition expressed the definite opinion on 2nd August that force ought to have been used to protect Israeli ships through the Suez Canal, yet he told us today—he implied—that in the same circumstances force should not be used to protect British ships through the Canal. Is that right or wrong? Has some difference crept in?
§ Major Beamish
I cannot give way. I am sorry if I am being unduly provocative, but I do not think that quoting the right hon. Gentleman's speech should be provocative. I cannot see why I have been interrupted so much. I am quoting the right hon. Gentleman in the kindest and friendliest possible way.
The question arises which ought to be answered during the debate : in what circumstances would the Socialist Party be willing to use force?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
If the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) does not give way, the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) should resume his seat.
§ Mr. Hunter
Is it in order, when an hon. Member rises to ask another hon. Member to give way, for 30 or 40 hon. Members to shout out, "Sit down"?
§ Major Beamish
I never mind giving way within reason. After all, this is not Question Time. Generally, the more I give way the more I like it, but there are a lot of things which I wanted to say and I have been side-tracked so much that I should now like to make my own speech in my own way. The subject of the use of force seems to be rather touchy and I think I will leave it alone.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
On a point of order. It has long been the rule that hon. Members taking part in the debates should not read their own speeches. Is it not equally out of order for an hon. Member to read the speeches of half-a-dozen other hon. Members?
§ Major Beamish
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who is smiling, was one of the few Opposition Members who, I thought, made an outstandingly good speech on 2nd August. I agreed with almost every word of it.
§ Major Beamish
I do not want to be unfair in this matter, but I have reached the conclusion that when in power the Socialist Party has invariably acted in the field of foreign affairs in what it believed to be the best interests of the country as a whole, but that when in opposition it is prepared sometimes to embarrass the Government against the national interest in order to gain its own party political ends. When I was a small boy I was brought up on very charming books written by a man named Hugh Lofting. One was the story of Doctor Dolittle. There was a strange animal in that story called the Pushmi-Pullyu. One could never tell whether it would go backwards or forwards or stand obstinately in one place. It had a head at each end. I am very much reminded of that animal by the behaviour of the Socialist Party during the last month or so.
69 I had hoped to have a little longer to devote to the next section of my speech, but in my closing sentences I want to look briefly at the Suez crisis in its wider world context. I do not think it can be said that there is any evidence that the violent abuse of Stalin which has been indulged in recently in the Soviet Union means that there has been a fundamental change in the strategy of international Communism.
I was talking recently to a senior member of the Soviet Ambassador's staff, and he reminded me that it was one of the tenets of international Communism that capitalism would wither away. He added, at the end of rather a good lunch, for which he very kindly paid, "Of course, the trouble is that you are not withering away quickly enough." It seems to me that that is a very good brief description of what Soviet policy consists of today.
In spite of what has been said about Stalin, none of the plans made by international Communism for its activities abroad have, as far as I know, radically changed. In 1920—and I have quoted this once before in the House—Stalin wrote :England's back will be broken, not on the banks of the Thames, but on the banks of the Ganges, the Yangtse and the Nile.There is no doubt whatever that if the Soviet Union could achieve that she would be wholly delighted.
I want to remind the House of the sudden change in Soviet policy towards Egypt. In 1953, the Egyptian Government was officially described asmadly reactionary, terrorist, anti-democrat and demagogic.Two years later, Mr. Shepilov, who was then editor of Pravda, went to Cairo. Everything was praised. Since then Moscow has been getting its hooks on Egypt to an increasing degree. Egypt has already mortgaged more than one-third, if not 40 per cent., of her exportable cotton crop to the Communist bloc. She has a loan, I suppose and believe, at very low interest, from the Communist bloc amounting to 145 million dollars ; whereas during the last three years all the other Arab countries put together have received loans totalling only 15 million dollars.
When these facts are coupled with the trade agreements which Egypt has with all the Iron Curtain countries and China, 70 it must become increasingly obvious that Egypt is running grave risks by playing this game with the Soviet Union. I wish these facts were widely known in the United States, where some people have not shown sufficient understanding of the rôle which Egypt may unwittingly be playing in the world's struggle. These efforts at economic penetration have quite clearly been accompanied by political penetration, and hon. Members who have not heard of the Soviet Committee for Solidarity with Asian Countries and do not know of its activities in Egypt could well find out a little more about it, in the same way as they might find out a little about the activities in Egypt of the World Federation of Trade Unions. They are extremely interesting.
I wish Colonel Nasser would make a special study of the treatment of Moslems in the Soviet Union. I do not know the exact number of them, but in 1939 there were about 21 million. There is no doubt that ever since the Russian Revolution they have gone through stages of violent persecution. Only as recently as 1953 Islam was described in the second edition of the Soviet Encyclopedia in these terms—and I should like every Moslem in the Middle East to understand this attitude of the Soviet Government towards Islam :Islam has always played a reactionary rôle, being a weapon in the hands of the exploiting classes for the spiritual oppression of the toilers, and has been used by foreign colonisers to enslave the peoples of the East. … In the U.S.S.R. Islam exists only as a survival of one of the idealogical forms of exploiter society.I wonder how many people in Egypt realise the official attitude of the Soviet Government to the 21 million or more Moslems now living within their borders.
I turn over half-a-dozen pages—[Laughter]. Unfortunately, it is not possible to have them circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT, as would be the case in Congress. They were very good pages, very good indeed.
I want to say the briefest word about the American attitude to this crisis. I do not think that it is reasonable to say that since the Suez crisis occurred the Americans have been other than extremely co-operative. I speak here of the Administration. Certainly, there have been voices in America, as there always will be—the voice of Mr. Lippmann, for instance—singing very different tunes. 71 Only a few days ago Mr. Lippmann wrote that what happened in the Middle East was not of vital interest to the United States. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth, and I am quite sure that President Eisenhower and Mr. Dulles are as well aware of that as are any of us in this House.
In any case, Mr. Lippmann is contradicted by equally famous columnists such as Mr. Alsop, who writes a good deal more common sense. I think that it would be well if Mr. Lippmann and others like him in America realised that if the same threats were made to the Panama Canal as are now being made to the Suez Canal there would be no one in America who would not be immediately ready to take the strongest possible action to defend their rights. I should like to see what Mr. Lippmann would write if those threats were made to the Panama Canal.
I apologise for taking so long, although I have been helped in that matter by hon. Members opposite in their usual friendly fashion. I should like to sum up. After the evidence I have given in my speech the Opposition should be thoroughly ashamed of its "rock 'n roll" behaviour. In my opinion, Colonel Nasser's Government are playing a very dangerous and risky game with the Soviet Union, in whose political and economic grip they may soon find themselves inextricably held.
Colonel Nasser—and this is a paraphrase of some of those pages which I put aside—has undisguised ambitions to dominate the Arab countries for his own aggrandisement. I think that that is one of the main reasons for his bitter resentment over the successful conclusion of the Bagdad Pact between four Moslem countries and the United Kingdom. Incidentally, I think that the significance of that Pact has been noticed too little. In my opinion, unless there is the closest possible understanding and co-operation with the United States over the Suez crisis, it may prove immensely more difficult of solution.
Finally,While force cannot be excluded, we must be sure that the circumstances justify it and that it is, if used, consistent with our belief in and our pledges to the Charter of the United Nations …72By all means consider all the pros and cons, but I ask the Government not to be too nervous, because if they are too nervous we shall begin to evolve a situation in which countries can set themselves up against international practice, international morals and international interests, and, in that case, we are not helping the peace of the world ; we are helping anarchy, conflict and bad conduct among the nations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd August, 1956; Vol. 557, c. 1625–1669.]I wonder how many right hon. and hon. Members opposite recognise those words? The whole of that paragraph was lifted, direct and verbatim, from the speeches made on 2nd August by the Leader of the Opposition and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South. I agree with every word.
My constituency letters and my personal contacts during the last few weeks reinforce my considered view that the Government have handled this crisis since it first broke out with skill and tact combined with firmness and patience. I regard the criticisms made of the Government today and during the last few weeks, both by the Left-wing Press and by hon. Members opposite who should know better, as carping, contradictory, weak and self-destroying, and I say to the House, "Thank heavens we have a Conservative Government.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
I understand that the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) has recently recovered from a very serious illness. I am sure that the whole House would wish me to say how pleased we are to see that he has overcome that illness and come back to this House—and we really mean that. I think it is also fair to say that his long absence is partly responsible for the fact that we have heard such a deplorable speech. No one can speak in this House for a very long time without saying something worth while, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman took a very long time to say nothing, except to read other people's speeches which we could read for ourselves at our leisure.
This is, indeed, a time of great crisis not only for the people of Britain but for the people of the world, and the question is what we should do now and in the future in regard to it. I recently went to America and afterwards spent a whole month in the Middle East. I came back at the time when the 73 Americans had announced the rejection of the Aswan Dam project. I was there at the time of the announcement. The parts of the Middle East to which I went were Iraq, the Lebanon and Syria, and the impression I gained from personal contacts out there, and from personal knowledge, is that, in fact, the Prime Minister has achieved what Colonel Nasser has himself been trying to achieve for a long time—to foster a sense of unanimity amongst the peoples of the Middle East. Nasser was not able to do that whilst I was there. I understand that many of the Arab countries, Iraq in particular, were bitterly opposed to his policy.
What we must face quite clearly is that the one thing that does unite the Middle East is that they are all anti-Jew. No matter to what part of the Middle East one goes it is evident that that unites them. It would be right to say also that if this Government blundered into war, attacked Egypt, such action would unite the whole of the Middle East against us. I say that because I believe that, undoubtedly, Israel would support us in that fight—and we can all understand why. The consequence would be that we should have the whole of the Middle East ranged against us.
If such be the case, as I think it is, it completely destroys much of the argument which the Prime Minister attempted to elucidate on television to the people of Britain. He then told the people just how important to our trade the Suez Canal was. He also said that, if necessary, we should take all necessary measures to ensure that the Suez Canal was kept under international control. He did not mention the United Nations on one single occasion. In that speech he conveyed that, as a Government, they would do everything possible to keep the Canal open. He went on to say what would happen if we failed, but the fact is that if we did what the Prime Minister wanted to do we should get no oil at all and the Canal would be of no use to us.
We talk about "our" oil, but the oil belongs to the Arabs. It comes from their lands. It is true that we have the pipelines, and people and capital there, but the oil belongs to the Arabs. If we adopt the mental attitude that 74 because of the ingenuity of British personnel in the past this oil rightly belongs to us we shall lose the support of those who, in my view, are being helped by the way in which the oil companies are now operating. We want to ensure that the Arab countries that are supplying the oil to us continue that support. We must analyse just what the use of force means. Is it thought that if we bomb Cairo and put forces in the Canal area, Iraq will continue to supply oil freely, and that Kuwait and Persia will continue to send oil?
We should not get any oil at all. Above all else, we know that the Egyptian policy has been to try to get a united Middle East, and the one thing which will keep the Arabs together for a long time is that they are all anti-Jew. There is no doubt that any action by this Government involving the use of arms, although it might bring the Jews on our side, would bring the whole of the rest of the Middle East against us. When we talk of force let us understand what it means. Let the people of Britain know what force means.
§ Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)
The hon. Gentleman says that the oil is Arabian oil. In the sense that the Arab countries deserve the payment of royalties, he is quite right. But what is the use of oil until it is brought to the surface? How can the Arab countries produce the hundreds of millions of pounds which are necessary to do that?
§ Mr. Mellish
Those countries which are producing oil, such as Iraq and Kuwait, are working with us and are doing a good job of work, but if war came, all that would be pushed aside.
We have heard from the Prime Minister that there are only enough reserves of oil in this country for about a month. This is a statement from the Prime Minister whose reputation was established in this House by his action in trying to keep alive the League of Nations. This is the story of a Prime Minister whose past record is one of which he may well be proud, and yet on this issue he throws overboard all his principles.
§ Mr. Mellish
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Yet in his television broadcast he never mentioned 75 U.N.O. at all. He created alarm in the hearts and minds of many people in this country. He is largely responsible for our present position. He has ruined all the chances that we had of discussing the matter sensibly at U.N.O. The whole thing has been smeared by the action of this Government.
I wish this matter had been referred straight away to U.N.O. so that we could have shown the world that we were anxious for an international settlement. Instead of that we heard the right hon. Gentleman, not only in this House but also on the television, and the Foreign Secretary demanding that war should come with Egypt. The Daily Express and the Rothermere rags are advocating the same policy—"supporting Eden", they say, "in a fight against Egypt".
Is that the way for a man who believes in collective security to act? It is the behaviour of a man who has given way to the benchers behind him, known as the "Suez rebels". The Prime Minister's reputation in his own party is getting low. The 1922 Committee has attacked him bitterly. They attacked him for getting out of the Suez Canal. The reason why the Prime Minister took what we regard as this unnatural action for such a man was that he was literally frightened by a large number of his own back benchers who had already declared their animosity because of the Suez withdrawal.
§ Mr. Mellish
I cannot give way now, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind. There are others who wish to speak.
I am not satisfied that the economic difficulties which would arise from using routes other than the Suez Canal would be so great as the Prime Minister has alleged. I submit that anything is better than war, and I would be prepared to spend the extra money involved and to ask the people of Britain to undergo extra hardships if necessary as a result of using those other routes.
§ Mr. Mellish
If the Tory Government can keep the country out of war, they have a very good trump card to put 76 before the people. The Government can say, "We have kept you out of war with Egypt and we have not fired a single shot". A great deal of Labour Party propaganda would be needed to keep the Tories out of office at the next Election.
The policy of the Tory Party at the moment is hell-bent for war. If war should come with Egypt it could not end there. It would be no trouble to defeat Egypt. The Egyptian Army must be very poor and ineffective. But war would not end there. If we were to occupy the Suez Canal base and if we were to establish free passage for our ships, first, I do not think that the oil would come through because the Arab countries would not allow it to do so, and, secondly, there is no knowing where events would lead.
Perhaps Russia, and certainly India, would take a view which would lead to the possible destruction of much of the Commonwealth which many of us on these benches have supported. [An HON. MEMBER : "Since when?"] The trouble with hon. Members opposite is that they talk in terms of the Empire. We on this side of the House like to talk in terms of the Commonwealth.
If we were to have a war with Egypt, I do not think that the Suez Canal would be at all effective, in which case we should have to use other routes. The whole argument in favour of force is absolutely false. It might be all right if it could be shown that by using arms we could retain the Suez Canal and get our ships through. But I do not think we could. Therefore, we should have to use other routes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) recently wrote an article in which he pointed out—and this needs to be said—that in twelve years' time the ownership of the Canal is reverting to Egypt anyway. In addition, in a few years after that the Canal would be ineffective to deal with the amount of tonnage going through. What sort of long-term plan have the Government got? Do they still have the idea that for twelve years we are going to rule the Suez Canal and then give it up? What sort of argument is that?
Egypt has done something which we know is wrong, but we can understand why she has done it. After all, the Aswan Dam project was important to the Egyptians. While I was in the Middle 77 East I heard it said again and again that the Suez Canal would be taken over by the Egyptians. I do not know why our Government were so surprised—although I suppose I ought to understand it, for they are such an inefficient crowd. They do not seem to understand what everyone in the Middle East was saying.
Whatever else anyone does in this House, I for my part cannot and will not support this Government in the use of force. I am not an important Member of this House, but I make this promise. I will fight this Government on this issue. I will take that fight down to the docks, and I shall say that the Government have precipitated this crisis, and that instead of getting world opinion behind us we have world opinion ranged against us.
The Labour Party has given a lead to the world. If the Government challenge that statement, let them go to the country and find out. Let the Prime Minister ask the people. He smiles at that, but the people do not think that war is anything to smile at. He will not get the support of the people of this country which there was in 1939. In fact, he could not use force now ; the country is completely divided, and he knows it. But he has got to try and find a way to satisfy the mob behind him. Those who really matter are the people of Britain. Let us ask them for their views. If there were a straight fight on this issue, I am confident that Labour would be returned.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Sir James Hutchison (Glasgow, Scotstoun)
There is only one individual remark made by the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) to which I should like to refer. It is on all fours with a remark made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. The hon. Member for Bermondsey accused the party on this side of the House of being "hell-bent for war". The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said that we did not want a settlement. Those remarks are unworthy, completely untrue, and shocking. I believe that hon. Members on this side of the House have at least as much experience of war and its horrors as have hon. Members opposite. The only difference between us is that we believe that our course is the one which will cost the country the least.
78 It is not surprising that the position of the United Nations and the question of reference to the United Nations should have occupied some part, often the major part, of every speech today. What is surprising is that hon. Members should have so misread and misinterpreted the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and misinterpreted the words of the Charter of the United Nations in making the speeches which they have done. I took down in longhand, as best I could, the words of my right hon. Friend. I understood him to say that the Government held themselves free to take other steps, either through the United Nations or by any other means, and that he had, jointly with the French Government, addressed a letter to the President of the Security Council.
What do hon. Members want? [An HON MEMBER : "An explanation."] If hon. Members have looked at the Charter, which they are so happy to quote, they will have read Article 35, which says :Any Member of the United Nations may bring any dispute, or any situation of the nature referred to in Article 34, to the attention of the Security Council or of the General Assembly.That is precisely what my right hon. Friend has done.
There has been much discussion—and it is this theme which I propose to treat of this afternoon—on the legality of what President Nasser has done. I do not believe that there is in this House much disagreement with our view that his action has been completely illegal. In the country there is, I think, a certain amount of doubt, and I should like to spend a few minutes in tracing back what has in fact happened and how the Convention and the Concession have been broken.
We find that in the last century two most important agreements were concluded. The Convention of 1888 laid down fundamental principles upon which the Canal should work, holding it open to all nations in peace or in war, without distinction of flag. Incidentally, I may mention, for the benefit of the apologists for President Nasser who are making themselves so vocal, that that agreement was reaffirmed by President Nasser in 1954 under the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement, when he said he agreed to uphold the Convention of 1888. It has been accepted, I think, that that Convention was already broken by the refusal of the 79 use of the Canal to Israeli ships. That refusal was condemned by the United Nations, with no effect upon such a staunch supporter of agreements as Nasser. It has been reported, whether accurately or not I do not know, that a few days ago he threatened to discriminate against British ships if British pilots left his service. It does really seem to matter very little to President Nasser what the Convention of 1888 says.
Now let us look for a moment at the Concession to Ferdinand de Lesseps, the French architect and designer of the Canal, which was given in 1856 and was to endure until 1968. The wording is in a significant form ; it says that he shall forma company composed of capitalists of all nationsand grants himexclusive power for the establishment and direction of a universal company.Those are unusual words to find in the charter or articles of an ordinary company which is merely a national concern.
As though to underline the international character of this particular company, Article II says thatThe Director of the company shall always be appointed by the Egyptian Government and be selected as far as practicable from the shareholders most interested in the undertaking.This is no ordinary national company which has been seized, having as it does its headquarters in Paris and an international board. Yet Nasser claims the right to be able to nationalise it just as though it were an Egyptian railway company. There is a world of difference between the two. Incidentally, with his tongue in his cheek no doubt, he did in June, 1956, a few days before he seized the Canal, endorse the Concession. What a tongue in what a cheek.
President Nasser has given evidence of bad faith all along the line, in breaking both these international agreements and also in hysterical vilification of this country immediately after our agreement on the Sudan and immediately after we had evacuated the Canal, both of which great steps he at one time contended would at once improve relations between our two countries.
Let us for a moment consider the purpose for which he stated he was 80 nationalising the Canal. It is important to do this in order to show his real intention. Apart from the enhancement of his prestige, and he, like all dictators with some success behind them, has begun to suffer from the folly of grandeur—a word which he used continually in the speech which is quoted in The Times this morning—and apart from an ambition to form and, no doubt, lead, an Arab empire, the real purpose, so it is said, was to pay for the High Dam at Aswan. It has been reliably calculated that that project will cost about £400 million. The dividend paid by the Suez Canal Company over the last five years has averaged £10 million a year.
If we consider the interest to be paid on the money with which he would pay off and compensate the expropriated shareholders, and the interest on the money which he would have to borrow to build a dam, we find that there is in fact very little of the £10 million dividend, upon which he casts covetous eyes, left to him. It must be perfectly clear, therefore, that he intends to raise the dues and raise them steeply. His apologists say that he has not done so. Of course he has not ; it would be madness, in so delicate a situation, for him to behave otherwise than correctly, after his original seizure. With all his contemptuous and inflammatory language, he must be careful.
He has, without consultation and in contravention of two international agreements, seized a waterway of supreme importance to the world. There is another waterway of supreme importance to many nations—the Nile. Egypt's life literally depends on the waters of the Nile. So, to a lesser extent, does the Sudan, and so, to a lesser extent also, does Ethiopia, and, to some extent, Uganda. Egypt claims, and has claimed for many years, complete sovereign rights over all Nile waters—a curious situation which we, surprisingly, went a long way to recognise in 1924.
Let us consider the composition of the Nile. It is made up of the Blue Nile, the Atbara, the Sorbat, all Ethiopian tributaries which join the White Nile in the Sudan. These three rivers have an immense flow of water in flood time, which sinks away to very little when the weather becomes hot. All these projects, the Tana Dam, the High Dam at Aswam, 81 and others, have been devised to store this rush of waters at one time in the year in order to release water at another time in the year, to everybody's benefit. While all this is going on, this flood and this ebb, this disappearance of water from these three Ethiopian rivers, the White Nile, which rises in Victoria Nyanza, goes on flowing with relative stability. It is in fact a much more reliable river.
Nasser has said, quite publicly, quite openly, and it is generally realised, that he wants more water. So in fact does the Sudan. At the moment they have failed to reach agreement as to what the proportion of water would be if the Aswan Dam were in fact to be built. Here, then, we have the paradoxical situation of Egypt claiming complete control of one waterway, the Suez Canal, which is geographically in its territory, and also claiming complete control of the waters of the Nile. We have Egypt using such words as "No work shall be started which would deprive Egypt of one pint of water anywhere in the Nile," and claiming complete sovereignty over a river which lies only partly in Egypt's territory. This is a classical example of trying to have one's cake and eat it.
§ Sir J. Hutchison
I was coming to that point. I am much obliged for the help which the hon. and learned Gentleman has given me.
These rivers produce at present 84 milliard tons of water a year. Of these 84 milliard tons, 32 milliard are lost and 52 milliard are used, 48 milliard by Egypt and 4 milliard by the Sudan. It is, therefore, not surprising that the Sudan disputes that division of rights. So in order to try to come to some conclusion in this complicated and delicate matter, a body called the Nile Waters Commission was set up in 1925, and its Report became part of an exchange of letters which virtually constituted an agreement between this country and Egypt in 1929. In the conclusion of its Report, the Nile Waters Commission wrote these words. I think that it would be of advantage to read them to the House and I hope that 82 they will be read again by President Nasser.The Commission has been impressed by the fact that future development in Egypt may require the construction of works in the Sudan and neighbouring territories such as Uganda, Kenya and Tanganyika. It does desire, however, to record emphatically the view that neither the elaborate drafting of an agreement nor the provision of special machinery for adjudication should be allowed to obscure the importance of mutual confidence and co-operation in all matters concerning the river and its waters.Where is this confidence today? We have played our part. In 1954, two years ago, our Queen opened a dam at Owen's Falls, damming up some of the water which flows out of Victoria Nyanza. The dam was designed to supply hydro-electricity to Uganda for its industries. At the request, no doubt, of Egypt, or, at any rate, of the users of the waters of the Nile, we built a dam 3 ft. 3 in, higher than we need have done for our own requirements, thereby setting up storage capacity to that extent. The sort of action which we have suffered from and the sort of language which Nasser has been using do not encourage us to go on supplying that water which we have dammed up for him or to co-operate in the way which the conclusions of the Nile Waters Commission say will be so vital and essential to the future of Egypt. Nasser would do better to remember his own words about dependence on the Nile. In that context, may I read to the House one sentence written by the Manchester Guardian, which is not particularly friendly to the Government in this matter, when it said the other day :Commercial breaches are a cause for energetic action short of war.
§ Sir J. Hutchison
I know, but here is some energetic action which the hon. Gentleman might think over.
In the First World War, I spent weary and sweltering months sitting on the banks of the Suez Canal, allegedly defending it from the Turks. In the Second World War, thousands of gallant young men from this country—much more gallant than ever I was—were laying down their lives, and this country was pouring out money, to defend the Canal and incidentally to defend Egypt. It was not Egypt that we were concerned with defending ; it was the Canal. Having 83 fought in two wars to stop the Canal from falling into unfriendly hands, I am not going to stand by and see just that thing happen today.
We can have no confidence in the word of a man who has so patently broken it so often. In any case, the lives and careers of dictators are short. What would happen if Nasser were succeeded by a Communist Government controlling the Suez Canal? Some people have said that they are afraid of what the Arab countries would do if we stop him. I am very much more afraid of what the Arab countries would do if we did not stop him. It would be a signal for grab and ransom all over the Middle East. Ownership of the Canal does not matter. Let Nasser have his dividends, but let us not cease to demand through the United Nations or otherwise that the management must not be in exclusive hands. I have given an indication, if hon. Gentlemen like to think over what I have said today, that there are other means of bringing Nasser to book.
Many national or international organisations are being set up. It is the day for them. We have the Coal and Steel Community, the World Bank, E.P.U. and probably another on atomic energy, but the nations who take part in these international organisations do not scream to high heaven about having done so or about their loss of national sovereignty and prestige. This sort of pattern may have to be repeated elsewhere under the United Nations.
As we stand here today it would be tragic if this country and this House did not recognise the dictator that Nasser is. He has been recognised, as my right hon. Friend has already pointed out, and as has been pointed out by the Leader of the Opposition in his speech of 2nd August, a very much better speech than his speech of today, and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison). With the examples of Mussolini and Hitler before our eyes the pattern should be familiar.
The plan is a dictator's—uniting an Arab empire, vilifying an imagined enemy. The language is a dictator's, inflammatory and hysterical, intermingled with expressed good will if we only give way. There are high-sounding phrases like the Army of Liberation, Liberation 84 from what? The action and the threats are those of a dictator—forcible entry into the premises of the Canal Company ; arrest of individuals and third-degree confessions ; reluctance to allow those in prison to be visited.
The pattern is sickeningly familiar. Let not the next generation have cause to say, as they look back, as so many of us have said so often when we think of Hitler and his entry into the Rhineland, "That was the time when we should have stopped him."
§ 6.49 p.m.
Mr. R. H. S. Grossman (Coventry, East)
I was reflecting, when I heard the last words of the hon. Member for Scotstoun (Sir J. Hutchison), that he was also repeating the Prime Minister's dangerous mistake of drawing political parallels. I have heard a great deal in this debate and during the last four weeks about the resemblance of Nasser to Hitler and Mussolini. I think that Nasser in certain ways is a dangerous man, but if we are to have parallels we ought to have them in some relation to perspective.
We can compare Nasser to Kernel Ataturk, although he is not so strong and constructive. It is slightly ridiculous to try to put forward the view that there is any analogy with the problem which faced us in Europe, when we faced the greatest single military Power in Europe, rearming fast, and the problem which we face in the Middle East, with a weak, backward Egypt, with 70 per cent. of the population so poor and destitute that they cannot be called up for the army and, in my opinion, with not enough capacity to fight the Jews if it came to war. For the Prime Minister and hon. Members behind him to say, "We are faced with another Hitler," is somewhat ridiculous. I would remind them that it is sometimes useful, despite one's British skin, to comprehend how the rest of the world listens to us when we talk that ridiculous language.
§ Mr. Crossman
With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I would point out to him that I am making my own speech.
It is quite ridiculous to compare Nasser with either Hitler or Mussolini, and those who do so are rather like the person who supposed that Goliath thought he was the 85 fellow who was in danger and the likely victim of aggression and got it into his head that David, with his sling, was a dangerous little fellow and that one had really got to deal with him before he brought his sling into operation.
Those who compare Nasser with Hitler and Mussolini should inquire in Asia and in Africa, when they would discover that it is true that to many people in the world, including people in those continents, the British Government seem to be indulging in hectoring and bullying behaviour. To them the British Government look like a great European, and the Egyptians look like little fellows who are being bullied. We had better get it clear how we look to the rest of the world.
We have heard a great deal today about how peaceful we have been, how we have sought every possible means of pacification, how determined we have been to seek negotiation. There has been no negotiation of any sort up till now. Since the Canal was grabbed by Nasser there has been—
§ Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing
Nasser was invited, and it was his choice not to come, and he thought it not desirable to negotiate.
§ Mr. Crossman
Negotiation does not consist in telling the other chap to do everything according to one's own terms. What we have had so far has been negotiation by ultimatum by both sides. Nasser presented us with an ultimatum, the fait accompli of nationalisation of the Canal. We have presented him with another ; we have said that we have a plan for internationalisation, and that that plan is our minimum. It is a strange sort of negotiation in which one starts with minimum demands, which one knows to be totally unacceptable to the other side.
Then we told Mr. Menzies to trot off to Cairo for five days. We instructed him not to negotiate. We said that he was limited simply and solely to explaining to the Egyptians exactly what our plan was. Therefore, the Foreign Secretary must admit that up till now negotiations have not begun. There has been merely a confrontation of views.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
I would point out to my hon. Friend that the Prime Minister's broadcast on the eve of Nasser's possible 86 arrival was deliberately designed to make it impossible for him to come.
§ Mr. Crossman
I think there will be agreement in the House that up till now, in the five weeks since the grab, negotiations have not started. We have had the views presented, and we have had Nasser, in certain particulars, moving slightly from his original view—on tolls, certainly, although that offer was not taken up, but, immediately he made it, it was slapped down by our side.
I ask this question of the Foreign Secretary. Does he believe in negotiation with Nasser? I ask him for a particular reason. I have heard and read many speeches, including what the Foreign Secretary has said and what the Prime Minister said on the wireless, about Colonel Nasser, and we have just heard the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Scotstoun, who said that Nasser is a dictator ; speeches in which it has been said it is obviously impossible to negotiate with Nasser. Do the Government think that? We should like to know. What is the view of the Government about Colonel Nasser?
Is it their view—it is a perfectly tenable view ; I am not saying that it is not possible to hold it—that he is the sort of person with whom it is impossible to negotiate? That was my view of Hitler, and I was against appeasement because I thought we could not possibly negotiate with him otherwise than on the issue of war. Is that the Government's view of Nasser? Is it their view that it is impossible to negotiate with him?
If it is, I find that the whole of their policy since the end of July makes perfect sense. If they think negotiations are impossible, if they think the task is to topple Colonel Nasser over, and that all our work should be designed to overthrow Colonel Nasser, and to substitute for him a Government more amenable, then I can make sense of their policy. Let them, however, at least tell us that that is their policy. Let them openly tell us, and then the public will know what the Government are about, which is not the seeking of a peaceful solution, not the seeking of an agreed settlement, but the seeking—and it is a perfectly tenable proposition—of the overthrow of a man they think such a danger to the world that we must take the risk—and it is a very considerable risk—of overthrowing 87 him either by psychological warfare, a subject to which I shall come back in a minute, because I am interested in it myself, or, if psychological warfare fails, in the last resort by military action.
I do not underrate the intelligence of the Foreign Secretary or that of the Prime Minister. I do not think that they are fools. Therefore, if I watch a policy which makes sense only on the basis that they have decided to seek to topple Nasser over, then I believe that that is their policy. I should like to illustrate that by what they have been doing for the last five weeks.
Before they start the purported negotiations they vilify the man on the other side. That does not exactly help negotiations. That is done by people who do not know much about psychological warfare. They think it a good way of weakening his support in Egypt. In fact, it strengthens his support. They think that if they talk loudly enough and vilify him enough the Egyptians will not like him.
That is one of the theories people have who start psychological warfare without knowing much about it. They think that by that means they will induce his fellow-countrymen not to like him and that they will automatically throw him out. It is notable that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary seem to think that if they make unpleasant enough speeches about Nasser they will somehow make him disappear.
The next thing to do, if one plays this game, and one thinks that speeches are not enough, is to organise a military demonstration, to organise a sufficient mobilisation of forces to make the Egyptians believe in it. Many of them do not like Nasser. Most of the bourgeoisie do not like him. He is not at all popular with those classes he has dispossessed. His only mass support is among the very poor. Therefore, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary no doubt thought that there would be elements—I think the hon. Gentleman the Member for Scotstoun said this—we could put in his place, if they would rebel, in a coup such as the Americans carried out in Persia, the only successful coup there has been in the Middle East.
We should like to know whether that is so. We can understand it, even though 88 we may not agree with it. We should like to know. We should like them to be candid with us and to tell us. They are not being candid with us.
Here I come to the problem of psychological warfare, with which some of us had something to do during the war. In wartime one can play this game because one is actually at war and, therefore, if one threatens to knock somebody out and to use physical force, one can support words with action. In war, one has the force to do so. In wartime psychological warfare operations can be supported by the use of force in the last resort.
The psychological warfare the Government have conducted since last July has been utterly disastrous. It has had exactly the opposite effect from that which was intended. I will tell them why. Because if we have not got the ultimum threat of force, then, of course, the fellow we assault with words is strengthened by the assault.
Have we not yet learned from our mistakes about Franco? By spending our time hating and abusing Franco when we were not prepared to send an Expeditionary Force to Spain we did more to strengthen Franco there than by any other single thing. I say that because I was one of the people who, at that time, said that if we talk enough against a man, it weakens him, but, in fact, it does not do so ; it strengthens him. Nasser is infinitely stronger in the Arab world, therefore, because of the military posturing of Britain and France against him.
Unless we actually go out and hit him—which will not be done because the Americans will not permit it—the postures merely build him up as a hero. People will say, "Here is this little man facing the great empires of the West. They are marshalling their forces." Incidentally, it is interesting to see the rusty nature of the old sword. It took five weeks to take it out of the scabbard before it was waved. It must have impressed Russia and Nasser to see how long it took to get sufficient troops together to look something like an Expeditionary Force.
I ask the Foreign Secretary to consider the spectacle we present to the eyes of the world. For weeks I thought it was a joke. It was not until I came back to this country that I realised that some 89 people were mad enough to think that they could try to overthrow Nasser without the ignominy of General Eisenhower ordering them out. Because that is what will happen if they try. Within 48 hours the Security Council, under American leadership, will tell them to stop. And rightly so, because we cannot afford a world war for the sake of the personal reputations of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary.
This brings me to the central announcement of the Prime Minister today, the latest piece of psychological warfare, the users' association. I hope that we shall have more details from the Foreign Secretary tomorrow about this. I am exceedingly interested in that association. That is because I live near the Midland Railway. I take it that when the Midland Railway was nationalised on this argument I would have been entitled to set up a users' committee of those who disliked nationalisation, and to say that we would collect the ticket fees in protest. I say with great respect to the Foreign Secretary that there is no more basis in international law for setting up a users' association which we select. No doubt Panama could set up a rival users' association and hire another group of pilots to operate at the other end of the Canal.
No, the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, and I know, that this is not a serious suggestion. This is a method of provoking Colonel Nasser. The sole purpose of the users' association is to bring war a stage nearer. Here I give the Government credit not for the desire to have an actual war, but for knowing that each step of this kind in psychological warfare needs to look more and more like war each time each bluff is called.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
Would my hon. Friend agree that it is not psychological warfare to do what I hear has now been done, to collect so much liquid blood from our hospital reserves that our civilian population is becoming short of it?
§ Mr. Crossman
I am afraid that this is part of the game of keeping up the appearance of going to war in the hope of intimidating the other side and of toppling the other fellow over. Each time it is done one is committed to another dangerous stroke and the Government have to think of something else to 90 do which threatens war and, therefore, brings war nearer.
Why do I say that the users' association threatens Nasser with war? It is obvious that the users' association will supply its own pilots. We now know that the Company timed the departure of the pilots for this week with the announcement about the users' association, so it is obvious that the Company is acting in full collusion with the French and British Governments in the timing of this matter.
This could result in a situation in the Canal where Colonel Nasser, not unreasonably from his point of view, might say that a Canal pilot means a Canal pilot ; that it does not mean a pilot used by somebody called a users' association, but by somebody controlling the Canal. He might say, "I cannot let your ship through because you have not a Canal pilot on board." We might say that there was a real Canal pilot on board, and so the clash would be brought one stage nearer in the hope that Colonel Nasser would climb down.
Colonel Nasser will not climb down. He watches America very carefully. He read about the Press conference of General Eisenhower yesterday, so he knows exactly how far the Americans will go. Perhaps the Foreign Secretary will tell us? No doubt the Americans said, "Have a go, boys." But will they go to the point where, if a ship carrying a users' association pilot enters the Canal and is challenged, they are prepared to send an American battleship of the Sixth Fleet to see it through?
Of course, they are not prepared to do so before the American Election, and they will not be prepared to do so afterwards, because they are sensible on this subject. In this latest trick in the Government's game of psychological warfare the bluff will again be called. They will have to think of something else, and, in turn, of something else again, until they come to terms with their backbenchers and say to them, "We are sorry, but we cannot get it that way." Because we have either to fight or to negotiate. What we cannot do is to try to overthrow Colonel Nasser without the use of physical force.
I advise the Government to give up the idea of overthrowing Colonel Nasser by psychological warfare. The Public Relations Officer of the Prime Minister is responsible for all the Press releases about 91 war preparations. I have looked at this objectively and I can come to only one conclusion about him. I think he must be a secret agent of Colonel Nasser, what one might call an Egyptian Burgess and Maclean, for every action he has taken has actively assisted Colonel Nasser and has strengthened his position by this bogus war preparation and rumour, unless it was seriously meant.
The terrible thing is that if these bogus things are done often enough there may come a point where one is faced with an appalling choice between humiliation on the one side and war on the other, and one may blunder into a war which was never meant because one meant to get the results not by war but by psychological warfare. So I beg the Government to be careful, because they are getting near that point with the users' association.
One other general comment about the situation we face. It is fair to ask : what would you do? I tell the House candidly that we have to face one thing. After the events of the last five weeks there is no way of restoring even the weak position we had in the Middle East before these disasters started. Whatever way it comes out, whether by war or negotiated settlement, the result will now be a devastating defeat for Britain. That will be the result of all this war talk.
If the Government had started negotiating straight away, a settlement could have been reached which would have been regarded as perfectly honourable and would not have looked like a triumph for Nasser. But after all the blowing of military trumpets and weeks of war propaganda, a perfectly reasonable settlement, such as will have to be made in the end, will be a defeat for us. That will be entirely due to the activity of this Government, and nothing the Opposition could do if they came to power could remedy that terrible thing.
I am convinced that we have to negotiate. The Leader of the Opposition was right when he said that if we study objectively in the White Paper the excellent summary of the Committee of the 18 nations, and of Nasser's latest proposals, it is absurd to say that negotiation could not reach a settled compromise if both sides wanted to reach one. It is ridiculous to say that, when there has not been one day of negotiation.
92 Therefore, the first thing we say from our side is that we would not be ashamed to negotiate. I hold the view that the international plan is better than what Nasser has done by grabbing the Canal. I would rather have international control, although I feel embarrassed that we, who as a country have stood aside from every possible international organisation in Europe, should always find it a good thing that other people should be submitted to international control but not the British. It does not only apply to the Government : it applies to us, just as we were responsible for the Schuman Plan, but it is really embarrassing, and the Egyptians have noticed it, to recommend complete international control of Egypt's most important asset when we said that the British coal mines could not possibly be submitted to an international authority.
I agree, in principle, that the international plan is better, but I ask myself, in terms of security, what is the advantage in terms of security of an international control of the Canal? I have never understood this. There are some international gentlemen there—civilians—and they are in control. Why does this stop Nasser and his army from their actions? It has never been made clear why we think it is worth while risking a war to have an international civil authority in charge there rather than Nasser's authority, for it is clear that it is not the type of the authority which controls the Canal, but which is the territorial Power with the army to control it.
Once the party opposite had agreed that British troops should go from Suez, it was obvious that Nasser was the territorial Power who would have the physical force to blockade the Canal at any time he liked, and it makes no difference to the type of organisation which we have to control the Canal. Though I prefer the international organisation, I do not say that it is worth while risking a world war on the difference between one type of organisation and another.
I think that if this country took a more reasonable view of this matter, it would be easier to negotiate a satisfactory settlement. If we saw the differences in proportion and not exaggerated in the clichés of, in the one case, the Canal being international and free, and, in the other case, national and controlled, in 93 neither case can we prevent Egypt, if Nasser wants to, from blocking or blowing up the Canal. The only way in which we could do that would be by having an international military force on the Canal, and nobody has proposed that.
I put it to the House that we should negotiate sensibly. Let us get what we can and realise that the last five weeks have made negotiations infinitely more difficult because we have got on such a confoundedly high military horse that getting off it will take all the agility of the Prime Minister. I do not underestimate the right hon. Gentleman's capacity for doing so. I remember him in the 'thirties as the hero of the League of Nations, when he became a replacement for Lord Templewood and then did the very job of demolishing Abyssinia which he was sent there to stop.
If the right hon. Gentleman could do that then, he can do this one in reverse. He can be sent there to be adamant against Nasser, and I think that after six months, if we negotiate, he will come out with a great triumph at the other end, although, in fact, it will be a fifty-fifty deal, and one of those which I would call the Edenesque settlement of the type which we always regarded in the past as an achievement of such conspicuous skill, as in the case of Indo-China.
I beg of the Foreign Secretary, in negotiating about the Canal, to have one point of principle in mind, although I know it is a lot to ask. It refers to the blockade of Israel. I think it would be ridiculous for us to enter this business with Egypt still having the right to blockade Israel and nobody else. The Israeli problem should be kept out of this as far as possible. Simply on the issue of the Canal, I am interested in the Government sitting on their high horse and fighting for a principle which they have sedulously avoided mentioning.
The only issue in the last five years on which Nasser could be said to have violated international law I have not seen mentioned in the speeches of the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister. I know why it is. It is because we are appeasing Arabs on the subject. On this we should not be too high minded. We should make sure that on this issue, whatever final settlement comes, there can no longer be a settlement which allows one nation to 94 blockade another and still say that the Canal is free.
Having said that, however, I agree with those who say that our oil is at stake. The Canal is not the only issue. One of the things which the Government have done by their five weeks of psychological warfare is to make it certain that after the Canal crisis is settled the oil crisis will come. Nothing can now prevent the demand for the nationalisation of the Iraqi oil. I think it was inevitable anyway, but it will probably come ten years earlier owing to the Government's toughness. It will be impossible for an Iraqi Government to hold that demand back.
We have to think very carefully and learn something from the terrible disasters which have afflicted us in the last five weeks. We have to learn from those mistakes. We have to learn that we could do one of two things in the Middle East. We can either restore an Anglo-French empire in the Middle East, or, rather, build one up, because there never was one, and it is conceivable, at least, to do it, but if we do not restore an Anglo-French empire in the Middle East we have to face the fact that the sort of indirect, covert Foreign Office colonialism that we have here is far more irritating to the Arabs than the overt colonialism of being a member of a British Colony, because we have exercised an indirect Foreign Office colonialism in the area.
We have assumed that Governments can be seated and unseated by us at will. We have had our Glubb Pashas not only in Jordan, but in every part of the Middle East, where we have assumed that we have the right to dictate the sort of Government these countries should have by a mixture of bluster and threats one day and blandishments the other.
The ghastly fact about the Middle East is that we have alternated the big stick and the carrot to a point which has made Arab nationalism completely out of gear. Look at the history of our treatment of General Neguib and Colonel Nasser. First we wooed Nasser, then we threatened him, then we wooed him again, and after three years of alternating every six months there was the climax of the Aswan Dam, when we first rushed to him and said, "If you are a good boy and are not too pro-Russian, we will give you the Aswan Dam". We appeased him and tried to buy him out of the hands of the Russians.
95 Let us be candid about it. Six months later, we abruptly changed, saying, "You are a bad man." If we treat Arabs in that way, if, one day, we say, "You are bad boys" and next day say, "We will give you some lovely sweets if you are good," if we treat them as children in that way we soon find out that they do not happen to be children at all. They happen to be very civilised—at least, if decadent, they are a civilised lot of people—and they respond to being treated as immature children with a xenophobia which it is impossible to describe.
The hatred of the West and of the Jews which has been created by ten years of alternating threats and appeasement is an appalling phenomenon, and I do not believe that we can deal with it by holding out, because it will blow up. It has been blowing up in place after place. Glubb Pasha was a lesson, but we are still paying £10 million to Jordan. Why is the Foreign Secretary paying £10 million to Jordan for the Legion when Jordan is neutral? Pure appeasement. Why did he offer the Aswan Dam to Nasser? Again, appeasement, and so we get this alternation of appeasement and the growth of nationalism which the Russians are busily exploiting.
I say perfectly frankly to the Foreign Secretary, and I know it is a difficult thing to swallow, that the final thing to link Britain with France in this crisis has been more damaging to us in the Arab world than anything I can think of. What does the Foreign Secretary think Lebanon and Syria think of French troops arriving in Cyprus and Britain backing the Algerian war de facto? That is what we are doing. Does this really help us to keep the oilfields, unless we are prepared to have a British soldier every 100 yards along the pipeline for 1,017 miles from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean in eternity? If that is the problem, let us be told, but if we are not prepared to patrol and guard the area and resurrect a sort of Kipling empire, then let us face the facts.
The only other alternative is to give the Arabs genuine independence and treat them as completely independent nations, even if they are young nations and they are rough, immature and rude to us. Here we have the problem of a conflict between ourselves and America, to which many of my hon. Friends have referred. 96 It is a conflict of policy. This is the American policy in the Middle East. Recently, I was talking to someone who had just come back from Saudi Arabia, where he was concerned with developments in Aramco. He told some fascinating stories of how Aramco behaves. Apparently there are certain rules in Aramco. The Americans live entirely separately. Nothing can be bought in the PX which can be bought in a store outside. If a person uses one swear word against an Arab, he is sent straight home. Even more ironical, Aramco has laid it down that Catholics must fast on Wednesdays and have their Sundays on Fridays in order not to upset the Arabs.
This is a very interesting way of doing things. Aramco was sent to Saudi Arabia with clear instructions. It was told, "Do what you can to get money. You will probably get it all. We shall help you to get your profits. If you lose and the concern is nationalised, then you must make enough profits to make it worthwhile, because the U.S.A. will not be behind you." That is called "good neighbour policy." It is the opposite of "dollar imperialism." The concern is told to be nice to the Arabs, and, if it stays there, to get as much as it can without upsetting the Arabs.
There is a contrast between the American ultra pro-Arab attitude in Saudi Arabia and the British semi-boss, semi-appeasing, semi-tough, semi-leaving it, which we call the Tory policy. The contrast between the two is total. The Arabs watch the two and play one off against the other. I suggest that the Americans are having the greater success. If we want the oil, we shall have it on condition that it is a purely commercial relationship and nothing else. If we just do a deal, our companies will be there, and we shall be wise to tell the Arabs that, if they like to nationalise them, we will control the distribution and they will have the production.
Indeed, we should regard what has happened in Persia not as a disaster but as a tremendous success forced upon us by our own stupidity. What has happened in Persia is a perfect arrangement. The Persians have the production and national ego is satisfied, and we have the distribution. Now the way flows smoothly. However, instead of learning 97 from Persia, the Tories regard Persia and Abadan as disasters. They were disasters in that we were forced to act against our will. We should have voluntarily proposed this arrangement to the Persians.
I suggest that we should voluntarily propose to the Arabs that in future the relations should be purely commercial, that in future every Arab State should be neutral if it wishes, and that they have a perfect right to do whatever they like. Of course there will be a risk. The Russians might come in. However, they are coming in much faster through the Bagdad Pact, and they are coming in faster because of the tough policy on the Suez Canal. Everything the Government have done not only strengthens Nasser but strengthens the Russian position in the Middle East.
I plead with the Government to think twice now. I know it is difficult to get off a very high horse, but I beg them to get off this high horse with as good grace as possible, remembering that Mr. Dulles had to do it over Indo-China and did it very nicely with the present Prime Minister's assistance.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
I have never before had the pleasure of following in debate the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman). I listened very carefully and with great interest to what he said and I find that practically the whole of his speech has been a justification of Nasser.
The hon. Gentleman talked about being friends with Nasser. It seems to me that he has gone out of his way to be, and to prove himself to be, a friend of Nasser's. I am not really surprised, remembering a dinner about a year ago. I have wanted to give the hon. Gentleman an opportunity to explain words he used then in the company of two very eminent Arabs, one an ex-Premier of the Lebanon.
I understood the hon. Gentleman to say on that occasion that it was he who had instructed Colonel Nasser how to use his commandos in order to get the British out of the Canal Zone. The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) was at the dinner, and so was one of my hon. Friends who also understood the hon. Gentleman to say that. We may have been mistaken, but the fact that we 98 could have been sincerely mistaken in understanding the hon. Gentleman to say that, clearly shows that both Arab gentlemen, who were very pro-Nasser and supporters of the Pan-Arab world, might very easily have formed the same opinion. I should be very glad now to give the hon. Gentleman the opportunity of explaining precisely what he said.
§ Mr. Crossman
It is a most extraordinary performance to talk about a dinner. If I remember the dinner rightly, all I said was that Nasser had told me that he was interested in how the Jews organised themselves and had asked me to see him because I had come from Israel. I told the story to remind people that Nasser is not as anti-Jewish as one might imagine. I was one of the people who regularly came from Israel and saw him because he was interested in the Jewish connection. I think that that is the explanation.
§ Mr. Burden
I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman's explanation, but I and my hon. Friend were sincerely under the impression which I stated. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should take up with his right hon. Friend the Member for Belper precisely what he said. It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman has had a blind faith in Colonel Nasser.
I am surprised that most of the remarks and suggestions for the future emanating from the Opposition are on the basis that Colonel Nasser will abide by his words and any undertaking he may give. The hon. Gentleman's suggestion certainly was that Colonel Nasser could get away with almost anything because he was looked upon by the world as a little weak man heading a weak nation and if we reacted against him in any way we should be looked upon as a great bully knocking down a little man. I see that the hon. Member for Coventry, East nods his agreement.
What is the position? We and the rest of the world—particularly the British—are to be placed in a position where we cannot react against Colonel Nasser in any way which will preserve our interests, because if we do so the rest of the world will say, "You big bullies harming the poor little man, Nasser! How dare you behave like this against him!" I find that a most peculiar attitude. The fact that the hon. Gentleman should make 99 such a speech as he has in this House will lead Colonel Nasser to further excesses.
I must admit that I was one of those who were opposed to getting out of the Canal, not because I wanted war but because I wanted to avoid it. I have an instinctive distaste of and mistrust for dictators. I believe that Colonel Nasser, from the time when he took advantage of the attack upon his life in Alexandria to overthrow Neguib, has shown himself to be without loyalty to his colleagues or his master at that time. I believe that everything that he has since done shows that he is a man not to be trusted. His record shows that he will take any steps to promote his own power and further his own ambitions.
I was among a number of hon. Members from this side of the House who a year ago went to the Middle East, visiting Syria, Jordan and the Lebanon, and also Egypt, where we had conversations with, among others, Colonel Nasser and his henchman at that time, Major Salem, I actually took notes at the time of the conversations, questions and answers. They were notes made not after a meeting, but while the meeting was in progress. What Colonel Nasser said makes most enlightening reading. I will return to that later.
When some of my colleagues and I mistrusted Nasser to such a degree that we thought that our getting out of the Suez Canal Zone would give him an opportunity of taking further aggressive steps—that is the general pattern of the life of a dictator—how few of us anticipated the seizure of the Suez Canal. I certainly did not. I doubt whether any of my hon. Friends really anticipated it. If they did, they certainly did not make that point in speeches in the House. Nasser, as an act of brigandage, annexed a piece of private property which serves a vital function in the western world.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
What the hon. Member has just said touches the very centre of the controversy. Was the Canal just a piece of private property, or was it under a great international authority? The hon. Member cannot take that view and share the view of the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Burden
It was private in that it was operated by a private company, but 100 it was under international control through the private company—I mean private as opposed to nationalised, of course. I would be the first to admit that a case can be made out for the nationalisation of a private industry—certainly when it operates within the territory of a certain nation—but the main point which we must consider is whether Nasser will use his control of the Suez Canal to further his own political ends.
There lies the danger and there is every reason to believe that the answer to that question is, "Yes." The first reason is his general anti-western attitude, which even the hon. Member for Coventry, East admitted, and the likelihood that Nasser, backed by Russia, will use the Canal as a weapon of the cold war. The second reason is that even before he seized the Canal the advantages of Egypt's geographical position made it possible for her to promote an anti-Israel campaign by closing the Canal to cargoes to Israel, despite the Convention of 1888 which said in effect that the Canal should be open in time of peace or war to every vessel under any flag. Of course, nothing was done about it and so Nasser got away with the first act.
I have said before that I and some of my colleagues visited the Middle East last year and I propose to illustrate the sort of man with whom we are dealing, to illustrate the way his word can be trusted, to illustrate his future aims by quoting some of the questions put to and answers given by both Major Salem and Colonel Nasser. Our first meeting was with Major Salem. He admitted that the economic position of Egypt was serious. He stated that in the last year of the British occupation of the Canal Zone the national income of Egypt was the equivalent of only £39 per head of the population.
Let me add that at that time the cost of supplies and services to the British troops in the Canal Zone was Egypt's second largest asset, second only in importance to the export value of Egyptian long staple cotton. Egypt has no natural resources no oil and no minerals—it has a little oil, but it was then admitted that the amount was infinitesimal and would certainly not solve Egypt's problems and do no more than, if as much as, redress the loss of income from British troops in the Canal Zone.
101 The economic welfare of Egypt suffered a severe blow as the result of the removal of British troops from the Canal Zone. Of course, the topic of help from the West was raised and I and my hon. Friends said that we felt quite sincerely that the western world and particularly Britain would be willing to help Egypt as much as possible to get her economy on sound and sure foundations. The question of the relations with the western world and Britain as the result of their help was raised. Salem said, "We, the Egyptian Government, cannot sell the idea of a pact with the West. The very thought of a pact with the West is repulsive to the Arab people and implies British and western domination."
It was then pointed out, "But yours is a military dictatorship. You command and control the means of propaganda and for conditioning the minds of the people to accept that all this is in their interests and the interests of Egypt." To that there was no answer. That was very easily hived off. Throughout the whole of that discussion with Salem there ran through every word and through practically every sentence the hatred of any idea of a pact with Britain and the West.
I remember Salem saying—I made a note at the time—"You do not understand Arabs and Arab aspirations." I felt that I was right and justified in saying to Major Salem, "That may well be, but you too must try to understand the British point of view and our vital interests." Then—and this is vitally important, because it shows the pattern which is likely to develop from this dictator in the future—the content of Salem's Beirut speech was raised. He said that he was misquoted, but he admitted saying, "The first aim of the Revolutionary Council is to get the British out of the Canal Zone and the second is to deal with Israel". Let there be no mistake about it, there was no doubt about how he intended the phrase "deal with Israel" to be used.
I remind the House that only recently when the bringing to trial of British and other citizens, who have been subjected to third degree police methods, was raised—they were charged with spying—the public prosecutor said that he would demand the death sentence as he was entitled to do, because Egypt was still at war with Israel, a war of quiescence at the moment, waiting for this to blow 102 over. We were not quietened. There was nothing to give us any hope in our discussions with Colonel Nasser which followed almost immediately.
He expressed fears about the continuation of the stability of the Middle East, but again he said, "Under no circumstances will we have a pact with Britain or the West. Although we want your help, your economic aid, we will not have a pact with you." Those are the dangerous words. He said, "The relations between our two countries can be built up through confidence, not even in the present Government, but in myself, my popularity, the popularity of Abdul Gamel Nasser." That is the important thing. That is the voice we have recognised before. That is the voice we have heard before, the theme which issued from the mouths of Mussolini and Hitler.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland) put this question to Nasser, "How are you going to educate the people your way?" Colonel Nasser said, "The people of Egypt are always fearful of the Government not working in their interests. There is a hatred of foreign domination."
§ Mr. Burden
Exactly, but does the hon. Member not see that that is the sort of thing used by Nasser to unite the Arabs behind hatred of the Jews and to further any plans of aggrandisement in the eyes of the world which he may have? Colonel Nasser added, "Public opinion is still suspicious on these two points. If I persuade the people that I have solved these two points"—and that is why this act of seizing the Canal has been brought about—"I am sure that I can get the people behind me." In other words, behind the aims and ambitions of Colonel Nasser. "It is a question of getting the people behind me. It is a question of confidence and faith in me by the people."
The question was raised why action had been taken against Neguib, and Colonel Nasser said, "I cannot release Neguib because he is popular. He is the only card that those people can play." I may be wrong but I wonder whether the spy trials may not be used as an implement to get Neguib to trial before a military court, something which Neguib's popularity has hitherto denied to Nasser. 103 Colonel Nasser admitted that Neguib was a threat to him and was the only man who might overthrow him because of his general popularity. In Colonel Nasser's words Neguib's crime is that, "He gave the impression that we want democracy and we are against it," Therefore, Neguib is put behind bars. I wonder how long it will be before he is brought to trial.
The question of the Sudan and the control of the waters of the Nile then came up. It was only a little while previously that Nasser had made an agreement not under any circumstances to intervene ; and to allow the Sudanese to arrive at a free decision on which way they would go. But in the interview he said, "I cannot concede that the Sudan would be outside our sphere of interest. I cannot concede that the Sudanese, even of their own free will, will stand absolutely outside in sovereign independence."
My hon. Friend the Member for Lanark asked, "If the majority decide to stand outside, would you interfere? Do you consider yourself, despite the undertaking, free to send money, agents and propaganda to persuade the Sudanese to agree to the unity of the Nile Valley?" Colonel Nasser said that he did.
Then the all-important question was put to him, "What would you do if there was an emphatic choice of sovereign independence?" Colonel Nasser replied, "We really could not accept this." There would be a revolution in the Sudan within two years. It would be a revolution inspired by Egyptian propagandists and agents.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Scotstoun (Sir J. Hutchison) so pertinently asked, what is to happen if Colonel Nasser's aim is to control the head waters of the Nile? It implies not only control of the Sudan but of Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanganyika. Nasser said, "We do not want to see Arab countries dispersed. All must adopt the same policy. This is essential in defence of the area." In other words, Colonel Nasser is to impose his will upon the Arab States. His aims and ambitions cannot be achieved without recourse to arms. His aims and ambitions are no less grand—and I use the word not in the sense of "admirable"—than those of Hitler and Mussolini.
104 We hon. Members were even shown a modern arms factory in order that Nasser could disclose to us how the Egyptians were preparing. At that time there was no suggestion of trouble with this country. In January of last year we visited a factory which had been opened in the previous October. It was equipped with the most modern machinery and up-to-date methods of small-arms production. Nasser was careful to advise us that three such factories were running and would produce four million rounds of small arms ammunition a day. What were the Egyptians producing arms for at that time?
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
Would the hon. Member be kind enough to tell the House who supplied Colonel Nasser with the arms of which the hon. Member is now so afraid?
§ Mr. Burden
It is perfectly obvious that the country now supplying the arms, since Egypt has become a danger and become more aggressive, the country that is giving more and more arms and physical support, is Russia—the country which the hon. Member loves so much.
§ Mr. Burden
Colonel Nasser believes in power politics. He believes in conquests. He will continue ruthlessly to abrogate treaties and friendships in pursuit of his own ambitions. He sees himself as the emperor of the Middle East. The pattern has been drawn but only the first cut in the pattern has been made. I believe that his next aim is an attack on and the elimination of Israel. That was made perfecly clear. Do not hon. Members appreciate what that means? It does not mean the mere military defeat of Israel. It means a bloody holocaust with thousands of innocent men and women destroyed.
§ Mr. Burden
It is essential to Colonel Nasser's aims that he should have the full support of the Arab States if he is to attain his object against Israel speedily and effectively.
I have been to Israel and to the Arab States. In my view, Israel is indefensible for any reasonable period against a concerted attack by all the Arab States 105 equipped with modern Russian arms. Does anyone believe that when Colonel Nasser carries out his avowed intention of attempting to eliminate the State of Israel he will allow ships to go through the Canal to the aid of Israel? I remind the House that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, in response to an intervention of mine this afternoon, said that if Colonel Nasser attacked Israel the party opposite would support going to war with him immediately. [An HON. MEMBER : "Through the United Nations."] I wish hon. Members opposite would make up their minds.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
The hon. Member is putting up Aunt Sallies which do not exist. He knows full well that there is a tripartite agreement and that if there were an attack on Israel there is the Charter of the United Nations, and this side of the House has constantly reiterated that case. These arguments have nothing to do with this problem and the leaning for war on the part of the party opposite in the last few months.
§ Mr. Burden
It is perfectly relevant. The hon. Member should not quarrel with me but with his own colleagues. That is where the division seems to be, and that is what makes war possible. That is what encourages dictatorships. The sooner the party opposite makes its position clear in the event of Nasser attacking Israel the more certain it will be that he will not attack.
Time is the essence of all this. Time is the one thing for which Hitler played. Whenever he carried out a coup he agreed to talk—after the coup. He hoped and trusted—and it was a fact—that the longer he talked, the less possibility there was of any action to stop his next move or to destroy the move he had made. Nasser is following precisely the same line.
Does any right hon. or hon. Member opposite deny that in his emotional approach to the Arab world with regard to the Jews, Nasser is following precisely the same line as Hitler followed? It is so easy to unite a people, particularly a backward people, especially when all the mediums of propaganda are controlled, behind hatred. Why should Nasser be doing this unless his stated intention is still his declared intention?
Unless some action is taken, because of what is happening every Arab State 106 will be anxious to get in on the kill. That is where the danger lies. They will be anxious to ride with the avenging Nasser in the chariot that scythes down the Israelis. They should first consider that if they do that, they will immediately sign their own death warrants as independent sovereign States. I suggest that the leaders of the independent Arab world should look cautiously on any embarkation on warlike activities against Israel, because if Nasser is successful--and if we talk for months after the attack has been carried out before any action is taken, it will be impossible to take any action—
§ Mr. Burden
I am sorry, I have given way a great deal already. As soon as he has achieved that, Nasser is thrown back on his final demand and need. He will have set himself up as the leader and king of the Arab world. Right hon. and hon. Members should remember the background that Egypt alone is a poor, impoverished State whose population is increasing at the rate of a million a year. [HON. MEMBERS : "No."] These are the figures which were given to me by Colonel Nasser.
§ Mr. Burden
They may have overestimated to try to bolster their position. At any rate, the figure is considerable. It may be a million each three years.
Egypt has no natural resources and no way of improving the condition of its people. Even its major export—long staple Egyptian cotton—is now being superseded by man-made fibres in a great many industries. Therefore, the only way in which Colonel Nasser can maintain the popularity that he is so anxious to build up as the leader of a great Arab empire is to draw in, to unite in the economy of Egypt, the economy of all the small Arab States that own and control the oil around him. In so doing, does any hon. Member believe that those States would be allowed to retain any independence of action or any semblance of sovereign independence? They would be under the domination of a Nasser who controlled the oil.
Then, I believe, he would give full expression to his hatred of the West. 107 Right hon. and hon. Members in the House, and people outside, say, "But he has got to sell his oil." Unfortunately, we are in the position of having to take and buy the oil, or our whole economy would fall down and there would be widespread unemployment. Therefore, we should consider this pattern, which I believe to be the logical pattern and which certainly was the implication of what has been and is being carried out by Colonel Nasser.
I am the last person in this House to say that we should go to war over the Canal. I hope that every possible measure will be taken to avoid war, but I say that this is our last chance of stopping war. As Nasser has avowed that he will attack Israel, and as we are pledged under the Tripartite Declaration to resist such an attack, I believe that the logical move for us to make is to disclose to him, and to the rest of the Arab countries who might support him if they thought they could get an easy kill, that such an exploit would not be profitable.
We might invite Israel into the Commonwealth of Nations, but if that is not possible the next step we should take is to ensure that there are two divisions of British troops, and, I hope, American and French contigents, in Israel at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. Burden
I wish that the hon. Member, who will probably be called, would not be so impatient. I believe that that is the danger, that this is the first cut in the pattern, that the pattern is laid and that Nasser will pursue it unless his knife is blunted.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
The personal evidence given by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) has been an important contribution to this debate. [An HON. MEMBER : "Does my hon. Friend really believe that?"] I do indeed. Much of what the hon. Member said underlines what was said by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in his speech of 2nd August, which he confirmed today.
I cannot help feeling that the questions posed by this debate resolve themselves into three. The first is whether 108 the Government's purpose is right ; the second, whether their methods are right ; and thirdly, in the event of the Government's methods not being right, what alternative methods are proposed by the Opposition for dealing with the crisis with which we are faced?
Let me say at the outset that I for one do not impugn the intentions of the Government. I do not believe that the Government seek war. I do not believe that they prefer a violent resolution of these matters instead of a peaceful solution. Therefore, I will address myself chiefly to the substance of our dispute with Nasser and, secondly, to the way in which the Government have conducted their affairs in this matter.
One central point which I do not feel has been adequately stressed throughout this debate is the effect on our own national economy of an abuse by Egypt of the control which it has taken of the Canal.
§ Mr. Edelman
Let me continue the point a little further before I give way. I believe that in certain circumstances, if an arbitrary Egyptian control of the Suez Canal were either to raise the tolls or interrupt the traffic or, at worst, were to deny to Britain the materials which in the normal way of commerce flow through the Canal, it is conceivable that there would be 3 million unemployed in this country directly resulting from the interruption of that traffic. That is very serious, and I cannot help feeling that if the time were to come when many of those who have spoken today had to answer to their constituents in such a contingency and to explain what attitude they took today or what attitude they may take tomorrow, they would have a serious burden of responsibility to carry, and would indeed have to do a lot of explaining away.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
Will my hon. Friend animadvert on the economic consequences of going to war with Egypt over this business?
§ Mr. Edelman
In the first place I do not regard war as in any sense inevitable. Secondly, in the choice between the disastrous economic consequences which may result from permitting the Egyptians 109 to "get away with it" this time, and the alternative, if necessary, under the proper auspices, of taking forcible action to defend our legitimate interests, it is better in the circumstances to take that forcible action and defend what we consider right and necessary.
§ Mr. Hunter
When my hon. Friend speaks about using force, does he mean through the Charter of the League of Nations or as the Tory Party proposes in its propaganda?
§ Mr. Edelman
I hope to come to that point in due course. I am merely saying that in certain circumstances it is desirable to use force, and that I acquit the Government of impropriety in making the necessary preparations to use force in certain contingencies.
I urge that this dispute with Egypt should be referred to the Security Council of the United Nations. If the Security Council decides that it is necessary to restrain Egypt by force from certain courses of action, we shall have to play our part. It is no good saying that we will refer the matter to the Security Council if we are not prepared to back up that decision by being ready to put at the disposal of the Security Council the necessary armed forces, and to discharge our obligations.
The Prime Minister was perfectly right when he said that when the crisis blew up he felt it necessary to take certain precautionary measures of a physical and military pattern in order to safeguard British interests in the Middle East. He would have been guilty of grave dereliction of duty if he had failed to do so. If there had been violence in the Middle East and he had neglected to prepare the necessary forces to safeguard our proper interests he would rightly have been held guilty by Parliament and by the whole country of having failed to make provision for circumstances which might well have arisen, and which indeed may arise in the future.
That does not mean that the Government have acted all along in a way which commends itself to the people of this country. Their neglect of the proper approach to the United Nations at the right time, long ago, may have weakened their case in the eyes of the people of Britain in a manner which the case does not deserve. Unless the Prime Minister 110 interprets his purpose more satisfactorily to the people of Britain he will have undermined his policy. One thing is certain : no Government can fight a war without the backing of the trade union movement. Unless the Government are able to carry the trade union movement of this country with them by the force of their argument it will be impossible for them to carry out any policy involving the use of force.
There is ambiguity in what the Prime Minister said today, and the gravest ambiguity was that in which he stated that the Americans would be associated with us in the users' association. I cannot help feeling that the attitude of the Americans has all along been ambiguous and equivocal. In the minds of most hon. Members present there is still a lively image of Colonel Neguib fondling the pistol which Mr. Dulles presented to him on his birthday. We are suffering from the consequences of the equivocal attitude of America in the Middle East and in North Africa. The steady sapping of the French position in North Africa has to a great extent been due to propaganda carried out from Cairo with the backing of the United States. Indeed, I believe that the Americans, and Mr. Dulles in particular, suffer from the belief, which is shared by some of my hon. Friends, that nationalism is necessarily a step forward from colonialism.
The Labour Party has always been bitterly opposed to colonialism and imperialism. The sentiments that we feel on this side of the House when we hear about imperialist and colonial exploitation are deep and are rooted in the history of our party. Nonetheless, I urge my hon. Friends not to confuse this anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism with the course that certain modern sovereign States are taking, and which may be as sinister and dangerous in its purposes, and as inimical to the peace of the world, as were the policies of the old imperialists. It was always a Marxist dogma that the emergence of the sovereign State as a reaction against imperialism was progressive and a step forward in civilisation. That was valid in the nineteenth century and in the early part of the twentieth century. I believe it to be no longer valid.
One of the great disasters of the postwar world has been the emergence in 111 Asia and Africa of sovereign States the creation of which had no relationship whatever to the great material and physical problems which are present in the modern world and which can be solved only by bringing people into relationship with each other across frontiers and into focal points of mutual co-operation.
An example of that in Europe is the Schuman Plan, which became the European Iron and Steel Community. It is an embryonic organisation which bodes well for the future. As my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) said not long ago, it is a great pity that we did not associate ourselves with that new institution, because today we could have declared, with even greater authority and moral influence than we can now, that great physical or geographical resources which are of interest to the world or to a group of nations should be controlled—I do not say "owned"—not by the countries which by the accident of geography contain them, but by those who use them, benefit from them and may have to operate them.
That brings me to the question of the users' association. That association should not be merely a political device to keep together the interests involved in the dispute with Egypt, but an agency in the ultimate organisation of the Suez Canal Board in which we can marry two ideas. These ideas are those of ownership being vested in the country where the Canal lies—this applies to all similar institutions—and of control lying with those who are the tenants of the resources in question. In relation to Suez the application of those ideas can be simply stated.
No one has ever for one moment suggested that Egypt should not be the sovereign owner of the resources of the Suez Canal. If ever that was stated or thought, nobody thinks of it today. The objections to the nationalisation of the Canal have now been removed. In other words, all of the 18 nations freely and wholly acknowledge the fact that the Canal belongs to Egypt ; that the Canal's physical installations and equipment are Egyptian. Therefore, the dignity, prestige and sovereignty of Egypt in that respect are fully preserved.
What is in question? The metaphor has been used that the relationship between the 18 nations, or those who use 112 the Canal, and Egypt should be the relationship of tenant to landlord. I believe that is a good statement of what the relationship should be, and I think that, in fact, we have narrowed the gap, even between Nasser and ourselves, to a question almost of semantics. We have now almost reached the stage where it may well be possible to bridge the gap, provided that we do not become involved in terms such as "sovereignty," "internationalisation," etc.
For us I think that the essential must be that whoever owns the Canal, the tenancy of the Canal must be international. I believe that this is an essential point of principle, and I believe that when we refer the matter to the Security Council, as it must at some time be referred, we should go forward with that proposal, which is in some sense a compromise proposal but one which retains the substance of our needs and retains for Egypt the substance of her prestige. I believe that that is a formula that can be applied but I also believe that it is the minimum formula which we should accept.
The Suez crisis today is not the—I repeat "the"—crisis. If this crisis is solved, or rather if this crisis is allowed to settle itself in conformity with the present attitude taken up by Nasser, then, indeed, it will be merely the beginning of a whole series of crises of different kinds. I think that it was Trotsky who once spoke of "permanent revolution." I think that the crisis which confronts us today will merely become the beginning of a permanent crisis which may well end in disaster for all of us.
I do not share the view of some of my hon. Friends who say that if we take a firm and positive stand now, then in some way or another we are knocking Nasser over the head, because Egypt is a small country and all the rest of it. I do not believe that. I believe that what is involved today is the whole future of Great Britain. I do not mean merely as a great Power but as a country which enjoys a standard of life with which we are now familiar.
Listening to the debate, I could not help wondering what a former Foreign Secretary would have said in these circumstances—a Foreign Secretary with whom, on certain matters, I disagreed, but who always had before him the fact that the 113 British economy depended on free passage through the Suez Canal and on the unimpeded flow of oil to Great Britain. I speak, of course, of Ernie Bevin. I am quite sure that were he responsible today for the decision which we are obliged to take, he would not retreat from the central position—I am not talking about the approach to the matter used by the Government—
§ Mr. Edelman
He would not retreat from the central position taken up by the Government ; namely, that the Egyptian dictator must not be allowed to get away with aggression, because that would be merely the beginning of a whole series of aggressions.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom
I wonder what my hon. Friend means when he says that "the Egyptian dictator must not get away with aggression"? In the first place, he agrees that the nationalisation of the Canal is not at issue at the moment. Would my hon. Friend mind telling us what kind of aggression the "Egyptian dictator" has committed?
§ Mr. Edelman
Yes. I would say that it consisted, in the first instance, in the arbitrary, physical and violent seizure of the installations of the Suez Canal and in his unilateral denunciation of the Convention to which we are signatories. I consider that to be his basic aggression. I think that the whole of history points to the fact that his aggression will be repeated, and I believe that it is the duty of all of us, in certain circumstances, to be prepared, if necessary, to use the resources which are at our disposal—in certain circumstances—in order to defend our basic industries.
The Leader of the Labour Party himself stated certain circumstances in which he considered that force should be used. I believe that we must be prepared to back up our resolution, if necessary, by the use of force, under the aegis of the Security Council, and therefore that the preparations which we have taken, the determination which we have shown, and the support which the Leader of this party gave to the central purpose enunciated by the Government on 2nd August is something which requires our support and, more than that, our determination.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. J. E. S. Simon (Middlesbrough, West)
Until the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) addressed the House, this debate differed sadly in its temper from that which took place on 2nd August. Differences of opinion in our political life are to be expected ; but in matters that affect the well-being of this nation, momentous matters like issues of peace and war, international order and the sanctions that lie behind it, it must be a matter of regret to us all if conscientious differences exacerbate the temper of a debate.
§ Mr. Simon
Abadan, certainly, although I was not then a Member of the House.
Today, as then, minds are confused, and one great service, as it seems to me, that the hon. Member for Coventry, North has done is to show that fundamentally there are certain great principles at stake on which the overwhelming majority of Members of this House are agreed, and which, if they are seen to be transcendent in this issue, I believe can lead again to that unity of temper which is always desirable in the conduct of our foreign affairs, whichever party is in power, and which was never so much necessary as it is today on this great issue.
What is it that is at stake? If we come to consider it, it is really this : are we to live under a régime of international anarchy or international law? [An HON. MEMBER : "The Charter."] Yes, there is the Charter, which is a source, but not the only source, of international law. Certainly, it should be made the main, but not the exclusive, source. We all recognise that it has its limitations. It has its limitations on the face of it, because it recognises that it is not all-exclusive ; that there are, if I may echo the words used by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, other means of action outside the Charter, recognised by the Charter itself. But nevertheless it has sufficient authority for one to say that no action that we take—and I agree with the hon. Gentleman who referred to the Charter—should be in derogation of the Charter, much less in contradiction of it.
115 Let us recognise, however, that not only does the United Nations Charter itself envisage action other than through the United Nations institutions, but that we must also sadly face the fact that owing to the writing of the veto into the Charter and owing to the division of the world into the Iron Curtain and Bamboo Curtain countries on the one hand and the West on the other, action through the United Nations in vindication of the rule of international law is not bound to be effective and may well fail.
That is the question that we really have to face. Are we going to abide by the rule of international law? Are we going to have a régime of international anarchy or a régime of international order? I say at the outset that no action of ours should be in derogation of or in conflict with the Charter. But let us face this fact at the outset, that what Nasser has done is an act of international lawlessness and of international wrong. I will not repeat—it has already been read today—what the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) said in the previous debate on Suez.
What Nasser has done and the way in which he has done it is an international wrong. It is perfectly true, as the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have pointed out, that an act of nationalisation of domestic assets is an act of which international law will take no cognisance. It is a perfectly legitimate act of government. But when it comes to the seizure of foreign assets, that is an international wrong and particularly when it is done without the prompt, full and secure payment of compensation. Hon. Members will have seen the letters which Professor Goodhart, a great authority on these matters, and Lord McNair, possibly an even greater authority on international law, have written on these matters. Let us not lose sight of our point of departure here, that Nasser has committed an international wrong. If we wish to see international order and the rule of international law vindicated he must not be allowed to succeed.
§ Mr. J. Hynd
Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will explain this to me. He says that the seizure of the Canal Company is an international wrong 116 and that Nasser must not be allowed to get away with it. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman explain why in the 18-Power proposal to which we are party, we endorse the recognition of that act and recognise that the company now exists as a nationalised company of Egypt, that it is Egyptian property, and therefore we have already let the Egyptians get away with it?
§ Mr. Simon
The reason is that by the 18-Power agreement that act of lawless ness is merged in a new and higher act of international order. That is why it seems to me that we were perfectly right and justified in endorsing the proceedings of the Conference. We recognised the nationalisation of the assets, leaving aside the question of compensation, because it was a quid pro quo for something which is of greater importance, which is the organisation of a new international organisation for the Canal—
§ Mr. Rankin
Is the new organisation which the Prime Minister proposes to create part of the new international organisation?
§ Mr. Simon
I propose to deal with that. I always give way if I possibly can to hon. Members who wish to intervene. I do not want to detain the House too long, for I know there are many Members whom the House will wish to hear, but I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that I propose to deal with that aspect of the matter.
It is not only that Nasser is in breach of international law and has offended seriously in letter and in spirit against international order in his seizure of the Canal assets, and his mode of seizure. He is also in breach of the very convention by which he declares himself to be bound—by his denial to Israeli shipping of the passage of the Canal. How, then, can we possibly accept his assurance that he regards himself as bound by the Convention of 1888?
Again, when Nasser says that he is willing to pay compensation I cannot do better than echo what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition when, following my right hon. Friend, he analysed in great detail how the compensation was going to be paid. We know that the revenues which would be needed to pay for the compensation of shareholders are pledged twice over—once to develop the Canal and 117 secondly to build the dam. How, then, can they be used yet a third time to compensate the owners?
This is a matter upon which I believe the House to be united, although we may differ—I hope we shall not by the time we have thrashed out the issues—as to what the consequences are. But do not let us for a moment condone what has happened. Let us recognise it for what it is—a gross breach of the international order—and if it succeeds, as the hon. Member for Coventry, North pointed out, it may have very serious repercussions, just as Hitler's and Mussolini's breaches of the international order had in the 1930s.
§ Mr. Simon
The hon. Gentleman says it is quite different. I heard the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) on that matter. But is it really so different? It is easy to lose perspective in these matters. When Hitler came to power, Germany was a weak force. She had been occupied. She was struggling under a burden of war reparations, and she was divided, her political system in ruins, subject to perpetual party warfare which rent the nation. Anybody would have said that she was in a hopeless plight, and, let us remember, many were the arguments put forward that she was doing no more than was justified to restore her position.
I do not want to revive ancient party controversy. I can speak with a perfectly clear conscience myself ; hon. Gentlemen who may have then voted against rearmament should perhaps search their consciences.
Again Mussolini appeared to the world as an inconsiderable force ; and, when it came to the struggle, so he proved to be. But what ruin and misery he brought on the world before being shown to be the lath that he was. [An HON. MEMBER : "Who supported him?"] I certainly did not.
The hon. Member for Coventry, North was perfectly right in saying that an act of international lawlessness of this sort may have the most serious repercussions unless it is checked and unless the rule of international law is vindicated. It is here that I quarrel with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the 118 Opposition. He made a very clever speech today, but what does it ultimately amount to? I agree with him when he says that we must make use of the existing organs of international order. I agree when he says we must abide by the Charter of the United Nations.
But what does the right hon. Gentleman say is to be done if that fails? What it comes to is this. He says we must accept what Nasser has done and cut our coat accordingly. We must build these vast and expensive tankers, and we must accept the cost to us. That would be serious enough. But what would be much more serious would be that an act of international lawlessness would have succeeded. [An HON. MEMBER : "It would be cheaper than war."] It is said that it would be cheaper than war.
That brings me to the question as to how far the use of force is justified. I think it was the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) who said that anything is better than war. That was said, so to speak, off the cuff, and I do not believe he really thinks that. Although I know—and I respect their views—that a small number of hon. Members would take that view, the vast majority would not take that view today any more than they did in 1939. There are certain things which we would think worse than the catastrophe of war, immeasurable though that would be—such as the loss of our faith, the loss of our liberty, and so on.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom
The point advanced by the hon. and learned Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon) raises this question. In the five weeks of controversy on the Suez question, has the prestige of Britain increased, kept level, or diminished in world opinion? I can say quite categorically that the prestige of Britain, through the Suez crisis and through the action of the Government, has never stood lower in world opinion than it does today.
§ Mr. Simon
I disagree entirely with that assertion. If I had known that the hon. Gentleman was going to abuse the right of proper intervention, which I always concede, in order to introduce something completely irrelevant to the argument I was advancing, I should not have dreamed of giving way.
119 How far is the use of force justifiable? We all recognise, I think, that in certain circumstances it is. Most hon. Members would say at once that it would be justifiable as part of collective action with the authority of the United Nations. It was on that ground that most hon. Members, though certainly not all, endorsed the action of the Socialist Government in engaging in actual warfare in Korea. The hon. Member for Coventry, East, in an intervention, went further than that, I think, because he recognised that force is also justifiable as an act of self-defence against direct territorial aggression.
§ Mr. Simon
Yes. But it does go beyond that. For example, the use of force is justifiable—I am speaking not only of international law, but of accepted international morality—in the defence of the lives of one's own nationals. I see the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas), who is a great expert on these matters, nodding in agreement, and it is very comforting to have his agreement.
§ Mr. Simon
I can assure the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) that the hon. and learned Member is a very great expert on these matters.
That certainly must be so ; no nation will stand by and see its nationals butchered and persecuted, their lives endangered, and take no action. It seems to me that that alone, in view of what Colonel Nasser has been doing in the last five weeks, justifies, and more than justifies, the military precautions about which so much has been heard today. I see that Professor Goodhart, in his letter to The Times, goes further than that, and says that he thinks the use of force is justified wherever a vital national interest is at stake.
§ Mr. Simon
I myself would not agree with that as a universal proposition ; but one must recognise that one may be driven to the defence of vital national 120 interests if the organs of international order which we have established prove incapable of performing their function. I am certainly one of those who believe that the essential thing in international organisation is that we should each give up our own private right of determining our own quarrels, and particularly of vindicating that judgment by force of arms. But we are far from that at the moment.
§ Mr. Paget
I find this a little difficult. In the United Nations, we have what is, substantially, a secretariat of a great-Power concert which does not exist. If one says that force cannot be used except in pursuit of a decision of the United Nations, that is a general licence for lawlessness—the police are on strike, and therefore I must allow my house to be burned. That being the situation, surely Professor Goodhart is right : old international law stands, and people, in the absence of a real international authority, have to support their vital interests.
§ Mr. Simon
The hon. and learned Gentleman has put the point most persuasively. There it is for the consideration of the House. I do not myself think that it necessarily arises at the moment.
The hon. Member for Coventry, East, oversimplifies the issue when he puts it as if there were, on the one side, a question of psychological warfare, and, on the other side, armed intervention and the use of guns. It is not so. There are infinite degrees of pressure and sanctions between those two. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) and the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), in their letter to The Times, advocated the use of every diplomatic and economic sanction available. There was no mention of acting through the United Nations in that respect. There are certain sanctions which are available.
§ Mr. Philip Bell (Bolton, East)
Has my hon. and learned Friend in mind the sort of thing that international lawyers call reprisals—hostile acts which are short of war?
§ Mr. Simon
I am obliged to my hon. and learned Friend. Let us recognise that all those sanctions are acts of force. The firing of the gun is not the only act of force. An economic sanction is every bit as much an act of force as 121 a military sanction. It is done to bring pressure. It is used quite correctly to bring pressure in order to vindicate the law, and in order to give a sanction to the law. A law without a sanction, as I think the hon. and learned Member for Northampton was indicating, is valueless.
I myself would be very slow to see the use of force in this matter. I think we should weigh the consequences. We should recognise that London can be bombed from Cairo. We should not delude ourselves that any use of force would be quick or easy, without serious repercussions. On the other hand, I agree with the sentiment expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewis-ham, South when he urged the Government not to be too nervous in these matters.
Over and above the physical dangers which I have indicated, there is the infinitely greater danger that the rule of international law may be flouted, and that we may sink again into a régime of international anarchy. Therefore, I would urge the Government to continue with the use of every sanction at their command, but certainly making no use of force without having used the existing United Nations Organisation.
The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin) mentioned the users' association. That seems to me to fit perfectly well into the pattern, and I myself welcome it. Let us remember that Colonel Nasser's action is illegal. It is a breach of international order What then? One is not bound to accept an international pilot when a national pilot can take one safely and conveniently through the Canal.
There is no reason at all why we should not, if we think it better, use national pilots. When we consider that, let us remember what the alternative is. The international pilots are probably going to resign from the service. [Interruption.] An hon. Member says, "Blacklegs". We would assume a very serious responsibility, in view of the way in which foreigners in the past have been treated in Egypt, in view of the threat made against the pilots themselves quite recently, in view of the prevailing xenophobia in Egypt, if we gave them advice, contrary to their inclinations, to remain in the service. If they go, the only way of getting our shipping through 122 the Canal is to use the national pilots ; and I for one can see nothing contrary to international law or to any of the Suez Conventions or agreements in so doing.
§ Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)
As I understand it, the hon. and learned Gentleman is putting a case in favour of the users' co-operative upon the view—he has expressly put it—that the nationalisation of the Canal is illegal. Would he then agree that if nationalisation of the Canal is legal the users' cooperative would be outside the law?
§ Mr. Simon
No. I think that it would be perfectly in accordance with the law even in that case, whether the seizure of the Suez Canal, to adopt the hon. and learned Gentleman's own term, was legal or illegal. I speak subject to correction by hon. and learned Gentlemen who know more about these matters than I do ; but as far as I can see there would be nothing illegal, nothing wrong, in using one's national pilots to pilot shipping through the Canal. However, perhaps someone in the Foreign Office will reply to that.
The second matter concerns the payment of the dues. In saying that these will be paid in London we are doing no more than continuing existing sanctions, and sanctions which had the approval of the Leader of the Opposition when he spoke on 2nd August. If, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South argued on the previous occasion, this seizure is illegal, it is perfectly proper to say that the shipping dues shall be paid to the users' association, and not to the person who has illegally seized the Canal installations.
The hon. Member for Coventry, East says that we must negotiate. To my mind there is something much more fundamental involved. One does not ask the law-abiding citizen to negotiate with the robber. It is easy to over-simplify, it is easy to give too legalistic a view ; and I recognise readily that into these things diplomacy must enter and that one must ultimately shift one's position from the rigidities of the law, although I personally regard the vindication of the rule of international order as of great importance.
§ Mr. Younger
If I may interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman, he seems to be basing his argument on the assumption of the illegality of this act by Egypt. He may or may not be correct, but is he aware that there is a proper international tribunal where that point can be decided, and that it is not right for any member of the United Nations to base all its policies, including the possible use of force, on an assumption of that kind without taking the trouble to put it to the test?
§ Mr. Simon
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman and I was aware of that fact. But I cannot remain blind to the fact that the Hague Court, to which I think he was referring, refused jurisdiction in the case of the Abadan nationalisation, which was a much stronger case, because there, written into the concession, was an undertaking not to nationalise. In any case my argument is not based solely on the illegality of this act. It is in any event a breach of international order, even though it may not be the breach of international law which I believe it to be.
I was saying that the hon. Member for Coventry, East argued that we must negotiate. But even accepting that, one must negotiate from positions of equal strength. For that reason, if for no other, it seems to me that we should apply sanctions so as to make Colonel Nasser more amenable to negotiation. I see no sign in his actions up to now that he is, so to speak, negotiable.
What other things can we do? I believe that in order to test the value of his assurances on the Convention of 1888 we should now invite the State of Israel to pass some of her shipping through the Canal and let us see Nasser's reaction. We shall then be able to judge the value of his assurances. I did not follow the hon. Member for Coventry, East when he said that that is the one point of principle on which we should stand. That seems to me quite illogical. It is all part of a broader matter of principle, which is that covenants freely negotiated should be observed until a negotiated modification has come about.
The second thing which I feel we should do is this. I was much attracted by the line of approach of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Scotstoun (Sir J. Hutchison). We can bring great pressure to bear on Nasser by exploring alternative 124 methods of irrigation. It has always seemed to me inadvisable, to say the least, to build one's point of maximum water storage at the point of maximum evaporation. I should have thought there were strong arguments for now encouraging the Sudan Government, the Uganda Government, and the other Governments concerned to go forward with their own schemes of irrigation, paying no more regard to Nasser's susceptibilities than he has paid to ours. I put that forward. I do not say that that is ultimately the best solution for the problem of using the Nile waters ; but at any rate it is something that would bring Colonel Nasser to a more negotiable frame of mind.
I now come to another proposal that I think would be well worth exploring. There has been put forward the suggestion that we should buy from Egypt for about £200 million a strip in the Gaza area in order to seal off Egypt from Israel ; so that on the one hand we should have a space in which to build, if necessary, an alternative canal, where we could build a pipeline, and where we should be sealing off an area of great danger to the peace of the world. It would have the advantage, it is said, in addition, that the £200 million would enable Colonel Nasser to build his dam. I believe that that would be absolutely fatal. It would give him the fruits of his intransigence and would be paying him for flouting international law and order and international decency.
What we might do, however, and what would be preferable to my mind, would be to negotiate with the Israeli Government to see if we could buy an area of their frontier land in which the same purposes could be fulfilled. I would ask the Foreign Secretary, when he replies to the debate, to say if that is one of the matters that has been considered.
Ultimately, we come to the point—and I find myself in complete agreement with the hon. Member for Coventry, North—that this is a question of international law and order. Unless, on the one hand, we show ourselves as being bound by the covenants which we have signed and, on the other hand, determined to uphold the covenants to which we are a party and of which we are a beneficiary, then the result, in terms of international 125 anarchy, could be very serious indeed and could bring untold misery upon the world.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. K. Zilliacus (Manchester, Gorton)
The hon. and learned Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon) produced a most extraordinary mixture of lip service to the rule of law and advocacy of pure international anarchy and power politics. He says that we should respect and observe the United Nations Charter, but that we should use force in defence of our vital interests. The two things do not happen to be consistent.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
The hon. and learned Gentleman quoted with approval Professor Goodhart as saying that very thing.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
Well, then, the hon. and learned Gentleman disapproves of it. Does he accept the position that, under the Charter, a country is not allowed to resort to force unless with the authorisation of the Security Council, or, alternatively, in the exercise of the right of defence against an armed attack, and then with the obligation to bring the matter at once before the Security Council and to do nothing to impair its authority? Would the hon. and learned Gentleman accept these limitations on the use of force?
§ Mr. Simon
As the hon. Gentleman is asking my views, I say at once that those are the circumstances envisaged by the Charter as sanctioning and permitting the use of force, but I did venture to point out that the United Nations Charter has its limitations. It is not exhaustive, and one of the matters in which a national State is entitled to use force is in defence of the lives of its own national subjects.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
It may not do even that without reference to the Security Council and abiding by its authority. As to whether or not Egypt has violated international law and order by nationalising the Suez Canal Company, that is a very 126 controversial question. The obvious body to settle it is the International Court. Egypt and this country are both parties to the optional clause, Article 36 of the Statute of the International Court, by which either may summon the other and both are pledged to accept the verdict of the Court in all legal disputes concerning(a) the interpretation of a treaty ;(b) any question of international law ;(c) the existence of any fact which, if established, would constitute a breach of an international obligation ;(d) the nature or extent of the reparation to be made for the breach of an international obligation.It is our solemn duty, if we believe that there has been a breach of international law, and if we respect the rule of law, to refer that issue to the International Court. We have no right whatever to take the law into our own hands and to attempt by a policy of force to impose our own views of our rights and interests in the matter. If we do that, we are international anarchists and power politicians, and not loyal to the Charter of the United Nations.
The speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman, as well as the whole course of the debate, has made it abundantly clear that the analysis of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) was perfectly correct. The Government do not want to negotiate with President Nasser. A different way of putting that is that they do not want a settlement with President Nasser ; what they want is a bash at Arab nationalism personified by President Nasser. That is the real issue.
It is also plain that the Government are trying to manoeuvre into a position where they can get away with resort to force to impose their view on a Suez Canal settlement on President Nasser. A full-blooded expression of that policy is one which hopes to find a pretext, and the withdrawal of the pilots and the new Canal users' association lay the foundation for the pretext—for intervening with armed force, reoccupying the Suez Canal and eventually Cairo, and overthrowing the Nasser regime and putting in a puppet Egyptian Government, after which the advocates of this policy believe that the Arab world would be overawed and frightened and, in some cases, secretly 127 pleased at Nasser's downfall and we should bask in the glory of a sort of warmed-up Neo-Disraelian imperial grandeur.
The only thing wrong with that policy is that it comes from the wrong century. I think that the new Canal users' association, with the functions attributed to it, might be rechristened "The Nineteenth Century Club", because that seems to be more or less what it amounts to.
There are four assumptions underlying this policy which make it so dangerous. The first assumption is that Arab nationalism is a negligible quantity, that we could have a short sharp victory, that a defeat would be accepted, and that there would be no repercussions in the way of Arab solidarity. I believe that all that is tragically mistaken. Our real troubles would begin after we had won a military campaign, because we should not be able to set up a puppet Government which could survive the withdrawal of the British occupying forces. We should have increasing trouble throughout the Arab world. Our experience in Cyprus, the experience of the French in Algeria, past experiences in Ireland, experience in Yugoslavia, where the Tito partisans held down 40 German and Italian divisions—all this shows that where one has a population in sympathy with partisans or guerillas or irregular fighters very small forces can pin down large numbers of troops indefinitely, and the cost of such an operation is absolutely staggering.
The second assumption is that our economy is strong enough to stand that kind of adventure. It is not. It is already shaky, and it could not stand up under the strain of a prolonged and large-scale military adventure such as we should be embarking upon if we attempted this policy. One small item from the Press today will serve to illustrate this. The National Federation of Grocers' and Provision Dealers' Associations has already issued the warning that food prices will rise rapidly if there is a conflict over Suez. That is a very small and mild foretaste of what lies ahead.
The third assumption is that the United Nations is pie in the sky, with no basis in reality, that it does not provide a practical basis for a policy which would work, and that it has no hold on the loyalty or emotions of any Government 128 or any people, including our own. In point of fact that, also, is a very serious mistake, because if we put ourselves in the position of committing Charter-breaking aggression, we shall get into very serious international trouble. We shall be denounced in the United Nations as aggressors and have the whole of world opinion against us. The effect on our own national unity is something to which I will come in a moment.
I remind the House of what was said by Walter Lippmann in connection with the Korean War, in remarks addressed to the United States public. He said that in America they might feel that they did all the fighting and that the British and other contributions were very small in military terms. But the fact that they came in and so it became a United Nations operation turned a dirty little colonial war into something supported by public opinion. I have always looked upon the Korean War as exactly that and thought that it was a tragic mis-use of the Charter. But the fact remains that respectability was lent to that operation because it was done under the authority of the United Nations.
Contrariwise, if we indulge in a dirty little colonial war, which, on top of that, is Charter-breaking aggression, this country's position in the world will be unenviable indeed. The split in national unity will become more serious than hon. and right hon. Members opposite can imagine. For they still assume that patriotism means cannon fodder citizenship, the attitude of the Light Brigade charging to destruction at the command of criminal imbeciles becauseTheir's not to reason why,Their's but to do or die.Frankly, that will not be the position in this country if the Government commit the reckless folly of breaking the Charter by an act of aggression.
I draw attention to the remarks of Mr. Geddes at the Trades Union Congress, in his capacity of President, when he said :We must make it abundantly clear that we are not going to precipitate war simply to remove a dictator or let Tory back benchers use it as an excuse for re-occupying the Canal Zone…. The nation will be roused to a deep, implacable, bitter anger such as has never been seen before if you take this country into an unnecessary war.Perhaps it would be as well not to forget that the Labour Party and the trade 129 union movement have been pledged for a long time to a world peace loyalty that is very appropriate to the present situation. It is contained in the reports of the Trades Union Congress and the annual Labour Party Conference of 1934. The operative part is this :Loyalty to the world community on the issue of peace over-rides any national duty and notably our duty to the Government in war.It includes the duty… to refuse to accept our Government's unsupported claim to be using force in self-defence ; insistence on submitting this claim to the test of international judgment ; refusal to support our Government if it were ever condemned as an aggressor by the League of Nations"—which, today, means the United Nations.
We should not forget Lloyd George's remark to the National Executive of the Labour Party in the First World War, when asking for its support. He said that no Government could be carried on in this country, in peace or war, without the co-operation of labour, and on its determination to help in winning that war everything depended.
I warn the Government that if they are mad enough to treat the Charter as a scrap of paper and resort to force in circumstances where they clearly violate the Charter by aggression, they will get no help and no support from labour. The war already declared by the trade unions on the Government's economic policy will extend to defence of the standards of the workers against the economic consequences of the Government's war policy.
There will be an all-in political campaign up and down the country by the Labour Party to settle this issue, not only in the House, but in the factories, the workshops and the mines. If the Government now, in 1956, after two world wars, after swearing themselves blue in the face that the collective peace system and the Charter are our only hope for peace and the foundation of world civilisation, destroy the United Nations because they are mad enough to believe that they can revive the policies of the nineteenth century and end Arab nationalism by resorting to power politics, they will rouse such a storm in this country as will sweep them out of office and put in a Government that is on the side of peace and civilisation.
The road back to imperialism and power politics is closed. Labour has 130 hung a "No Thoroughfare" sign on it. The Government will neglect that sign at their peril. But the road of the United Nations is open. It is not a road that this Government are capable of taking or even understanding. But it is a road along which we could find an honourable and decent settlement.
There are two problems in this matter. So far as the actual question of arrangements for assuring satisfactory operation, maintenance and development of the Suez Canal is concerned, as various speakers have observed, the difference between the 18-Power Dulles plan, which President Nasser rejects, and the four-Power Indian plan and his own latest proposals, is a negotiable difference. If that was the only thing in it, it would be perfectly possible, particularly by using the machinery of the United Nations, to work out a satisfactory compromise.
The real issue is the question of Arab nationalism. I agree that it is not a pretty phenomenon. It is a real problem of how-to reconcile this kind of militant nationalism with international obligations and standards. But that, too, is something that can be done through the United Nations. We have to think of this in terms not of bullying, but of bargaining, of a give-and-take settlement in which we decide what we are prepared to concede and what we want in exchange. But the difficulty from the Government's point of view is that they have to give up some of the things which they cherish very much.
They will not work and are failing, but, never mind, the Government hang on to them. For one thing, they cannot treat Israel any longer as a bargaining counter, an object to be used for appeasing the Arabs. They must treat Israel on the basis of the Charter and make the restoration of peace between Israel and the Arab States one of the cardinal factors in the solution of the Middle Eastern conflict. Then they have to face the fact that the act of nationalising the Suez Canal Company was to a great extent provoked by the withdrawal of the offer relating to the Aswan Dam. We should be prepared to go in for a policy of international economic aid for the Middle East, including the Aswan Dam, in exchange for the Arab States adopting a policy consistent with the Charter and accepting a satisfactory compromise somewhere half-way between the Dulles and Indian plans on the Suez Canal.
131 Above all, we should learn to think in terms of giving leadership through the United Nations in new techniques of international relations. Imperialism will not work. We are a third-class Power in that field. But we could be the leaders of all mankind if the political genius of the British people, which has shown itself in the Mother of Parliaments and in the free Commonwealth, would also show itself through the United Nations in working for the development of the United Nations into a system of world government based on the equal rights of all nations.
§ 9.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Younger (Grimsby)
After the statement of policy which we had from the Prime Minister this afternoon, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition analysed, in a way in which I think the House found impressive, whether it agreed with it or not, the policies which have been followed in the last six weeks—policies which we on this side of the House think have been very ill-advised and indeed dangerous. The inquest which we have been holding in the House this afternoon on the relatively short period of under two months has shown just how far the Government have managed to make the worst of what could have been essentially a very good case indeed.
I believe that there was at the outset, and perhaps there even could be now, very wide support not only in the country but throughout the world for the good case that can be made over the Suez Canal. Indeed, we have found, not only in this country but in the London Conference and in even wider circles, that there is a general acceptance—at least, an acceptance in words—of the principles for which we profess to stand : the principles of free navigation through this international waterway, of fair dues, of the need for progressive development of the Canal, and so on. It is perfectly clear that Colonel Nasser's action at the end of July gave rise to legitimate fears among all the users of the Canal, which means, in one way and another, almost the whole world, for it involves not only those who are shipping countries but those whose cargoes are carried in the ships.
I think it is generally agreed that the manner of Colonel Nasser's conduct, and 132 particularly the speech with which he accompanied his announcement of nationalisation, was little more than an act of international anarchy and was an act of calculated hostility towards the West. On a rather different plane, there has also been some signs that there is a good deal of fear among countries who are not the main users, particularly, perhaps, countries in Asia, who are economically in need of development, about the repercussions of this sort of incident upon the possibility of their getting international investment or international aid. They are all afraid that international aid, on which they are extremely keen and which they want to see expanded, will become more and more the pawn of the political policies of the Powers involved, particularly if incidents of this sort occur.
Therefore, I think there was wide support, in East as well as in West, for a reasonable and firm reaction to what Colonel Nasser did with a view to checking such incidents. The only way in which this general support could be dissipated was to give the impression that we were ready—by "we" I am thinking primarily, but not exclusively, of this country—to reimpose the western domination which until quite recently existed in the area and especially to give the impression that we were, if we thought right, prepared to do this by the use of force unrelated to anything in the Charter of the United Nations with a view to enforcing the conditions which we in our own judgment thought correct. I believe that this was the impression which, wittingly or unwittingly, Her Majesty's Government gave in the early weeks of this story.
Instead of enlisting the widest possible support throughout the world for our case, the Government seem to me to have taken the narrowest possible line. When the announcement was made, for the first few days one might have thought that this was a matter which principally concerned French and British shareholders. The question of the ownership of the shares of the Canal was right in the forefront, at least equal with the much wider issue, which interested a far wider number of countries, of free transit through the Canal. Even later, when the London Conference was called—that was a step we welcomed as an improvement—nevertheless a rather narrow interpretation was 133 still put upon the conception of the nations who are interested in free transit through the Canal.
As the House knows, other suggestions were made. One of them, which may have been an extreme one, put up by the Soviet Union, would have expanded the Conference to over 40 nations. Even if we consider that excessive, we can surely agree that the formula adopted by the British, French and American Governments, for the type of nation which was entitled to be consulted in the matter, was a very narrow one. Moreover, the impression was certainly given initially that this group of nations would produce some kind of plan which they would then put to Colonel Nasser with the intention of taking action on their own account if the advance was rejected.
The result of these tactics—there can be no dispute about this because it is a question of fact—was to split the Commonwealth countries, who were found on opposite sides in the Conference itself, and to split the Bagdad Powers. We have always been led to believe that the Bagdad Pact is one of the twin pillars of the Government's policy in the Middle East, although we on this side have never attached as much importance to it as the Government have done. The Bagdad Powers were split on this issue and, in addition, there was a big difference of emphasis between ourselves and the United States. I have quite a large packet of international Press cuttings here to substantiate that statement in case it should be challenged. I do not want to weary the House by reading them unless that is necessary.
It is surely very well known to anybody who has been reading the Press, other than the Press of this country, that there has been great misgiving in many of the most responsible organs of the Press in the United States, and not entirely on account of the American election, although that influences them, and that diplomatic circles in Europe have been worried at the apparent belligerence of Britain and France. In Western Germany, a country almost as highly industrialised as ourselves and almost as dependent upon Middle Eastern oil, there has been not one word of support in the Press, from the extreme right to the extreme left.
134 The Government's policy has done much to rally to Colonel Nasser opinion which might otherwise have been very much more favourable to us. Colonel Nasser, who has been compared with Hitler and many other dictatorial characters of the past, can be really dangerous to world peace only if he becomes the spearhead of militant Arab nationalism or if he becomes a Soviet satellite. The policy of recent weeks has done a good deal to help Colonel Nasser to get into both those positions. We should appreciate, when dealing with countries of the Middle East and most of Asia, their nervousness about the possibility of a return to some kind of paternalism on the part of the West. This fear has rallied to Colonel Nasser the whole Arab world, whether inside or outside the Bagdad Pact, and many other countries.
On the question of Egypt's becoming either immediately or gradually a protege of the Soviet Union, we offered an absolutely overwhelming temptations to the Soviet Union. Only a short time ago we were led to believe in this House that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary had reached some kind of understanding on the Middle East with Messrs. Bulganin and Khrushchev, and there were signs right up to the time of the Aswan Dam affair that the Soviet Union was not anxious only to fish in troubled waters in the Middle East, as had previously been the belief of the Government and many other people.
I doubt whether, if we had stuck to a clear-cut case for the Suez Canal being treated as an international waterway, the Soviet Union would have opposed us. I know that Soviet policies are to some extent incalculable to outsiders but it is doubtful whether, if we had taken that line and gone to the Security Council, the Soviet Union would have voted against us. Because we went so much further than that, we offered to the Soviet Union the overwhelming temptation to ingratiate itself with the Arab world at our expense. I never saw at any international conference a man who appeared to be so much in clover as Mr. Shepilov. He had merely to sit there and offer not a single thing and leave it to the Western Powers to do his work for him.
Nevertheless we regard the London Conference as a step forward and we feel that it did a good job. If one reads the 135 world Press, one becomes aware that the credit for this is given far less to us than to the United States. It must be rather odd for the Prime Minister to find Mr. Dulles playing the rôle to him that he was playing to Mr. Dulles at the Geneva Conference on South-East Asia only a short time ago, of trying to pull the reckless finger off the trigger.
I think that the 18-Power plan which emerged from the Conference was one of considerable merit, and I do not think that it has been substantially attacked in any quarter of this House. If it were possible to get international management of the Canal that would, I think, in the view of most people be a progressive step. The trouble was that its chances of acceptance were largely ruined by its being put in the context of the Anglo-French threats, which had been uttered consistently ever since the incident began.
I could not help feeling, when I read the two public statements of the Menzies Committee on its return—that is to say, its own statement and the reply of Colonel Nasser—that in drafting their statement, which I thought was an excellent statement, the Committee had felt it very necessary in the opening paragraphs to lean over backwards to emphasise how friendly it was to Egypt, and that it had had to do so precisely because of the extreme hostility which had been unnecessarily shown by the Prime Minister, particularly in his broadcast.
When one read Colonel Nasser's reply, which had, I think, a number of disingenuous points and, perhaps, even more, certain very important omissions from it, nevertheless one could not help sympathising with what he said about the apparent inconsistency between the honeyed words spoken by the Menzies Committee and the deductions which he was bound to draw from both the words and actions of the British and French Governments.
Most of us on this side feel that the London Conference was all right as a preliminary, but, because of its composition, it had no authority to make any demand on Egypt which could form the basis of action if the demand was refused. Indeed, we regarded it as a start to negotiations and not as an end. I do not see, any more than have any of my 136 hon. Friends who have spoken, why there should not be further negotiations.
We have heard that there is a great gap between the two sides—that Mr. Menzies in Cairo made no progress in bringing Colonel Nasser nearer to his point of view—but it does not seem to me that the gap is so enormous. It seems to relate merely to the question of the ownership of the operating agency, and is that, after all, the real nub of the question of obtaining some kind of international guarantee for transit? Surely the ownership of the operating company is not by any means the most important thing.
After all, we are bound to recollect that when the Suez Canal Company was in full control from that point of view, that fact made no difference to the ability of the Government of Egypt to interfere, contrary to the wishes of ourselves and of the United Nations Security Council, with the transit of Israeli ships. That, in itself, surely shows that ownership is not really the crux of the matter. What, I think, is the crux of the matter is that there should be established—and I think established in a modern form and not on the basis of an old Treaty of 1888—a clear international obligation coupled with a sufficient willingness on the part of the parties to the Agreement to enforce it and to see that it is observed ; and the willingness to enforce it, in turn, depends very largely on whether there is sufficient international support for the principles enshrined in the Convention.
If the whole world is, in fact, agreed that this is absolutely essential to international commerce I do not believe that it is beyond the wit of man to establish a system, backed by sufficient sanction to give reasonable security to the users of the Canal. Unfortunately, Her Majesty's Government have gone rather a long way towards selling out the principle of freedom of navigation by their failure to take action when the difficulties related only to Israeli shipping.
I hear the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary saying that we were the Government. It is perfectly true that we were the Government which took that matter to the United Nations. I am not suggesting that our firmness of purpose in this has always been absolutely beyond reproach, but it is true that we left office 137 almost immediately after the Resolution had been passed, and the task of implementing it did, undoubtedly, lie with our successors in office. It is also true that we have constantly pressed the Government to take action about this and, indeed, to take a firm line with Egypt over the question of arms and the Israel issue generally.
The plain historical fact is that nothing in those years was done when only a small nation was threatened. Perhaps if right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are looking for analogies with the pre-war period they may like to think of the analogy between that and what occurred in 1938. Nothing was done when it was only a small nation that was threatened, and then when we felt our own interests involved, instead of giving support to the international organisation charged with collective security, the Government have tried to revert to the out-of-date "go it alone" policies which were familiar many years ago and were, indeed, possible then, as they are no longer possible now.
I do not like carrying too far this analogy with pre-war years, which has run through so many speeches today. To begin with, what we were dealing with in most cases then was actual aggression, actual movements of troops and invasions of territory in the Rhineland, Austria and Czechoslovakia. Surely hon. Members must agree that there is a difference of kind, as well as of degree, between military aggression by force and other methods. Certainly that distinction is clearly made in the Charter, and particularly the distinction is made between remedial military measures and remedial measures of other kinds which bring pressure upon people who are breaking the peace.
The matter upon which we must seek to be consistent is support for collective security through an international authority. Hon. Members opposite have talked as if the thing upon which we must be consistent is always to be willing to use force. But that is surely only a means. Sometimes it may be a question of military force and sometimes it may not. What we should be doing, and what was not done by the Conservative Government before the war and is not being done by them now, is to give full support to the authority of the world organisation.
138 We on this side of the House put our emphasis upon the United Nations so strongly, not—as some people seem to think—because we shirk the use of force should that become necessary, but precisely because in a dispute where there is a danger of force, even if only in the last resort, it is essential that that force should be used only within the Charter, and it should receive sanction of some kind, whether from the Security Council or the Assembly through the United Nations. This is essential to the moral position of any power which seeks to take armed action in the modern world. But it is not only a moral question. It is also a question of the degree of international support which one can enlist for any such action. The question whether military sanctions against Egypt are a practicable proposition depends upon what international support we can get.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition challenged the Government as to whether they had really thought of the consequences of the sort of military action which was talked about. What was to follow once an initial operation had occurred? The question whether this sort of policy is possible or not depends largely upon what degree of international support there is. There are many countries which would be prepared to support sanctions, even military sanctions, provided they knew that the authority of the United Nations was behind them, but would support them in no other circumstances and would, indeed, oppose them very strongly.
In our earlier debate on this subject at the beginning of August, the Prime Minister seemed to me to brush aside the United Nations as something to which, of course, he gave his moral blessing but as something to which he could not resort when serious British interests were at stake, because it would be ineffective. It struck the country forcibly that the right hon. Gentleman did not refer to the United Nations Organisation in his television broadcast. He referred to the length of time United Nations procedures might take, the possibilities of a veto and so on.
What it seems to add up to is that his Government have reached the conclusion that if there is any risk of a United Nations decision being unacceptable to us we are not even going to 139 approach that organisation to see what the decision may be. Any more certain means of sabotaging an international organisation would be difficult to imagine. No doubt, he has realised that the case of the French and the British Governments would not be likely to get the measure of support which would be required in the United Nations, just as I think the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has probably decided that it is not a good idea to take the question of legality of Colonel Nasser's act to the International Court because he is uncertain of the verdict which would be reached there.
The Prime Minister said that he would not exclude reference to the United Nations. That is a crumb of comfort, but I want to ask him whether his new plan, which is a new feature of today's debate, for what he called a users' association is intended as a further effort at a peaceful solution prior to going to the United Nations should it fail.
I do not quite see myself how it could have that effect. It does not seem to me to partake at all of the character of further negotiation. On the face of it the purpose would seem to be to seek to provoke a refusal of transit rights on the part of Egypt and to force Egypt to be the first to take some kind of physical action with regard to the traffic going through the Canal. What purpose that could have except as a prelude to force used on our side, at the moment I do not see. If that is the purpose I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends would be utterly opposed to this, especially when it is coupled with the Prime Minister's comment that if cooperation were refused by Egypt he would feel free to take action.
I have only got my own notes and they may not be verbatim, but I think he said that he would feel free to take such action as he might think necessary either through the United Nations or through other means. My right hon. Friend has always expressed his opposition to the use of force outside the Charter. This would be reinforced if the force were to arise out of what would seem to be an engineered incident.
In the very short time available to me I have found it extremely difficult to get a clear idea of what the legal situation 140 of this plan is with regard to the Convention. It seems to me at best to be dubious. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will try to clarify this for the benefit of the House. Is it the contention that Egypt is obliged to grant free transit to international shipping not only if the pilots are unconnected with the company controlling the Canal but also if the dues are not paid to any international or Egyptian company or to Egypt but are paid to this newly-formed association? I understood the Prime Minister to be saying that the payments would in fact be made to this newly-formed association.
I should also like to ask certain questions about the origin of the plan. We had an 18-nation plan not so long ago. This apparently is a three-nation plan, so we are told. Were the 18 nations consulted or asked about it? Were they offered the opportunity of joining in? If so, have they all said "No"? I am surprised to find that the United States was said to be in on this on an equal basis. I must accept it if that is stated as a fact, but I should like to ask, in particular, whether the United States are associated not merely with the plan for trying this way of putting traffic through the Canal but also with what the Prime Minister said about being prepared to take such action as is necessary through the United Nations or other means if Egypt refuses co-operation.
Is there a hard and fast agreement not only with the French but with the United States Governments reached on this matter since the Menzies Committee returned? I believe that for the purpose of our debate tomorrow the House is entitled to have answers to these questions.
In conclusion, we stick to the view which we have never ceased to express that this is a matter which should be referred to the United Nations. We think that the time has come now for it to be referred, and referred not just for the information of the President of the Security Council, which apparently is what the Government are doing, but in order to get negotiations going and to try to recover some of the world's support which has been lost in these intervening weeks. We on this side cannot support the delay which the Prime Minister talked of in going to the United 141 Nations, especially since the Prime Minister has told us that he proposes to employ the time not with a serious attempt at further negotiation but with this ill-conceived and, it seems to me, provocative scheme which he announced today.
The conduct of the Government in these six weeks has very gravely damaged Britain's international reputation without so far shaking Colonel Nasser at all. It is a fact—it is not just my belief—that they have united neither the country nor the Commonwealth nor our Allies in support of them and, in particular, not in support of their threats of force. Having failed to do that, frankly I do not believe that they can use force even if they want to.
I believe that we are heading rather for a diplomatic disaster due to the Government's incompetence. It is only by changing course now, with very little more delay, that we can save the country from paying the price of that incompetence.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)
I think that it is a matter for great regret that this issue, which is one of the greatest which has confronted the country for a very long time, has been made a party issue in the debate today. [HON. MEMBERS : "No."] I had hoped that that would not be the case, and I think that many other people in the country had hoped that it would not be the case. I was fortified in my hope by reading a most interesting article by the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) over the weekend, in which he said :The Labour Government sowed the seeds in the Middle East of the harvest of hate which Sir Anthony Eden has been reaping.If that is really the case, it seems to me that perhaps both sides of the House are a little to blame for the present situation.
§ Sir R. Boothby
It is perhaps a greater crime to sow the seed than to reap the harvest. It was they who ran away from their obligations in Palestine, leaving the Jews to fight for survival at odds of 20 to 1.
§ Sir R. Boothby
Their best. The hon. Gentleman and myself were working together in those days, and we nearly produced a result ; in fact, we did help to produce a result. But it was they who did it, and they who left in the Middle East the festering sore of the refugee problem. It was they, too, who did much to encourage the spirit of rabid nationalism in the Arab world ; and, more particularly, in Egypt. To be absolutely fair, I cannot completely exculpate Her Majesty's Government from all past misdemeanours, although I think that the Government of the United States are even more to blame for the situation in which we now find ourselves.
The Nasser story would be incredible if it were not true. He was put there by the American Ambassador in Cairo. His ban on Israeli ships was acquiesced in by all, despite the order of the Security Council of the United Nations Organisation. Arms were given to him and denied to Israel. And all this time he was working against us in the Sudan, Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf, Jordan and Syria ; and beaming anti-British propaganda at every part of Africa and Arabia within range. He then buys Communist arms and is rewarded with the offer of a loan for the Aswan Dam. The offer is then precipitably withdrawn ; whereupon he seizes the Suez Canal. I am content to recite these bare facts.
It seems to me that there are two basic lessons to be drawn from these startling events. The first is that it is really the absence of effective Anglo-American cooperation which has been, and is, the primary cause of the present decline of the West ; and the crumbling of the Western defence system, not only in the Middle East but in south Asia and the eastern Mediterranean. Instead of acting together in advance of events, we have reacted separately as events have caught up on us.
The United States of America even refused to join the Bagdad Pact, although the original conception of a "northern tier" was that of Mr. Dulles ; and the only practical result of the Washington Conference last January was to take the guts out of the Tripartite Declaration. We did not really get co-operation there.
The second lesson, I believe, is even more fundamental. It is that the nationalism which has been developing in this century is a bad and not a good 143 thing. The hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Zilliacus) came very near to admitting that in his speech. I believe that the rabid nationalism which is now developing is reactionary and atavistic—a revolt against the demands of the modern world and of life itself, and is used by the Communists for their own purposes, to the point at which it has become an intrinsic part of the Communist dialectic.
I share the views of the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) expressed in an admirable letter which he wrote to The Times two or three days ago. I believe that insistence on absolute State sovereignty is a primary cause of the evils which now confront us all, and that the only solution lies in a merging or pooling of national sovereignty ; not so much the surrender as the joint exercise, by common consent, of defined sovereign powers by international authorities in the interests not of one nation but of all nations. That, as it seems to me, is what the Government are now seeking to do ; and is what should be the fundamental principle on which their actions and policy should be based.
I would go further than that, and say that this doctrine applies to Europe as well as to the Middle East ; and I agree with the hon. Member for Coventry, East, who referred to this matter, particularly his comment that the record of the Government of his own party had not been too happy in this matter of effective international co-operation.
I also think that this doctrine applies to oil. The hon. Member said we must now make a new approach, when this Suez Canal thing is out of the light one way or another—a new approach to the whole problem of oil in the Middle East ; and he suggested taking it over from the national Governments in the Middle East—
§ Sir R. Boothby
the production—and that we should equally take over the distribution. I believe that he is behind the times. I believe that the only solution to the problem of oil production in the Middle East is international action at every level ; and I believe it for one reason, that no country—including this country—now has the capital available that will be necessary to develop those oil 144 fields over the next few years, about £600 million or perhaps even £1,000 million. That will demand an international rather than a purely national effort. So I think that the hon. Member for Coventry, East did not go far enough.
Now let me bring the House back for a moment to the issue which confronts us tonight. There has been much talk about Nasser. I do not think there is any use in blinking the facts. Nasser is a dictator. I do not think he would himself claim to be anything else. His methods certainly cannot be condoned by us. He has established in Egypt a police State. In November last he declared that the Egyptian Government had full confidence in the attitude of the Suez Canal Company. In June he came to a new agreement with it. In July he described it as an instrument of imperialism inside Egypt, plotting against his country's freedom and sapping her blood ; and said he was going to take action against "the pirates" who were responsible for this. He then proceeded to seize the Canal—the Prime Minister was perfectly right on that : "seize" is the correct word, and there is no other—by unilateral action, without any consultation with anybody : not even, according to what I think are valid reports, with members of his own Administration.
That is, whether we like it or not, the language of Hitler and the rule of the jungle ; and if we were to allow him to get away with it, it would be a most damaging blow to the whole conception of international law and every ideal for which the hon. Member for Gorton has fought throughout his life.
The hon. Member for Coventry, East challenged the Government and the House and said, "I want to know, and I want a plain answer, do you regard Nasser as a dictator like Hitler and as the sort of man, therefore, that you cannot conduct negotiations with under any circumstances? Is your policy, therefore, simply designed to overthrow him at all costs? Or are you prepared, in certain circumstances, to negotiate?".
I say that Nasser is a dictator, but I think it could be possible to negotiate with him under certain conditions, and I believe that these may well come about. One reason why I say this is because I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) that ownership is not the crux of this problem. 145 We agree to the ownership of the Canal by Egypt. What matters—and after all is it not what matters in industry today?—is not ownership but control. That is the vital point. It is the international control of the Canal that we are after.
We are prepared to give Nasser the ownership of the Canal. We are prepared not to impinge to any extent upon his legitimate sovereign rights. We are even prepared, in Mr. Menzies' own words, to put him in a position whereby he will be relieved from all responsibility for the future maintenance and development of the Canal, which will cost a tremendous amount. Further we are prepared to allow Egypt to be the only country in the world to make a profit out of the Canal. That is the essence of the Menzies proposals which in Mr. Menzies' own words are based—perhaps I should now say were based—upon the legitimate sovereign rights of Egypt.
I say perfectly sincerely that since the crisis developed I do not think the Government's handling of it can be faulted. I believe that with absolute sincerity, in spite of all that has been said by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I think that the London Conference, disparaged by many people to begin with, was a quite startling success ; and I would like to pay my personal tribute to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for the manner in which he handled it, a tribute which has been endorsed by everybody who took part in that Conference.
I think the Menzies mission was dead right. I think the Prime Minister was perfectly right in saying that it would not have been advisable just to transmit the recommendations of the 18 Powers to Colonel Nasser, and a copy perhaps to the United Nations organisation, and to let it go at that. I think he was right to send the Menzies mission, and I think that the mission itself was well chosen. I have not heard it suggested on either side of the House that it was not. Nobody can say that Mr. Menzies did not play his part with tact and with infinite patience. He put the case well. It is not true, as has been suggested, to say that he did not consult, the representatives of the 18 Powers. He consulted them before he left, he consulted their ambassadors in Cairo when he was there, and he consulted them again when he got back.
Now we have a new proposition put forward by the Prime Minister, the Canal 146 users' association. I am not—unfortunately for them—a member of Her Majesty's Government—[Laughter]—perhaps I should add, and for the country. It does not, therefore, devolve on me to give a detailed explanation of the Canal users' association plan. I will leave that to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
However I say to the hon. Member for Coventry, East that he cannot have it both ways. In the course of his speech, a fascinating speech as always, the hon. Gentleman said at one moment that we were in collusion in this plan with the United States to provoke an incident which might lead to war. And almost before the words were out of his mouth he was saying that President Eisenhower was so determined to prevent the use of force that, if we attempted to use it, he would order us out of the Canal.—[An HON. MEMBER : "Within 48 hours."] He cannot have it both ways. We cannot be in collusion with President Eisenhower to provoke a war, and at the same time stand ready to be thrown out of the Canal by him. One or the other, but not both. As he so often does, the hon. Gentleman chose both.
I believe that this proposal could result in negotiations. I agree with the leading article in the Star tonight, which says :Unless Nasser is quite regardless of his country's interests and is merely a power-crazed dictator, he must surely agree to negotiate on the basis of this Western plan.That is what the Star says tonight about the Canal users' association.
The United States is back with us. That is a tremendous thing, and it may well be the prelude to that effective cooperation with the United States in the future which has been so tragically lacking in the past.
France is with us, and I do really object to the disparaging tone in which the hon. Member for Coventry, East, spoke about France. France is an old ally. We have been through some rough times together in this century. France is a very great country, and has finely backed us up throughout this crisis, and has not been provocative or difficult, but steady and helpful at all stages. One can laugh at France. One may abuse France. But in fact France is Europe. If we do not get on with France, there can be no hope of any form of European 147 unity in the future. Not only is France with us but all the 18 countries which are the principal users of the Canal are also with us, and I say without fear of contradiction that that is a great achievement.
Many references have been made in this debate to the United Nations organisation, and I should like to recall what the Prime Minister said. My right hon. Friend said that France and ourselves had jointly written a letter to the President of the Security Council drawing his attention to the Suez Canal problem. He added that it places us in a position to ask for urgent action if that becomes necessary. I do not see how we could have gone beyond that, in view of this new canal users' association, this new plan which must certainly be tried before this matter is formally presented to the United Nations. [HON. MEMBERS : "Why?"] Because it is part of the Charter of the United Nations that any country should make its own efforts at conciliation in negotiations before it brings a matter to the attention of the Security Council.
I would only say that I am all in favour of it. I have always expressed the view that this matter cannot be finally settled without reference to the Security Council ; but, for goodness sake, let us bear in mind that the Security Council is subject to the Russian veto, and that its fiat in connection with Israeli shipping has been blatantly disregarded for years ; and that the Assembly as such has no power to give any authority for international action. It can only make recommendations. Do not let us delude ourselves that the United Nations, as such, can easily solve this problem.
One word about the pilots. We have twice asked the pilots to stay on, despite the fact that they have been threatened with imprisonment, and I do not think we can do so any longer. I do not honestly think that we can force people to remain in jobs against their will, and I think that the Canal Company has been perfectly right to say that the pilots must now be allowed to do what they themselves wish to do. I do not believe that one can force people to remain in jobs indefinitely under the threat of imprisonment if they do not wish to do so. I do not think that that is really a tenable proposition on either side of the House.
148 What is at stake? It is not simply the future of this country as a great Power. It is not simply the control or mastery of the Middle East—to use the words of the Leader of the Opposition—it is the whole industrial future of Western Europe, and ultimately of the Western world. The Leader of the Opposition gave some figures about oil this afternoon, and suggested that if the Canal was closed it would involve an increase of only a penny a gallon in the price of petrol. I have made some inquiries of the oil people since then, and they say that if we add to the increase in freight charges the additional refineries and wharfage that would be necessary, the figure would be more likely to be an increase of fivepence over a period of two or three years. In addition, by 1961 the United States will be importers of oil. What shall we do then, if we lose the oil of the Middle East? I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) is not here ; he is very sound on this oil business.
I further say that the Canal is vital for the East as well as for the West. If this business were to end in a paralysis of the Canal, India would suffer just as much as we should, and perhaps more. Therefore, I say that a guaranteed system, free from politics, is essential ; and that we can accept no other solution.
The hon. Member for Coventry, East said that he found it difficult to draw, a distinction between an international agreement and a purely national undertaking by Nasser, because unless we had troops there, there was no difference between the two. Carried to its logical conclusion, that means, if it means anything, that all international agreements are perfectly valueless unless there are troops standing about to enforce them at any given place. To claim that an international agreement is of no greater value than a purely national undertaking is nonsense. Hon. Members will be able to read the hon. Gentleman's remarks clearly set out in HANSARD tomorrow.
I do not believe that the Arab States are panting to come under Nasser's domination. They are waiting to see how things go. If he gets away with this, his prestige will get a big boost. It has been asked : would he use his power, then, to blackmail the West and bully the Middle East? The Daily Express, with which I do not always agree, gave the answer this 149 morning : "Did Hitler use his power, after seizing the Rhineland, to blackmail France and Britain while he grabbed Austria and Czechoslovakia?" I only wish the Daily Express had said that at the time, but better late than never.
I would remind the House that this time there is a sharp difference. On Nasser's own showing, Israel is next on the list. But, as against Czechoslovakia, Israel will fight. Therefore, if we run away from this problem, what shall we do then? I do not think that any hon. Member will be prepared to stand by and see the State of Israel destroyed with Communist arms ; but if we allow Nasser to get away with this action, that is the inevitable next step.
So far as Nasser is concerned, I believe that we must stand absolutely firm on the principles which have been laid down by the Prime Minister. We have both been in this House a very long time. [HON. MEMBERS : "Too long."] I do not agree. We were very young and bright when we first came here, and now we are getting our second wind.
We went through all this in the 1930s, and it was not much fun. Shameless appeasement does not really pay. We are not going to get anything much out of it. There are many steps, judicious steps, which we can take at the present time, apart from the Canal altogether, in the way of building tankers and, possibly, of constructing a pipeline from Iran through Turkey to the coast. Those things should be done ; but at the same time, on the basic issue of the international, non-political control of the Canal, I believe that we must, and should, stand absolutely firm
As I listened to the Prime Minister this afternoon, I thought of what Nasser had been saying about what he was going to do to establish an Arab empire from Morocco to the Persian Gulf, and how he was going to eliminate Israel altogether. That is all in his speeches, and in a horrible little book called "A Philosophy of Revolution", which is like a potted edition of "Mein Kampf". As I heard the Prime Minister speaking, I said to myself, "Well, thank goodness, at any rate we shall not have to go through all that again", and we shall not.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.