§ 3.26 p.m.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Derick Heathcoat Amory)
I beg to move,That this House approves the Agreement between the Government of the United Arab Republic and the Government of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland concerning Financial and Commercial Relations and British Property in Egypt (Command Paper No. 639).I will begin by summarising shortly the negotiations which have led to the Agreement which is the subject of the Motion before the House. Negotiations for the conclusion of a Financial Agreement began in the spring of 1957, when arrangements had to be made for opening a transferable account in connection with the use of the Suez Canal, which had been reopened that spring. As a part of those discussions, an understanding was reached that discussions would be resumed on certain other matters. These other matters were the disposal of the blocked Egyptian No. I account, the payment to British nationals of debts outstanding in relation of contracts entered into before July, 1956, when the Egyptian balances were blocked, and current trade.
Talks on those matters started in Rome in May, 1957. Unfortunately, it proved possible to reach agreement only on the question of the outstanding debts to which I have referred, since the Egyptians maintained, at that time, that they were not prepared to desequestrate British property unless the whole of the No. 1 account was unblocked. That would have left the problem of the Egyptianised properties not dealt with. For that reason, no progress could be made at that time on the resumption of current trade.
Contact was resumed in the autumn of 1957, by which time we had obtained rather fuller information about British property in Egypt. In those talks, in the autumn of 1957, our aim was to have Egyptian agreement to arrangements which would enable British nationals to pursue their claims against the Egyptian authorities, with safeguards for a fair assessment of the compensation due to them. Negotiations broke down on that particular point. After further talks early in 1958, it became clear that the 32 Egyptians were not ready to agree to the only safeguards we considered reasonable, namely, some form of neutral assessment in the event of disputes between the claimants and the Egyptian authorities as to the value of their claims.
It therefore became obvious by that time that there was no prospect of settling the question of compensation on the basis of enabling the claimants to pursue their individual claims against the Egyptian authorities. In those circumstances, the only practical alternative open to the Government was to follow the precedent which had been already established in settling some post-war claims in which British assets had been expropriated, namely, a settlement on the basis of a lump sum payment by Egypt against which claims would be assessed and paid by the United Kingdom authorities and not the Egyptian authorities. Negotiations since then, therefore, have been concerned with establishing the amount of the lump sum to be paid.
After direct negotiations with the Egyptian authorities, a fairly wide gap still remained and no further progress could be made. However, through the good offices of Mr. Eugene Black, President of the World Bank, given on a personal and informal basis at the request of both Governments, a compromise settlement was eventually reached. I should like once more to pay a tribute to the care and patience which Mr. Black and his staff demonstrated throughout those discussions.
Before I examine the Agreement itself and its working and some of the criticisms, not all of them well formed, I should like to make one or two general observations. In particular, I want to emphasise two things. First, the settlement that emerged was necessarily a compromise; it gave neither party as much as it wanted. To secure the settlement both parties had to move quite a long way to meet one another. Therefore, neither could be completely satisfied. It is in the nature of a compromise settlement. Secondly, it was a comprehensive settlement covering a number of different matters. In an Agreement of this kind there are often individual items which, if taken by themselves, may appear unfavourable and even objectionable, but to reach an objective judgment one has to consider each as part of the whole.
33 I would invite hon. Members to consider the facts of the situation which has been ended by this Agreement. British nationals were subject to measures which, in general, precluded them from undertaking any commercial activities. Those who wished to leave Egypt, or had no desire to return, were unable to realise their assets or to transfer them outside Egypt. British property was under sequestration subject to sequestration charges, the total of which was continually increasing, and the owners were deprived of any say in its management.
The longer settlement was delayed the greater the risk that that property would deteriorate or be damaged, with no prospect, short of a settlement, of any compensation, even in Egyptian pounds, for any deterioration or damage that resulted. A lot of property had been Egyptianised for which compensation had been offered only in Egyptian pounds and at a valuation to be established by the Egyptian authorities.
So long as British firms and businesses were subject to these restrictions, the prospects of improving trade were obviously extremely limited. The current situation, therefore, was most unsatisfactory. The Egyptian sterling balances were still subject to the restriction imposed on them in July, 1956, but their value, it must be remembered, was much less than half the claimed value of British assets in Egypt. In any event, as I am sure the whole House will agree, to have seized these balances unilaterally when there was a prospect of reaching a negotiated settlement would have been entirely inconsistent with this country's position as a repository for international balances and very seriously prejudicial to confidence in sterling. To have done so might have also resulted in the permanent expropriation of the sequestrated properties. That, therefore, was a course which would have been neither expedient nor effective.
During the negotiations substantial improvements on the original Egyptian offers were obtained, but, by the time we reached the position embodied in the Agreement, it was clear that we had arrived at the best terms on which a settlement could take place, and that no useful purpose would be served by prolonging the negotiations further. So much for the reasons why I am sure we were right to reach a settlement on the outstanding 34 financial disputes between the two countries. If hon. Members share my belief that we were right to seek a negotiated settlement, then the practical issue is whether the terms which we have obtained were the best obtainable in the circumstances.
I turn now to the terms of the Agreement which has resulted from the negotiations. First, it provides for the return to the owners British property in Egypt which has been under sequestration. This and the resumption of normal trade are the chief advantages which we secure under the Agreement. Judged by their claimed value, more than two-thirds of the former British property in Egypt is to be returned under that provision. Where property has been taken over by the Egyptian authorities—that is to say, Egyptianised—or has suffered damage during sequestration, compensation will be paid from the lump sum of £27½ million in sterling which the Egyptian Government are paying to Her Majesty's Government. The distribution of this compensation has been enstrusted, as the House knows, to the Foreign Compensation Commission, to which I referred in my statement to the House the other day.
Secondly, there are provisions for restoring public rights, and I think that I should specify these. First, the Agreement provides for the immediate termination of the restrictions imposed on British nationals under the Egyptian Proclamation No. 5 of 1956. Apart from the sequestration of their property, this proclamation, among other things, prohibited contracts between British nationals and Egyptians. It forebade anyone to undertake anything to their profit, deprived them of their legal rights, and provided for their summary dismissal from employment. We now have assurances that no action will be taken against British nationals for any infringement of that proclamation.
The Agreement also contains provision dealing with freedom of entry and exit and the grant of residents' permits. British owners can have their legal rights which otherwise would have become exhausted reopened in their favour and can ask for tax settlements to be reopened where these have become final because the sequestrator failed to exercise legal rights on their behalf. An immediate payment of 35 £100,000 in sterling is to be made on account of compensation to officials dismissed in 1951, and the Commission which deal with their claims is to be reactivated.
Owners of British property who do not wish to take up residence in Egypt can exercise, in accordance with the normal requirements of the Egyptian Exchange Control Regulations, the same rights as they had in 1956, to have remitted to them at least £E5,000 from any cash or bank balances they hold in Egypt, or from the proceeds of the sale of their property. Although £E5,000 does not sound a great deal in the case of the big claims, it covers a great many of the smaller claims.
It depends on the current rate of exchange, which varies from day to day, but it is approximately three-quarters.
I should say that £3,700 was nearer.
Such applications for the transfer of the £E5,000 will be approved immediately and favourable consideration is to be given to applications for the transfer of sums above this limit.
Thirdly, the Egyptian balances at present blocked in this country have been released to Egypt. Their market value was about £69½ million, from which must be deducted the £3½ million which has been paid to us in cash and £25 million, being the market value of British Government securities which have been deposited as collateral against the payment of the remaining £24 million compensation, due in a year's time. Egypt gets back about £41 million of her money.
Fourthly, inter-Governmental claims, with which the Agreement is not itself concerned, are the subject of a mutual waiver in a simultaneous exchange of Notes. I shall have a further word to say about that in a moment.
Lastly, provision is made for the full resumption of normal commercial relations, including civil aviation.
36 I should like to give the House some more detailed information on these five points covered by the Agreement. I will deal, first, with property. About 120 businesses, including some insurance companies, schools and colleges, and the landed property of 127 owners will not be returned, having been Egyptianised, but will rank for compensation. These are listed in Annex E to the agreement. The claimed value of the business property is about £45 million. It includes a number of important industrial enterprises, but it would be wrong for me to reveal the figures which have been given in confidence as to their separate values.
About two-thirds of all British property, however, is due to be returned to the owners, and on the information we have that will include the property of about 4,000 private individuals and 300 businesses. The value put on this returnable property by the owners is about £130 million. Private assets are valued by the owners at about £57 million and business assets at about £75 million. A big part of the last figure includes the property of the Shell and Anglo-Egyptian Oilfields Companies, which is by far the biggest single enterprise in Egypt. It consists of a large refinery, which supplies almost the entire Egyptian market, considerable productive enterprises in Egypt and an extensive distribution and marketing network.
Other properties to be returned include bank balances and securities at a claimed value of £23 million, buildings at about £10 million, personal property, including insurance policies and other financial claims, at £7 million, stocks of goods at £4½ million and plant and machinery at £3 million. As hon. Members will understand, until some progress has been made by the Foreign Compensation Commission with the assessment of these claims it is not possible to give any precise estimate of the actual value of the properties in question, but even after allowing for some damage the claimed value is still about three times the value of the sterling balances which have been released to Egypt.
Turning to land, holdings in excess of approximately 200 acres per individual or 300 acres per family were taken over before October, 1956, by the Egyptian authorities under an agrarian reform law. Compensation for that land was paid in 37 bonds, and under the Agreement those bonds will be returned to their owners. In general, British-owned land below these limits of 200 or 300 acres respectively has been taken over under the policy of Egyptianisation. Building land, where it is built on, or land adjoining industrial establishments which is held for use by such enterprises, is, however, excepted, as stated in the exchange of Notes on the last page of the White Paper.
The owners of the land which has been Egyptianised will, of course, have a claim against the £27½ million compensation fund. The precise application of the exceptions which I have mentioned is one of the matters which Her Majesty's representatives at Cairo will have to examine. The claimed value of the land which has been Egyptianised cannot at present be determined from the information supplied by the owners.
The reason is that that claim covers all land and does not distinguish between that which is covered by the exceptions to which I have referred and that which is not. A figure for the land can be determined only when the precise effect of these exceptions is known and the value of the Egyptianised land not affected by them has been established by the Foreign Compensation Commission.
Apart from one family, whose property has received considerable publicity in the Press, most of the owners concerned appear to be small proprietors. I know that many people have expressed concern about what is to happen when the claims have been assessed. Until that has happened we shall obviously not know how far the £27½ million will go in covering them, but, apart from the amount of the sum which we were able to secure as part of this settlement, there are other considerations which we had to bear in mind.
First, property owners will secure the restoration of by far the greater part of British property in Egypt and the restoration of other rights and interests affecting them, for example, the resumption of the right of capital transfers—a limited right but, nevertheless, real—and the provisions in Article III (h) and (i) relating to legal rights and tax matters, to which I have referred.
Secondly, the essence of a lump sum agreement is that we obtain a definite total amount on behalf of the United 38 Kingdom claimants without having to go through the process of negotiating each individual claim with the Egyptians separately. It has been suggested in some quarters that by the Government themselves making an agreement for a lump sum in lieu of compensation the Government have sacrificed the interests of property owners. On the contrary, I think that there can be no doubt that if the Government had left the compensation to be settled as a result of individual negotiations between each claimant and the Egyptian authorities the claimants would not have been at all likely to have fared as well.
Thirdly, I emphasise that compensation will be paid in sterling, and this is in respect of assets some of which could otherwise have been realised only in Egyptian pounds; and £27½ million is, of course, worth far more than that amount in Egyptian pounds.
Fourthly, the adjudication of these claims is now in British hands, the Foreign Compensation Commission.
I should now like briefly to look at the exchange of Notes on inter-Governmental claims, which hon. Members will find on page 16 of the White Paper. It is not correct to suggest that in this Note we have recognised either Egypt's claim to war damage or her right to seize the Suez Canal base. She, for her part, did not recognise either the validity of our claims. So no agreement was in sight on these matters, and the decision to waive Governmental claims was a practical acknowledgement of that fact. As no settlement could be got both parties agreed to lay them aside. The alternative would have been a fruitless and indefinite dispute which might well have prejudiced both the conclusion and the working of the Agreement on private claims.
It has been suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) that we have abandoned installations and equipment worth more than £50 million in return for a promise by the Egyptians that they would not press their claim for war damage. I think that he was referring to a statement in the House, some time ago, about the book value of the installations and equipment, which was, in fact, a little over £60 million in total—I think £63 million or £64 million. [Interruption.] I think that if 39 the right hon. Gentleman will look at it he will see that stores were nearly £60 million and the installations were just under £4 million, making a total of about £64 million.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
The replacement value of the installations was given to the Select Committee in the year 1952–53 as between £200 million and £300 million.
I was not talking about replacement value, which would be utterly inappropriate and irrelevant in a situation like this. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If the right hon. Gentleman would just wait a moment or two, it is possible that I may be dealing with the point he has in mind.
What has been abandoned is not replacement value or the book value, but the realisable value of the base, and for obvious reasons. In the circumstances, no value could be fixed for the realisable value of those assets. An asset of that kind cannot possibly be put up for sale in the open market. It can only be effectively sold complete to the country in which it is located. Similarly, the realisable value of the stores and equipment in the base, again allowing for obsolescence and cost of moving, would bear very little relation to their original cost. The fact is that in the absence of a willing buyer it is absolutely impossible to put a value on such an asset.
§ Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)
Since the right hon. Gentleman is purporting to reply to something that I said, will he say why, if it was so valueless, it was proposed some time ago to put Wimpey's and various other contractors in, at very great cost, to maintain the value of these installations and bases? Will he also tell the House now, before he leaves the point, how much these installations and stores have cost the British taxpayer?
I did not say that those assets were valueless. I said that it was impossible to compute their realisable value, a very different thing. As to the cost, I have not those figures, but whatever the cost it is utterly irrelevant to the price we can obtain. I think that if the 40 right hon. Gentleman had been in business as long as I was he would have understood the irrelevance of that.
§ Mr. Wilson
Perhaps if I have been in business as long as the right hon. Gentleman I would not have gone to war to destroy those very valuable assets.
As far as trade is concerned, the main provisions in the Agreement are contained in Article VI, which is supplemented by Annexes C and D, and, briefly, these are designed to establish the status quo ante in relation to the following: First, the resumption of normal commercial relations; secondly, the reaffirmation of the Provisional Commercial Agreement of 1930 which, among other things, gave us a most-favoured-nation clause relating to Customs duties and other matters; thirdly, the treatment of sterling on a basis no less favourable than that accorded to other convertible or transferable currencies; next, an undertaking in an exchange of Notes, on page 18 of the White Paper, by the Egyptian authorities to give favourable consideration to applications from British nationals to establish commercial agencies and to accord most-favoured-nation treatment to British commercial establishment; next, the resumption of industrial property rights, quite an important matter, including copyrights, patents and trade marks which are of considerable value to the owners—the detailed provisions are in Annex C; and, lastly, the re-establishment of what was, in effect, the status quo ante in civil aviation matters. Now that British airlines can again use Egyptian airports and facilities on the same terms as before they will be able to resume flights along an important air route to the Far East and Africa.
All these provisions, taken in conjunction with the additional foreign exchange which the release of the sterling balances will give to Egypt, should do a good deal to help to expand the United Kingdom's trade with Egypt which, in 1955, amounted to about £28 million.
I do not wish to imply that the removal of the recent handicaps will lead immediately to any dramatic improvement, but our traders will now again be able to compete on level terms, and there are already signs that the conclusion of this Agreement has led to a renewed interest 41 in British goods and that some important contracts may be secured belong long. Hon. Members will also be glad, I think, to hear that, to help forward that process, it will soon be possible, I hope, to resume a measure of Export Credits Guarantee Department cover for exports to Egypt.
Hon. Members may ask whether the Government are prepared to supplement the sum of £27½ million compensation. I said when I made my statement the other day that neither this Government nor any other Government in this country have ever accepted a commitment to make good losses suffered by British subjects in foreign countries. We could not possibly accept a general commitment of that kind, but we are anxious to see a fair outcome of the matter.
The Government are not unmindful of the financial losses and hardships suffered by many of those who have been denied over the past two and a half years the use of their properties. From the beginning we have shown willingness to assist in a practical way with grants and loans which, in total, have amounted to a quite substantial sum— to date to about £9 million. As I have said, it is too soon yet to make any accurate assessment of the total claims lunch will lie against the lump sum payment. Such an assessment cannot possibly be made until the extent of the damage to the sequestrated properties and the precise value of the Egyptianised businesses and land can be examined on the spot.
It was to be able to help owners and the Compensation Commission in that kind of matter that the Government were so concerned to ensure that there should be adequate facilities for our representative and his staff in Egypt. At this end, in the United Kingdom, I mentioned in my statement to the House that arrangements had been made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to set up a special section of the Foreign Office to help and advise owners in dealing with their property claims. At the other end, the task of our representative and his staff will be to do exactly that and give every possible assistance to applicants. Sir George Rendel, a very distinguished ambassador, who will be known to many hon. Members, will be in charge of the special section at this end.
I also said that the Government would wish to give sympathetic consideration to 42 cases where financial hardship would be involved to claimants in meeting the expenses of necessary visits to Egypt or of paying agents' expenses. Therefore, while the Government are unable to accept any general commitment now, that does not mean that in no circumstances are we willing to provide any further financial assistance or contributions. In the light of the findings of the Foreign Compensation Commission, we shall be ready if necessary, to continue to play our part in seeking a settlement which can reasonably be considered as fair to all concerned.
No. I really think that when the right hon. Gentleman has looked at the membership of the Foreign Compensation Commission he will be convinced that any suggestion of that kind is really not a very worthy one.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am not attempting at all to make an unworthy suggestion. I am merely trying to elucidate the situation, to prevent suspicion from arising. The right hon. Gentleman has just said that there will be an ambassador here to help. Do I understand that all that the ambassador will do will be to assist people to make their claims and that the assessment of the value of those claims will be made by the Commission? If that is so, and the right hon. Gentleman says it clearly, we shall understand it.
I am sorry, but I misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman. Yes, the assessment of the claims will be made by the Foreign Compensation Commission, but assistance to claimants in making their claims and advice to them will be given at this end by a special section of the Foreign Office and, at the other end, in Cairo, by our representative there. If the right hon. Gentleman will read what I have said, I think that he will find that I covered that point.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
The right hon. Gentleman has made a very important concession to those who have suffered 43 grievous property losses in Egypt, but have the Government taken fully into account the claims of the 700 employees in the base who were imprisoned, vilified, spat upon, starved and then robbed by the Government when they came back?
Their claims will certainly be considered, but at this stage I cannot say whether they will fall to be considered by the Foreign Compensation Commission. I rather think not, but directly by the Government.
I have tried to give to the House as full an account as I can of this Agreement. My own experience in business has led me to conclude that if once one decided that the balance of advantage lay in settling an issue, then prolonged further argument seldom produced gains commensurate with the losses and deteriorations inseparable from delay and deadlock. That applies with particular force to a trading nation like Britain.
This settlement should pave the way to normal trading relations. Unless those who criticise it would prefer to have had no settlement at all, the onus is upon them to show in what respect the Government erred during the negotiations, or how more favourable arrangements could have emerged. I am confident that the House will conclude, as I do, that this Agreement represents a practical settlement on sensible lines—a settlement of a number of frustrating difficulties which, on a balance of all considerations, it was very much in the interests of this country to reach, and that the House will approve of it.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:while recognising the need for a financial settlement with the United Arab Republic, expresses its profound regret that such heavy losses to British citizens and the British nation should have had to be accepted under the recent Agreement; and deplores the action of Her Majesty's Government over Suez in 1956 which led to these losses, imposed other heavy economic burdens on our country, gravely damaged our reputation in the world, and is now generally admitted to have been a disastrous act of folly almost without parallel in our history".44 The Chancellor made a quiet, detailed, technical, and factual speech. This in no way surprises us. When one has a really bad case, the best thing is to try to blind the House with figures and complexity, and the right hon. Gentleman very nearly succeeded in doing that. He was at pains to describe the unpleasant nature of the dilemma in which the Government found themselves. Either they had to make an Agreement which was by any standard at all a very unsatisfactory one, or they had to remain in the previous situation which in the Chancellor's judgment was even more intolerable.
But what the Chancellor did not do—what he carefully refrained from doing—was to make any mention of the circumstances in which we got into that intolerable position. Indeed, one would hardly have supposed that this was a speech opening a debate in perhaps one of the most dramatic series of debates this century in the House of Commons—a dramatic story which began on 30th October, 1956, and the end of which is not yet finally in sight.
The Agreement deals with property which is Egyptianised, and property which is desequestrated. It involves compensation payments of £27½ million. It involves permission to British nationals to transfer small sums, if they do not go back to Egypt, from their property there to the extent of about £3,500 sterling. It involves the release of the sterling balances which were blocked. It involves the cancellation of all claims which we might have made for compensation for the bases which they seized against Egyptian claims for the damage we did to their country in 1956.
The Egyptianised property has been valued by the claimants at £45 million. I think that the Chancellor added a few millions more to that in respect of land, so we may say roughly £50 million. We are accepting, in respect of this, and even on the assumption that the whole of the compensation money is used for this purpose, £27½ million, that is to say, only just over half of the claimed value of the property. When the Chancellor announced the Agreement I did not think that it was very appropriate for him, when challenged on this discrepancy, simply to say, "Well, claimants very often take a rosy view of the value of 45 their property." Did he have any information on this at all? Apparently not, because today he said that it would not be possible, until the Commission had sat, to assess in any way what was the real value of the property. I could not help feeling that there was one thing the Chancellor might perhaps have introduced either into his recent statement, or in) his speech today, and that was a word of regret and apology to the British citizens who have suffered these losses.
What makes the position a great deal worse, however, is that the £27½ million which Egypt is to pay out of her sterling balances is to cover not only the compensation for the Egyptianised property claimed to be worth almost twice as much, but, also, to be a full and final discharge for any loss or damage which the property that had been seized by the Egyptian Government, and is now to he desequestrated, may have suffered in the meanwhile.
The House should be clearly aware of this. Paragraph 5 of Article IV of the Agreement states:The United Kingdom hereby declare on their own behalf, and on behalf of United Kingdom nationals, that payment by the Government of the United Arab Republic of the sum of £27,500,000 sterling referred to in paragraph (1) of this Article fully and finally discharges the Government of the United Arab Republic and nationals of the United Arab Republic from all liability to the United Kingdom Government and United Kingdom nationals in respect of the claims referred to in paragraph (1) of this Article.Those claims are the two sets of claims, namely, claims in respect of property which has been Egyptianised and alsoall claims in respect of injury or damage to property suffered prior to the date of the signature of the present Agreement as a result of the measures referred to in paragraph (a) of Article III"—and those measures are the sequestration measures.
This means that the Government have given up, not only on their own behalf but on behalf of all the owners of property, not only against the Egyptian Government but against any Egyptian citizen, all claim to any further compensation, whatever the state of the property may he when the owners get it back again. There may be a business where all the cash has been taken; there may be a house from which all the furniture has been removed: there may be factories which 46 have been run down; there may he machinery which has got rusty or smashed or stolen. There is not one penny of extra compensation to be payable by anybody, so far as Egypt is concerned, either to the Government or to the owners of the property.
The Chancellor has referred to this desequestrated property as being worth, in the estimate of the claimants, £130 million. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has himself made any estimate of how much that property is worth today, of how much loss has been sustained during the past two and a half years? This is a very important figure, because it has to be added to the £50 (million in respect of the nationalised property which will be put in as additional claims on the £27½ million.
All I can say is that the Director of the Communities Association of Egypt, Colonel Moore, estimates that a loss of £30 million on this £130 million would be "to take a charitable view" of what has probably happened to this property in the meanwhile. When one adds that to the £50 million, there is a figure of £80 million against the £27;½million which is available in full satisfaction.
There are some questions which must be put to the Chancellor, despite his detailed explanation. Is the Commission to be given no directive from the Government as to how it is to settle these claims? Is the job simply to be handed to the Commission without any idea, for instance, as to whether those with small properties are to be dealt with first; whether any preference is to be given to them with respect to the amount of money available? Is it simply a matter for the Commission, or have the Government any view on this point? Can the Chancellor seriously say that this is a fair way to treat these British citizens—few in number, I know—who have suffered these damages, these losses, through no conceivable fault of their own?
And that is not all. There is a provision, to be sure, for the transfer of some small sums when the owners of property decide not to remain in Egypt or not to go back there. I do not think that there is much doubt that there will be a number of such cases—people who are older, 47 people who have broken off all their connections, people who, for one reason or another, find it difficult at this stage to go back to the Middle East. They are to be allowed to take out of Egypt about £3,500, whatever their need be, whatever they may have. They cannot get anything more out under the Agreement unless some further arrangements are made.
I ask the Chancellor what he has in mind here? He made reference, in the course of his speech, to the British Government nevetheless trying to do their best to reach a fair settlement. Now, how does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile that statement with the Clause of the Agreement which I read out and which clearly gives away all possible legal claims either on Egypt or Egyptian nationals? Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that the Government will be able to help transfer additional sums of money? This is an important point. For instance, does he regard it as possible for Her Majesty's Government to help some of these people to get a little more of their money out when they are not going back there, perhaps by being prepared to accept Egyptian pounds and to pay sterling to those individuals?
I do not know whether that is possible under the Agreement, or whether it would be debarred by the existing rules for exchange control in Egypt. Perhaps we can get an answer to this point later, because I know that a number of persons who have lost a great deal as a result of this action are much concerned with the point.
It is not surprising that in the light of what has happened the Press comments on this Agreement, and on what has been done by the Government, should be bitter and should demand from the Government some further action to make up the difference between the value of these properties and what the owners are to get. For instance, the Manchester Guardian said:Governments which undertake policies as mountainously foolish as the Suez adventure must expect that they will prove expensive. Unfortunately, it is not merely Mr. Macmillan, Mr. Selwyn Lloyd. and their colleagues who will have to foot the bill. The chief sufferers will be those whose property was taken over as a result of the Government's folly, and who will not get its full value back. And so the Cairo agreement is appeasement in the third 48 and most ignoble sense of the word, too; it is a bargain made at the expense of somebody else.Or to take a newspaper holding very different political views, Peter Simple, of the Daily Telegraph, wrote:It is a sorry tale. After a spree like Suez there is a bill to pay. The tragedy is that the bill has gone to the wrong address. Why should a few luckless business men bear the entire burden of our collective insanity? We had the fun, if any; we should settle the account."We" are the readers of the Daily Telegraph, presumably, and we know who most of them are.
I know what the Government's answer to the claimants is. It is the fear of precedent, that it is contrary to all previous conventions that the Government should undertake to compensate private individuals for losses to their property abroad. However, I must say, in support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), that there is something rather different about the Suez episode. One does not claim that those who suffered damage through riots or through some arbitrary action abroad should be entitled to compensation from the British Government, but when what they have suffered from is due entirely to the action of the British Government it is a different story.
I do not understand why the Government refuse any compensation to these unfortunate individuals while they did not hesitate to make a repayment to shipowners who had to pay the 3 per cent. levy to meet the cost of the clearance of the canal, a payment which, I think, cost the Government about £1½ million. I do not know why the Government are prepared to do that for shipowners, who, generally speaking, can look after themselves, but will take no account of the claims of these other individuals who have been put in this unfortunate position.
If the Government continue to refuse, as I am very much afraid they will, one can only draw a contrast between what they are doing now and what they said previously. For instance, on 16th May, 1957, the Foreign Secretary said:The blocked accounts are our security for the claims of British subjects against the Egyptian Government. We have no intention of whittling away that position."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th May, 1957; Vol. 570, c. 584.]49 Let us contrast what they are doing now with what the Prime Minister, for example, said on 5th February, 1957:…we shall have to see what is necessary to fulfil these obligations"—to the victimsin an honourable way."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th February, 1957; Vol. 564, c. 246.]Above all, how hollow to these people must now sound the claim, made again and again at the time of the action itself, one of the many alibis for that action, that we had to intervene to protect the lives and properties of our fellow citizens.
This is, however, not only a matter of loss to individuals. There is also the matter of the loss to the State. The Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to the waiver. We gave up the base, we gave up all claims to compensation in respect of it, and the stores and installations—all these were waived against the Egyptian claim for war damage. The value of the stones, by any ordinary standard, must be put at about £60 million. The Chancellor says, "You would not be sure that you would get that in the open market. "Does he regard these stores as completely valueless? Are they not of some interest to Her Majesty's Government? Were they not paid for anyway, in the first instance? Or are they surplus which is completely valueless? If so, it does not speak very well for the Government's economy in the past.
Then there are the installations. As I said in an interjection, the value of these installations, in the sense of what it would cost to replace them, was estimated, in respect of 1952–53, by a Select Committee of this House at £200 million to £300 million. Of course, it is true that if one were to try to sell the installations in the open market one would probably not get very much for them, but are we really to value Government property in this way? If so, we shall find many other examples, both at home and abroad, where it is of extremely little value.
Surely the real point is that what we have done in giving up not only all claims to compensation, but the use of the base itself, is to abandon what the Government Front Bench, and particularly Sir Anthony Eden, at the time claimed as at any rate something of a successful Agreement, made in July, 1954. When all is said and done, it was provided 50 under that Agreement that no fewer than 2,000 civilian technicians were to go from this country to look after those stores. It is a very strange thing for the Government now to make out that they are not worth anything at all.
I should like to quote a few words spoken by Sir Anthony Eden during the debate on the Suez Canal Peace Agreement on 29th July, 1954, in which, putting the case for the Agreement, he said:What would happen in 1956—Strangely enough, it was 1956 to which he referred.—if we had no arrangement? We would have no place, no establishments, no workshops, no possibility of going in again, no right of re-entry whatever and no assurance of the upkeep of the base. We would have the absolute assurance of the worst possible relations with Egypt and with all the other Arab countries, leading to rising tension.He went on:How far does this Agreement, with its admitted shortcomings, meet our needs?This was his claim for it:For the first time we shall have installations and facilities in Egypt by agreement, because we had no such rights under the 1936 Treaty. What we need now is a working base and not a beleaguered garrison.He was right.Our ability to return in the event of crisis is a strengthening element which will enable us to defend our position in the Middle East and the air transit rights are of real value."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th July, 1954; Vol. 531, c. 814.]That was the view of the Government in 1954, and they cannot expect us to take it very calmly when they come along and give the impression that all this base, all these installations and all these stores arc of no possible value whatever.
The fact is that this is an Agreement which throws away our one strong card, the blocked balances, and gets, in exchange, compensation payments for private property of British nationals which probably amount to not much more than one-third of their value. It concedes another £60 million in respect of the stores and an unknown, and, I agree, not easily valuable, figure for the installation, and gives us, in exchange, certainly the right to trade again and the concession that Egypt will make no claim against us for war damage.
One is bound to ask why such an Agreement had to be made. It certainly was not regarded as satisfactory by the 51 British citizens concerned, and I do not think that any of us, looking at it from outside, can accept the Chancellor's view that it was a compromise remotely in our favour. I suppose that the only answer is that this was the best Agreement that we could get and that it was better than no agreement at all.
Why was this? Presumably, in the first place, it was because those affected could go back to Egypt—provided that their businesses are worth going back to. Presumably, it was also, despite the unsatisfactory nature of the Agreement, worth while for those whose properties had been taken over to get some compensation. Throughout the whole business one of the queer features has been that the individuals concerned, who were, I think, organised for this purpose, do not appear to have been consulted by the Government or in any way to have been parties to the Agreement—at least, not if I am to judge by what they themselves say. If this is not the case, perhaps the Chancellor will clear the point up. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] Am I wrong in saying that? Perhaps the Chancellor would like to clear the point up.
The right hon. Gentleman really asked two questions—had the claimants been consulted, and were they parties to the Agreement? The answer is that they were taken into consultation on a number of occasions but they were not parties to the Agreement.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
But did they agree with the course which Her Majesty's Government were taking? Obviously not.
The second, and probably more important, motive in the Chancellor's mind and the mind of the Government was the need to restore normal relations with Egypt. This brings me to another part of our Amendment, namely, the losses that had already been incurred as a result of the Suez action in 1956. The first of these losses to which one can refer was the drop in trade with Egypt. Indeed, it was a very severe drop from £22½ million, nearly £23 million, of exports in 1956 to only some ½£21 million in 1957 and then a recovery, I must say, in 1958 to about £13 million. All this time, the fact remains that our exporters have been shut out of the Egyptian market and all this time their competitors have been in this market; and do not 52 let us "kid" ourselves that it will be very easy for them to get back into that market even now.
Secondly, as a loss which must now be accepted as something about which we can do nothing more, there was the extra cost of imports as a result of the blocking of the Suez Canal. That has been estimated at about £100 million to add to the cost of imports in 1957. There is the cost of repairing the pipelines. There is the loss of oil revenue as a result of the crisis and the cost of the operation itself, about £55 million. Then there is the cost that we have to pay—our share —of the clearing of the Canal. It is probable that all this amounts—and I am not mentioning the loss of gold, or anything else at all—to about £250 million. That I reckon to be about a fair estimate of the cost of the Suez adventure.
When one speaks of the clearing of the Canal and of the oil pipelines, it makes some of the other alibis put up at the time of the action look a little queer. We remember very well that we were told that it was to protect our oil supplies that the action was taken, that it was to guarantee free passage through the Canal, that it was to prevent the Canal being under the control of a single country, that it was because Egypt could not run the Canal on her own. We do not hear very much of these excuses nowadays. In fact, so far as the Canal is concerned, the traffic between 1955 and 1958 has increased by about 25 per cent. Whereas, in 1955, it was 40 ships a day, it is now running, I understand, at about 52 ships a day. We were told that the pilots would not be able to manage. They come from various countries but nearly half of them are, in fact, Egyptian.
But there is obviously a political motive for this Agreement as well as an economic one. I do not think that there is very much doubt about what that political motive is. It has been decided by the Government, somewhat belatedly, that we had better get on to friendly terms with Colonel Nasser. Indeed, during the negotiations, and when they appeared to be breaking down, we were told at one point, by the Press, that the difficulty was the refusal by the Egyptian Government to accord immediate diplomatic recognition. They have not yet done so. We would certainly hope and expect that it would follow. But why 53 this sudden rush to be so friendly with Colonel Nasser?
The answer is a very interesting one. It is because the Government have discovered that Arab nationalism, led by Colonel Nasser, is today anti-Communist. It is because they have suddenly realised that neutralism is, after all, a respectable creed which they can support. It is because Arab nationalism, led by Colonel Nasser, is a lesser evil and is the best that we can hope for. If we ask what has led them to this interesting conclusion, I do not think that there is very much doubt about the answer. It is, in fact, the events in Iraq in last July and since then. When one remembers how they reacted at that time, it really is an astonishing transformation.
It is hardly surprising that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton), writing about the Foreign Secretary, whose Parliamentary Private Secretary I believe he once was, said this:After all, they have heard him say that it was vital to go into Egypt, vital to stay in Egypt, vital to get out of Egypt, vital we should not make terms with Egypt, now vital to make terms with Egypt.What a light this latest development throws on that other alibi which was perhaps the most emotive of all those put forward at the time of the Suez action—the alibi that it was really necessary to go in because of the Red plot, that it was necessary to go in to prevent Russia overrunning the Middle East. Some interesting things were said on that subject. For instance, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft), in the debate on the Address on 8th November, 1956, said:The truth is now apparent. We intervened to stop the war, and we perhaps stopped it in the nick of time, before the Egyptian Air Force, organised by Russia, ran amok in the Middle East."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 402.]The Prime Minister himself on 16th May, 1957, said:The freedom of the Middle East was slipping away and the whole position deteriorating into one in favour of international Communism "—[0FFICIAL. REPORT, 16th May, 1957; Vol. 570, c. 697.]The most remarkable statement of all—
§ Mr. Gaitskell
But not as a result of a union between Nasser and the Soviet Union. The noble Lord really should read the Press and learn a little more about the Middle East and what is going on in Iraq.
The best statement of the Government's attitude, as one might expect in this particular sphere, was made by the Colonial Secretary. He spoke of the action in these terms:It has also uncovered the extent of Russian penetration and designs. It is clear that Egypt was already deep in the toils so far committed by her dealings with the Soviets that she could not draw back. We know, from Colonel Nasser's utterances and from innumerable other indications, that Egypt planned to establish a hegemony over her neighbours. But Egypt was no longer herself a free agent. The domination of the area would have fallen, in practice, into the hands of the Soviet Union.But what a contrast between that point of view and our desire to resume diplomatic relations with Colonel Nasser because we regard him as the most powerful anti-Communist force in the Middle East. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nyasaland."] I was not going to say anything about Nyasaland, but I think that my hon. Friend may have meant that after Makarios one might expect anything.
No one takes seriously any of these alibis today. The few remaining ones are just the same: we went in to separate the combatants. We know that before we actually landed the combatants were actually separated. We went in to stop the war spreading. But the only possible effect if we had gone on would have been to spread the war still further. We went in to enable the United Nations to work. That is the old argument of committing a burglary to make sure that the police are up to it; or setting fire to a house to make sure that the fire brigade is really efficient.
Nor does anyone deny that this action nearly split the Commonwealth, strained the Atlantic Alliance, offended the whole of world opinion; that it destroyed, or, at any rate, seriously damaged our reputation in Asia and Africa, because the implication in this action was that it was taken against a backward people and because it enshrined everything which these previous colonial peoples thought we had given up and were horrified to find that we had not given up. Nor can anyone deny the boost that this action gave to 55 Communist propaganda just at the moment when the Communists needed it most, when, owing to Hungary, they themselves were up against the bar of world opinion.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
To complete the picture, will the right hon. Gentleman say how many incidents there were on the frontier between Israel and Egypt before the Suez incident and how many there have been since?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I am delighted that the hon. and gallant Member has referred to it. I remember it very well and I remember also drawing the attention of the Government to the supplies of Russian arms going to Egypt and asking them to see that the balance was maintained. I remember it being said by the Foreign Secretary as late as July, 1956, that in his opinion the balance was still slightly in favour of Israel. We have not forgotten these things. We have not forgotten the many twists and turns in Government policy concerning the Middle East.
There are, no doubt, even now, some hon. Members who say, "No doubt it was a disaster, but if only the Opposition had not stopped us we would have been able to make a job of it "—if only we had behaved like good little Tory back benchers and if only we had accepted that the patriotic thing must always be to do whatever a Tory Government want. If, indeed, this accusation were true, we should take it as a compliment, but I would not claim as much as that for the Opposition. Even if the Opposition had done what the Government would have liked them to do, I do not think that this would have affected the reaction in the United States or the attitude of the United Nations. I do not think that it would have made the slightest difference to Soviet actions and attitudes.
The one thing I would claim, however, is that the Opposition, by what they did at that time, at least helped to preserve good relations with Commonwealth countries and generally with the outside world, for they showed that there were substantial numbers of persons here who were deeply and passionately opposed to this act of collective insanity.
The fact is, however, that whatever the Opposition had done at that time, this operation could not have succeeded. I 56 am glad that at least some people seem to realise that today—notably one who is, perhaps, the strongest supporter of the Prime Minister, Mr. Randolph Churchill. This devoted adherent, this ever-faithful admirer, said:In common with many other people I feel compelled to revise the judgment and opinions which I held in October, 1956. There are today many politicians and publicists who openly supported the Suez operation at the time, who feel very different about it today. If we had known with what ineptitude the campaign had been planned, if we had detected the inherent fraudulence of the Anglo-French ultimatum, if we had known of the Government's miscalculations about American reactions, if we had perceived that because of these miscalculations the enterprise would have to be abandoned in thirty-six hours, many of those who, like me, applauded the action on the day might have adopted a very different line.All I can say to that is that while it may have been hard for any of us outside the inner circle of the Government to have realised how great the ineptitude was, most of us had no difficulty whatever in detecting the fraudulence of the Anglo-French ultimatum or the colossal extent of the Government's miscalculations about American reactions.
There is another thing that Mr. Churchill has done. He has come out plainly and boldly on the issue of collusion. In fact, he said:The proof that there was collusion is massive and conclusive.In sharp contrast, the Government have made no admission of error, no expression of regret; and when we have repeatedly pressed for an inquiry to clear up the allegation of collusion they have refused it.
It may be said that much is already known about this whole business and I would not deny that, especially as regards its consequences. I admit that that is true as regards the incompetence of the operation. I think it is true of the misjudgments that were made. What is still obscure, however, is how these decisions came to be made and who precisely bears the responsibility for them.
An important constitutional issue is here involved: how it came about that a handful of men, meeting in secret, could commit this country to war when it was deeply divided, when the House of Commons had not been consulted. 57 when the Opposition had not been consulted and, apparently, without the Cabinet itself being allowed to pronounce until it was too late. It is this issue which an inquiry would clear up.
No doubt, it is convenient to place the blame and the responsibility on Sir Anthony Eden. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If there is dissent on the Government side of the House and hon. Members wish to place the blame elsewhere, I would welcome that. For my part, however, I believe that Sir Anthony Eden's actions of that time--and many hon. Members, I think, would admit this, in private at least—were gravely influenced by his state of health.
There were, however, others involved and they were not ill. There were one or two honourable exceptions. There was Mr. Nutting, who resigned immediately. There was the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), who is now Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education. There were a few other hon. Members who felt unhappy about the whole affair. It may be said that the bulk of the back benchers on the Government side of the House had no option, because they had to follow blindly whatever doubts may have been in their minds.
It may be said, also, that there were good men in the Cabinet who would have resisted. I have heard it said sometimes that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not much in favour of this affair. One has been told that the Lord Privy Seal himself, whether he was or was not within the inner circle, was opposed to the whole proceedings. I have read that seven Ministers finally got their way by threatening to resign on 6th November if there were no cease-fire.
Nobody, however, doubts the complicity of two men who are still there, sitting on the benches opposite, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister. They were in it from the beginning, in it up to the neck. No wonder they do not want an inquiry. In perhaps the most outspoken comment which the Prime Minister made, he said, on 12th November, 1956:I was asked why I supported these things, and I am saying why sincerely. They were contrary to the short-term interests of myself, of my Government and of my party. I supported them because there are times in a man's life when he has to make great decisions."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 689–90.]58 That is an odd comment in the light of what happened afterwards. But the truth will not be known until there is an inquiry. I believe that the guilty men are sitting on those benches. It is time that they were brought to trial.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Sir Toby Low (Blackpool, North)
The Leader of the Opposition has made many speeches about the Suez action, in many of which he has stirred up a great feeling of bitterness in the House. I do not know what was his object this afternoon, but in his closing remarks he reduced a great part of the House, including part of his own side, to laughter and smiles. We began the afternoon by considering the financial Agreement, and I shall have some things to say about it. Although the right hon. Gentleman has made many speeches about Suez, this is the first one that I have made in the House, and I approach the problem with due humility. I shall do my best to keep the House in the lighter mood to which the right hon. Gentleman converted it at the end of his speech.
His study of Communist methods, and the methods employed by President Nasser, seemed to be very faulty—or his memory is very short. We read our newspapers, as he does, and we know that President Nasser's statements are certainly anti-Communist today, but for the right hon. Gentleman to ask the House to deduce from those statements that at no time has Nasser had considerable military aid from Russia, and that at no time has he been running after Communist support, is asking the House too much.
It is coming to a pretty pass when the Leader of the Opposition has to seek the greatest measure of support for his arguments in the rather peculiar writings of Mr. Randolph Churchill—writings which have brought rather sad damage upon the great name that he holds, and have even damaged the not inconsiderable qualities which Mr. Randolph himself possesses.
The last part of the Amendment is something of a hang-over from previous Motions. It includes remarks about the reputation of this country being damaged. I wonder about that. Economically, the £ is high, and in world affairs the reputation of this country, because of the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, has seldom stood higher. The right hon. Gentleman is laughing, but I 59 presume that he supports the initiative which my right hon. Friend has been taking. Presumably he is in favour of my right hon. Friend's coming visit to the United States.
§ Sir T. Low
The hon. Member is not following the argument as well as he usually does. It seems to me very odd, just before that most important visit, to introduce into the House a debate upon an issue which, alas, divided the United States and this country. The right hon. Gentleman ought to rise to the level of events rather more frequently.
The right hon. Gentleman talked of the dramatic story of Suez and Egypt, and used a remarkable phrase. He said that the dramatic story has been going on from October, 1956, to today. Surely he remembers that it began long before October, 1956. Has he forgotten that he himself, on 2nd August, 1956, when speaking in this House, indicted President Nasser as a potential aggressor? Has he forgotten all about the Israeli-Arab dispute? It is clear that he has not from the answer he made to the intervention of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke). When we compare what the right hon. Gentleman said before the end of August, 1956, with what he said in September and October, 1956, and since, we wonder whether he is the man to accuse my right hon. Friend of twistings and turnings.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that while I condemned Nasser for seizing the Canal—and I stick to that condemnation-1 also gave a very serious warning against the use of force contrary to the United Nations Charter.
§ Sir T. Low
That may well be, but the right hon. Gentleman also gave very serious warnings of the danger of aggression and the danger of war. Furthermore, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) also wrote an article at the beginning of 1957, in which he said that before the Suez action it was clear for all to see that there was a danger of an Arab-Israeli war. Has he forgotten those things? From what he has said it would 60 seem that at any rate from the point of this afternoon's speech he chose to forget them. Has he forgotten that the war which he and his right hon. Friend foresaw actually started? Has he forgotten that it stopped after we had begun our action? Has he forgotten that, on 3rd November, 1956, he said:…all that has happened is that the intervention of Her Majesty's Government on behalf—or, rather, against Egypt—has no doubt prematurely brought the operations in the Sinai Desert to a close."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1956; Vol. 558, c. 1859.]Does he think that there was any way in which the operations could have been brought to a close sooner? Does he think that the United Nations could have done that quickly enough, when it took five weeks to send a force of 3,000 men to Port Said, and even then without maintenance facilities?
§ Mr. Bevan
For the purpose of clarity, and in order to get the debate on to the right lines, may I ask if this is the one justification that we are going to have, out of the very many advanced from the other side of the House? We should like to know whether we should take our line on this. If so, we can discuss it later. Which line of argument is the right hon. Gentleman adopting?
§ Sir T. Low
The right hon. Gentleman is always very clever in his questioning. I am speaking for myself, and giving my own arguments about the right hon. Gentleman's speech.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne) rose—
§ Sir T. Low
We have been asked by the Select Committee not to speak for too long. I hope that I shall not be interrupted too much.
§ Mr. Silverman
I should like to ask only one question because, like my right hon. Friend, I want to follow the right hon. Gentleman's argument. Is he now saying that we went into Egypt in 1956 to protect Egypt from Israel? Is that his point?
§ Sir T. Low
No. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I am now saying that one of the main reasons for our going into Egypt was to stop a war which had developed.
61 When right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite criticise this decision to take action, I sometimes wonder, looking back on the matter and on many other serious problems which the world has had to face, whether they ever try to work out the consequences of doing nothing and letting the world drift into disaster. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale does not like that argument. Yet I know perfectly well that at other times he has been in favour of doing things when nothing was done.
I ask the House to consider when trying to assess, as some of the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition seemed to imply that he was trying to do this afternoon. the financial consequences of great decisions of foreign policy whether we should sometimes take account of the financial results and of the great material and moral results that would have flowed from doing nothing.
I now turn to the financial settlement itself. I think that it is as satisfactory a compromise as we were likely to get. We were very fortunate to have Mr. Black to help us and Egypt in reaching a settlement. It is certainly quite true that the £27½ million provided is well below the total of the claims. But we have had experience of this kind of settlement before.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was a member of the Labour Government when settlements were reached with countries whose Governments had nationalised British property. In the case of Yugoslavia in 1948 a settlement of £4½ million was agreed by the British Governemnt to be paid in compensation by the Yugoslavia for United Kingdom and Commonwealth property as against claims totalling £25 million. In 1949, the Czechoslovak Government agreed with the British Government to pay £8 million as against claims which had been assessed at £90 million.
This is by no means the first occasion on which for reasons of State British Governments have made agreements with other Governments for compensation payments to be accepted well below the total of the claims and well below the finally agreed value of the loss. That is quite understandable.
62 It has been asked on this occasion whether we could have done better. Clearly we did much better in this case than did the Opposition, when they were in power, with the Yugoslav and the Czech Government. Could we have done better still? Certainly we could not have done better—I agree with the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—by appropriating the sterling balances. Moreover, we should have done irreparable damage to our position as the bankers of the sterling area. I hope that it will always be the policy of British Governments, of whatever colour, never to appropriate for their own use sterling balances. That would kill us as bankers. I think that the right hon. Gentleman opposite would agree with that.
It is true, of course, that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said that we had blocked these balances as security. Indeed we gained by that. With the aid of that security, whilst negotiations were proceeding, we managed to secure an Agreement which gave us in money terms about double the value of Egypt's sterling balances then held. I think it right to say that they amounted to about £85½ million. The total payments and the value of property returned amounts to something like £160 million. That is about double. The Government's action in holding on to those balances as security and then entering into negotiations and making the Agreement seems to have been proved successful in that regard.
We are all agreed that the British citizens concerned have suffered not only loss of property, but great hardship. Many of them have lost their homes and have had to set up new ones. They have had to change their way of living. We are all conscious that that kind of hardship cannot easily be compensated for. We are also conscious, I think, that in this instance there may be special circumstances for the Government to ensure that more nearly full compensation for the loss of property is paid to our citizens.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition seemed to acknowledge that there were special circumstances. It seems to me that the circumstances are much more special and that there is a much stronger case for special action being taken by the Government on 63 behalf of these people if it is agreed that the action taken at Suez was legitimate and right. Of course, there is a sensible tradition to the effect that we enter into no commitments to compensate out of Government funds those who lose property overseas. Out of Government funds means out of the funds provided by the general body of taxpayers; for, quite apart from the injustice to other taxpayers to do otherwise, it would, perhaps, discourage foreign Governments from paying out in the proper way.
As I say, special circumstances may be found to exist here which would justify my right hon. Friend the Chancellor doing a bit more, or even much more, than paying only the £27½ million received from the Egyptian Government. However, I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend that it would be wrong for him to make up his mind about the matter until the Foreign Compensation Commission has assessed the full value of the claims. When that has been done, I hope that my right hon. Friend will let the public know the full amount involved. I can quite see that he will not want to let the House know the amount of each indivdual claim, but I think it would be a good thing for us to know the full amount.
I wonder whether there is a lesson to be learned for the future from this part of the financial settlement. We have had much experience during the last 50 or 100 years of British citizens losing their property overseas as a result of foreign Government action. In many cases the loss was probably not great because of the speculative nature of the investment and the high profits earned in earlier years. All that is now changing a good deal. Britons are still full of enterprise. There is still what I may call speculative capital going abroad. I use the word "speculative" in its right sense and not in its bad sense. But nowadays we do not get our reward as quickly nor is it as great as in the past. There is a very powerful national interest in seeing that British nationals live, work, invest and own property overseas. There is a powerful interest in seeing that British nationals who live at home invest overseas.
I now pose a question to which I have not yet found an answer. I wonder whether, if it turned out in this case that 64 less than full compensation was paid to British citizens who had property in Egypt, that might discourage good men in the future from going overseas owning property, investing capital and working there.
This is a serious point. I am not saying that that is necessarily a good reason in the future for pledging the taxpayers' funds. I do not think it is, because as the tax system develops, people who go out and work overseas and who own property overseas are being relieved of tax payments. The argument would then be that as they do not pay tax, they ought not to have any rights on the taxpayers' funds. Instead of that, I wonder whether we ought not to think of this problem in the same sort of terms as we think of export credits for traders.
The Government have set up an insurance system, which is much easier to have for trade, under which traders who do not get paid by foreigners, because of commercial or political action, are ensured up to 85 or 90 per cent. under this Government-guaranteed fund. I wonder if some sort of scheme like that might not be the right answer to this problem, which I think we all agree has become a most serious problem.
I must say to the right hon. Gentleman opposite that we ought not to underestimate the degree to which other Governments seem to wish to follow the footsteps of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Who was it who taught people to nationalise canals? Who was it who encouraged so much nationalism?
§ Sir T. Low
By nationalisation I mean expropriation. Disraeli did not nationalise it. Now, foreign countries seem to be more prone—
§ Mr. Hugh Dalton (Bishop Auckland)
As a matter of history, was it not Mr. Disraeli who nationalised the Canal?
§ Sir T. Low
As a matter of history, it was Disraeli who bought by private treaty a minority interest in the Suez Canal. The right hon. Gentleman, I know, used to be very good at history, and I am sorry that he fell short in that respect.
65 I ask the House to take this point seriously, because I think it needs tackling.
§ Mr. Bevan rose—
§ Sir T. Low
No, I am just finishing. I want to close by saying that I hope that we shall learn a lesson which is likely to help us in any more problems of this kind in the future. I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on the way he introduced the Agreement this afternoon, and to express my agreement with him that it is as satisfactory a compromise as he could have obtained.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)
This financial and commercial Agreement which we are discussing today will put an end, one hopes, to a very sorry chapter in the history of our relations with Egypt and with the Middle East in general. When it is through we cannot expect cordiality to be established immediately between this country and Egypt, or a better relationship to develop very quickly. Too much has happened. The whole thing has left too bad a taste in our mouths for anything to happen quickly.
The right hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Sir T. Low) made the very best of a very bad case for his side of the House, but he touched upon one or two points which I think the Government should consider further. Certainly, the point he made about the value of investment abroad, and our people living abroad in places where we can earn valuable assets which can assist our balance of payments, is one which we cannot altogether ignore. I will come back to that in a minute or two.
I feel very strongly that we on this side of the House have a duty to perform in that we must stress that the Government bear the main responsibility for the situation which has been caused by their action in the autumn of 1956. It is one of the most discreditable episodes in the history of our foreign relations, and one which has had a terrible effect throughout the Middle East. I speak as one who, during the various journeys in the Middle East, particularly in the Arab countries, which I have made during the years since the war, has seen the difficulties with which we were faced in handling these very difficult people, the Arabs. Those 66 who know them like them very much, but find them difficult to get on with.
At a time when we felt that some improvement was gradually coming, and the Arabs would possibly be brought over to the point of view of the West, in spite of their very strong nationalist feelings, the action of the Government in the autumn of 1956 was an absolute catastrophe which ruined the work of those who had been working for that objective. I was in a humble way doing what I could myself, but there were others working in a very much bigger way. I do not know what they thought, and many were supporters of the Government, but I know what was said by one who held a quite important post in the Middle East. He said to those who came out on behalf of the Government, "The first thing you have got to do is to reestablish some kind of morale among our people in these services in the Middle East" That is the measure of the catastrophe that happened over there.
The weakness of the party opposite always seems to me to be that, suddenly and without warning, a school of thought which I would call that of the "Gunboat Tories" will force the pace, and, on the principle of "teaching the blighters a lesson", will do something absolutely outrageous. We are paying the price for that in this Agreement. The installations which we once had at Suez—I went to see them in the autumn of 1954—were thought to be a most invaluable asset to maintain the position of the West in the Middle East. We came to an agreement with Colonel Nasser about them, and it all seemed most desirable, but these assets, which were valued, I now understand, at over £100 million, have all been thrown away. It is true that they could not, in the new situation, have been developed, because of what happened in the autumn of 1956, and that they were not as valuable as the West then thought them, but they were nevertheless important.
Of course, the compensation for requisitioned properties is totally inadequate, and I would support what the right hon. Member for Blackpool, North has just said, in what I thought was a constructive speech. Something more should be done than this miserable £27½ million. It may be that we cannot make full compensation at the expense of our 67 taxpayers here, because that would probably be much too much, and, after all, those who go out there and invest must take some risk.
Nevertheless, it is true, as the hon. Gentleman said, that the position is not quite as it used to be. Great profits are not now made in undeveloped countries as they once were, for the rising nationalism in those countries is seeing to it that not all the profits go to the Western investors, as was once the case. There is thus more risk. However, in the interests of our balance of payments position, the importance of extending financial and industrial operations of this kind should be recognised by the Treasury, and further compensation should be made. Just what that compensation should be, I leave to further investigations.
I have always felt that OUT own folly was not solely responsible for the situation, although we must bear the main responsibility for it. The Egyptians under Colonel Nasser were also responsible. I was never enthusiastic about the Egyptian revolution, and I was in the country shortly after the revolution started. The economic problems facing Egypt, with its rising population and irrigation problems of great complexity, affecting not only Egypt but all the countries of the Nile Valley, were such that Colonel Nasser thought that it would be easier to be a demagogue than a constructive statesman. To beat the anti-foreign drum and to be provocative and xenophobic was much the easier way out.
His action in seizing Suez originally arose from the refusal of the International Bank to finance the Aswan Dam in the way Colonel Nasser wanted. He thought that an important national issue was involved. However, the Sudan has been very much opposed to the Egyptian plan for the Aswan Dam. It is clear that all the nations of the Nile Basin should be brought into consultation on this matter. But that did not suit Colonel Nasser and he had to solve the problem for himself. He was a cardboard imperialist and he set himself up as such and in so doing he helped to create the disastrous situation. However, the Government ought to have had sufficient common sense and self-control to have handled the situation in a quite different way.
§ Mr. Bevan
Is not it a fact that the consortium of nations interested in the Nile was not convened? Would not that have been a perfectly sensible rejoinder to Colonel Nasser's position? No such constructive suggestion was put forward at that time. All that happened was that the offer to finance the Aswan Dam was withdrawn.
§ Mr. Philips Price
I agree. The ultimate solution to the problem will no doubt be international, but I suggest that as a preliminary to that we might have a conference of all the States interested in the Nile irrigation scheme. I entirely agree that this is a problem which might ultimately be solved by the United Nations.
The difficulty has been the form which Arab nationalism has taken in Egypt. It has been different from the nationalism of other parts of the Middle East. For instance, Turkey suffered as much, and in some ways more, at the hands of the West than did Egypt. We can remember the Treaty of Sevres at the end of the First World War and the invasion of Turkey by Greece under that disastrous combination of Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Venizelos when the Turks hacked their way out and established their Republic, which has been such a great success. The Turks have never allowed those things to rankle. They have taken a commonsense view and have been ready to forget and forgive. We have done many hard things to Egypt, before 1956, and the Arabs have not forgotten. As a result we have been faced with an extremely difficult type of Arab nationalism. With gunboat Toryism on the one hand, and Arab cardboard imperialism on the other, we were landed in a nice mess with the whole Middle East situation.
The Agreement is probably the best obtainable under the circumstances, but I hope that something can be done to mitigate the loss of those who had properties in Egypt. Conditions are now favourable for a more reasonable attitude by Egypt towards the West. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that the time is now coming when the Egyptians under Nasser are beginning to see that this kind of nationalism may land them in serious difficulties, and that their excuse of anti-imperialism may land them in the hug 69 of the great bear in the North. They see that beginning to happen in Egypt and they begin to have their doubts.
The time has come when we can make use of that, and I am glad that the Government have made this Agreement which, had though it is, at least takes us a step towards living in amity with the Arab peoples, however difficult the present situation may be.
We must hope for some improvement in our trade and business relations with Egypt. I hope that some approach can now be made to a solution of the problem of the Nile waters, the problem which began the trouble in 1956. As my right hon. Friend said, we must try to use the facilities offered by the United Nations.
While as an Opposition we must register our protest at the Government's policy in the fatal year of 1956, we can hope that the Agreement will open a new chapter in our relations with Egypt and in time bring mutual benefit.
§ 5.28 p.m.
Sir Charles Mott-Radcliffe (Windsor)
I always enjoy listening to the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price), who is an old friend of mine and whose views about the Middle East I respect. More often than not, considering that we sit on opposite sides of the House, I agree with what he says. I am afraid that on this occasion I cannot pay him that compliment.
The debate has been organised by the Opposition as something in the nature of a pep pill. A pep pill is supposed to have the opposite effect of a tranquiliser. It was clear from his speech that the Leader of the Opposition intended this dose to be injected into his own party. I was more interested in what he omitted than in what he included. Throughout his speech he carefully avoided telling the House what he would have done had he been faced with the circumstances confronting the Government in the autumn of 1956.
It is no good the Leader of the Opposition saying that all this began in October, 1956. All this began far earlier than that. Long before October, 1956, the situation on the Israeli-Egyptian frontier was becoming worse and worse and was virtually reaching boiling point. Before October, 1956, General Burns was forecasting a major flare-up at any minute. Long before 1956 there had been the build-up of 70 Soviet arms and equipment into Egypt, which the right hon. Gentleman seemed to write off. There was the unified command of Egypt and Syria. Everybody knew that. Everybody knew what it meant. Everybody knew Nasser's intentions.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Does not what the hon. Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radcliffe) is now saying make the state of our preparedness even more disgraceful?
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
If the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) will allow me to develop my argument, I can probably answer his question in due course. It is something of a comfort to hear from the hon. and learned Member that he thinks that we should have been more prepared than we were. That was not the view which the Opposition took at the time.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
All this was well known long before October, 1956. The Israelis knew it quite well. So did hon. Gentlemen opposite.
Though he was merely being wise after the event, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), in an excellent article in the News of the World on 24th February, 1957, just about six months later, wrote:Relations between Israel and Egypt before the Anglo-French attack were loaded with menace. Raids and counter-raids on peaceful civilians had been almost daily events. It was clear to anyone who took the trouble to study the situation that war was bound to break out if nothing was done to separate the combatants.I agree with everything which the right hon. Gentleman wrote, but that assessment of the situation is in marked contrast to what the Leader of the Opposition said today.
The situation was that technically the Israelis may have been the aggressors but, as was pointed out in the debates at the time, if one takes action to knock an assassin's knife out of his hand before he cuts one up with it, no one can call that an act of aggression in the literal sense. The problem which faced the Government in the autumn of 1956 and the problem which would have faced hon. Gentlemen opposite if they had been 71 sitting on these benches, was that some one had to do a fire-brigade operation and put the fire out. The question was: who was to do it and how?
§ Mr. Wigg
Before the hon. Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe) reaches that stage, had we not better discuss how the fire started? It is con- venient for the hon. Member to overlook the fact that the French and the Israelis had colluded and immediately before the operation started the French were using the Cyprus base. Therefore, they were using a fire which they had themselves started.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
I know that the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) feels very acutely about this, Mr. Deputy- Speaker. If he catches your eye, no doubt those points will be dealt with in due course.
I cannot accept that we started the fire. The fire had been raging in minor form on the Israel-Egyptian frontier for the best part of two years and had finally blown up when the Israelis decided to march. If we had started the fire, there would not have been the lapse of time between our troops leaving Malta and their landing at Port Said.
How would the party opposite have dealt with the situation? We are entitled to a reply from the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. Unless he can tell the House how his party would have handled the situation, I do not think that the Motion of censure upon the Government, which is what the Amendment amounts to, has any validity.
No doubt some hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will say, as they said in all the debates two years ago, that the situation should have been handled by the United Nations. If they argue that it should have been handled by the United Nations, that the British Government should have sat back and done nothing and that no urgent fire-brigade operation should have been undertaken, then those who take that view are being singularly unreal about the practical difficulties of the United Nations dealing with any crisis.
It is a fact, which the Leader of the Opposition did not mention, that the United Nations had already had nearly 72 200 meetings on the subject of the Israel-Egyptian-Jordan frontier troubles without any effective action being taken. It is also a fact that the Anglo-French resolution submitted to the Security Council was vetoed by the Soviet Union. The first part of the resolution, setting out the principles which should govern the international use of the Canal, was adopted unanimously. The second part of the resolution, calling on Egyptto make known promptly its proposals for a system … providing guarantees to users not less effective than those sought by the proposals of the London Conference of eighteen nationswas vetoed by the Soviet Union. Therefore, with the best will in the world, the United Nations, the rules being what they are, could not act. That resolution having been vetoed, there was not the ghost of a chance of any United Nations action.
In any case, the subsequent timetable when the United Nations did act makes absolute nonsense of the argument of hon. Gentlemen opposite that the United Nations should have been left to put the fire out. After the Anglo-French intervention, a resolution was passed at U.N.O. on 3rd November. It was not until five weeks had elapsed that the United Nations Special Force finally landed about 3,500 men in Port Said.
This is a question which I want the Opposition Front Bench speaker to deal with in his reply. I should like to know where this United Nations Special Force would have landed and how it would have functioned if the French and we had not had the base at Port Said. It could not have landed in Egyptian territory, because the Egyptians said beforehand that they would not accept any U.N.O. police force. It could not have landed in Israeli territory, because the Israeli Government also said beforehand that they would not accept an international police force. Therefore, where would it have landed?
§ Mr. Paget rose—
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
I will not give way at the moment. I should like to know where the force would have landed had we and the French not had the base. quite apart from the fact that the force was immobile without the vehicles which we lent it. Now I will give way to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
I want to find out what the Opposition's case is. The hon. and learned Gentleman says that there would not have been any crisis, but what does he think would have happened had the Israelis and the Egyptians been allowed for a period of five weeks, at least—and probably much longer—to continue locked in an embrace—and not a very friendly one either, but one with all the modern weapons of war involved --across the Canal, while U.N.O. still argued? All sorts of fires would have started then, and who then would have put them out?
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
The hon. and learned Gentleman is assuming that the Israelis would have beaten up the whole Egyptian army—
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
I am anxious to take the hon. and learned Gentleman with me, but what does he suppose would have happened then? He thinks that the Egyptians would have surrendered to the Israelis. How does he imagine events would have gone after that? Does he think that the other Arab States would have kept quiet, and that, in that way, the fire would have been put out? Those are some of the questions that hon. Members opposite have to answer.
I do not think that the party opposite can claim that it was a great crime—an "act of folly" as it is put in the Amendment —for the Government, knowing quite well that U.N.O. could not function in time, to separate the combatants. Was it a crime to have held the ring until the United Nations Force could take over? Was it a crime to have bought for U.N.O. the one essential commodity that U.N.O. 74 could not buy for itself, namely, time? Although I admit we failed co do so, was it a crime to wish to guarantee freedom of passage through the Canal?
If the English language means anything at all, I do not think that the action we then took to put out the fire, to separate the combatants, to hold the ring until U.N.O. could take over, could be fairly described in the terms that the Opposition have used. If, as I suspect, hon. Members opposite do not really mean that at all, and this is simply a cheap electoral move, I have only one thing to say to them. In my constituency are three units that served in this operation. Had I any doubts as to the way in which the men would vote at the next election, all I would need to do would be to repeat extracts from the broadcast made by the Leader of the Opposition while they were in action. That would decide the issue at once.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Mark Bonham Carter (Torrington)
I have listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe) but, not being a member of the Opposition Front Bench. I do not feel it incumbent upon me to answer his not very new questions. I was interested to note, however, that one of the many reasons that he did not produce to explain the entrance of the Government into the Israeli-Egyptian conflict was the defence of 13ritish property. This is the main point at issue now.
I had not intended to go into the wheres and whyfors or the whys and wherefores of the Suez affair. Until I heard the hon. Gentleman speak, I did not—could not— believe that any hon. Member of either side did not by now think that, to misquote the Prime Minister, the operation was unwise, dishonourable and unjustified. Since the Government have refused, doubtless for excellent reasons, to set up an inquiry whereby we could establish how this disaster came about, we are now left to contemplate, and to pay for the consequences.
In a leader in the Sunday Times last Sunday there was one statement with which I found myself in full agreement. Referring to the Agreement that we are now discussing, the writer said that this was not "the balance-sheet of Suez." The balance sheet of Suez shows, indeed, a far greater 75 loss in terms of influence, in terms of honour as well as in terms of cash, than this or any other financial agreement could possibly reveal.
The folly of the operation, and the constitutional improprieties to which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition referred, cannot be absolved, forgotten or written off by an Agreement made by the Government of the United Kingdom, even if it is made on behalf of the nationals of this country. The fact is that this is a bad and humiliating Agreement because it is the consequence of a bad and humiliating policy.
It reveals, however, one glimmer of light for which we should be thankful. At least, through the good offices of Mr. Eugene Black—and I think that hon. Members opposite, who, at the time of Suez, signed the anti-American Motion, should remember this—the Government have got themselves on speaking terms with the Government of the United Arab Republic. In view of the present situation in the Middle East, it is not a moment too soon.
Putting aside all that part of the argument that we have heard today, I must agree once more with the Sunday Times in describing the Agreement as a hard bargain. It is a hard bargain for the British taxpayer, and a hard bargain for the British exporter. As has already been said, we have waived our claim for compensation on the base. We have lost ground and good will in the vital export field. We have to wait until 1960 for £23½ million of the £.27½ million compensation.
But if the Agreement is hard on the British taxpayer and the British exporter, it is hardest of all on the British subject who had land, or property or a job in Egypt. He is the real victim. He is paying the piper, though he never called the tune. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackpool, North (Sir T. Low) pointed out, many of these people made their lives there, or had jobs or homes there. All had been accustomed to the prestige—and to the security they naturally supposed it offered—of being a British subject. Those people have lost their homes and their jobs, and some of them have lost their future.
There is no adequate compensation for that kind of loss, and I am sure that the 76 Chancellor of the Exchequer would agree that that kind of loss cannot be over valued. At best, they will receive between one-third and one-half of their estimated claims. They should be compensated in full, and the necessary money must come out of our taxpayers' pockets. The Government responsible for the operation, the Government responsible for this Agreement, is our Government, and we are all, directly or indirectly, responsible for what they do.
It is totally inequitable that one section of the community should be made responsible for an act committed by the community as a whole. I quite understand that while negotiations were in train there were probably very strong arguments that made it impossible for the Government to make any pledge of this kind. But now that the negotiations are over, and the Agreement is signed, this country should make it clear that it will look after its own. will do so adequately, and, if possible, generously.
It has been said that there is no precedent for paying compensation such as this. I find it difficult to find in our history any precedent for an operation like Suez. I am not pretending that this country has never been unwise or foolish in the past, but at least, according to my recollection, even in the notorious case of Don Pacifico in the last century, we have generally, rightly or wrongly, got our way. I hope, therefore, that because in this instance we did not get our way, but suffered a defeat, the Government will recognise that it is their duty to help those people who are our compatriots in the matter of compensation. I hope, also, that they will see their way to helping these people in the matter of clarification, and I am very glad to hear the announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the appointment of Sir George Rendel.
§ Mr. Bonham Carter
The hon. and learned Gentleman's description of it as a war indemnity will not receive the agreement of hon. Members on the Front Bench who regard it as an indemnity for a police action.
77 In this matter of clarification I am sure that hon. Members will agree that whoever has studied this Agreement—and this applies to the claimants as much as to us—has found it difficult to follow. I would add, further, that far from many of them over-valuing their claims, there are many who are anxious not to submit claims which are unjustified because they are well aware of the predicament of many of the other claimants and they know full well that all compensation has got to come out of the pool of £27½ million.
Perhaps I might refer to one particular type of case, those who have bank accounts in Egypt. I am informed that there are approximately 10,000 of these. At the time of the Suez operation, I understand that all these accounts were blocked by decree, that susbequently the Sequestrator-General levied a 10 per cent. charge on the capital and a further 10 per cent. charge on the income. Under the Agreement as it stands, I understand that each claimant must apply to the Sequestrator-General; he must prove who he is, and if he is in this country he must get his application counter-signed by the Indian High Commissioner. This having been done, his application goes to the Sequestrator-General.
I wonder whether this rather complicated procedure could not be simplified with advantage. So far as I can see, in the Agreement there is nothing which would prevent some simplification. If the Egyptian Government were prepared to issue a counter-decree to replace all these accounts, less the sums which have been levied on them, in the status quo ante, the negotiations for proving identity, and so on, could take place directly between the individual and his bank. This would leave only one issue for negotiation with the Sequestrator-General and that would be the recovery of sums levied by the Sequestrator-General on those bank accounts. This would be simpler for the individuals involved.
Also, I do not think that it requires much imagination, or, indeed, a very deep knowledge of the Middle East, to recognise that the present system whereby 10,000 people have to apply direct to the Sequestrator-General for his approval is open to abuse, and that those who have 78 most are liable to be served more quickly and that those who have least are liable to be served more slowly, while those of a generous disposition and who do not wish to make difficulties will probably be served most quickly of all. I hope that the possibility of some such simplification is in the mind of the Government, because it would be a great relief to the claimants, certainly to some of those to whom I have spoken.
Lastly, I hope that the Government will make clear that on this occasion those receiving compensation will not be threatened by a tax assessment on what they have received in compensation for the assets which they have lost. I should like very much to have an assurance that this is so.
However difficult and complex the operation of this Agreement may prove, there is one prerequisite without which it will not work at all, and that is that the relations between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of Egypt are reasonably good. Without some degree of mutual confidence and co-operation it is quite clear that this Agreement can be wrecked so far as many of the individuals are concerned. It was, after all, mutual distrust which led to the delay in opening the talks for this Agreement. It was also mutual distrust which made it necessary to employ the offices of Mr. Black. I hope that we will do what we can to see that this distrust disappears.
At the time of Suez those who opposed the operation both inside and outside this House were often accused by hon. Members opposite of, among other things, being idealistic and not being realists. The story of Suez, of the Agreement which we are discussing. of Cyprus and of Nyasaland all confirm that our idealism was rather more realistic than the policies that the party opposite pursued. I hope that I am not being idealistic in asking Her Majesty's Government to look after the interests of British nationals who have suffered as a result of the Suez operation.
In an article which I read recently about the Chancellor of the Exchequer the author noted, it seemed to me with some complacency, that the right hon. Gentleman had a blind spot about foreigners. I hope that he will not have a blind spot about his own compatriots.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition is not in his place because I should very much like to refer to his speech. In the hope that he will return in the course of my speech, I will defer my remarks about him until later on. Perhaps that is just as well because I do not think that much of his speech was relevant to this debate on the Agreement.
I think I can truthfully say that I had always foreseen that if ever we wanted to go back into Egypt for any reason it was likely to be an expensive operation, and because of that I opposed the original evacuation of the Canal Zone when it was first decided to do so in 1954. On that occasion I used the strongest sanction that a back bencher can exercise by refusing the whip of the party to which I now belong.
Regrettable though much of the Suez operation was, I think there is a tendency to lose sight of what benefits have come out of it. Goodness knows, there have been enough difficulties. That part of the world around the Sinai Peninsula is, any way, a good deal more peaceful now than it had been for a number of years before the Suez operation took place.
Although I have many misgivings about the United Nations and all its works, nevertheless I have always felt that once one tried to place the responsibility on an international organisation for peace in that part of the world one would never be able to achieve very much without troops on the ground in order to maintain the peace. Whatever else may be said about the Suez operation, it has at least produced the fact that the United Nations eventually decided to send several thousand men into that area, and since that date there have hardly been any frontier incidents at all in a place where every night that went by up to the time of the Suez operation was fraught with danger and anxiety in this country as to what would blow up next and whether it was all heading towards war. Let us at least count the few blessings which have came out of this operation and let us be thankful for that part of the world, at least, is rather more peaceful than it was up to the time of the Suez operation.
Turning to the actual Agreement, I admit that no Government have ever 80 before agreed to accept some responsibility to make good the deficiency between the total which the two parties have agreed and the actual loss. I feel that the special case here lies in the fact that it was part of the result of action taken not only by the third party but also by Her Majesty's Government. I feel that Her Majesty's Government really have here more responsibility than has ever existed in any case of this kind for making good some, if not all, of the difference.
I do not think it can possibly be disputed that £27½ million will prove inadequate to meet the total losses. It will certainly not meet all the losses involved in the Egyptianising of former British property. If that be so, it is even more plain that it will not make good the personal losses involved in the sequestration of property. It is for those two purposes that the £27½ million has been set aside.
I should imagine that the extent of the injury and damage in the case of a great many of these people who have lost virtually their all is very considerable. I suppose that it is practically impossible for us ever to legislate for everybody, but, nevertheless, it is very important, when we are talking about compensation, to realise that it is comparative values as between different individuals which very often cause the biggest problem. To compensate everyone on a flat rate may sound all right when one adds up the total. I think that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor mentioned a sum of £9 million spent in trying to enable these people to live since the taking over of their property or the sequestration of their property. This may sound very fine, but, if one has been used to a standard of life and has understood that the Government of one's native country were taking action designed to protect one's property, and then one finds that someone else in one's own country who has been living on a much lower standard is to be compensated on exactly the same level, one may well feel that one is suffering far more than the other person. This is one of the great difficulties which always arises in compensation.
Although we may not be able to take account of that, we should take account of the fact that where people have lost virtually their all they should, perhaps, 81 have more ready compensation from the Government over and above what the Egyptians are prepared to offer. I have received a letter from a former Army officer now over 70, who fought in the First World War and who has done great service to this country in various ways. He has suggested to me that Her Majesty's Government might themselves undertake to provide at once all the capital necessary for an interest-earning sum on which a man could retire or, alternatively, for a younger man, some working capital to get on with and with which to do some useful work. This might be the right answer, I do not know. I feel that there is a very good case for this proposition to he fully considered.
What the sum should be, I do not know. It has been sugested to me that it should be £50,000. Personally, I think that is a little high, but even if it were £50,000 it would not give, shall we say, a retired Army colonel a very great deal to live on in comparison with the standard of life to which he has been accustomed. The interest on £50,000, presumably, would be something between £2,000 and £3,000, perhaps, subject to tax. That is not very much. I feel that there is a case for considering this proposition carefully. Obviously, the lower down the capital scale one goes, where a total loss is. involved, the greater is the need. I ask my right hon. Friend to give the point his consideration.
The Chancellor referred to the assets which the Egyptians had out of the Canal. I wonder whether he has seen an article published recently in Le Progrés Egyptien of 3rd March, in which the Economic Minister for Egypt, Dr. Kayssouni, said:In addition, the United Kingdom Government have renounced their claim regarding the Canal Base against our renunciation of war damages. Certain British sources have estimated the value of that Base at nearly £50 million. In effect we have sold some of the military and civilian stores existing in that Base for the sum of £17 million.I know that some of the stores in the old base were, shall I say. not the sort of stores which anybody would readily want to buy. Some people spent a number of years guarding, among the brio-à-brae, 50,000 horse-shoes from the First World War. I do not know whether those were of the items sold. There was. no doubt, a good deal of junk in the old base and I always thought it a great mistake for the base to be allowed to double in size 82 as it was by the Labour Government between 1945 and 1950. Nevertheless, the Egyptians are having something out of it.
I wonder whether, when Her Majesty's Government agreed that the losses arising out of the base itself should not be proceeded with, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor had in mind what had already been sold by the Egyptians. Was he aware that they had sold anything at all? The figures of Egyptian gains I have from Dr. Kayssouni himself, are these: £E2,250,000 as sequestration charges on British property; about £E4 million from profits on businesses sold, dividends on securities, rents of land, during the period between the beginning of the sequestration and the signature of the Agreement; at least £E3 million value of land; about £E29 million being the value of British interests sold in what Dr. Kayssouni describes as the sequestrated businesses, by which he means, I suppose, the Egyptianised ones; and, finally, profits resulting from the agreement with the Shell Company valued at £E14 million. The total is a great deal more than £27½ million. I would not have said that the Egyptians need feel that they have been "done" out of very much as a result of the transaction. It is all the more important, therefore, that we do not too readily assume that the country as a whole has not a very great obligation to the people who have suffered most.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has not yet returned, so I must now deal with him in his absence. The great mistake the right hon. Gentleman makes in his approach to the problem is in assuming that it all started in October, 1956. On 16th May, 1957, in a debate on the Canal issue, I endeavoured to inform the House of some of the fairly recent history. In approaching the whole problem one has to go back at least to the war years. We must certainly go back to 1942, probably to the end of the First World War or even before that. But the rise of Neguib and Nasser dates from 1942 particularly. That was the period when all parties in this House had a very great responsibility for the action which was taken by the then Government of this country. which was a Coalition Government, with regard to King Farouk.
83 What I find so utterly nauseating about the speech of the Leader of the Opposition today is that he should appear to be glorying in what to any sane individual must surely be something of a humiliation.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
Surely the hon. Member realises that if anybody, speaking for the Government, had spoken in those terms my right hon. Friend's speech would have been different. They were trying to pretend that it was not a humiliation, but something of a triumph.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I think that the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) knows his own alleged leader well enough to know that the right hon. Gentleman had prepared most of his speech before he heard the Government speech.
What I find utterly nauseating about the right hon. Gentleman's speech is that it appears that there is only one thing uppermost in his mind at the moment, and that is the unification of his own party in the House at the expense of the Government. He is prepared to drag his country's name into the mud in the process. That is what he did throughout the Suez operation. I find it totally nauseating.
What I found even more disgusting was when he quoted Peter Simple in the Daily Telegraph. In my speech of 16th May, I quoted something which Peter Simple wrote and which I thought was extremely apposite and which is even more so today. On 14th May, 1957, Peter Simple wrote:'One of the signs of a great people is an ability to retreat gracefully. It is not an easy thing to do; indeed it is a supreme test of character. It demands a calm generosity of mind, and iron self-restraint. It involves an ability to recognise the inevitable and to accept it with tranquillity; a willingness to admit that if others are to blame for the mess, we are no less so ourselves; a refusal to hunt for scapegoats or bandy sterile recriminations with our friends; a cheerful readiness to pick up the pieces and start again. A querulous bitterness disfigures not those at whom it is directed, but those who direct it.I earnestly hope that the right hon. Gentleman will one day read those words and try to act on them.
84 We cannot go on interminably at loggerheads with Egypt. It is doing us no good, it is doing Egypt no good and it is probably doing the peace of the world no good. Admittedly, this is a humiliating Agreement, but I do not believe that it would have been possible to arrive at a better one unless we were prepared to go on being at loggerheads with Egypt for many years to come.
The question about which the House has to make up its mind is whether we want to continue this situation for many years to come or whether this was the best agreement at which we could arrive. On the whole, I feet that we might have got a bit more if we had stood out a little longer, but if the Government think that, it is all the more a case for their saying, "This is a special instance in which the Government must meet the deficiency over and above what the agreement has been able to provide."
Finally, I well appreciate that the Government cannot say definitely that they will meet this, that or the other claim. I hope that the Chancellor's speech meant that, although the Government cannot accept at all times the obligation of a Government to meet the deficiency in an agreement of this kind, they are prepared to consider this a special case and are prepared to meet the deficiency where it can be truly established, and where, if they did not do that, general hardship would result. I would support the Government only if I understood that to be the case, and I hope that we shall get a reassurance at the end of the debate that that is so. I appreciate that we cannot have final figures at this stage, and I hope that the Commission will act with the greatest expedition in order to decide what those figures should be.
I was glad to hear that the Chancellor will facilitate the movement of those most concerned to and from Egypt if he possibly can. That is what I understood him to say. I hope that where he is satisfied that the amounts are too small to justify that sort of expenditure he will not hesitate to settle those individual cases as quickly as possible and enable people with perhaps smaller sums involved to have the matter cleared up so that they can either live out their lives in peace or else start useful work again.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I respect the point of view of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), although I would not, like him, draw my inspiration from the columns of the Daily Telegraph. But I feel that more is at issue than a mere financial transaction, important though that may be to the individuals concerned.
I agree with him that this story goes back a long way. It goes back, perhaps, to Tel el Kebir and the days of Gladstone. Since the First World War, we have had many opportunities of coming to an agreement with the Egyptian people. I have always thought that Zaghlul Pasha was an expression of a liberal Egypt looking to the West and seeking to build up Egypt on terms of respect for the Western world and perhaps with the vision that one clay there would be a sharing of the Western and Arab ways of life in the Eastern Mediterranean.
I am angry and bitter because I am conscious of what has been thrown away. I had the honour, when very young, of knowing Gertrude Bell. I attended her funeral. I have read the works of Colonel Lawrence. One day in the late autumn of 1956 we saw all that Gertrude Bell and Lawrence stood for thrown away. Not only Lawrence and Gertrude Bell, but thousands of their fellow countrymen have toiled to come to an understanding with the Arabs.
I reject the view of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) that the Egyptians are a cowardly sort of people who, in the course of five days, could have been over-run by the Israelis. That story is not true. They came out fighting bravely. I am not suggesting that the power of Israeli arms would not have triumphed, but I do say that in those days of 1956 the Egyptians went in with their hands tied behind their backs. Cyprus bases were used by French aircraft and British aircraft had French markings.
I have never said that this happened with the knowledge and connivance of the Government, but there certainly was collusion up to the hilt between the French and Israelis, and at the last moment the Government ran away from the logic of their own action and became involved in the completely fraudulent ultimatums which gave the Egyptians no alternative 86 but to accept. If we have lost, at least surely wisdom demands that we should recognise the fact so that we can build on the dying embers of our own disaster. That is the way in which a great people will triumph in the long run and by so doing learn from their mistakes.
The Egyptians may not, perhaps, have our great military tradition, but there are 22 million of them and they have a rapidly rising birth rate. Eighty per cent. of them are infected with helminthic diseases and have a standard of living which is well below subsistence level. In Egypt, there is a very high rate of infant mortality.
What chance have the Egyptians had of acquiring the techniques of nineteenth century industrialism? Nevertheless, whether we like it or not, the Arab people have a memory of their great past. At one time they were masters of Bagdad and Cairo and their culture marched all over the southern part of Europe. We ourselves owe a great deal to them. They are determined, whether under the leadership of Colonel Nasser or that of General Kassem, that the Arab banner shall once again fly proudly and independently.
I have always thought that there were two cases for an inquiry, and I should have thought that at least, on the first, I should have carried with me the right hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Sir T. Low), because he was a very competent and gallant soldier and he will have looked at this operation with at least as much care as I. Indeed, I have no doubt that his results are far more intelligent than the results which I have obtained. Whether we look at this operation from the logistic or from any other point of view, it was a "phoney" operation from the word "go". Indeed, that was admitted when I raised the subject on the Adjournment just before Christmas, because no less a person than the right hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Head) said that this operation was foredoomed. Whichever direction we face, we find the same story.
I am sorry if I bore the House by repeating my views, but I think I should do so. My feeling of wanting to be sick does not start now. I wanted to be sick on 31st July, 1956. When I heard the cheers from both sides of the House in favour of a strong-arm operation, I had the desire to go outside and puke, because 87 I knew that there was not a single sweptwing tighter in the Middle East theatre. The paratroops required for the operation had not dropped recently and the Air Force had not been trained in dropping them.
The hon. Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe), with a naïvety which is a great tribute to his sincerity, but with a stupidity almost pathological, asked, "Why did we not start before?" In fact, we put the tanks on the tank landing ships even before the ultimatum had expired, but it took so long to get the tanks there that the operation was never "on".
This is the case for an inquiry into the military operation, because, as sure as night follows day, unless we learn the military lesson of Suez we shall one day repeat the mistake. We nearly did it in Jordan. It was touch and go there. Only the presence of the Americans prevented that operation from developing into a disaster. I do not know where it will be, but unless we are careful we shall make the mistake again. I am sure that hon. Members opposite have not learned the military lesson of Suez. What is even more important, the Tory Press has refused to let the British public know what is the truth; and that is even more dangerous, because the myth still persists.
With a great note of triumph the hon. Member for Windsor said, "I have three regiments in my constituency. If I told them what the Opposition have said and done I am sure that they would vote for me". He may think it very important that he should be returned to the House at all costs, but if I lost my seat I should think it a small price to pay if it meant that the British public took one step nearer to understanding the military and power situation which faces us in the world.
I do not want to transgress the rules of order, but if we look at the Berlin situation there are some signs that, once again, we are likely to make the same mistake. If the country wants to undertake "Suez operations" it must understand that they must be carried out cleanly and swiftly and that we must be prepared to pay for them in advance in terms of providing mobility and up-to-date weapons and not, as at present, out-of-date aircraft and 88 weapons which our grandfathers used in the Boer War. That is the simple fact.
There is one charge on which I believe the Government owe an inquiry to the country and on which I believe that the Government are innocent. That is the charge of collusion. As I said in the debate before Christmas, as I wrote in a letter to The Times in 1956, and as I say again now, although the evidence looks to be overwhelming to prove prior guilty knowledge of the Suez operation, I have never believed that to be true. I have never believed that Sir Anthony Eden was guilty of the infamous and dishonourable conduct which would be implicit if that charge were true. I believe that he was led up the garden path by M. Mollet, and I also believe that Ben Gurion had a great deal to do with it. Eventually, Sir Anthony Eden and Her Majesty's Government found themselves in a position from which they could not retract.
I should have thought that at this juncture in Anglo-French relations it would do no harm if we let out a little of the pretence and let in a little truth. Here again, I wish to make my own position perfectly clear. I believe that Britain's decline as a great world Power dates from the time of the Entente Cordiale. I believe that our association with the French, at every stage from the Common Market backwards, has been wholly disastrous, and not least in the disaster of Suez. I hold the view that the historian of 200 years' hence will look at Suez and say, "Of course, that is where it all went. The 1939–45 War was a war in which Europe committed suicide. In any event, Europe refused to learn from her mistakes. As a result, the coloured people—the yellow people, the brown people and the black people—assumed that pre-eminence which they have at present."
Shaw once said that a culture and a civilisation do not depend merely upon the steam engine. I might add "or the hydrogen bomb". He said that they depend on the moral values of a society. That is why the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely was right. It is the test of a great people whether they can face disaster, learn the lesson and then apply it. So far, we have seen very little sense of it from the Government benches. I am not asking, nor am I so politically unrealistic to expect, that the Foreign 89 Secretary, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or the Prime Minister should come to the House with his hand on his heart, speak as honestly as the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely, and say, "It is an humiliating experience".
At least one would have thought that at long last they would have said that we should have the same kind of inquiry into the military operations as we had after the Mesopotamia and Dardanelles operations or the same kind of inquiry as that which the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) promised would take place after the war into the Singapore operations. One would have thought that this would have been done as an absolute minimum in the interests of all.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
The hon. Member has not brought forward evidence on his point about the French.
§ Mr. Wigg
I said that I wanted to limit my speech, but if the noble Lord wants me to prove that point I will make just a few comments. First, there was the movement from the southern flank through Eilat, which was undertaken even before the operation started. Secondly, Israeli forward elements were supplied from zero hour by the French Air Force. Thirdly, French Mystères were flying over and protecting Tel Aviv, without which the Israelis would not have moved. Fourthly—and there have been plenty of Questions on this point—supplies were given to French aircraft from Cyprus bases.
An additional fact, which has never been denied, and which the Minister can deny now if he wishes, is that British aircraft carried French markings and that advanced elements of the Israeli Army were supplied from Cyprus bases by French aircraft, who dropped jerrycans and food supplies to them. There is no shadow of doubt that this took place. Indeed, in no other country in the world is it denied. It is not denied by the French themselves. If the noble Lord doubts it, there are plenty of French sources from which he can check it.
I want to turn to another aspect of this Agreement. There are plenty of hon. Members who will talk about the property rights covered by the Agreement. I am very sorry for all the British nationals who have suffered as a result 90 of the Government's action, but I am even more sorry for the 700 British nationals, all of whom are British-born, who contracted to serve in the Suez base. One must remember that a very considerable number of the people covered by this Agreement, while they hold British passports, were born in Egypt, but my chief concern is about the 700 "mugs" who believed what the Government said and who signed contracts to work in the Suez base. I am not raising this matter for the first time, and I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I bore them by raising it again, but it is a very important subject.
There were 700 of them who went to work in the Suez base. Their persons and their properties were guaranteed by the 1955 Agreement, signed, I think, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carshalton. Alt any rate, he was a prominent negotiator of that Agreement. These men were left behind at the base when we invaded Port Said. They were given no warning of the operation. There they were on the Canal, looking after many millions of pounds worth of public property. If hon. Members want to see what is involved, they can find it on page 18 of the White Paper, Cmd. 9586, which in Appendix C, "Level of Supplies," lists what was to be left behind in the base. If any warning had been given them that the operations were pending, they would have had the chance to get out, because I can assure the House that there were sufficient lorries and food, and that the distances were not great. No warning was given.
On 1st November, 1956, they were arrested. It is common knowledge how they were treated. There were no washing facilities or even the most elementary sanitary arrangements, and for several days food was non-existent. Finally, they were released in circumstances of the utmost humiliation: they were spat upon, kicked and beaten. When they came out, one would have thought that the Government would have looked after them because, as I reminded the House last week, who was in charge of their welfare? The hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser). He was one of the foremost in 1956 in demanding action against Nasser. "Smash Nasser now," he demanded. I suppose that he got £75 for that from the Sunday Express. That is the usual amount.
91 Then it was "Smash Nasser now," so one would have thought that those 700 poor chaps would have been met very differently. What happened? Almost without exception these men had got bank balances in Egyptian banks in Egypt. These balances were confiscated. Their motor cars were confiscated. All their goods and chattels were confiscated. Of course, when they came back they had not got jobs.
As to jobs, one would have thought that as they had been on a two-years' contract, and especially considering that the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely suggested that there should be £50,000 for a colonel, they would have had two years' salary. Not on your life. Six months' pay they got, and they were told there was no choice, and there was no negotiation. No instrument was negotiated by such a distinguished figure as the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. They were told, "You either take it, or you do not get anything at all." The Government said, "No legal rights. You can have six months' pay as an ex gratia payment, but it must be expressly understood that you forfeit all claim against the Government and you give up your legal rights."
Let us move on a bit. Let us move to the bank balances. Do hon. Members realise what it was that the Government and hon. Member for Stafford and Stone did? The Government insisted that from their bank balances should be deducted the amounts they owed in income tax to Nasser.
§ Mr. Wigg
Let us see what happened, what the Government did. I have it in writing from the War Office. The Government admit this. We have the great protagonist of "Smash Nasser now". What has he become? Grovelling in his own vomit, grovelling in his utter humiliation, he becomes Nasser's tax collector. An hon. Gentleman says that he is nauseated. So am I. I cannot contain myself. This is something my stomach will not take. This is the spectacle we have of the British Government, as sworn on affidavits, saying, "You can have your balances back, but what you owe in Egypt must be deducted." If my hon. Friend does not believe me, I will show him a letter I had from the War Office.
92 Some of these men had motor cars. Of course, they lost the motor cars. Some of the motor cars they lost were bought on hire-purchase terms. The Government said, "We will give you the value of the cars as shown by the garage proprietors in Egypt, from which we deduct any sums you may owe on them". Having written down the value of the cars the Government then deducted the hire-purchase price, and in addition to becoming Nasser's tax collector they became his tallyman as well.
That is not all the story. I ask hon. Gentlemen to remember one thing. A Tory always behaves the same. Whatever he may say about freedom, if he is given the choice he will always be much more tender towards the rights of property than he is towards human values. These 700 poor chaps had been beaten, and thrown out of Egypt, and when they got back they had nothing, and the Government said to them, "We are prepared to give you a tip, if you forget your legal rights, and you get six months' salary." But the high contracting companies, what did they get? They got six years' compensation.
Of course, I do not complain of that because they went into the base with all the difficulties involved with a cost-plus system. It was a commercial venture, and they had a right to expect their shareholders to be safeguarded not, indeed, against happenings of this kind, but against commercial losses. The companies, however, have got enforceable contracts with the Government. Therefore, the Government did not say, "Here is an ex gratia payment for you", because if they had they would have found themselves in the High Court.
But the poor 700 individuals who had come back to this country without any more than the clothes they stood up in had only six months' salary and the Government said to them, "You will pay Nasser his tax". It is not a very creditable story, and one reason why I have intervened in this debate is that I hope this sort of thing will not occur again, because there may be other places in the world to which we shall ask technicians to go to handle British equipment and we may ask them to take the same political risks which these men were asked to take.
93 I ask the Government, even now, to undertake to see that the rights of the employees in the Suez base are treated as generously as were the contracting companies in the Suez base, and as generously as the Smouha family and other people who held millions of pounds in Egypt. These men went out to work a very difficult operation, and it was not their fault that it failed. It is utterly wrong that they should be called upon to pay the price.
I have spent many years in Egypt in a very humble capacity and I have spent many years in other Arab countries generally. I like the Arabs; I like the Egyptians especially. I hope very much that this Agreement will be the beginning of a new chapter. I hold the view—I suppose I may be a "Blimp" for saying it—that our Army has done much more in those countries than all the politicians and the Colonial Office. Our record is not clean by any manner of means, but, on balance, we got on with those people very well. Even when there was only one battalion in Bagdad we got on with the people there very well, with only a handful of troops. It hurts me quite a lot to think that all the efforts and friendships one has left behind have been wasted.
It may be asking the Arabs rather a lot, but let us ask them to forget what happened in 1956. I think that many of them would do so. We need to make a new start, but if we are to do this it must be on the basis of a completely revolutionary approach. We have to respect their independence. We have got to respect their dignity. We have got to respect their culture. Point Four help and a little bit of charity here and there is not good enough. If the Government will learn from past mistakes and base their treatment of the Arab peoples on the way that the Army tried to treat them, then this unhappy episode will be not the end but the beginning of something far better.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Smithers (Winchester)
The House has listened to one of those very lively, interesting and entertaining speeches that we expect from the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). He began a trifle unpromisingly at Gertrude Bell's funeral. He went on to describe the diseases of which the unfortunate 94 Egyptian people are the victims, and then went on to deal with the arguments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Sir T. Low). He then told us that he felt sick and, to my great relief, he added that he felt sick in 1956 and did not feel sick now. He then made the novel proposition that he would give up his seat in this House if it would contribute towards public understanding of foreign policy. He showed how genuine that was by then advocating the disbandment of the Anglo-French Alliance.
The second part of the hon. Member's speech contained an argument in some detail on a matter of considerable importance on which I do not propose to express any opinion. It falls to the Government to reply and no doubt they will give it consideration. I should like to deal with the Motion and the Amendment. I have had great difficulty in discovering so far whether the Labour Party is really in favour of this Agreement or not. The Amendment is extremely guarded on the subject. It merely expresses profound regret, and so on, that heavy losses "should have had to be accepted". The words:should have had to be acceptedseem to indicate assent.
The second speaker from the benches opposite was the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. M. Philips Price), a very senior member of the Labour Party and very much respected in the House. He said quite specifically that the Agreement "was the best that could be got in the circumstances." That is the most specific statement we have had so far about the Agreement from the benches opposite. If it is the Labour Party's opinion it gets us somewhere, in relation to the Motion, towards an agreement between the two sides of the House.
The hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. Bonham Carter), on the other hand, said that the Agreement was bad and humiliating and that everybody should be compensated in full. The Agreement was totally inequitable. Before passing to the Amendment, I should like to say something about the points of principle involved here. If we take the view of the hon. Member for Torrington, we are assuming that there is something special about these circumstances and that that 95 special quality consists in the action of the Government which brought about the events leading to loss. That, of course, is a view, but, going with that view, there must rest the assumption that some other policy would have produced some other result. That, of course, is arguable and I shall come to that point later.
All that the Manchester Guardian is saying, in effect, all that the hon. Member for Torrington is saying, in effect, and much that has been said by the Leader of the Opposition and by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) seems to me to amount to the fact that when one disagrees with Government policy and loss results there should be exceptional compensation, but if one happens to agree with Government policy and loss results there should be no exceptional compensation. I find such a point of view totally unacceptable. I am quite sure that it would never be the policy of any Government, even of a Liberal Government, if there were such a thing conceivable.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I do not want my hon. Friend to be unfair and to misrepresent my point of view. I would not accept what he has described as my attitude as being in fact my attitude. I have tried to make clear that there is a special case here for taking unusual action by Her Majesty's Government, because so much of the need for compensation has arisen from the action of Her Majesty's Government rather than that of a third party.
§ Mr. Smithers
That is precisely the point I am making. It is the point made by the hon. Member for Torrington and echoed by hon. Members opposite when they say "Hear, hear". There is no evidence whatsoever, in my view, that any other course of policy adopted by some other Government in the circumstances would have resulted in lesser loss. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] It is a matter of opinion on which the country is deeply divided. There is absolutely nothing in the point that because one disapproves of a policy of a Government, exceptional compensation should be payable.
I should like to turn now to the Amendment. I think that all hon. Members will 96 agree, whatever they may think about the policy pursued, that the attack by Israel upon Egypt put the British Government in a particularly difficult position. That can be summed up by saying that it was because this attack came in the most important strategic area in the world, where lay two-thirds of the world's crude oil supplies and the key to communications by water and by air to the Orient and by land from the Soviet Union to Africa. It came in an area where there was already a very large Soviet armament daily increasing, with half a billion dollars worth of military stores. These included Ilyushin bombers which were not yet operating, 7,000 tons of ammunition for a Soviet gun which had not yet arrived, and a million army blankets for an army as yet only of 80,000.
All these things were indicative of grave danger, and when the Israelis attacked the Egyptians, war had actually broken out. Furthermore, there had been signed very recently a five-nation pact of Arab States under which the Egyptian Chief of Staff was given the right to order into action the armed forces of the other States surrounding Israel. Therefore, when the fighting actually broke out—
§ Mr. Smithers
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) may be right in saying that the other States might not have obeyed the order.
§ Mr. Smithers
But if the hon. and learned Member waits and sees, perhaps he will revise that view.
When the fighting broke out I, as a Member of Parliament, felt that it was imperative that in such an explosive situation it should be stopped immediately before more dangerous happenings could occur. Therefore, I very much agreed with Sir Anthony Eden when, on 1st November, 1956, he said:The first and urgent task is to separate these combatants and to stabilise the position. That is our purpose. If the United Nations were then willing to take over the physical task of maintaining peace in that area, no one would be better pleased than we. But police action there must be to separate the belligerents and to prevent a resumption of hostilities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st November, 1956; Vol. 558, c. 1649.]
§ Mr. Smithers
I know that hon. Gentlemen say that there were other reasons. A lot of other arguments were advanced as well. In such a complicated situation there were innumerable arguments for intervening or for not intervening. But that was the great argument, and it was the argument which caused me to support intervention in this House, and I believed then and still believe that it was a sound argument.
§ Mr. Mellish
There is no logic in that argument, in view of the fact that the Government issued an ultimatum against Egypt, not against Israel.
§ Mr. Smithers
The hon. Gentleman should not waste the time of the House by intervening on a matter which obviously he is recollecting incorrectly.
Now I want to reply to the serious point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton. He said that the Arab forces did not obey the order. Perhaps I might have his attention, since I am dealing with his point. I would regard it as a courtesy and the hon. and learned Gentleman is normally a most courteous Member of this House.
It was on 25th October that the Joint Command Agreement was signed between Egypt, Syria, Arabia, Jordan and the Yemen—the States surrounding Israel. This gave the Egyptians power to issue orders to the forces of the other Arab States. It was on 29th October that the Israelis attacked Egypt. It was on the same day that the Egyptian Chief-of-Staff issued his instructions, as he was perfectly entitled to do under the agreement, to the other forces to go to the aid of Egypt in the struggle with Israel. It was on the 30th October, the next day, that the British Government issued their ultimatum. We know, upon the authority of the Egyptian Chief-of-Staff, that thereupon he cancelled the instructions to the other Arab States. Therefore, in my view—and I think it is a reasonable view—the grave danger of the spread of hostilities to a far wider area than that immediately involved was avoided by the issue of the ultimatum.
It is my view that if the hostilities had spread to six nations, the consequences would have been of incalculable gravity. 98 I cannot see, and nobody has yet explained to my satisfaction—least of all the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell)—in what other way hostilities could have been brought to a close. In the first place, it is apparent to me that the combatants, of whose bitterness we had all too long experience, would not have stopped fighting merely because somebody implored them to do so. I do not believe that the hon. and learned Gentleman is right in saying that the hostilities would have come to an end because the Israelis would have whacked the Egyptians. The Israelis would perhaps have found themselves in Cairo, but in a most dangerous situation, with a league of Arab States at their throats, and the whole area would soon have been in chaos.
Secondly, it is clear that at that time there was only one force available which could bring hostilities to a close, and that was the Anglo-French force. At least if there was another force available, it has remained secret to this day. Further, it is clear from what we now know that the Soviet Union was at that time deeply committed to making trouble in the area. The long tale of Russian equipment is well known. So much of it was there, in fact, that at the end of the war the captured equipment enabled the Israelis to come out of the war, I believe, with a net profit.
Fourthly, it seemed to me that immediate and effective action by the United Nations was impossible. That argument has already been put to the House by another hon. Member. Nobody can suggest where the force they were to act with could come from. Indeed, it is unlikely that such action could have been agreed upon in the presence of the Russians. Therefore, it seemed to me clear, and in the perspective of time it is even clearer, that however great the disadvantages may have been which attached to the Anglo-French intervention—and they were obvious to me, and therefore, I have no doubt, to the Cabinet as well at that time—I cannot think of any conceivable alternative course which could have brought the fighting to a close.
Now I turn for a moment to our attitude to the United Nations in all this matter. Of course, everybody in this House—or I think practically everybody—would wish to see a state of affairs where 99 the United Nations Organisation was able to resolve every dispute. Yet it seems to me unwise to pretend in the perspective of even a couple of years that the United Nations could have settled this dispute or that there is any real reason for thinking it could have done so. Nor do I think that we advance matters at this stage very much by trying to pretend that the United Nations Organisation is already not merely an invariably effective settler of disputes but also a court of morality or a court of law.
The United Nations Organisation is a body in some ways rather like this House; it is full of different representatives of different constituencies who have various interests and differing degrees of wisdom or honesty or courage. When it conies to a decision it is a political, not a moral, decision. Whether an action may in itself be right or wrong or wise or unwise, the fact that the United Nations Organisation endorses it cannot make an immoral action moral, nor can the reverse process make a moral act an immoral one. Therefore, I had rather hoped that by the time we reached this debate and began to discuss the measures necessary to bring to a close an unhappy chapter in our history, we might have abandoned the sterile argument about morality.
§ Mr. Smithers
I think it is sterile. The hon. Gentleman questions that. He is entitled to his view about morality and I am entitled to mine. I doubt very much whether at this stage adducing the voting of the United Nations on this issue would help us very much, and that was the only point I was trying to make there.
§ Mr. Smithers
The hon. Gentleman says it will not help me. That throws a great flood of light upon this Amendment. It is put down by hon. Gentlemen opposite with only one motive: they think that it will cause the electorate to remember a lot of things which will gain votes for them and will lose votes for the Conservative Party. I do not think there is any doubt at this stage that they think that.
§ Mr. Smithers
The hon. Gentleman's previous intervention revealed that he is so ignorant of the facts that he would be wise, if he cannot contain himself, to leave the Chamber.
§ Mr. Mellish
The hon. Gentleman is so pompous that I really cannot take that from him. Surely it would be fair to say that there must be many Tories who are thoroughly ashamed of Suez.
§ Mr. Smithers
For the second time in this short speech my giving way to the hon. Gentleman has proved a waste of time and I shall not do it again.
There may also be some facts about the Suez episode which people in this country will recall and which hon. Gentlemen opposite may not have thought about. The whole operation has not been an unqualified misfortune by any means. It is well to remember that we were in an exceedingly dangerous position then and that we have extricated ourselves from it without war. [Laughter.] I mean without world war. Hon. Gentlemen opposite treat this subject with so much flippancy that they do not recall the grave danger of those days, but the public does. We have extricated ourselves from it without disastrous loss. Do hon. Members opposite think that if the hostilities had gone on longer and included six nations, if the whole area had been ravaged and if there had been a Communist Government installed at the end, there would have been any compensation at all or any restitution of property?
We have at the end of all this, I believe, taught the United States one or two important lessons in the value of Anglo-American co-operation and we have restored our good understanding with them. Also, the Arab world, as anyone who reads the newspapers can see, is by no means united against us. Our oil supplies, then in very great jeopardy, are now restored. At the end of it all, it seems to me that the case for the Government is a very strong one. It is that out of a very dangerous situation we have at last brought our country and many other countries to safety.
There is one other matter that the electors may recall—the conduct of the 101 Opposition at that time. Hon. Gentlemen opposite were entitled to disagree violently with this policy, of course, but today they have not said one word about any alternative policy, nor had they any effective alternative policy at that time. That fact is well remembered.
Another fact which is well remembered is that hon. Gentlemen opposite, having failed to stop the Government in a course which they thought was wrong, did everything possible to embarrass the Government in the carrying out of their policy. That made a deep impression on the minds of many people.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
Did the electorate in the constituency of the former Prime Minister, where a by-election was fought primarily on the Suez issue, then share the hon. Member's point of view?
§ Mr. Smithers
That by-election was fought a long time after the Suez episode. I would remind the hon. Member that much nearer the date of Suez—in fact, just after the landing—there was a leading article in the Daily Mirror, not normally known to be a great supporter of the Government, which, I speak from memory, bore the heading "We were wrong" and acknowledged that British public opinion was by a majority in favour of the Suez intervention. That is better evidence than a by-election long afterwards.
The Leader of the Opposition aspires to the office of Prime Minister of this country, a country which I feel still to be—I do not apologise for saying it the greatest in the world. I see the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) making some notes, for which I am much obliged; I have no complaint of his conduct during the Suez crisis. I cannot think of a word he uttered which did not do him honour. However, I do complain of the words at that time of the Leader of the Opposition, because I believe that our country, whatever Government are in power, is entitled to have the best construction put upon its acts.
Throughout those days the Leader of the Opposition consistently placed the worst construction that a fine brain could devise on the actions of the Government. He thought up accusations which even the ingenuity of the Egyptian radio could not devise, and night after night we sat in 102 this House listening to them. The public have not forgotten that. If a man is to be Prime Minister of this country he must seek to carry behind him a large part of the opinion of all political parties. These people may not agree with him politically, but they must support him as a man.
However able the right hon. Gentleman may be as a party leader, it was a mistake to bring this debate before the House.
§ Mr. Smithers
It is because of the Labour Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman may carry the support of the Labour Party, but with the memory of those clays he can never lead a united Britain. I hope, therefore, that the House will support my right hon. Friend, the Government and the Government Motion. The Motion, I believe, brings to a close a chapter in our history which we all regret, but I do not believe that any other Government could have brought it to a more effective or more honourable termination.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
At the time of the Suez operation we were given by the Government Front Bench seven conflicting explanations of the purposes of the operation. During this debate we have heard from back benchers opposite almost as many conflicting post mortems. Speeches like that of the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers) could hardly be more harmful in the effect that they are likely to have on the re-establishment of normal relations with Egypt and the United Arab Republic following the agreement which has been signed. They show that nothing has changed in the mind of the Conservative Party since the days of the Suez attack and that the Conservative Party is still devoted to justifying its actions at that time, and on those foundations co-operation and friendly relations with Egypt cannot be built.
I propose in my remarks to turn from the past and discuss some of the implications for the future of the agreement. I shall concentrate on the future of British relations with Egypt and the United Arab Republic and, because of their impact on 103 Anglo-Eyptian relations, on the future of British relations in the wider area of the Arab Middle East.
I should like at the outset to say a word about the negotiations themselves. I was in Cairo when it was first publicly known that they had broken down. A few days after the original agreement was initialled by the Egyptian and British representatives, I was fortunate in meeting President Nasser, his Foreign Minister, Dr. Fawzi, the British negotiators in Cairo and a number of Commonwealth and other diplomatists stationed there.
Having followed the course of those negotiations, I cannot congratulate the Government on their dexterity in handling them or on the very curious way in which they put forward the demand towards the end of the initial stage of the negotiations for a resumption of full diplomatic relations. It was in such a way that it was interpretated by the Egyptian Government as an ultimatum, and they could not possibly accept it.
It was extraordinary that it should have been thought that a personal message from the Foreign Secretary to the Egyptian Foreign Minister at that time could have done anything but bedevil an already very delicate and complicated situation. We all know that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is not an unduly sensitive political figure, but surely even he must have been aware of the fact that the prevailing opinion of his conduct and of his motives ever since 1956 is probably lower in Cairo than anywhere else in the world except on the Opposition benches in the House of Commons. How he could imagine that a personal message from him at that time could have helped, I do not understand.
My right hon. Friend has made it plain that, however much we regret the circumstances which caused the agreement to be necessary and however much we deplore the ruinous losses which have been inflicted on British interests and citizens in Egypt, we welcome the fact that an agreement has been reached which may now make it possible for normal relations to be established with Egypt. This will imply a full, complete and sincere acceptance of the fact that in future our cooperation can only be on the basis of recognition of the complete independence 104 of the United Arab Republic from all outside influence of the kind that prevailed in that area before 1956 and of its neutrality from all blocs and military commitments except, of course, the commitments which bind it to the Charter of the United Nations.
It is very hard now to see how there can be any real transformation in the relationship between Britain and the United Arab Republic and the other Arab countries in that area so long as the present Government are in power because, of course, the greatest single obstacle to normal, let alone friendly, relations in that area is undoubtedly the obsessive insistence of the Government in seeking to justify the Suez operation of which we have heard so many examples during this debate.
When I was fortunate enough to meet a number of Egyptian political personalities not very long ago, before flying to Bagdad and then Beirut and on to Cyprus, I was able to have a long discussion with President Nasser himself. The part of my discussion with that very remarkable Arab leader which impressed me most was the enthusiasm and detailed knowledge with which he spoke of plans to develop the resources and raise the living standards in Egypt and in Syria and his awareness of the tremendous difficulty of seeking to raise living standards in a country where the population every year is growing by an enormous figure, and where many less enthusiastic leaders than himself might have thought that the real problem was how to prevent the standards dropping disastrously in the future.
I hope that the time will very soon come when British citizens and British interests will be able to play a part in helping the programme of development in Egypt, but I am bound to say that until the Government have finally purged themselves of the residue of their own propaganda about Colonel Nasser it is very difficult to see how that process can begin.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)
Since the hon. Gentleman had the advantage of talking to President Nasser, does he hold out any hope that there may be some improvement in the propaganda on Cairo radio?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I shall be glad to deal with that question, which I raised with President Nasser, in a moment, but 105 I should be grateful if the hon. Member would allow me to proceed with my argument and I will try to remember to come back to his remarks before I conclude my speech.
When I was talking to the Egyptian President, I had very vividly in mind the impressions that were made on me by Egypt during the time I was there as a soldier in the Second World War. I asked myself, on coming back to this House, when I listened to the denunciations of Colonel Nasser as a second Hitler or as a Russian agent and the other things said about him in days gone by, precisely what kind of régime the Conservative Party expected to take power in Egypt after the régime of King Farouk and his predecessors. What I expected—and I remember thinking this vividly when I was there in 1944–45—was a violent revolution and then some extremist régime, perhaps on the far Left.
On revisiting Egypt, after some fifteen years, what chiefly surprised me about the present régime was its mildness and moderation and the relative humanity with which the revolution had been carried Out. I earnestly hope, looking realistically at the situation now arising as the result of the signature of this Agreement, that the Government will try—and it will be difficult for them—over the months that remain to them of office to forget about the Suez operation, to cease to try to justify those tragic days and to get down to building relations with the Egyptian régime in a new spirit of friendship and co-operation. That will be difficult unless, at the same time, we set out to transform our relations with other states in the Arab Middle East.
I should like to say a few words about our relations with Iraq in that context. I went from Cairo to Bagdad some weeks ago, and since that time a very dangerous situation has arisen in the Iraqi Republic. I hope that the Government are now prepared to recognise the fact that the only contribution that we can make to stability in Iraq and to keeping Iraq this side of the Iron Curtain is to recognise frankly and sincerely that the old relationship between that country and the West is ended for good and fully accept their conception of neutrality and independence.
If I may, also in the context of relations between this country and Egypt—and it is 106 not possible, of course, to treat the question of the development of relations with the United Arab Republic, arising from this Agreement, except in the context of our relations with the wider area of the Arabs in the Middle East—I should like briefly to say that I hope, as one of the consequences of a change of outlook from London, we shall advise the Jordanian Government to seek to normalise their relations with the Egyptian Government and also advise them to relax the repressive measures which now stifle any kind of public or political opinion in that country, because, if we do not, there is no doubt whatever that the Jordanian régime will go the same tragic way that the Iraqi régime went in July of last year.
I want to ask the Government a specific question about our attitude towards a conference with which the Egyptians will be very much concerned in April, dealing with the question of oil. I understand that the Arab League Oil Conference has sent out invitations to Governments in the Middle East, to other Governments concerned with the supply of oil, and to oil companies. Is it our intention to allow the rulers of oil-producing States under our protection to attend that conference? Is it our intention to encourage British oil companies to go there too? I understand that American oil companies have decided to attend that conference.
Secondly, can we be told at some stage something about the Government's attitude, now that the Agreement has been signed, towards the Arab Development Bank, which was established in January by the Economic Council of the Arab League? As I understand it, this Bank, if it can be made to work and if it can count on some support from oil-producing States in the area, can make a very great contribution to the prosperity and stability of the Middle East.
Anyone who has recently been in the Middle East or studied its problems will probably greatly regret the fact that the Iraq Government, at the conference in January, did not feel able to participate in the establishment of that Bank. With the deterioration of relations between Bagdad and Cairo, for the time being, at any rate, Iraqi participation seems unlikely. Is it our intention to encourage oil-producing States over which we exercise protection 107 to participate to some extent in the operations of that Bank? I very much hope that they will.
I have made such researches as are open to a private back bencher into the financial ramifications of the oil industry. I am bound to say that it is a very difficult task. It is impossible from Government statistics to discover precisely how much oil from the Middle East comes to this country. It is impossible to discover exactly what that represents in terms of sterling. It is impossible to discover what profit the British or other oil companies operating in the area make; and it is even difficult to discover what, in relation to one single territory, Kuwait, the exact financial position is.
With all those reservations, I understand that we are dependent for a very high proportion of our oil on Kuwait, and that the Kuwait sterling balances in this country benefit very greatly, by some £30 million a year or so, now invested by the Ruler in the City. That is a form of Arab economic aid to Great Britain at a time when Great Britain is giving no economic aid to the Arab world. I suggest that we have to recognise that we shall not be able for very many years to come, perhaps not even for very many months to come, to maintain our existing political, economic and military arrangements with some of those countries, and that it would be far better if we were to anticipate future changes rather than be overtaken by them, as we were with such tragic consequences in the case of Iraq.
Have the Government considered the possibility of encouraging the Ruler of Kuwait to divert at least part of his enormous revenues to the work of development in the Arab Middle East through the Arab Development Bank, and will similar advice be given to the rulers of other oil-producing areas? I do not foresee a very long future for the British-owned or partly British-owned oil companies, or a very secure future for British oil supplies, unless we are now actively thinking about ways of putting our relationships in the whole of the area on an entirely new basis. If we do not, if we imagine that we can maintain our position in Kuwait or in Bahrain or in the other sheikhdoms on the political-military basis which at present applies, we are heading straight for disaster.
108 You, Mr. Speaker, may consider that I have gone a little wide of the terms of the Opposition Amendment, but the fact is that this country cannot get its relations with Egypt on a satisfactory basis, from the point of view of British interests, unless we are prepared to reshape our relationship with the Arab countries in the area as a whole. One of the great difficulties so far in our relations with Colonel Nasser, Egypt, and the United Arab Republic has been our opposition to their aspirations for wider Arab unity, the idea that we were standing in the way of the traditional ideals of Arab nationalism of which Colonel Nasser is now the symbol in the Middle East. Events in Iraq have shown how tragically mistaken that policy was.
I end by saying that I very much hope that this Agreement, bad though it is and lamentable though the reasons for it are, will lead to a reshaping of our policies in the whole of the Middle Eastern area and the opening of a new chapter of equitable co-operation with Egypt and with all the countries associated with her.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Mr. E. H. C. Leather (Somerset, North)
The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) will not expect me to follow him down the many interesting paths which he trod, if only because the terms of the Amendment would not have given us notice of what was in his mind. I certainly echo his last thought, and it is worth pointing out that, with one exception, all the speeches from both sides of the House have ended with the plea and the hope that this will lead to better things and more normal relations.
If there is anything remarkable in the debate so far, it is the marked contrast between all the very serious, thoughtful and quiet speeches which we have had from the back benches opposite and the knockabout, music-hall turn which we had from the Leader of the Opposition at the beginning. It is an extraordinary contrast. The right hon. Gentleman clearly was not concerned to try to spread any kind of understanding or good will between this country and the Middle East, or anywhere else.
The hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. Bonham Carter) referred to the very interesting leader in the Sunday Times and quoted a sentence from it which appealed to me very much, referring to 109 the differences between our Government and the Egyptians. It could equally apply to the differences across the Floor of the House today. The Sunday Times said:No common ground exists, nor is any reconciliation possible between the conflicting views of the events from which they arose.That is clearly true. Hon. Members opposite may not have been trying to misrepresent us, but they have made some scathing remarks. The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) is a case in point. They just do not believe that there is anybody who is not thoroughly ashamed, and so on and so on.
They could not be more wrong. Let me proclaim, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers), without any reservation whatsoever, that I supported everything Anthony Eden did. I do not take back a word I said, and I would do it again without the slightest reservation. I was and am completely devoted to Anthony Eden and I do not regret it for one moment. I am just as sincere in that feeling—and I am sure that the hon. Member will give me credit for it—as the hon. Member for Torrington may be in holding the opposite view. I am also certain, as my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester pointed out, that there are many millions of people in this country who hold that view. It may be a pity that there is no common ground between us on that issue, but hon. Members opposite must not try to pretend that their view is accepted by the vast majority, because it is certainly not.
§ Mr. Paget rose—
§ Mr. Leather
Please. The hon. and learned Member has interrupted every speech this afternoon, without exception. He must restrain himself. I have promised to be brief.
The Leader of the Opposition, with what I thought the most amazing audacity, said that it was only because of the activities of the Labour Party during those unhappy events that Britain's prestige was held high anywhere in the world, and he referred in particular to the United States of America. He must know the position as well as I do. I have made three visits to North America in the last few months and I can say without a 110 shadow of doubt, without reservation, that from one end of the United States to the other, from the State Department to Chicago, Kansas City and San Francisco, in the whole of last year and during three visits I did not meet one American who was prepared to defend what Mr. Dulles did at the time of Suez.
The impression that there was any support abroad for the ideas of the party opposite is completely and utterly fallacious. I do not pretend to be an expert on the Middle East, and that, I suspect, I share with every other hon. Member. I find it impossible to understand how either the Leader of the Opposition or the hon. Member for Swindon, both with much greater knowledge of these matters than I can make dogmatic statements about Middle East policy and about getting on terms with Arab nationalism. How can one get on terms with something which changes every day? It is true that at the moment Colonel Nasser is accepted through most of the Middle East as the leader of this movement, but he has been there for only a few years, and there have been others before him.
It is only a matter of months since serious gentlemen, writing in serious Left-wing journals, were saying that the downfall of Nuri-es-Said was entirely the fault of the British Government and that, because of the stupidity of my right hon. Friends, at long last we had achieved what they had failed to achieve themselves; we had driven Iraq into the arms of Egypt, and that this would have the most appalling results. Four months later, Iraq and Egypt were denouncing each other as Communist hyenas and imperialist jackals, and Nasser managed to get both phrases into a speech about Kassem. Yet only a few months ago we were told that they were absolutely united because of the activities of this Government.
In September, the same kind of journals and the same kind of serious gentlemen, like the hon. Member for Swindon, were saying that because of our stupidity we had once again driven Nasser into the arms of the Communists, and that a great pact had been signed between the Egyptians and the Communists. But the following week the Egyptians locked up all the Communists, and they are now denouncing each other. Our minds go back to the recent interventions in Jordan and the Lebanon. We 111 do not hear much about them now, but at the moment when delegates from those countries in the Middle East were sitting down in New York signing a pact of blood brothership their leaders back in their own countries were threatening each other with assassination. It seems rash and unrealistic to make these dogmatic assertions of what should and should not be done, and what is or is not the fault of Her Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
The Middle East has been a politically unstable area for many years—and much more so since Suez than before, in my opinion. But politicians come up and go down, and Governments change, even in this part of the world. The idea that the traditional aspiration for unity among all the Arab States is something that shifts and changes is unrealistic. It has been there for generations, and it will go on. When it is achieved, it will be a powerful factor in ending the present chronic instability. We are simply flying in the face of history if we try to oppose that process.
§ Mr. Leather
The hon. Member apparently sees these things much more clearly than I do. It is very rash to say that we have to reconcile ourselves to this strange chameleon called "Arab nationalism," which changes as often as we look at it. I cannot share the hon. Member's enthusiasm for Nasser. Nasser has stated that he is an enemy of our country. He started it; we did not. His radio puts out the most appalling propaganda against this country every day of the week, as it did even when Anthony Eden was doing everything he could to help Nasser to stabilise his position when he came to power. This attitude of "My country always wrong" is not one that appeals to hon. Members on this side of the House.
When the Leader of the Opposition finally managed to get to the terms of the pact, we had a sudden expression of enthusiastic and tender care on the part of the party opposite in respect of the rights of property. It was a new and amazing phenomenon. We have never heard it before. The right hon. Gentleman read us a great lecture about the way in which the Government were neglecting to fight for the rights of property. I hope that this indicates a slight change of view on his part—but I am 112 not naive enough really to be convinced of it. He used that argument today because it suited him, but he will argue to the opposite effect with equal passion tomorrow, if it should suit him to do so. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Sir T. Low) said, when the Socialists were in power there was no expression of feeling on their benches at the fact that some poor property owners in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia had not got the whole of their rights.
When the Argentine Railways were sold down the river to the Argentine Government, I do not recall the right hon. Gentleman telling us how passionately he felt about the rights of property. He said no such thing, and we know it. I do not pretend to know all the details of the rights of the unfortunate people who have been put into this difficult position.
The hon. Member for Torrington is the only person so far who has referred to the famous Don Pacifico incident. I looked up reports of that incident, and I read some of the rather odd names of the people in Egypt who were supposed to be old English country squires, and I was a little puzzled. The case of Don Pacifico occurred in 1850, when that great docile and quiet Liberal, Lord Palmerston, was at the Foreign Office. He ordered the Royal Navy to barricade the harbour at Piraeus, and was on the verge of declaring war with Greece over their treatment of a British subject who, it was later discovered, had been living in Greece all his life, whose parents were Portuguese, and who had been born in Gibraltar.
§ Mr. Leather
So that I do not feel quite so excited—and I have a suspicion that some of the excitement generated on the benches opposite is a little synthetic —when hon. Members opposite tell us how impassioned we must be in our protection of the rights of people who may or may not at some stage have asked for the protection of Britain.
§ Mr. Bonham Carter
Is the hon. Member suggesting that there are two classes of British nationals—one consisting of people who, for some reason, are British because their names are British, and another consisting of those who are not really British because they happen to have parents whose names are not British? If so, that is a new doctrine
§ Mr. Leather
I agree that that can happen. I have said that I do not know all these people with these odd names. I suspect that there have been times, between 1945 and 1951, when some of the people concerned were thanking their lucky stars that their property was in Egypt and not in the United Kingdom, when the British Government of the day could have grasped it. I recall that this country had a capital levy. Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition would like to suggest that there should be some compensation for those who had their goods taken from them by way of their special contribution.
I do not feel that these charges are made seriously. When the right hon. Gentleman had finished quoting opinions with which he disagreed, he said that he did not think that we could take all this very seriously. I do not think that we can take his speech today very seriously. It was a purely party exercise, which contributed nothing to the study of the pact that we are considering.
My right hon. Friend dealt with that pact quite fully. There are three key points, which have been dealt with over and over again. My right hon. Friend the Member for Winchester put all kinds of questions to the party opposite, and I have no doubt that none of them will be answered. Throughout the whole of this operation, at no time has any hon. Member opposite suggested an alternative. When pressed, they utter the parrot cry, "Go back to the United Nations". That argument has been put forward and exploded on many occasions. I suspect that there is no difference between us as to the merits of this case, and that the row which the Leader of the Opposition has tried to stir up is completely synthetic, like his indignation.
The first part of the pact is concerned with far and away the biggest part of the British property in Egypt which has been handed back. Surely there cannot be any difference of opinion between us that that is a good thing. I entirely support what my hon. Friend for Winchester said. If the trouble in the Middle East had been allowed to go on unchecked, as it would have done, and if the Israelis and the Arab States had ended up by fighting a violent war, does anybody think that this Brutish property would not have been swept away, or that there would have been any compensation in respect of 114 anything? There would not, and everybody knows it.
At the time of the Suez affair the fighting was within a very few miles of the Shell Oil Refinery, which has been included in the negotiations. If the fighting had gone on any longer, if it had not been stopped by the Anglo-French intervention, does anybody think that the refinery would not have been blasted off the face of the earth? If it had been, does anybody think that the Shell Company would have received any compensation? Of course it would not, and we all know it.
The first basic fact is that the great bulk of the property has been handed back. The second basic fact is that all civil and commercial rights have been fully restored. Again, there cannot be any difference of opinion between us on whether that is a good thing.
We are left with the third point. It is admittedly a debatable argument, but I suggest that it is the only debatable argument between us. It is whether the terms of compensation for the rest, and much the smaller, part are the best that could have been obtained. I have heard no evidence put forward by anyone to suggest the contrary. I do not think that the terms are generous or satisfactory. They do not make me want to throw my hat in the air with joy.
§ Mr. Leather
No, that is quite untrue. I will vote for them, not only because they are clearly the best terms which could be obtained, but because no one in the House has put forward a single suggestion how they might have been improved. If anybody on the opposite benches had dealt with the point and had said that this third and much smaller section was the difference between us—that the Government had failed and should have done this or that—it would have been a serious argument to face. Nobody has attempted to make that argument from the opposite benches. It has never been mentioned.
115 Therefore, I repeat that I am sure that the Agreement is better than nothing. It is the best that could be secured in the circumstances. No one in any quarter of the House has put forward one suggestion on how it might have been improved. Therefore, there is not a very great deal on which we differ.
I should like to add my support to the views expressed by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) in his typically highly original contribution. To a greater or lesser extent—I do not pretend to his intimate knowledge—I have shared for a long time his views on the 700 people who worked in the base. Tonight at various times we have heard one Chancellor of the Exchequer and two ex-Chancellors of the Exchequer. I have a strong feeling that this kind of thing has happened under all of them. I have a very strong feeling that the culprits are not Governments, but the Treasury.
We seem in this country to have an almost invariable habit of treating our ex-overseas civil servants about as meanly as possible. Those 700 people, and many other overeas civil servants who have returned from serving in many parts of the Commonwealth and elsewhere, have been shockingly badly treated by the Treasury in the past. If the Government have powers under the Agreement or in any other way—whatever powers they are contemplating taking—I reinforce the plea heard from both sides of the house today for the most generous treatment for those people.
I emphatically support the Agreement. The alternatives are prefectly clear—support the Agreement with complete conviction, with a perfectly clear conscience, which is comparatively easy, or support the Leader of the Opposition, who has done only one thing today and that is to make it quite clear that he is determined to drain this issue to its bottommost dregs of partisan spite and rancour.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. John Diamond (Gloucester)
The hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather) has, unfortunately, destroyed the whole value of his speech by continually referring to almost everyone on this side of the House—and certainly to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—as being insincere To accuse the 116 Leader of the Opposition and almost all my hon. Friends, except my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), in such forthright terms of insincerity means that we must regard what the hon. Member said in the same light. If what the hon. Member said is insincere, it is not worth listening to.
I know that the hon. Member for Somerset, North speaks with sincerity. Why does not he concede to us what he himself expects? I know that the hon. Member speaks with sincerity, because that is the only possible justification for some of the extraordinary things that he said. That is the only justification for saying, for example, that he covered the length and breadth of America without succeeding in finding a single person who objected to the action taken at Suez by this country.
§ Mr. Diamond
The hon. Member's sincerity could be the only reason for saying to us, "If you did not believe in our going to war, what alternative could you have produced?" It is like a man in the dock, accused of murder, saying that he had no alternative except to commit murder. One does not have an altertive to an attitude like that. One dismisses it from one's mind completely and utterly.
§ Mr. Leather
The hon. Member is grossly misinterpreting what I said. I was very careful to draw a sharp distinction between the attitude of hon. Members—I referred to their thoughtful speeches—and that of the Leader of the Opposition. The suggestion of the hon. Member that I said that he or any of his colleagues were insincere is completely contrary to what I said. The hon. Member turned completely the other way round what I said about the United States. Obviously, he was not listening to me.
§ Mr. Diamond
I heard the hon. Member say that he had spent a considerable time in the United States, that he had covered a vast area—he mentioned the cities he had visited—and that he had not met a single person who was in any sense critical of our attitude at Suez.
§ Mr. Leather
I remember my words quite clearly, because I have used them many times, and I do not withdraw or 117 qualify them. I said that I did not meet one person who was prepared to defend the action taken by Mr. Dulles. That is the truth, and it is common knowledge. That is exactly what I said.
§ Mr. Diamond
I have, further, a recollection of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) asking, "Did the hon. Member meet Mr. Dulles?"
§ Mr. Diamond
That the hon. Member is sincere in his remarks is the only reason why we should pay any attention to what he said about the differentiation to be drawn between those with true British names and those without British names in their entitlement to justice and a fair deal. I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I say that we welcome the hon. Member in our midst because he has a Canadian accent and not in spite of it.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer twitted my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) for not being an experienced businessman, and by implication he claimed to be a businessman himself. I admit that. I admit even to being, to some very unimportant extent, a businessman, too, if only by claiming, as I have already told the Chancellor of the Exchequer privately, that a company where I have certain responsibilities buys goods from a company where he himself had certain responsibilities, on the ground that those goods are the best that are made.
Having established my business wisdom, in that sense, perhaps I may now proceed to question the business wisdom of the Chancellor and the Government in dealing with this business problem arising from this business dispute of Suez. In case what I say is a repetition of what may have been said many times before, I apologise for the fact that I was not in the House when the previous discussions on Suez took place. On the other hand, I do not think that it is harmful that one who was outside this Chamber at that time should bring into it now some of the reflections of a large number of 118 people who were not continually and closely affected by those discussions.
One does not start dealing in a business dispute by knocking down the man on the other side. That is not the ideal way to come to a satisfactory conclusion. It never occurs to one to adopt that method because—and this answers some hon. Gentlemen opposite—there is a variety of alternatives to hand. If one is absolutely satisfied that it is impossible to deal with the person on the other side of the dispute, one can go to law. If one believes one's case to be sound, one takes the other man to court. That was not done here.
If one is not anxious to incur the expense of a formal lawsuit, one can go to arbitration. In the long run, that is what the Government have done. They have, in fact, accepted the arbitration of Mr. Black. Why were they were not prepared to go to arbitration in the first place, as a sensible business man would do—and as, I am sure, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton would do in any business problem with which he was concerned?
If one does not want either to go to law or to arbitrate, one may then wonder whether a settlement may be negotiated. One then attempts to reach a satisfactory settlement with the other side. We are being asked to judge a settlement that has been negotiated, and most hon. Members opposite are very touchy when we attempt to relate the results shown in the White Paper with the antecedents that gave rise to it.
The Chancellor, as a businessman, knows that in negotiation the results depend entirely on the position from which one negotiates. One's main desire is to achieve a satisfactory negotiating position, a position of strength, so that one may be able to achieve the best results. To look at the results of a negotiation without looking at its background is utterly meaningless. It is quite impossible to decide whether the results are satisfactory without considering the respective positions of the bargainers at the beginning of the negotiations.
What the Government did was to reduce their bargaining position to the worst state possible, and how, in those circumstances, we can expect a result that can in any sense be satisfactory, I do not know. Anybody who wants to 119 sell a house knows that if he wants a reasonable price for it he should not empty it, go to a foreign country, and then, years later, say, "I must have some money for the house. Who is prepared to give me anything at all for it?" That is not necessarily the best way to get a good price for the house.
The best way to get something for the stores and installations was not to negotiate, in that position—with no rights, no possibility of coming back oneself or ever using them oneself. The best way to dispose of them was when we were there, when we might have been able to negotiate as between a willing vendor and a willing buyer. We should probably have got a very different figure. It should be remembered that the figure for putting in these installations, and for putting the stores into them, is £350 million at the present day.
A liquidator knows that if the situation is lost beyond hope, the business has closed down, the proprietor has gone, and everything is utterly hopeless and he has to sell immediately to whoever wants to buy whatever there is to be sold, he gets a very bad price indeed. That is not the comparison. That is not the way to look at it, nor, I am sure, is it the way in which the hon. Member for Somerset, North, with his business experience, would look at it. It is, therefore, really quite impossible to judge the results of this negotiation without studying the background—as my right hon. Friend did.
We are asked to approve this Agreement. It must be a very important agreement. It bears the names of the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Foreign Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Defence—what an Agreement! I have never known a Motion or Agreement being backed in this House by so many distinguished and important names. I am almost compelled to ask myself: was it necessary to have all these names? Does not the Agreement speak for itself? Are not the figures and the arguments enough, or do we need the signatures of all these distinguished members of the Treasury Front Bench to convince us that it is all right? How can we approve the Agreement—how can any intelligent man make the assessment—when he has not the information?
120 We are asked to approve £27½ million in compensation. In compensation for what? The Chancellor would not tell us. He gave us only a very slight indication in his statement on 2nd March, and he refused point blank to tell us this afternoon. He says that he does not know. Is that the basis on which he accepted the Agreement? Is the right hon. Gentleman really saying that the Government approved this settlement because they did not know how much the claims were likely to be?
Is the right hon. Gentleman really telling us that nobody in his Department, or in Cairo, was able to make an approximate, intelligent guess or assessment of what the claims were likely to total? Of course he was able to do so—and my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne has this moment indicated to me that the loans would not have been made unless the Government had been quite sure that the claims would be very considerably more than that amount. I am sure that this must be the case. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite are not so incompetent and irresponsible as to ask for approval of an Agreement without having facts to convince them that it was fit for approval.
Why does not the Chancellor tell us what the estimate was, and what we are asked to approve. What sort of anticipated liability is the £27½ million, in this limited area of the Agreement, intended to cover? This is the sort of estimate that Governments make every day. They make it when the Estimates and the Supplementary Estimates are submitted each year. Every businessman has to make this sort of estimate. Everybody who lends money has to estimate how much of it is likely to be good and how much of it is likely to be bad.
Everybody who insures has to estimate the likely claims. Everybody who underwrites at Lloyds has to do that. How is it that in this one case, in which the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, old Uncle Tom—I beg pardon—and the Minister of Defence are all involved, there should be withheld the information that is vitally important to enable every intelligent back bencher on both sides of the House to decide whether or not to accept the Agreement?
That is why I have no doubt that the Amendment refers in appropriate and 121 somewhat guarded language to the Agreement. Of course, we accept that some settlement should be made, but without the necessary information I do not know how we can say whether it is appropriate. There will certainly be a balance—the sum by which the claims will exceed the amount available.
I now turn to the more fundamental point of who should bear that cost. I was not unduly touched by the enormous concern shown by so many hon. Members opposite for those who might be suffering. I was not unduly touched by the fact that they should have given such priority to this one aspect of such a tragic situation. Nevertheless, I am certainly impressed with the argument that it would be wholly wrong for a small section of the population to suffer for what is, after all, a national disaster.
But I would go much further. Who should bear the cost, this difference between the liability which has got to he met and the money which is there to meet it, this excess over the £27½ million? I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer as an experienced businessman and company director. Who would have been called upon to bear this cost if the directors of a company had entered into transactions which were beyond their powers? I ask any member of a local authority, who would have been called upon to bear the cost if members of a local authority had entered into transactions beyond their powers? Of course, the individuals themselves—those who had entered into this transaction—would have been called upon to bear it. The councillors themselves, the directors themselves, would have been called on.
What I want to know is whether or not the Government can justify democratically that they had adequate authority to undertake this warlike operation. This is a very fundamental point about which there is enormous unease outside this Chamber. How did it arise? Either on the say-so of one man, and an ill man at that, or on the say-so of, at the most, three men, this country was plunged into warfare and these costs incurred. Was this matter discussed with the Cabinet, and did they therefore have the authority, through the Cabinet, of this House and of the people of this country, or was it an action entered into without full authority and responsibility? The 122 Government either have to justify their authority or stand convicted that they themselves should bear this cost which individuals are being called upon to suffer.
I turn to the most fundamental argument of the lot. I do not know what hon. Members felt in 1956 when the news of the attack was given. I can only say what I felt outside this House. I felt more ashamed than I have ever felt in my life. There was I, a citizen of a country which, probably within the living memory of everybody in the world, had shown itself to be willing to go to war for honour and against aggression; here was my country doing the one thing by which the peace of the whole world would be in danger—taking aggressive action and being convicted as an aggressor. This was the most shameful day of my life when this news was conveyed to me. I take the view that the Government of the day is my Government, whatever its colour. The Prime Minister of the day is my Prime Minister, whatever his party. They are responsible for the affairs of my country, and I was ashamed.
This Agreement has been reached, and I am glad that it has been reached. It disposes of some matters of arithmetic; it disposes of some matters of money. But that is not the greatest thing that remains to be disposed of. There remains to be re-established our good name. Are we a nation to be trusted, or are we once more to be put down as Albion perfide for generations to come? There is only one way in which I think we can restore our good name—the name hinted at by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) when he read from an article the suggestion that we should now retreat gracefully and admit part of the blame.
It is the accepted procedure in this House, when any Member admits a mistake and apologises, for the apology to be accepted and for his stature and prestige to rise immediately. We shall suffer no loss of face by admitting that what we did physically, namely, to withdraw, we should now do verbally and withdraw. We should suffer no loss of face and no lack of dignity. We should thereby recommence the period which everyone in this House wants to see restarted—a period when this country's honour will once more be accepted throughout the world.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I wish to intervene for a few minutes to answer the Leader of the Opposition who quoted me out of context this afternoon in a criticism of the Foreign Secretary. I should like to say that, though I have intensively disagreed with the Foreign Secretary on many aspects of foreign policy during the last two years, I still retain a deep personal affection for him. I have, however, found that my position has varied from his because my point of view has always appeared to me to be so crystal clear.
It seemed to me that the most serious fault at Suez, once we had committed ourselves to force of arms, was that we did not carry it through, first by strength and then by continuation, such as we could have done, of the economic blockade. Once it was decided that we were not going to carry these measures through, it never appeared to me that we had any alternative but to come to terms with the Government of Egypt. Consistently for two years I had said that we must do one thing or the other—either determine to bring down the head of the Egyptian State or come to terms with him. But if we carried on the policy that we were doing, we would achieve nothing but the worst of both worlds. It seems to me that that is what this Agreement has achieved—something infinitely worse that what we could have got two years ago. We get less money and we accept terms that bring hardship to our businessmen and technicians.
I remember talking to Colonel Nasser in Cairo about twenty months ago. Though it is impossible to give credence to everything that he says, I think that there was little doubt them that we should have obtained £40 million instead of the £27½ million which we now get. Our technicians suffered for two years and British prisoners still remain in an Egyptian prison.
It seems to me that one of the omissions of this debate is that there has been no reference from either side of the House, at any rate, in my hearing, to the fact that the settlement has been made without one condition being the freedom of Swinburne and Zarb. Their case was something of a symbol of willingness to conciliate and to come to an agreement on the part of Nasser. I 124 cannot but think it was a great psychological mistake not to have insisted that their release should have been one of the terms of the Agreement.
In suddenly agreeing to these terms now, we make an absolute nonsense of our foreign policy towards Egypt in the last two years. How can any of those actions which were half-hearted attempts at bringing down the Government of that State, in refusing to trade with them and in not agreeing to conditions, be substantiated today when we make this Agreement with faults in it that are so obvious that they hardly need expression? I was relieved that the Chancellor of the Exchequer confined himself to the discussion of figures in his usual able way.
Having been in agreement with the Opposition for perhaps nearly the whole of my short speech, I should now like to make two comments about the Leader of the Opposition. It seemed to me a very great fault in the right hon. Gentleman's behaviour that, once we were committed to the military operation at Suez, he excited such violence in the Opposition. I feel that, had he not excited that violence, the military operation would have been carried to a conclusion more successful than that we are discussing today.
§ Viscount Lambton
Also, the right hon. Gentleman, in a certain sense, is shedding crocodile tears over the position of British businessmen in Egypt, for Nasser's hand has been consistently strengthened by the attitude of many members of the Labour Party who have endlessly pressed for a settlement of any kind, at any cost.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)
The noble Lord the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton) told the House that he intervened for a few minutes because his words had been quoted out of context by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. i must say that every word the noble Lord uttered in his speech proved exactly the point that my right hon. Friend was making. Indeed, far from having to quote extracts of newspaper articles in the future, my right hon. Friend may content 125 himself with quoting the speech which the noble Lord has just made.
The noble Lord has made a devastating case against the settlement at which the Government have arrived. He pointed out that if we had attempted to do something earlier, as the Opposition suggested, we could have had £40 million instead of £27 million. He made other unanswerable points against his own Front Bench. I hope that, having written the article which my right hon. Friend correctly quoted, and having made the speech to which we have just listened, the noble Lord will follow us into the Lobby tonight.
§ Viscount Lambton
I said that my words had been quoted out of context because tie paragraph quoted was concerned with American opinion of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.
§ Mr. Thomson
I do not have the article in my hand, but I have just listened to the noble Lord's speech, which underlined and emphasised everything which the Leader of the Opposition said. I fail to understand how a Member of the House who has made that kind of speech can himself go into the Lobby in support of the Government. We shall be interested to see what the noble Lord does in the light of what he has said.
§ Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)
Whether it be true or not that the noble Lord's words were quoted out of context because, as he says, the paragraph was dealing with the American attitude, he was, in that article, saying that the Americans had heard the Foreign Secretary say what, in fact, was written in the article, as quoted by my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Thomson
The noble Lord might have added that the negotiations for the Agreement were conducted at certain stages with the same incompetence which characterised the military operation at Suez in the first place. One month after the Agreement was initialled we had the very interesting spectacle of the Government discovering that it had initialled an agreement on the Smouha properties which was wildly out in terms of any sort of proper valuation.
§ Viscount Lambton
I am not trying to evade anything, but I can, I think, save the hon. Gentleman a certain amount of 126 time if I repeat what I said before. I believe that, if one wants to have a successful foreign policy, one must adopt one of two methods. One must either adopt force and carry it through, or one must compromise, and compromise without leaving behind eventualities which will, without any doubt, destroy one's policy.
§ Mr. Thomson
I could not agree more with what the noble Lord has said. I reiterate, therefore, that we expect him to follow us into the Lobby tonight.
I was pointing out that the course of the negotiations brought us further humiliations over and above those which we suffered at the time of the Suez operation itself. We had the spectacle of Government negotiators initialling an Agreement and then finding that they had made a quite astonishing blunder in the course of doing so.
No; that is just not in accordance with the facts. After the initialling of the Agreement it was found that one item in it required some further clarification because it did not seem to agree with some of the information which had been given at one of the previous discussions. In the light of the clarification which was ultimately given, it was found that the original Agreement was, in fact, very close to the final solution which was reached, and no great changes were necessary.
§ Mr. Thomson
I accept, of course, what the Chancellor has said so far as it goes, but I must remind him that there was a gap of a number of weeks between the initialling of the Agreement and the final signing of it. During those weeks it was generally agreed that a great deal of the good will which had been gained by arriving at the Agreement was dissipated. I will quote the remarks which the correspondent of the Daily Telegraph in Cairo made at that time. He said:It is still asked how it was possible that the British negotiators only woke up to the existence of the Smouha problem after they had initialled the Agreement.That remark was made by a Conservative newspaper and the same thing was said by many correspondents in the Middle East at the time. Of course, this is only one of a great number of humiliations heaped on us over this business. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) was very 127 frank about it, and I think we all respected what he had to say. We are becoming accustomed to humiliations being thrust on us by the Government. We have just had a situation in Cyprus where the British Government have handed over to two foreign Governments the right to grant freedom to part of the British Commonwealth. In negotiating this Agreement, the British Government had to call in an American banker and enlist his assistance in concluding the negotiations.
When we remember some of the things which were said from the benches opposite about the American Government during the course of the Suez operation, it is no wonder to us that hon. Members opposite feel a deep sense of humiliation. We on this side are sometimes charged with being critical of the American policy in various respects, but I think that it is generally agreed among outside observers—I have heard this remarked on by a number of American correspondents in this country—that never had anyone heard such anti-American feeling as was to be found on the benches opposite during the course of the Suez operation. Yet this agreement, which, for all the criticisms made of it, we are still glad to see arrived at, was concluded with the help of an American banker.
We also had the most unfortunate spectacle during the closing stages of the negotiations of Her Majesty's Government offering diplomatic recognition to the Egyptian Government and being very brusquely turned down. This is another example of the gross ineptitude of the Government in conducting these affairs from the very beginning of this dreadful episode.
§ The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. John Profumo) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Profumo
I did not, but I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I wanted to indicate that it simply is not in accordance with the facts to say that during the negotiations we offered diplomatic relations with the Egyptians and were brusquely turned down. There have not been any diplomatic negotiations in regard to this Agreement which 128 have not been attained. The only diplomatic agreements which we have arrived at are those which were agreed by the Egyptians and which were never subject to any misunderstanding.
§ Mr. Thomson
I can only say that I accept what the Minister says, but my information was that it was suggested during the negotiations that there should be diplomatic recognition. We on this side, of course, would like to see that brought about.
§ Mr. Thomson
After that word from my right hon. Friend, I will leave it at that.
I want to point out to the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the whole Suez adventure has meant in terms of our reputation abroad. I do this with a certain amount of personal diffidence, because the Chancellor was the leader of a Parliamentary delegation, of which I was a member, to India, Pakistan and Ceylon in November and December of last year.
I am sure that the Chancellor could have been left in no doubt, as I was left in no doubt, that the overwhelming majority of the Commonwealth countries profoundly disagreed with the British Government taking us into this act of aggression in Suez. Indeed, in India I was left in no doubt that it was the action of the Opposition in this House in giving voice to widespread public anxieties and feelings of shame throughout the country that helped to hold the Commonwealth together. These opinions were also expressed in Pakistan and Ceylon, the other Commonwealth countries we visited. As the Chancellor will recollect, the delegations at that conference represented the whole of the Commonwealth, and among so many people from so many different parts of the world the same sort of point of view was expressed.
We hoped that the Government had learned their lesson, that the Suez policy, apart from its other immoralities, was regarded throughout the whole world and throughout the Commonwealth, which is by a great majority a coloured Commonwealth, as an attack by a developed white nation upon an under-developed coloured 129 nation. If there is one way in which to absolutely wreck any hope of Britain giving a constructive lead towards world peace, it is to engage in that kind of action.
As I say, we hoped that the Government had learned their lesson. I hoped that this settlement, for all its defects, would be the starting point for a new chapter in our relationships with the coloured peoples of the world, but at the moment we are discussing this Agreement the Government have once again started to use force, and to agree in the use of force, against the coloured peoples of another part of Africa. In Nyasaland the Government are in great danger of committing the same kind of blunders in slightly different circumstances, but in principle the same as those committed in Suez in 1956. We hope that the Government will yet turn their back on this course of action and realise the folly of using force in this way in their relationship with colonial or under-developed peoples. We hope that this Agreement is the starting point of a new chapter in the Middle East.
I do not think that anybody with any experience of the problems of the Middle East feels that this will be easy. Apart from the tremendous feelings of bitterness which we are bound to have left behind in this area because of our actions during the Suez campaign, the relationships that exist in that part of the world, particularly between the Arab countries and Israel, make it a peculiarly difficult area in which to tackle these problems.
I have recently returned from a visit to Israel. One can see how deep are the quarrels between the Arab countries and the new country of Israel. I have brought back with me two pictures which illustrated for me the kind of problem which we face in this part of the world. One was of visiting a health centre in Jerusalem and seeing the children being treated by doctors and discovering that those children, who were immigrants of only a year or two standing from countries with very low living standards, had an infant mortality rate of about 35 per thousand. That is about the infant mortality rate in my own constituency. It is a remarkable achievement in a very short time. A mile or two across the Jordan frontier one found infant mortality rates of 250 and 300 per 130 thousand. That kind of inequality in human living conditions is terribly dangerous. When linked with political quarrels, such as those between the Arabs and the Jews, it is highly inflammable.
The other picture is of going to look at the United Nations at work on the Gaza frontier. There I found myself standing beside what had been in different times the Beirut to Cairo railway, but which is now rusty, almost overgrown and has nearly disappeared beneath the desert. On one side of the disused level crossing some young men from Sweden, members of the United Nations Force guarded their side of the frontier under the United Nations flag. On the other side, some young men from Israel were guarding their side of the frontier under the Israeli flag. One had a picture of the Middle East in the year 1958. This was a railway which could have been carrying goods and commerce between the two sides of the frontier and playing its part in modern communications and in raising living standards, but it was completely paralysed because of this bitter quarrel.
In considering means for trying to resolve this difficulty, I came to the conclusion that one had to make a start, first, by guaranteeing the frontiers, and, secondly, within the framework of that guarantee, by making a big effort to raise the living standards of the Arab countries. I suppose that the poverty of the Arab countries is as great as anywhere in the world. One of the reasons why Nasser's nationalism has its dangerous aspects is that Colonel Nasser has found himself leader of a country where it seems at times almost impossible to take the first steps towards economic betterment. This is the reason why the original withdrawal of the offer of aid for the Aswan Dam was so criminally stupid. It was the very thing to drive Nasser into the sort of activities which we now deplore.
Somehow, we must give the Arab countries that initial help which will start them on the road towards economic progress. If we can do that, we shall give their young people, particularly the young intellectuals who will become the leaders of these countries, a greater interest in raising the living standards of their peoples than they have at present in destroying the new State of Israel. At the moment, so much of the feeling of 131 aggressiveness towards Israel is because they find their own economic problems so insoluble and can deal with them only by going outwards.
In conclusion, it is interesting to speculate on what the position in the Middle East would be today if the large sums of money which we have wasted or lost in one way or another over the Suez venture had been used not for these purposes but as part of a United Nations effort to raise living standards throughout the Middle East. I am sure that that is the way we must go ahead. We must start with a guarantee of the frontiers, and within that guarantee we must make a generous effort to raise living standards throughout the whole of the Middle East.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) made a particularly valuable contribution to the debate, as he spoke with some up-to-date knowledge, having just returned from the Middle East. I want later in my speech to follow his arguments in some respects but first, I think, it would be wise for me, as is the custom of the House, to declare my interest. It is the custom to declare one's interest when one is discussing a problem like this.
People have often said to me, "I suppose that you own some shares in the light railways of Egypt or some shares in Mitchell, Cotts and Company Limited". For the benefit of the Daily Express reporters, who now need not trouble my very young secretary by trying to get information out of her, I have no interest, financial or otherwise, in Egypt at all. My only interest in Egypt is that which will be common to any man of sense, which is to obtain some form of co-operation and good will between two peoples who have had a long and honourable association for nearly 300 years.
If ever there were a paper which was responsible for misleading public opinion in this country at the time of the Suez crisis it is, I believe, that national paper. It falls straight on the shoulders of that national paper.
§ Mr. Yates
I do not mind about Beaverbrook. He is in the south of France.
Some of the articles which have appeared in that paper have formed public opinion in this country so that it has played straight into Communist hands. It has so distorted the outlook of the average person in our homes that it has absolutely betrayed the British public. I have read the leading article today entitled, "Get behind the Premier", and I hope that this is a change for the better.
Let me deal with one aspect of foreign affairs which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price), who also speaks with authority on the Middle East. I believe that there is one international maxim of foreign policy which must never be forgotten—that a country, through its policy and its leaders, must never put itself into a position where the alternative is either loss of face or war. The sooner the leaders in this country and in the world get this into their heads, the better.
Having let off that sally, I will turn to the Agreement, but hon. Members need not worry; there will be more to come. I have not been involved in the Agreement, but I was in Cairo during the time the Agreement was being negotiated and had discussions with Dr. Kaissouni in 1957 about how far Her Majesty's Government were progressing in the matter. I think that the Government have had a very difficult problem with which to deal, and I should like to pay particular tribute to the members of the Treasury and the Foreign Office who spent an enormous amount of time in preparing this Agreement. Nor would it be a bad idea if, on this occasion, someone mentioned with approval and the thanks of the House the Swiss representatives who have protected our interests all these years. They have not only protected our interests in business but have seen to it week after week that Mr. Swinburne and Mr. Zarb have received proper treatment. If I do not achieve anything else in the debate, I hope that that view will commend itself to the House.
The Agreement will, I fear, lead to some serious difficulties. I will not forecast them, but I wish those who are sitting on the Commissions the very best of luck in a very difficult problem.
133 May I return to one or two of the main points about which the business community from Egypt, in this country, have told me. The first are the formalities of desequestration. It must be remembered that when companies or private individuals received their properties back—that is to say, those Frenchmen ho returned—they were asked to sign a document of indemnity which completely freed the sequestrator and any third party from any actions being brought against them. I hope that the Prime Minister will tell me about this, because it seems to me an important problem.
It has been said that visas will be provided for those who were forced out of Egypt at the time—that is to say, not only visas to return but a right to reside in the country and resume business. What is to happen to those who left before 5th November voluntarily and of their own accord? Are they covered by the Agreement or will they have additional difficulties in getting back to Egypt?
May I mention one other aspect which gives rise to some anxiety? I turn to page 18 of the Agreement and to the Note signed by Dr. Kaissouni in Cairo on 28th February, 1959, which reads:It is understood that the United Arab Republic authorities concerned may withhold permission in particular cases or may grant it subject to compliance with specified conditions.This refers to people who want to take up business in Egypt. It is indeed a very difficult problem, and I should like the Prime Minister to give me some examples of cases in which he thinks the Egyptian Government might not allow a British person to set up his business or to go back and commence business in that country. What, for example, are "the specified conditions"? May we be told what those conditions are?
§ Mr. Awbery
Before the hon. Member leaves the question of compensation, may I remind him that he has forgotten one section of men? The Government instructed the pilots on the Suez Canal to withdraw their labour and to come home. Those men did that under the instruction of our Government. The hon. Member is leaving them out in his consideration of the question of compensation.
§ Mr. Yates
Perhaps the hon. Member would allow me to give the facts as I know them. We can dispute them afterwards. I went out there and went into this most carefully.
They were asked by the Suez Canal Company to come out on a given day, and the day chosen was 14th September, 1956. If they carried out this task which was allotted to them—and I understand that the letters were prepared in the French Consul-General's Office in Ismailia—they would receive adequate compensation from the Suez Canal Company itself. I believe that that compensation was paid in full. So far I have had no letters from anybody saying that they did not receive compensation from the Suez Canal Company. If the hon. Member wants to say that those pilots, by carrying out an indirect instruction of Her Majesty's Government in leaving their jobs, left them open to be taken over by Russians or Czechs or Americans, whoever did turn up, I think he must satisfy the Front Bench that those instructions were sent.
§ Mr. Awbery
I am asking the Government to give consideration under this agreement to those men who lost their employment for all time, not only for a period.
§ Mr. Yates
I do not think that this is a subject very easily discussed in a triangular movement across the Front Bench. They may object to it. I am sure that the Front Bench have observed the very valid observations, and if they think that they were responsible for ordering the pilots out on that day, that is different. I have said myself at the Llandudno Party Conference that that is so and I do not want to repeat it now.
When one looks at the Agreement as a whole and remembers the conversations one has had with the interested parties, one comes to the conclusion that, provided the Government do not debar 135 themselves from giving additional compensation if we find that the figures are mistaken, provided they do not debar claimants from that, at the present moment it is one well worth working on. I am not in any way saying that I think that it is absolutely foolproof, but I think that for the moment it is the best thing to start working on at this time.
The problem about the people from Egypt was that there were many of them and they were all divided into various categories, and as a result it was very difficult for the British Chamber of Commerce, which came over here, to organise all the opinions of the various sections of people who were expelled from Egypt.
We have all heard of the pleas made in the other place by Lord Killearn for those who had large assets in Egypt. We have also heard pleas in particular for the great business companies. The Government have paid great attention to those who had to leave the country and were not in a position to say that they had any assets immediately available. However the Opposition may feel about it, they must be frank and fair and say that the amount allowed to those who were forced out of Egypt and came into this country was quite reasonable for the time being.
The British Chamber of Commerce which came over here from Egypt therefore found it very difficult to get any leadership in deciding how it should negotiate its claims. All the time it had one principle in mind. The big man said, "If I go back and get what I can on my own, might I not be prejudicing the right of somebody very much smaller who might possibly not get his due?" That was a laudable and commendable principle for this Chamber of Commerce to have adopted but, of course, there was another point of view which was put forward by Her Majesty's Government. They said, "Do not do anything on your own without our particular form of approval, because you might prejudice an agreement for all concerned." I cannot justify a statement of that sort. It is for the Front Bench to justify that line. I do not understand why that was necessary and why the Government should not have got on to the present Agreement very much quicker.
My experience and the letters that I have received confirm that as a start this 136 Agreement should be accepted as a working proposition. Somebody writing to me said:An Agreement has been signed and we are before reality. It had to come and we were sufficiently warned. No use screaming now—we have only ourselves to blame for not acting more energetically earlier, and putting constructive suggestions to Her Majesty's Government.That was written by a person who has known a great deal about the situation ever since 1956. Although the Agreement is not itself satisfactory as a final solution, it should be accepted as a working proposition for the moment.
The debate has raised very important problems. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Sir T. Low) raised a great issue which is worrying many of the creditor countries in America and Europe. What security is there for a company or businessman who puts up money to help develop underdeveloped countries and suddenly finds that there is a revolution and all the money is gone? We should be thinking about this sort of problem now. I mentioned it in debate in December. Luckily, when I was on a Parliamentary visit to Germany, I found that the economic experts of the West German Government are also considering this. They have a great deal of capital which they would like to see used in foreign countries to help develop natural resources. They would like to see more money go to Egypt and the underdeveloped countries of Africa and Asia, but the Germans have suffered terrible financial crashes in the past and they want to be quite certain that any money put into those countries will be safe for the investors.
One thing, therefore, that the Government call well do is to support the negotiations now being worked out in the O.E.E.C. to discover whether there is a method by which all Governments who wish to see their capital going into underdeveloped countries can establish some form of insurance fund to cover the risk involved.
The refugees present another tragedy of the past in the Middle East and should be remembered at this time, since we have had many speeches today dealing with the troubles on the borders of Israel and the Arab States. I do not see how we can call ourselves a civilised country unless we give our full support 137 to the United Nations Emergency Force by providing our share of the money required for it. We must also support fully the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency which is at work in that part of the world. What have the refugees to hope for unless we provide an opportunity for them to reestablish themselves in another part of the Arab world? The more we can help in resettlement, especially in areas short of labour, such as Kuwait and Bahrein, the better.
We must also ensure that sufficient money is forthcoming from the nations who subscribe to the present education programmes in the refugee camps, since the only hope for the people in them is that the education they receive there will fit them for jobs elsewhere. It would he an act of barbarity on our part, therefore, if we failed to provide our share of the funds needed for these projects. I fear that the problem of the refugees will remain with us for a long time, but we must be sure that the Government supports to the maximum extent possible the agencies which are trying to bring help to those in the camps. Hon. Members who have visited them must know the despair one feels at the thought that many of the people concerned left their homes in 1947.
I want to return for a few moments to the main subject of this debate, the Suez crisis, and all it has meant in unhappiness as regards divided homes. The minds of many people are still fixed on Suez. They cannot get away from Suez. It is an expression like "World War One" or "World War Two". It is high time that we stopped thinking about Suez, since it is not a problem which confronts people in this country today. I know that the Opposition have a duty to find anything which would be of electoral value or which it seriously believes to be of importance, but of all the re-hashed, re-heated dishes, Suez is the worst, and the average person in this country is absolutely fed up with it.
I believe that the Leader of the Opposition has made a bad psychological mistake. The right hon. Gentleman does not realise how much people wish to forget Suez [Laughter.] All I can say to hon. Gentlemen opposite who are laughing is that some of the remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition, 138 both at the time of Suez and today, are regarded with anger and contempt. The Leader of the Opposition has asked the country to pass judgment. I believe the right hon. Gentleman has made a bad psychological mistake, and that many of our people feel that what the then Prime Minister said and did at the time was right. I did not associate myself with it at that moment.
This Agreement, by fair-minded people, by those who have been involved in it, including the Chamber of Commerce in Egypt, is a fair working proposition to start with, but there is the final work to be done. We have the future to think of—the future of our country's prosperity and the future of our relations with the Arab world.
I repeat that it is high time that we re-established our diplomatic relations with the Arab world and took into account much more the feelings of the Afro-Asian people, because it is on the feelings of the Afro-Asian people that the future will depend. It is that part of the world which is so vital to us. I commend the restoration of relations with Egypt.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I suggested to the Select Committee on Procedure five-minute speeches, and now I have a chance to make one lasting three minutes.
At the end of his speech, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition referred to guilty men who might be put on trial. He pointed out that the Prime Minister was a member of the Government which made it a personal crime against international law to prepare a war of aggression. That is not the crime to which I am about to refer. I wish to refer to the Prime Minister's part in the Suez adventure.
If war was justifiable, then at least we should have made the preparations which were necessary. The Prime Minister was then the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He had been in all the preparations and all the plotting up to his neck, and then, on the final day, when our troops were committed, when we had incurred casualties, he went to the Cabinet and said, "You must call it off because the Americans are threatening the £." Was ever a war called off for more sordid reasons?
139 After all, if one is going to have a war, among the preparations for that war are the financial ones. Each time we have gone to war we have been prepared to freeze our currency and take the financial consequences. War was chosen this time, but the financial consequences, when brought to bear, constituted the factor that stopped it.
If the Prime Minister wishes to deny this, we shall hear him. It has been stated very clearly by Randolph Churchill and has not been disputed. It bears every tab of credibility. Suddenly, we find the war called off. The one who was the leading warmonger suddenly changes sides after a telephone call to America. This is a singularly disgraceful performance, and in a highly discreditable incident nobody bears greater discredit.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
I should like to say a few words upon one aspect of this Agreement before I come on to my main contention. It has been agreed, it seems to me, in all parts of the House that the sum of money set aside for compensation is inadequate and that if it should turn out to be inadequate it is reasonable, in the peculiar circumstances of the Suez adventure, that the Government should find an additional sum. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was rather ambiguous on this subject this afternoon and we want to press him. I hope that the Prime Minister will find it possible to be clearer than was the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I should like to put the matter in its proper context.
I entirely agree with the Government that it would be wrong for compensation to be paid for loss by British nationals abroad arising out of a war. That would be an intolerable burden and we cannot possibly support such a principle from this side of the House. I hope that it will be understood that when this additional money is found it will not be found for companies which would not reasonably be entitled to receive it. For example, when we talk about damage to sequestrated property, I hope that the oil companies will not be included in that classification because we would regard it as very ironical if the taxpayers of this country were asked to pay compensation for damage done to the proper- 140 ties of the oil companies when quite a considerable amount of the leverage behind the Suez movement was for the protection of the oil companies. I hope that we shall not be misunderstood there.
If there is general agreement in all parts of the House that there ought to be compensation, or an additional sum found, I hope that hon. Members opposite will understand what they are saying when they say that. They are really saying that the Suez adventure was in a class by itself. It is not, therefore, open to them to say that the reason we went to war with Egypt was to stop the extension of war, because many wars have started that way. That would not establish the peculiarity of this particular war.
If hon. Members opposite want to argue that some compensation should be paid, they will have to agree with us that there was something quite distinctive about the Suez adventure. What was it? The distinctiveness about the Suez adventure was not only its insanity, not only the fact that it was carried out with extraordinary ineptitude, not only that it was completely morally indefensible, but that it happened in such a way as not to enable our nationals abroad to take any defensive measures at all; that is to say, they had no notice of it.
We had plenty of warnings of the Second World War. People could take evasive action. As I pointed out the other day, in a supplementary question, when I was at the Ministry of Health in 1947 we made plenty of preparations for giving temporary hospitality to Americans from the Continent of Europe in the event of the Berlin incident developing on tragic lines.
The trouble in this war was that our people abroad had no idea of what was to happen to them. They had no warning. They could not get away. It seems to us that in those circumstances there is a case for additional compensation if the £27 million proves to be inadequate, as we all assume it will. I hope that our position in this matter is quite clear and I hope that the position of hon. Members opposite is also quite clear and that they will not try to ride these two horses once more.
The Prime Minister has had a bad time today. I am rather sorry for him. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] After all, one does feel a bit like a bully on these 141 occasions. I have taken part in many of these debates on Suez and my pity for the Government mounts every time a debate takes place. The Prime Minister has had a particularly bad time today. He has been deserted by many of his followers, because they have attacked the Opposition.
Now, we ought to be thanked and not attacked, because we are giving the country and Parliament an opportunity of recalling the Prime Minister's heroic days. I have been astonished by some of the arguments used today. We have been reproached for going over this old question again. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has been attacked, most bitterly and most unfairly, when all he has been doing has been to give the Prime Minister an opportunity of showing his medals.
I have no less an authority for this than the Prime Minister himself. What did he say about himself in his usual modest way? On 12th November, 1956—and I remember looking at him with some amazement at the time—he said:I am sincerely convinced, having seen this happen twice in my lifetime, that the events of this period may prevent a third disaster coming to the world.I think that we made the right decision. When these moments come"—there was a tremulo in his voice at this stage: we remember it very well—then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward turns aside'".—[OFFICIAL REPORT,12th November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 690.]
§ Mr. Bevan
I am giving the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members opposite a chance to reflect on their past glories.
My right hon. Friend quoted the Prime Minister as saying that it might be that there would be a temporary misunderstanding and that he might himself suffer quite a bit, but that he was certain that we had taken the right decision and that as the years went by it would be recognised. Two-and-a-half years have gone by and it is time he was recognised.
It is altogether right, as the right hon. Gentleman is going to the United States of America, that he should be able to tell President Eisenhower that the House of Commons has had a final opportunity of reviewing one of his epic periods. He 142 will be going there with a few handicaps and he might as well have some advantages as well. The Daily Express has got behind him. If he comes home with a squint eye or crick of the neck, we will understand that. If one has something like that behind one, one must constantly look out to see what is about to happen to one. From now on, his career will run on the rocks. The Daily Express's smile is practically fatal.
When I listened to the Chancellor of the Exchequer today—I am sorry that he is not here—
§ Mr. Bevan
It is usual for the opener of a debate to listen to the hon. Member winding up. I was about to say that when the right hon. Gentleman was appointed to his present office—and I say this with no disrespect to him—I had a conversation with a member of the public who said to me, "This chap Heathcoat Amory. I have never heard of him. Is he going to be appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer?" I said, "Oh, no, shock absorber". That was precisely what his speech was today. It said nothing at all about the background, or about the circumstances giving rise to this Agreement. His speech just went over the figures, and they were quite remarkable.
When I was in the Canal Zone in 1954, going round with the Commander-in-Chief, he told me that there were between 75,000 and 80,000 soldiers there. I said, "Doing what?" He said "Guarding the stores." There were another 20,000 men guarding the guards, because the Egyptians work at night. There were we, with these men out there all the time—and some of my Service advisers have told me that by having them there we were ruining the Regular Army, and recruitment. Nothing did more damage to recruitment to the Regular Army than the knowledge that those men were living in exile, under appalling conditions and with hardly any decent domestic amenities.
Yet apparently we were guarding something of practically no value at all. Quite extraordinary. It is like early Russian arithmetic. Now it appears that 143 we can write these stores off as just a lot of useless ironmongery. We need not bother about them. We could have had these men home many years before. It would have done us and them a great deal of good, and we would not have lost anything by it. That is the assumption we get from the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech today.
The Prime Minister has had some support. The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers) made a speech which ought to be noted. Speaking about the Suez adventure, he said that it could not be said to be an unmitigated disaster. That is a remarkable example of Parliamentary myosis. Further, he said that it could not be said that we had completely united the Arab world against us. We are prepared to accept that support for the Government. Something has been snatched up.
We should like the Government and hon. Members opposite to make up their minds exactly what is their defence about Suez. The Prime Minister has told us that this will be one of the matters to be decided at the impending election. No one can complain at our doing our best to educate the nation. If we are to have this matter decided by the electorate, the more the electorate is educated the better, and I should have thought that hon. Members opposite, instead of attacking us, should be delighted that we have given them the opportunity of once more outlining their defence. They have told us that their real defence is that they stopped the war. The argument is that we went to war in October, 1956, to stop a war.
Unfortunately, sitting on the back benches opposite at the moment is the right hon. Member who was the Minister of Defence. He is a gallant soldier and a truthful man. He is not one to run away from his responsibilities. He has been making speeches since his resignation. He made one the other day, in which he said that now that he is no longer a Cabinet Minister he has time to think. We are prepared to bestow the same advantage on all the members of the Government. After all, why should they not be allowed to think? Perhaps that is the explanation of what happened at Suez: they could not think.
144 The right hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Head) made a speech on 16th December, 1958, in which he defended the Army against some of the reproaches made against it over the mishaps at Port Said. He said:When Nasser seized the Canal an operation was mounted, prepared to take over the Canal.Therefore, the decision to consider a military operation against the Canal was taken long before the invasion by Israel.
§ Mr. Bevan
I did not say that the Government had done it. I said "prepared".
In other words, the Government envisaged the possibility of military action against Egypt long before Israel attached. The right hon. Gentleman went on to elaborate on this. He went on to discuss the various arguments on how they would get here or there with what. I do not want to labour my argument by repeating irrelevancies. For instance, they discovered, after a lot of consideration, that they had to have a deep-water harbour. The geography of the Mediterranean was unknown to them, I suppose. They had the same difficulty in deciding what harbour they would use, as happened during the war when the then Prime Minister spoke about attacking the soft under-belly of the Axis and it was learned, to our consternation, that it rained in the Apennines in the winter. They had to have a deep-water harbour.
The right hon. Gentleman said:All I can say is that after a great deal of consideration and all the responsible military advice, both French and British, that course was unanimously rejected".He went on to say that what was accepted was that the Army should go into the strait waistcoat.
§ Mr. Bevan
It can be a jacket or a waistcoat; it does not matter. I admit that in the case of the right hon. Gentleman it ought to be a straitjacket. That is the kind of clothing that all the Government members should have had at that time. The right hon. Gentleman said that, having considered all those matters, it was decided that they should go into the straitjacket, there being no other way to go.
§ Mr. Bevan
The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that the Canal, after all, was the area of dispute—not Egypt, nor Cairo, but the Canal. That was the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. It was not to save the world from war. It was the Canal. I do not wish to add to the length of my speech by quoting too much from the right hon. Gentleman, but he is a first-class witness, because he was the Minister of Defence at the time. The right hon. Gentleman was making his speech. In fact, it was the only speech that we have had from that side that disclosed any of the inner secrets. He said:The Suez operation was placed, so to speak, in a strait-jacket so far as how it was to be executed by the fact of our getting out of Egypt."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1958; Vol. 597, c. 1071–2.]The right hon. Gentleman then speaks of other considerations, such as the deep-water port at Malta, and so on, but my point is that although it is quite true that the Government did not launch the operation until after the Israeli invasion, nevertheless, on the testimony of the right hon. Gentleman, he was instructed by the Cabinet to co-operate also with the French. He says so here. He says:All I can say is that after a great deal of consideration"—and all the responsible military advice could not have been given after the Israeli attack—it was contemplated by the Government at the time that, at some time or another when the moment was favourable, an attack would be launched to seize the Canal—
§ Mr. Bevan
We heard the speech at the time. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman did not express himself as he would have wished, but the only interpretation to be placed on his language is that immediately after the seizure of 146 the Canal he was asked to consider an operation mounted against the Canal; that a great deal of consideration was given to this military operation, and that the favourable psychological moment occurred, so the Government then believed, when the Israeli attack was mounted.
It is, of course, believed all over the world—and privately believed on those benches opposite—that there was collusion—[Interruption.] I have not spoken to anybody of any informed opinion in any part of the world who does not take the same view.
Right hon. Gentlemen opposite must face the facts. We have been asked today what would have happened had the Government not intervened to stop the war. Let me ask them another question: what would have happened had they succeeded? Have they ever thought about that? Have they ever thought, if they had not been so inept, if they had planned more wisely, if their surprises had succeeded and Great Britain and France had been along the banks of the Canal, what would have happened then? [An HON. MEMBER: "No trouble in the Middle East."] Mr. Speaker, this is what frightens me—when minds like that can still exist in the House of Commons. This is what is getting us into trouble all the time, and I do earnestly ask hon. Members to consider this a little more fundamentally.
What would have happened? Russia had warned us in two private letters that she would not accept this situation. We knew that we would be doing it entirely against the wishes of a very large part of the Commonwealth. We would have had to remain in Egypt to clear the Canal ourselves—a most desperate operation in a hostile country. We would have been losing lives on a very great scale even if no action was taken against us by the other Arab countries.
The fact is that if we had succeeded we would have caused a third world war. It would not have pacified the area—there is no doubt at all about that. That is why we on this side have raised this matter today. We want to get some sort of civilised way of looking at these questions. I note the grimaces on the face of the hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford (Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport). They have become almost 147 permanently entrenched. Since the development of modern weapons—and my right hon. Friend touched on this today —physical powers possessed by a State get into the hands of concentrated institutions, even into the hands of single men, and the more deadly those weapons become the less effective is political control apparently over their use.
This is a most serious matter. Here we were, informed by the Prime Minister that all the members of the Cabinet unanimously supported the policy of Sir Anthony Eden. T here was no dissenting voice. We have it on his own authority. Nevertheless, it was perfectly obvious that towards the end Sir Anthony Eden found himself in a sort of inescapable trap. He could not get back He could not disencumber his mind of the decisions he had always taken.
We were hoping that some kind of code of conduct would have been developed in the world under which these weapons would eventually be put under some form of international restraint, but so far it has not happened. Yet the concentration of power goes on. How many people in this House and in the world ever thought that we would have ten minutes' notice of an ultimatum being delivered against Egypt in the circumstances facing us at that time —obviously a decision taken not by cool people who had carefully weighed all the risks and who had made their plans objectively? It had not been done that way; if it had been done that way, it would not have been done so foolishly. It was done by people who had got themselves into a state of mind which made rational thinking almost impossible, and irrational actions followed from the absence of rational thinking.
If, therefore, we have no institutions by which these modern weapons can be controlled, if codes of international conduct have not been evolved which people will obey so as to keep the peace, there is only one thing for which we can ask—that that power, if it cannot be dispersed, shall be entrusted to the hands of people who will not use it unwisely and irresponsibly.
That is why we on this side of the House consider that the plenipotentiaries of this country going abroad today would be able to speak for Britain far more in the interests of peace and of international 148 negotiations if they had not this piece of monumental folly in their rear.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)
The provisions of this financial Agreement which we are discussing have been carefully explained by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer both in the statement which he made in this House on 2nd March and in greater detail today. The Agreement is a comprehensive settlement of all the financial matters which have been in dispute between the two countries and it must, therefore, be judged as a whole. I should like to repeat the tribute that has already been paid to Mr. Eugene Black for the assistance which he has given.
Certain very important points in the Agreement have been raised on both sides of the House and I will try to answer them. Let us, first, see how our own nationals are affected. The property which they had in Egypt falls into two main categories; first, that which was sequestrated, that is to say, temporarily placed under Egyptian control and managed by the Sequestrator-General's office, and secondly, that which was Egyptianised —nationalised, I think we call it over here.
This process of Egyptianisation or nationalisation did not begin at the end of 1956. It has been going on since 1952, and even before then; it has been a continuing process. I understand that the compensations have not always been of a very satisfactory character. Of course, that is a common feature of nationalisation, as least so far as the victims are concerned. Under this Agreement, all the property of our nationals is returned except that which has been nationalised. As regards this nationalised property, the question is whether the total claims will be fairly covered by the sum of £27½ million less any part of that sum which has to be devoted to compensation for damage to the sequestrated property. I do not think that it is possible to give an answer to this problem with accuracy until the Foreign Compensation Commission has done its work, but I should like to remind the House of one or two facts.
First, the number of claims in the Egyptianised category is not very large. They amount altogether to about 250, of 149 which, I understand, half are in respect of land and half are in respect of businesses. The House has been informed about the special position of the land, which was the subject of very complicated argument. In order to deal with this there has been the exchange of letters printed in the White Paper, the result of the final negotiation. Leaving out the land, it is perhaps worth noting also that of the total claims in respect of Egyptianised property, which amount to about £45 million, £38 million represents the claims of ten commercial concerns. That gives the picture of where we are in regard to the Egyptianised property—£45 million, of which £38 million is in respect of ten concerns.
I come now to the sequestrated property, the property just taken over and handed to the sequestrators, which is now to be returned completely. All of it is to be given back. If it is really given back in good shape, of course, no capital injury has been suffered. The claimed value of this sequestrated property, all of which is to be given back, is, of course, very large. It amounts to over £130 million, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made the point that all the balances we might hold did not cover all that.
I should like to tell the House of the divisions into which this sequestrated property falls. A very large proportion is covered by the claimed value of the Shell enterprise. I do not give the precise figure because I do not think that it would be wise to do so, but it is a very large proportion. There is no reason to suppose that it is not in good running order; it will simply be handed back to the Shell enterprise to conduct. The bank balances, cash and securities amount to about £23 million. A good deal of that —I have not the precise figure—is in land. If all this is given back, there is no reason to suppose that any depreciation or injury will have been done; cash, securities and land are not things which suffer by neglect.
The sum of £10 million is for buildings. One hopes that they have been kept in good repair, although, of course, in the case of some properties there may well have been neglect. The personal properly, including insurance policies and other sums due, amounts altogether to £7 million out of this total—out of the £130 million. Stocks of goods are claimed at £4½ million and plant and machinery at £3 million. These last items are ones in 150 which it is possible that losses have occurred, but I would point out that £7 million for personal property, £4½ million for stocks of goods and £3 million for plant are not a large but, indeed, a comparatively small part of the total claim of the value of the sequestrated property. I therefore do not believe this problem to be unmanageable. It is quite small in proportion.
While we will not here and now pledge ouselves to make any fixed addition to the total of £27½ million, as has been suggested in the debate, I can say now that the Government will watch how this works out and will play their part in reaching a settlement which will be reasonable and fair, and we do not exclude a further contribution from public funds. But, as I am sure the House will agree, while we must wait for precise calculations, for the final settlement, we must try to deal with any hardships and gaps that arise between now and a final settlement. But this point is worth remembering. Any general undertaking, such as that asked for in some quarters, given by Her Majesty's Government before agreement was reached, that we would stand behind and pay in full all British claims, would certainly not have resulted in a satisfactory agreement.
I must deal with the point about the £E5,000 to which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition made reference. That is the addition which each individual claimant may take out and repatriate. This amounts to about £3,750 sterling. There is, in addition, the right to take out jewellery and other personal and household effects.
There is provision for favourable consideration to be given for repatriating larger sums. Obviously, whether this is forthcoming will depend upon the general exchange situation, including the movement of capital in and out of Egypt. The right hon. Gentleman spoke as though there was something new in this limit of £E5,000. There is nothing new in it at all. Long before Suez and long before nationalisation of the Canal, for some six, seven or eight years—I have not the precise figures, but for many years—capital movements between Egypt and Britain were not allowed beyond £E5,000. That was the total. Therefore, the situation is restored to exactly what it was before.
151 A point has been raised about the Foreign Compensation Commission. It will, of course, be necessary to issue some sort of directive to this body, and the directive about the receipt of claims will be in the Order in Council. That is the answer to the right hon. Gentleman. That Order in Council, which is at present in preparation, will soon be made. I assure the House that this Order will be widely drawn, and I hope in such a way as to be fair and generous.
On the point about compensation for employees which was raised by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), I will look again personally at that, but I am informed that very generous compensation has been given. If there is some further point at issue, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will look into it in detail. Meanwhile, I would point out that the Foreign Compensation Commission is not a new body set up for this purpose. It is an old-established body with what is called quasi-judicial status. Its hearings are in public.
The Commission will start very soon its examination of claims and, of course, under the Agreement it will have the £3½ million cash payment in hand to meet early settlements or to make interim payments. If any further sums are required beyond this £3½ million of the first cash settlement, Her Majesty's Government will certainly consider introducing legislation to authorise a further credit to the Commission, if necessary. Moreover, Her Majesty's Government are prepared to give sympathetic consideration to cases of hardship among owners of property in Egypt who have difficulty in meeting the costs of return passages or of their agents' fees during the process of recovering their property under the Agreement.
It is also proposed to leave the question of the repayment of the ex gratia loans, which have so far been made to former British residents in Egypt, in abeyance for the time being. About £4 million has so far been paid out under that scheme and a further sum of about £3 million is in process of being paid out under the extension, announced last October, of the original scheme.
In addition to the ex gratia loans scheme and its extension, about £2 million has been spent by the Anglo- 152 Egyptian Resettlement Board on relief and rehabilitation. I therefore think that this Agreement, together with the interpretation put upon it by Her Majesty's Government as regards its implementation in this country, and with the various arrangements for making it as workable, effective and flexible as possible, will commend themselves to the House and will be regarded as a reasonable agreement, making the basis of a fair settlement. The House can rely upon Her Majesty's Government to take any necessary steps which may appear to be suitable and fair after this Agreement has begun to work itself into practical effect.
I thought that it was necessary to say that about the Agreement because many people are very much interested in it. It is important to get into perspective just what were the two types of property, one of which we are to get back in whole and the other for which we are to receive compensation. Quite apart from our views about the whole story, all hon. Members would wish a settlement of individual claims to be fair both to the taxpayer and to the individual concerned.
I turn to the political aspects referred to in the Amendment on which the House will shortly be called upon to vote. I am bound to say that I was a little surprised that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition decided to use this Financial Agreement and the need to pass a Resolution in support of it as an opportunity for rehashing all the old controversy about the Suez crisis. Frankly, I should have thought that he would have preferred to draw a veil over the part which he played in it. I think that if everybody were to hear again those hysterical broadcasts of his they would have a shock.
Perhaps the reason for raising the debate is that there is very little else for the Opposition to talk about. All their gloomy prophecies of the last eight years have been left unfulfilled. The economy is strong, the balance of payments is good, sterling is sound, and I believe that we are about to enter a period of increasing expansion, this time without inflation. Taxation has been steadily reduced year by year, and without anticipating my right hon. Friend's Budget—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I doubt if it will be substantially or painfully increased this year. Even the scare 153 about the Rent Act has proved a washout. As for the conduct of our foreign affairs, I believe that the Government have the support of the majority of our fellow countrymen at the present time.
The right hon. Gentleman has stated with great and dramatic emphasis that I was one of Sir Anthony Eden's main supporters in his Suez policy. I have no need to he reminded of this, for I am proud of it. I supported him to the best of my ability throughout his handling of all these affairs from the beginning until the end, when he was stricken by his tragic illness. All that time he had—what may seem almost incredible to the right hon. Gentleman opposite—the consistent and loyal support of all his colleagues in the Cabinet.
Of course, this debate has revealed a certain difference of opinion about methods of conducting policy at grave moments. One method, of course, is to do nothing, and that is the one which has appealed to the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends in every crisis internal and external in our history. Their chief idea in a difficulty is to run away from it. The ostrich and not the eagle should be their crest.
Many of the facts of the situation in the Middle East in 1956 are now conveniently forgotten. The right hon. Gentleman has forgotten the consternation caused by the arbitrary act of taking over the Canal. He has, perhaps, forgotten his own words. Let me remind him of them. He indicted Nasser as a potential aggressor whose action in seizing the Canal could not be divorced fromthe struggle for the mastery of the Middle East.He went on to compare his methods with those of Hitler and Mussolini, and he invoked evidence both of subversion in Jordan and threats against Israel asa clear enough notice of aggression to come." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd August, 1956; Vol. 557, c. 1612.]Of course, it is perfectly true, as he said today, that at the same time he uttered those warnings he warned us we must not do anything about it. He warns us of the danger but he warns us against action to meet it. That is, I think, what is called in the City sub-underwriting a risk.
Right hon. Gentlemen opposite might as well listen. They do not like the 154 answer, that is all. They make the attack and they will not listen to the answer. They dare not listen to the answer. The right hon. Gentleman spoke today and gave a lot of figures about the value of the base, but clearly the base had not much value after July, 1956, when it was perfectly clear that those who controlled it were prepared to break their most solemn obligations and their treaty obligations. The right hon. Gentleman has forgotten the effect throughout the whole Middle East of the military pact announced between Egypt, Jordan and Syria on 25th October, 1956, when the armed forces of those countries were placed under the command of the Egyptian Commander-in-Chief. He has forgotten the continual clashes on the frontiers of Israel and her Arab neighbours and the terrible dilemma in which this particular phase of Colonel Nasser's policy placed the Government and people of Israel, condemned either to gradual constriction or sudden attack.
Instead of recalling all these undoubted events, the right hon. Gentleman prefers to repeat foolish and false charges against my predecessor, Sir Anthony Eden, and his colleagues. His memory is curiously selective. It omits all the dangers. Of course, no one can prove what would have happened if the Government had let this situation drift and had not decided, with their French Allies, to intervene. But this question is certainly worth asking, for it is the vital question which we have to face.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), who wound up the debate in the most delightful good-humoured speech—it was not an attack, one would almost have said it was a friendly, nice little speech—provided the answer himself. This is what he wrote:Relations between Israel and Egypt before the Anglo-French attack were loaded with menace. Raids and counter-raids on peaceful civilians had been almost daily events. It was clear to anyone who took the trouble to study the situation that war was bound to break out if nothing was done to separate the combatants.Fortunately, the right hon. Gentleman, as well as speaking in the House, writes outside it and these words in the News of the World were very well written and are a complete answer to his argument.
I rather regret that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale has joined in 155 this stale attack. He said that he did not like to be a bully. I am sure that he need not worry about that. He is sometimes a bit of a buffoon. I am sorry because, at the time, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, in those difficult days he seemed to have some understanding of the situation and he tried to judge it more fairly than did some of his colleagues. In those days—it seems difficult to remember it now—he had still some remnant of his old independence. But now the fire is quenched. He has been thoroughly tamed and chastened. I feel sorry for him as he gropes about, abandoned by his old friends and colleagues —a shorn Samson surrounded on the Front Bench by a bevy of prim and ageing Delilahs.
The action which Her Majesty's Government took at the time was misunderstood abroad and misrepresented at home, but I am beginning to feel that it is better understood today, both at home and abroad. It is perhaps worth recalling that less than a year ago we had to take action of a preventive kind not altogether dissimilar. It is interesting to notice that the United States both took similar action itself and supported our own. For some reason which I have never understood the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends seemed to accept the action of the United States in going into the Lebanon to try to hold the ring there while they condemned our effort to preserve stability in Jordan. Subsequent events have certainly proved their misjudgment. Both the Lebanon and the Jordan expeditions were hazardous enterprises. I never claimed them to be anything else, but action is sometimes an obligation. Every fair critic would today admit that the help which the United States and British Forces gave to those two countries did, in fact, produce a breathing space and an encouragement to stability.
The fact is that neither in the autumn of 1956 nor in the summer of 1958—nor is there even today—was there a world organisation which could effectively and quickly act in an emergency to preserve stability. Certainly the United Nations is powerless to do so, whether through the General Assembly or through the Security Council—
§ The Prime Minister
Yet there is sometimes a duty to try to secure that purpose, and circumstances may sometimes arise which demand prompt action. The purpose for which we went in had been achieved before. At this moment we have—[An HON. MEMBER: "An inquiry."] We will have an inquiry into the hon. Member. There is only one inquiry which will be made. As Mr. Asquith said on a similar occasion, it will be made on the Floor of the House of Commons, the inquest of the nation.
There are many different forces at work in the Middle East. Nationalism is one, and a very strong one. There is much that is good and beneficial in it, but it can easily become the instrument of other forces and other ambitions whose purpose is destructive. There is no reason why the interests of the countries of the Middle East should be incompatible with each other or with the legitimate interests of other countries outside the area. But, equally, we cannot stand aside from events in the Middle East, and we never could.
We are now approaching a period in Europe which may be the most fatal—
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman should either make sensible interruptions or be silent.
As I say, we are now approaching a period in Europe which may be the most fatal for all the peoples of Europe or the most fruitful in its modern history. We may reach agreements by negotiation on certain pressing issues—Berlin, the future of Germany and the like—and if we do so, these will open up the ways for a better relationship between the free world and the Communist world. If this is to be achieved, believe me it can be done only by a combination of two approaches. First, there must be an open and frank attempt to meet the Soviet views where they are reasonable and to oppose them where they are oppressive. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Suez?"] To do this, we must work in full harmony with all our Allies—the French, the Germans, and, above all, the Americans. [Interruption.]
What is the right hon. Gentleman's method of achieving this great aim?— 157 to raise issues offensive to our French friends, who, if they were to take the right hon. Gentleman seriously, would regard his statements as mortal insults. For the Americans he would revive all the bitter controversies of two years ago which divided opinion in that country as in ours and separated us for the time being from the policies pursued by the American Administration, and would undo the work of reconciliation which, I think, has been one of the most constructive results of British Government policy during the last two years.
To the rest of the world he would try in his mixture of denigration and suspicion to hold up British Ministers to misrepresentation. At the same time he would try to embitter our relations with every Middle East and Arab country — [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide."]—and then,
§ by an extraordinary feat of ingenuity, embroil us also with Israel. That is the right hon. Gentleman's contribution to the problems of the day. [Interruption.] In whose interests is it? It is not in the interest of this country, it is not in the interests of peace, and, what makes it almost more ludicrous, it is not even in the interests of his own party.
§ I am confident that this House today will support the Agreement which has been made and will reject the Amendment put forward by the Opposition. I ask the House—as, I believe, the country to give its support to the Government.
§ Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 300, Noes 230.161
|Division No. 65.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Cooper, A. E.||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)|
|Aiken, W. T.||Cooper-Key, E. M.||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Cordeaux, Lt. -Col. J. K.||Grosvenor, Lt. -Col. R. G.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Corfield, F. V.||Gurden, Harold|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Hall, John (Wycombe)|
|Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Hare, Rt. Hon. J. H.|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William||Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)|
|Arbuthnot, John||Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Harris, Reader (Heston)|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Currie, G. B. H.||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)|
|Ashton, H.||Dance, J. C. G.||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Davidson, Viscountess||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Baldock, Lt. -Cmdr. J. M.||Deeds, W. F.||Hay, John|
|Baldwin, Sir Archer||de Ferranti, Basil||Head, Rt. Hon. A. H.|
|Balniel, Lord||Digby, Simon Wingfield||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel|
|Barber, Anthony||Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Henderson, John (Cathcart)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Henderson-Stewart, Sir James|
|Barter, John||Doughty, C. J. A.||Hesketh, R. F.|
|Batsford, Brian||Drayson, G. B.||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||du Cann, E. D. L.||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)|
|Beamish, Col. Tufton||Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond)||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Duthie, W. S.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Hirst, Geoffrey|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Elliott, R. W. (Ne'castle upon Tyne, N.)||Hobson, John (Warwick & Leam'g'n)|
|Bennett, Or. Reginald||Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Holland-Martin, C. J.|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Errington, Sir Eric||Hope, Lord John|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Erroll, F. J.||Hornby, R. P.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Farey-Jones, F. W.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.|
|Black. Sir Cyril||Fell, A.||Horobin, Sir Ian|
|Body, R. P.||Finlay, Graeme||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence|
|Bossom, Sir Alfred||Fisher, Nigel||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)|
|Braine, B. R.||Forrest, G.||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.|
|Fort, R.||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.|
|Bralthwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Foster, John||Hulbert, Sir Norman|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt. -Col. W. H.||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Hurd, Sir Anthony|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Freeth, Denzil||Hutchison, Michael Clark (E'b'gh, S.)|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.)|
|Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)||Gammans, Lady||Hutchison, Sir James (Scotstoun)|
|Bryan, P.||Garner-Evans, E. H.||Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||George, J. C. (Pollok)||Iremonger, T. L.|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Gibson-Watt, D.||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Glover, D.||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)|
|Butler. Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Glyn, Col. Richard H.||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)|
|Campbell, Sir David||Godber, J. B.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)|
|Carr, Robert||Goodhart, Philip||Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Gough, C. F. H.||Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green)|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Gower, H. R.||Joseph, Sir Keith|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Graham, Sir Fergus||Kaberry, D.|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Grant, Rt. Hon. W. (Woodside)||Kerby, Capt. H. B.|
|Cole, Norman||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)||Kerr, Sir Hamilton|
|Conant, Maj. Sir Roger||Green, A.||Kimball, M.|
|Cooke, Robert||Gresham Cooke, R.||Lagden, G. W.|
|Lambton, Viscount||Nicholls, Harmar||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Nicholson, Sir Godfrey (Farnham)||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)|
|Leather, E. H. C.||Noble, Comdr. Rt. Hon. Allan||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Leavey, J. A.||Noble, Michael (Argyll)||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Leburn, W. G.||Nugent, G. R. H.||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Oakshott, H. D.||Steward, Sir William(Woolwlch, W.)|
|Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T.||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm|
|Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. D.||Storey, S.|
|Lindsay, Martin (Solihull)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Linstead, Sir H. N.||Orr-Ewing, C. Ian (Hendon, N.)||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Llewellyn, D. T.||Osborne, C.||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (Sutton Coldfield)||Page, R. G.||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Pannell, N. A. (Klrkdale)||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Partridge, E.||Teeling, W.|
|Longden, Gilbert||Peel, W. J.||Temple, John M.|
|Loveys, Walter H.||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth S.)||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.||Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.>|
|Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chlsvick)||Pitman, I. J.||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Pitt, Miss E. M.||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|McAdden, S. J.||Pott, H. P.|
|Macdonald, Sir Peter||Powell, J. Enoch||Tlley, A. (Bradford, W.)|
|Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Maclean, Sir Fitzroy (Lancaste)||Prior-Paimer, Brig. O. L.||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|McLean, Nell (Inverness)||Profumo, J. D.||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Rawllnson, Peter||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley)||Redmayne, M.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Rees-Davies, W. R.||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Macpherson, Nlail (Dumfrles)||Remnant, Hon. P.||Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.|
|Maddan, Martin||Renton, D. L. M.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncattle)||Ridedale, J. E.||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)|
|Maltland, Hon. Patrick (Lanarh)||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Derek|
|Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Robertson, Sir David||Wall, Patrick|
|Markham, Major Sir Frank||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)|
|Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E.||Robson Brown, Sir William||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Marshall, Douglas||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)||Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold|
|Mathew, R.||Roper, Sir Harold||Webster, David|
|Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||Whitelaw, W. S. I.|
|Mawby, R. L.||Russell, R. S.||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Maydon, Lt. -Comdr, S. L. C.||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Medlicott, Sir Frank||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Milligan, R. Hon. W. R.||Sharpies, R. C.||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Shepherd, William||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Moore, Sir Thomas||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)||Woollant, John Victor|
|Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Smlthers, Peter (Winchester)||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)|
|Nabarro, G. D. N.||Soames, Rt. Hon. Chrlstopher||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Nairn, D. L. 8.||Spearman, Sir Alexander||Mr. Heath and Mr. Legh.|
|Neave, Airey||Speir, R. M.|
|Abse, Leo||Cllffe, Michael||Gibson, C. W.|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Coldrick, W.||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.|
|Albu, A. H.||Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Greenwood, Anthony|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Cronin, J. D.||Grey, C. F.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Crossman, R. H. S.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Griffiths, William (Exchange)|
|Baird, J.||Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvll (Colne Valley)|
|Balfour, A.||Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Hamilton, W. W.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Hannan, W.|
|Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.)||Deer, G.||Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.)|
|Bonn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S. E.)||de Freltas, Geoffrey||Hastings, S.|
|Benson, Sir George||Delargy, H. J.||Hayman, F. H.|
|Beswick. Frank||Diamond, John||Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vals)||Dodds, N. N.||Herbison, Miss M.|
|Blackburn, F.||Donnelly, D. L.||Hewitson, Capt. M.|
|Boardman, H.||Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch)||Hobson, C. R. (Keighley)|
|Bonham Carter, Mark||Edeltnan, M.||Holman, P.|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Holmes, Horace|
|Bowles, F. G.||Edwards, Robert (Bllston)||Houghton, Douglas|
|Boyd. T. C.||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)|
|Brockway, A. F.||Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||Howell, Denis (All Saints)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Hoy, J. H.|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Fernyhough, E.||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Finch, H. J. (Bedwellty)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Fitch, A. E. (Wlgan)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Fletcher, Eric||Hunter, A, E.|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Foot, D. M.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Forman, J. C.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)|
|Champion, A. J.||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)|
|Chapman, W. D.||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. C. A.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||George, Lady Megan Lloyd (Car'then)||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.|
|Jeger, George (Goole)||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Sparks, J. A.|
|Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pancs, S.)||Oliver, G. H.||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Oram, A. E.||Steele, T.|
|Johnson, James (Rugby)||Oswald, T.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)||Owen, W. J.||Stonehouse, John|
|Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech (wakefield)||Padley, W. E.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)|
|Jones, David (The Hartlepools)||Paget, R. T.||Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne, Valley)||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Palmer, A. M. F.||Swingler, S. T.|
|Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Sylvester, G. 0.|
|Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Pargiter, G. A.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Kenyon, C.||Parkin, B. T.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Paton, John||Thomas, lorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|King, Dr. H. M.||Peart, T. F.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Lawson, G. M.||Pentland, N.||Thornton, E.|
|Ledger, R. J.||Plummer, sir Leslie||Timmons, J.|
|Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Popple well, E.||Tomney, F.|
|Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Prentice, R. E.||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Usborne, H. C.|
|Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)||Vlant, S. P.|
|Lewis, Arthur||Probert, A. R.||Wade, D. W.|
|Lindgren, G. S.||Proctor, W. T.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Pursey, Cmdr. H.|
|McCann, J.||Randall, H. E.||Weitzman, D.|
|MacColl, J. E.||Rankin, John||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|MacDermot, Niall||Redhead, E. C.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Mclnnes, J.||Reeves, J.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|McKay, John (Wallsend)||Reld, William||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|McLeavy, Frank||Reynolds, G. W.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Wigg, George|
|Mahon, Simon||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.)||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)||Willey, Frederick|
|Mann, Mrs. Jean||Ross, William||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Royle, C.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Mason, Roy||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Mellish, R. J.||Short, E. W.||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)|
|Mitchison, G. R.||Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Monslow, W.||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Moody, A. S.||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)||Skeffington, A. M.||Woof, R. E.|
|Mort, D. L.||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Moss, R.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, 8.)||Zilliacus, K.|
|Moyle, A.||Snow, J. W.|
|Mulley, F. W.||Sorensen, R. W.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank||Mr. Bowden and Mr. Pearson|
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
That this House approves the Agreement between the Government of the United Arab Republic and the Government of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland concerning Financial and Commercial Relations and British Property in Egypt (Command Paper No. 639).