I think that we on this side of the House have some right of complaint, not of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, but of the Leader of the House, in that he has re- fused any opportunity until this day of discussing any one of the subjects to which we wish to direct the attention of the House, and that we are forced to bring forward the first, and only one, of those subjects actually in Christmas week. In a long Parliamentary experience I do not recall an occasion when even a Government with an overpowering majority has ridden so roughly over the rights of a minority, and the right hon. Gentleman can hardly expect, if such treatment continues to be meted out to the Opposition when we meet again next year, that we shall be as passive and as patient as we have shown ourselves to be. This evening I desire to use the tardy opportunity that has been given to draw the attention of the House to the negotiations that have taken place between His Majesty's Government and the late Prime Minister of Egypt for the basis of a treaty being concluded between our two countries. I have to acknowledge that the right hon. Gentleman had voluntarily undertaken that no such agreement should he made until after these proposals had been discussed in Parliament, and that no such treaty should be ratified without a further reference to Parliament. Rut I have two reasons for desiring to bring this subject at once before the House. If we on this side found nothing serious to criticise in the proposals set forth in the Government White Paper, we could very well wait for the opportunity which the right hon. Gentleman would have afforded, but serious doubts are caused by some of his proposals, and we think that, inasmuch as he has made us parties to them, or at least cognisant of them by the publication, it is not. fair to allow the Egyptian Government to proceed further in the matter without, at any rate, some expression of the opinion which we hold.
My second reason fog bringing the subject forward at this moment is that when there arises either of the opportunities which the right, hon. Gentleman has promised, the proposals will be in a more complete and final form, and I presume he will be asking the House to pass a Resolution in regard to them, and to take a Vote upon them. I am glad to have an opportunity such as is offered by this occasion to-day to raise certain issues which, I hope, will have his careful consideration at a time when no Vote will
be taken, and no prejudice can arise to these issues by reason of a party decision being sought upon them. The first result of the proposals has not been wholly satisfactory. It was obviously the intention of the Government that Mahmoud Pasha, the distinguished Egyptian Prime Minister, in negotiating with the right hon. Gentleman, should lay his proposals before his countrymen for their consideration, and it was hoped that, with their approval, he might proceed to their elaboration and signature; but the first thing that followed the conclusion of the negotiations in London was the enforced resignation of the Egyptian Prime Minister, who had taken part as a condition sine qua non of their consideration by the Egyptian people, and though the Egyptian people have been consulted in so far as a consultation based upon manhood suffrage in a country where 90 per cent. of the electorate are deprived of the protection of the ballot by their illiteracy, and where only one party is organised—though the Egyptian people have been consulted, if you can call an election held in those circumstances consultation, yet they have not been consulted on the treaty which the dominant party have most carefully refrained from making an issue in the election. What their purpose was in that I need not inquire, but I take note of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman in communicating these proposals to Mahmoud Pasha placed on record that these proposals
represent the extreme limit to which I could recommend His Majesty's Government in the United kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to go in their desire to achieve a lasting and honourable settlement of outstanding questions between Great Britain and Egypt.
That declaration of the right hon. Gentleman, which he has repeated, and by which, I understand, he stands, is of the greater importance because these proposals appear in a form suitable for a treaty, with a number—rather an undue number—of notes attached. Still, he insists that they are not a draft of a treaty, but only proposals for a draft, and it is therefore the more necessary to make it clear from the outset to the Egyptian Government, to the Egyptian party and to the Egyptian people, while details may be subject to further consideration that His Majesty's Government are pledged
from the outset not to go beyond what they have embodied in the White Paper under discussion.
May I at this stage very briefly state again what was the policy of the late Government? I have stated it in despatches, I have stated it publicly on more than one occasion in this House and elsewhere. We drew a broad distinction between our duties, our responsibilities and our authority in the Sudan, and our responsibilities and authority in Egypt. In the Sudan we have a direct responsibility to the people in pursuance of the pledge that was given at the re-conquest of the Sudan, that they should not be allowed to pass again under the corrupt and tyrannical Government of the Pashas, who had brought the country to ruin and distress. Where our responsibility to the people is direct, our authority must be equally direct, and it is necessary that in any particular case our commands should be obeyed.
In Egypt, the situation is quite different. By the declaration of 1922 we recognised the independence of Egypt, subject to and conditioned by certain reservations. We, at the same time, sent a circular to the foreign Powers stating, in terms of unmistakeable clarity and even bluntness, that, in view of the special interest of Great Britain and the British Empire in Egypt, and of the special connection established between that country and ourselves, we should regard any interference by a foreign Power in the affairs of Egypt as unfriendly action which would be resisted with the whole of the forces at our command. There, therefore, our interests, in our opinion, were sufficiently protected by the reservations, and our duties were confined to seeing that those reservations were respected. What is their main purpose? It was, in the first place, to secure direct British interests by guarding vital communications of the British Empire. The relationship which exists between Egypt and ourselves has not been a matter of choice but the result of the geographical position occupied by Egypt on one of the high roads and arteries of imperial communications. It is to that fact that our intervention in Egypt originated. It is to that fact that the occupation of Egypt by British forces is due, and it is, first and foremost, to protect those interests that British forces have continued in Cairo, Alexandria and elsewhere, as our guarantee for the security of these vital interests.
But when we undertook to form a treaty which permitted no interference by any foreign Power in Egypt, we necessarily undertook an obligation to those foreign Powers. If we announced that we would not permit them to defend their own interests or to assert their own rights, if they are identified in Egypt then we simultaneously undertake the obligation to see that their rights are respected and that they do not suffer injustice and wrong. Accordingly, the second of the points which our occupation and our reservations were designed to protect was the security of foreigners in Egypt, including not only the important British colony there, but also large foreign colonies who might be endangered by any violent disturbances resulting from mis-government or from racial or religious feeling. Apart from that, it was the policy of the late Government and the policy of their predecessors, dating back to the time of Lord Cromer himself, to interfere as little as possible in the internal affairs of Egypt; to act wherever possible with and through the Egyptian authorities and only to intervene when the circumstances were of sufficient gravity and the peril to these important interests sufficiently great to render such direct intervention, not only desirable, but necessary
How is our position, as thus stated—I do not think that my description of it would be challenged on either side of the House—affected by the proposals which have been made by the right hon. Gentleman? As regards the Sudan, there is no direct change in the situation, but there is a contingent promise to allow an Egyptian Battalion in certain circusnstances to return into that country. I regard that as a dangerous and a retrograde step. The circumstances in which the Egyptian troops were expelled from the Sudan must still be fresh in our memories. The warning solemnly given by the present Prime Minister when Secretary of State to Zaghloul Pasha, had been wantonly and persistently disregarded. The Egyptians had been taught to regard loyalty to the Condominium as incompatible with loyalty to Egypt, and they had abused their position in the Sudan to stir up disloyalty and disaffec- tion to the British Government and its officials. They had carried this agitation to such unbridled lengths as at last resulted in the murder of a gallant and a most sympathetic British officer.
It was in those circumstances that it fell to the late Government to take the steps foreshadowed in the warning given by their predecessor and to say that since his warnings had been disregarded the Egyptian troops and Egyptian personnel in the Sudanese Administration must be withdrawn. How dangerous had been their activities was shown by the disturbances which occurred and by the revolt of a Sudanese battalion under the instigation of Egyptian officers in the course of that withdrawal. I know of nothing which has since occurred which renders it safe to retrace that step. I know that the right hon. Gentleman may reply to me that he has not made an unconditional promise. I think it is very dangerous to make this kind of conditional promise, which, if for any reason His Majesty's Government feel it impossible to implement when the time comes, will certainly be cast up against them as a breach of faith and will bring discredit upon our good name. We have no desire to disturb the Condominium. It is recognised by our flying the Egyptian flag with the Union Jack on the principal Government buildings—but the time has not come—if ever it should come—when we can divest ourselves of any part of our responsibility for government in the Sudan. The time has not come when we can share again that responsibility with the Egyptian Government or people.
I assume, or perhaps I should rather say, may I assume, that if the Egyptian battalion is sent back to the Sudan, it is within the contemplation and intention of the right hon. Gentleman that it should be made perfectly clear that its continuance in that country depends solely upon the decision of His Majesty's Government here, and that, if there should be any repetition of the offences which caused the expulsion of the Egyptian troops before, it will be the prerogative of His Majesty's Government, uncontrolled by reference to any other authority, whether at Geneva or The Hague, to order and enforce its withdrawal? I ask the right hon. Gentleman to note my first case and to give me an answer. For my part, I will only add that my hope and my expectation is, not that fresh troops would be brought into the Sudan, but that as government there developed, as the Sudanese defence force proved its value, instead of Egyptian troops going back, some of the British troops might have been withdrawn.
I pass from the Sudan to consider the changes made by the proposals of His Majesty's Government in regard to Egypt, and here these changes are much graver. The objections which I have to them centre in their effect upon the protection of British interests, particularly as represented by our lines of communication, and in the protection of foreigners. They deal more particularly with Clauses 9, 4 and 6 of the proposals for a treaty. At first, may I say a word about Clause 5? Clause 5 is the equivalent in the new proposals of Clause 2 of the treaty which was finally negotiated with Zaghloul, and which, of course, was never proceeded with. Clause 2 of the Sarwat Treaty reads as follows:
His Majesty the King of Egypt undertakes not to adopt in foreign countries an attitude incompatible with the alliance or liable to create difficulties for His Britannic Majesty; not to oppose in foreign countries the policy followed by His Britannic Majesty; and not to conclude with a foreign Power any agreement which might be prejudicial to British interests.
In many respects, the present proposals follow so closely the proposals made in the Sarwat Treaty that one has naturally examined with some care those features in which they differ from them. What has happened to that clause in the new treaty? It has become a clause mutually binding the two Governments:
Each of the High Contracting Powers undertakes not to adopt in foreign countries an attitude which is inconsistent with the alliance or will create difficulties for the other Party thereto. In pursuance of this understanding they will not oppose each other's policy in foreign countries, nor conclude with a third Power any agreement of a political character which might be prejudicial to the interests of the other Party.
There is something fantastic in making a clause of that kind mutual between His Majesty's Government, and in effect the British Empire, and the Government of Egypt. It was natural, it was right, it was necessary, that since under the Sarwat Treaty we were to conclude an alliance with Egypt and to guarantee her protection that she should give us that
assurance, but it is really ridiculous to say that the foreign policy of the British Government and the British Empire is to be governed by the interests and the circumstances of the Kingdom of Egypt. The elephant undertakes to protect the mouse, and thereafter the elephant's march is to be conditioned by the mouse's trot. The obligations are too unequal to make a clause of that kind based upon a mutuality which does not exist in fact fair or just in practice to the greater of the two and the one which undertakes the greater responsibility and runs all the risks. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider that clause. I am quite certain that, drawn as it is, it is a clause which no British Government could honestly undertake, for no British Government could, in effect, so condition its policy on the interests of the Egyptian Government.
Here, in passing, I would say that this clause becomes of greater importance, because it is proposed that Egypt should join the League—a proposal with which I heartily agree supposing that the Treaty concluded is satisfactory—and because His Majesty's Government further proposed to sign the Optional Clause. Each clause may therefore become the subject of an appeal to the Court at The Hague to be determined by legal tribunal. Is that the intention? There is some reason to think that it is not. I notice that a Member of His Majesty's Government observed that, if Egypt joins the League, the question of the reservation of the Optional Clause must be considered. If Egypt is joining the League of Nations, or, let me put it rather, if we have already signed the Optional Clause, it is too late to reconsider the question of the reservation. The reservation must be made now. The provision must be put into the Treaty itself, or the right. hon. Gentleman will find that, by signing the Optional Clause, he has bargained away the liberty which his colleagues in another place obviously thought that it had been his intention to retain to His Majesty's Government. The fact that the Government have signed the Optional Clause leads to the position that we may be hailed before not merely a political body like the Council of the League, but before a legal Tribunal like the Permanent Court of Justice at The Hague, and our foreign policy be challenged under this Article as incompatible with some fancied interest of Egypt, even though it may he vital to the safety of the British Empire.
I come now to the question of the protection of foreigners, and from that to the question of the British occupation. The Clauses which deal with this question are Clauses 4, and 6. Clause 4 reproduces, but with very significant and, as I think, very unfortunate alterations, Clause 4 of the old Treaty. It provides that.
Should any dispute with a third State produce a situation which involves a risk of a rupture with that State, the High Contracting Parties will concert together with a view to the settlement of the said dispute.
The first comment that I make is, that it again places the two Contracting Parties under exactly the same Treaty obligation to one another, although the situation of the two Powers is completely different. Egypt gives us no guarantee; we did not seek one, and no one would think of asking for one. Because of the obligation which we took under the Sarwat Treaty and because we guaranteed the safety of Egypt, Egypt undertook these obligations to us. We are now to take similar obligations to Egypt because we guarantee Egypt. If we have a dispute with a third party which menaces a rupture, we are obliged to take Egypt into our counsel, and concert with Egypt a settlement of the dispute. Did the right hon. Gentleman mean to do anything of the kind? Is not this another little slip which, having been pointed out in time, he may remove when he comes to the final draft? Observe further, in relation to this Clause, what words have been omitted. These consultations take place only when a situation has arisen which involves risk of a rupture. In the Sarwat Treaty they were to take place as soon as anything occurred likely to imperil the good relations between His Majesty the King of Egypt and a foreign Power. I think that while if it is wrong to bind His Majesty's Government to consult the Egyptian Government if we, unfortunately, should be involved in a dispute in which they were not concerned, it would be right to provide that the Egyptian Government should consult us not merely when a rupture has arisen, but
as soon as anything arises to imperil the good relations with a third party.
Finally, the Government have omitted words which, I think, are of vital importance. Not only were the Egyptian Government to consult us if good relations with another Power were imperilled, but
if anything arises to threaten the lives or the property of foreigners in Egypt.
The right hon. Gentleman has put into his proposal a further Clause in which,
His Britannic Majesty recognises that the responsibility for the lives and property of foreigners in Egypt devolves henceforth upon the Egyptian Government. His Majesty the King of Egypt will ensure the fulfilment of his obligations in that respect.
Having regard to our Declaration to foreign Powers, we cannot shirk our responsibilities in that way. Do we intend to maintain that Declaration? I understood—I beg the right hon. Gentleman to correct me if I have misunderstood—the right hon. Gentleman to say the other day, in answer to a question, that that Declaration against interference by foreign Powers was unaltered by any proposal in the Treaty, and that it stood in full force and would stand in full force when the Treaty was concluded. If that be so, then surely it implies the obligation upon us to see that the protection which we do not allow foreign Powers to obtain for themselves we can secure for them, and our disavowal of an interest in the safety of foreign nationals and its exclusion from the subjects which are to bring about an immediate consultation between the two Governments on any threat to foreign lives or property, is incompatible with the duty that we owe to foreign nations and, being incompatible with that duty, it is incompatible with our proper maintenance of our old doctrine of non-interference. What will happen if the Egyptian Government is unable to preserve or fails to preserve at any time internal peace and order? Such things have happened before in Egypt. Such things led to British intervention.
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what will happen if his proposals become actually the form of the Treaty ratified by the two Powers? Our troops are to leave Cairo and Alexandria. They are to be placed away in an isolated zone on the Canal. Have they the right to go back at once if the lives of foreigners in Cairo or Alexandria or elsewhere in Egypt are threatened? That is a pertinent question and a fair question. It was put in another place. The answer was that in such a case the Treaty would have been broken, that we could resume our rights and that our troops would have the right to return, if necessary, to Cairo or wherever they were wanted. Is that the intention of the right hon. Gentleman? Does he affirm that statement, and if so, what protection has he taken in any words in this document to make it clear that the right is reserved, and cannot be disputed at Geneva or The Hague? I view with profound anxiety the consent of His Majesty's Government to the removal of our troops. I thought that when I was negotiating on behalf of the late Government, I made a very generous offer to Egypt. I thought, and I still think, that I had gone to the extreme limit that His Majesty's Government could go.
The right hon. Gentleman has chosen to destroy one of the few safeguards that I retained. I do not know with what authority or on what advice he has taken that step. The Prime Minister told us last July, for our comfort, and it was for our comfort, that this question was being considered by the three heads of the Service Departments. What the result of that consideration was, I do not know, but I know what was the advice which the heads of the Service Departments gave to the late Government. Has that advice been changed? Have they altered their opinion? Are the Government acting in accordance with that advice when they accept the cantonment of our troops on the Canal, or was their advice the same advice which was given to the late Government? Because that cannot be a satisfactory or safe solution of the problem.
The right hon. Gentleman in his proposal speaks as if the only imperilled communications which were at stake in these regions were those through the Canal. Has he forgotten the Sudan? Our primary line of communication with the Sudan is through the Nile valley, and the presence of our troops in Cairo was not merely a guarantee for the safety of the Canal, but a guarantee for our direct line of communication with the Sudan, for which we are pledged, and under this Treaty we remain pledged, in consequence of the guarantee which we gave to the Sudanese people at the time of the re-conquest of the Sudan. For that pledge we must ever remain directly and nationally responsible.
Ever remain. Yes, Sir. When the word of His Majesty's Government is pledged, it is not their custom to break it. [An HON. MEMBER: "That was nearly 40 years ago."] The guarantee of Belgium was more than 40 years old. When we have given our guarantee, we keep our guarantee, at whatever cost. Because it was a guarantee, it is a pledge to which we are for ever bound, and which forbids us to desert our obligations in that respect. Moreover, our communications with the Sudan are as important a part of our communications in connection with this Treaty as our communications through the Canal itself. I do not want to broaden the issue between His Majesty's Government and those who sit on this side of the House. I have always desired, when the time should be propitious, to find a solution of the problems reserved by the Declaration of 1922, and to seek that solution in the form and with the effect of an alliance between our two Governments; but certain precautions are necessary in making such an alliance. The interests at stake are too great for us to allow any gaps for misunderstanding or any doubt to arise as to our right to fulfil our responsibility as protector of our interests, or to expose that right to any subsequent challenge or condemnation. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues must remember that all the protection that we shall have in future must be embodied in this document, that by the entry of Egypt into the League a new factor is introduced, that by the signature of the Optional Clause a further and much graver factor is introduced, and that unless the protection which is necessary is definitely and clearly set forth in the Treaty itself or in the Notes attached to the Treaty, it may be of no avail at any moment. I have put my doubts to the right hon. Gentleman, and my anxieties. I hope he will give them fair and honest consideration. I cannot take the responsibility of being an assenting party to a Treaty open to so many objections as are to be found in the few clauses I have examined in the present proposals.
I am sure the House has listened with interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. It has been characterised by that moderation which we should expect from one who for something like five years occupied the position which I occupy at the moment, and who two years ago was engaged in trying to bring about an agreement between the Egyptian people and ourselves. I would only make two brief criticisms of that speech. I will try to answer the questions that have been submitted at a later stage, and if I am not in a position to answer every question I will endeavour to see that an answer is given before the Debate closes. As I listened to the right hon. Gentleman I could not resist the impression that his idea was that having negotiated what we call the Sarwat Treaty it was wrong for anyone else, for any other Government, to go one inch beyond it.
The hon. and gallant Member for Bromley (Lieut.-Colonel James) said "rot." That, I thought, was the idea running right through the examination of the right hon. Gentleman of the clauses in the Treaty. The other criticism I want to make is this; he appeared to have the impression that there was very little possibility or probability of any Egyptian Government carrying out any agreement into which they might enter on behalf of the Egyptian people in the spirit in which the agreement had been made. At any rate, he clearly indicated on at least two occasions that he was impressed with the strong probability of the agreement being made, and then broken. That is not the spirit in which His Majesty's Government has entered into negotiations so far as they have gone, and it will not be the spirit in which the negotiations will be concluded once they are entered upon in the next stage after proposals have been submitted to the Egyptian Parliament and ratified in order that they may be made the subject of a Treaty.
I want now to conic to the position of the Government in June when they were called upon to enter upon these negotiations.
Yes. I want to make a few general observations before dealing with the proposals themselves, arid it is all the more important that I should do so in view of the anxiety of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) to know whether it was definitely in June that these negotiations were begun. It has been said that we as a Government acted with great precipitancy; that we rushed our Egyptian policy. As there was no mention of Egypt in the Gracious Speech from the Throne at the opening of the Session I recognise that those who do not know the facts were warranted in some measure in coming to the conclusion that we had indeed been in a hurry. I want to give the House the explanation. In June the Egyptian Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary were in this country. On the 25th of June I received a. memorandum from these two officials in which there was set forth the broad lines on which the Egyptian Prime Minister was anxious to achieve a settlement of Anglo-Egyptian relations. An examination of the broad lines contained in the memorandum showed that they followed generally the lines of the recommendations of Lord Milner's Commission. Two days later, in June again, I had a very long conversation with the then Egyptian Prime Minister. He expressed very warmly and very strongly his anxiety, and I should like the House to notice this point, not merely to deal with minor questions, but with the whole question of relations between Egypt and Great Britain.
May I tell the House exactly the course I decided to follow? First I reported the matter to my colleagues in the Cabinet. After doing so I gave one of the officials in the Foreign Office who deals with Egyptian matters an authorisation to the Department to explore the matter and to have a text in greater detail of the Egyptian Prime Minister's views laid down on paper. I want to make this unmistakably plain, that at the same time I made it abundantly clear to the Egyp- tian Prime Minister that every proposal put up to me for consideration would have to be authorised by the Cabinet before we could proceed. In view of the remark made at the opening of the right hon. Gentleman's speech about the resignation, for which we accept no responsibility, I want to say quite plainly that up to that point the Egyptian Prime Minister clearly understood the position and intimated to me that he accepted the position as I had put it to him. The resulting conversations which followed were considered by a Cabinet Committee at more than one meeting. They reported their findings to the Cabinet as a whole and, finally, the proposals took the shape as they are found in the White Paper, with all the notes with which the proposals are accompanied. I want to ask what other course could I have followed? I should like the House to remember that I did not initiate the conversations. This is of the greatest importance. Here was the Egyptian Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary. They put a proposal to me, and I want to ask the. House whether I could have followed any other course than the one I adopted? I did not initiate the conversations. I did not ask that a Treaty should be drafted in order that it might be submitted to the people on the one side and on the other.
This leads me to ask what the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Foreign Secretary did in exactly similar circumstances. Let me give the House his own words in May, 1925:
It was because I felt that in the circumstances in which Egypt then was that I tried to initiate a Treaty which should be a substitute for the unilateral declaration which at present regulates our relations with Egypt.
Therefore, in acting as I did I followed in the footsteps of my predecessor. In defending his action in 1927 the right hon. Gentleman said:
Does the right hon. Gentleman really think I should have said 'go away; I must wait for further time and experience. I cannot negotiate a peace with you. I have no answer to give you at present.'
Continuing, the right hon. Gentleman said:
That was a serious offer by the Prime Minister of Egypt which required an equally serious and friendly consideration on our part.
The right hen. Gentleman also said:
I set to work, and I venture to submit that no one in my place would have done other, to consider with my colleagues how much of the Sarwat Pasha Treaty could be accepted; what alternative, what variation, we must make and what we should suggest for the fulfilment of the purpose which we and he had in common.
That seems to me, after this lapse of time, to be very good sense. I am making no complaint of the right hon. Gentleman following my agreement. I do not know who he is answering; but he is not answering me.
I am answering the charge that we have been in too great a hurry in dealing with the question of Egypt. It is because it is good sound common sense that I am quoting it. What I have said up to this point shows that there had been what is called very frequently a policy of continuity. There was even a much greater measure of continuity, for it was possible for me to conclude my negotiations more expeditiously than the right hon. Gentleman was in 1927. This was in a great measure due to the work already done by the right hon. Gentleman. I want to say here, and to say frankly, that his negotiations furnished the Egyptian Prime Minister and myself with a basis of discussion which covered nearly the whole of the ground. There was one important difference, to which I should like to make a passing reference. Although the 1927 draft Treaty purported to resolve and define outstanding questions at issue, I am right in saying that it made no mention of the Sudan, to which I will refer presently. But before I pass, and in view of the complaint made by the right hon. Gentleman regarding the moment at which this Debate is being held, I want to show where there has been a decided lack of continuity. Let me remind the House that this is the fourth Debate on Egypt during six months of the present Parliament—two in this House and two in another place. I ask the House to notice the contrast. I find that during the period which elapsed between the right hon. Gentleman, my predecessor, beginning the negotiations with Sarwat Pasha in July, 1927, and the end of that year, only two questions were submitted by the Labour party asking about the progress of the negotiations.
Not only were there only two questions asked, but there was no Debate in either House between July, 1927, and May, 1928, the Debate taking place, I believe, some two months after the Sarwat Treaty had been rejected by the Egyptian Parliament. I think that there was a restraint on that occasion which might profitably have been followed on this occasion in the interests of Anglo-Egyptian relations.
Now I come to the policy of the Government. I want to open by saying that the policy of the Government has been admirably summarised in a recent article in the "Times" newspaper, which I would like to quote:
In a general way the new Treaty represents an attempt to establish Anglo-Egyptian relations upon terms foreshadowed long ago by Lord Cromer, and after the War by the Milner Commission.
And examination of the Milner Report, which I have been re-reading, goes clearly to show that Lord Milner and his colleagues reported in favour of a very wide measure of independence. I want to quote some lines from the Report. It says:
But it must be adopted whole-heartedly and in a spirit of hopefulness and sympathy. Nothing would be more likely to lead to failure than to overload this policy with an excessive number of timorous restrictions which would obscure the principle of Egyptian independence, create suspicion as to our real intentions, and defeat our main object—the establishment of mutual goodwill and hearty co-operation between British and Egyptian peoples.
The Report proves beyond any shadow of doubt that in the judgment of Lord Milner the time had come to recognise that Egypt was fit for autonomy. Further, need I remind the House that the declaration of 1922 recognised Egypt as an independent Sovereign State, with reservation to the discretion of His Majesty's Government of four points, until such time, mark you, as it may be possible by free discussion and by friendly accommodation on both sides to conclude agreements in regard thereto? May I remind the House of what those four points were? They were:
Such were the conditions and such the background of a situation in which the Government, on its advent to office in June last, were called upon to accept the responsibility of formulating a policy for the settlement of the outstanding issues between Great Britain and Egypt. Taking advantage, as I have already hinted, of the wish of the late Prime Minister of Egypt to negotiate not merely the minor points—I want to emphasise that—but to negotiate such a complete Treaty as would dispose for all time of all the problems which had done so much to obscure and disturb the relationship between the two countries, and as the result of these provisional negotiations, a certain set of proposals was agreed upon. I want to make it clear to the House that we made these proposals subject to two conditions: First, they had to be approved by the Egyptian Parliament, by a freely-elected Egyptian Parliament—
I hope that I shall have an intelligent interruption. I repeat that they had to have the approval and ratification of a freely-elected Egyptian Parliament. Secondly, ratification by an Egyptian Parliament had to be an indispensable condition of any acceptance of these proposals to be included in the Treaty by His Majesty's Government, and even then their acceptance had to be subject to ratification by this House. In view of the commitments of successive Ministers since 1919, having regard also to the fact that for almost every one of the Government proposals authority is to be found either in the Milner Report or in the Sarwat draft Treaty, it is unnecessary for me to offer any very extensive comments of the several Articles or the important notes by which these Articles are accompanied. Since, however, reassurance is required on some points, I will give very briefly the main directions in which our proposals diverge from those of my predecessor, as this is the best and most effective way of meeting much of the criticism to which our proposals have been subjected.
The main divergence, the main modification as contrasted with the Chamberlain-Sarwat Treaty, concerns the question of the location of the troops for the defence of the Suez Canal. It was understood at the time of the negotiation of Lord Milner with Zaghloul Pasha in
1920 that Lord Milner was prepared to recommend to his colleagues the removal of the troops to the neighbourhood of Tel-el-Kebir. The next point will not be challenged. With an expert knowledge equalled by none of this Egyptian problem, Lord Milner does not appear to have shared the apprehensions held in some quarters as to the effect of the removal of the troops from Alexandria and Cairo to the banks of the Canal. Moreover, the termination of the occupation appears to me—the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—to be implicit in that passage in Article 7 of the Sarwat Treaty, which says:
the presence of the British forces shall not constitute in any manner an occupation, and will in no way prejudice the sovereign rights of Egypt.
If those words mean anything at all they mean that the troops are only to be placed in a position satisfactory to the Egyptian Government on behalf of the Egyptian people.
I should not have interrupted if the right hon. Gentleman had not directly challenged me. He is mistaken. If he reads the Treaty he will see that it provides for the continuance of the British troops in Egypt in perpetuity, for their continuance in their present situation for 10 years, and that they were then to be removed only by agreement with His Majesty's Government, or as the result of a unanimous decision of the Council of the League of Nations.
Yes, Sir; I am not challenging that position. I was just going to deal with it in greater detail. The right hon. Gentleman, it is true, was not prepared to withdraw the troops from the interior to the banks of the Canal for a period of 10 years from the coming into operation of the Treaty, and full agreement as to where they should be located at the end of 10 years, was a matter which had to be subject to the unanimous decision of the Council of the League of Nations.
We all know how unanimous decisions of the League of Nations have to be taken. I think it is a very much more—shall I say straight-forward—way of dealing with the matter, to say that you are not going to do it, than to leave it to the Council of the League of Nations and use your own vote, if you are there, to see that it is not a unanimous decision.
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman again, but, as he will recognise in a moment, he is wrong. It is a unanimous decision not counting the parties to the dispute.
I shall withdraw if you can show me that I have made a mistake. I was going to make this observation—that the willingness even to consider the proposal at the end of 10 years, the willingness to let the matter be subject to the decision of the League of Nations, certainly destroys much of the objection which has been raised to our policy and vitiates much of the criticism that has been made about the unsuitability of the Canal Zone, about the danger of the water supply, about the danger to foreign life and property and similar apprehensions which have been freely stated against the policy of the Government. Knowing, as everyone does, who has gone into this matter, that the Egyptians do not like—and they are very frank about this—to have British troops in the occupation of their capital, we could not see our way, nor did we consider it right, in all the circumstances to continue the occupation for 10 years from the coming into operation of the Treaty. We decided, therefore, to terminate the occupation as and from when proper arrangements had been made for the troops being located in the neighbourhood of the Canal—located there for the purpose of ensuring the defence of that vital artery of British Imperial communications.
May I observe here that had the right hon. Gentleman's treaty come into operation at the time he had hoped for, two years would have been gone and we would have eight years to count as from now. It will take from three to five years from the coming into operation of our Treaty, the Treaty that may result from these proposals, because we have determined that the Egyptians shall satisfy our military authorities as to the accommodation, and as to all the amenities that are necessary for the comfort of our troops. If you take three to five years and add two years, I think it will be seen that by the time the operation becomes practical politics the best part of the ten years will have gone. His Majesty's Government believes that it is impossible to keep a military force permanently in the capital of a country which we desire to recognise as an independent sovereign State; but it is still more difficult to defend, in my judgment, if the maintenance of the force is advocated as a means not of protecting the Canal but of preserving internal order in the country.
Further, the Government are satisfied, after consultation with the chiefs of staff, that the safety of the Canal can be secured by the retention of the troops in the locality defined for them in the present proposals. The Egyptian Government undertake to supply equivalent accommodation to that now occupied and all reasonable amenities and an adequate supply of fresh water. Moreover, in this connection the House should remember that for some years past two battalions of infantry, a field company of engineers, and a considerable number of Royal Air Force personnel have been stationed in the neighbourhood of the Canal, and, I am informed, without detriment to their health, comfort or efficiency. I now come to an important point which has no counterpart in the Sarwat Treaty. I refer to the proposals relating to the Sudan. Though the question of the Sudan was one of the most important of the reserved points which the Sarwat Treaty purported to liquidate, it appears to have been completely ignored.
I will adopt the words "deliberately excluded." The question of the Sudan in relation to the proposed Treaty was the subject of prolonged and anxious consideration. This may be gathered from the notes which accompany the Government's proposals, and, from one of those notes, it will be seen that His Majesty's Government have intimated that they will be prepared to examine sympathetically a proposal for the return to the Sudan of an Egyptian battalion simultaneously with the withdrawal of the troops from Cairo—which, as I have informed the House, may take a period of from three to five years. Viewing the position from the point of view of the interest of the Sudan, Sir John Maffey, the Governor-General of the Sudan, expressed himself strongly in favour of the conclusion of an Anglo-Egyptian agreement and said that, so far as he was concerned, he was willing, in order to facilitate such an agreement, to agree to the return of one Egyptian battalion to the Sudan. That is very important, having regard to the position which Sir John Maffey occupies in the Sudan to-day. The right hon. Gentleman submitted a question on this point and this is the answer. Under the Sudan Convention of 1899 the Governor-General (a) is Commander-in-Chief, and, (b) he can issue any regulations or orders for the maintenance of good order and peace. In other words, he is the sole authority, and, if he considers good order to be menaced in such a serious degree as to necessitate the withdrawal of the battalion, he has the responsibility and the power to remove that battalion from the Sudan.
That is the position of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman has been too long in this House, and has been in too many Governments, not to know what the position is when it is stated by the responsible Minister. The Government, may I say on this point, were most unwilling to agree to anything which might in the slightest degree create a danger, however remote, of a recurrence of the deplorable events of 1924. They felt, however, that the conclusion of a Treaty would create an entirely new atmosphere and, what is most important, would ensure that the relations between the two countries were inspired by a spirit of genuine co-operation.
Of the other points of difference between the present proposals and the draft negotiated by my predecessor, I would mention briefly that of the protection of the life and property of foreigners. Paragraph (6) of our proposals, which recognises that the responsibility for the lives and property of foreigners in Egypt devolves henceforth upon the Egyption Government, has been subjected to a considerable amount of criticism. Yet I cannot but think that the critics have overlooked the fact that all the Sarwat Treaty provided in this connection was that should circumstances arise likely to imperil good relations between Egypt and a foreign power, or to threaten the lives and property of foreigners in Egypt, the Egyptian Government would, at once, consult His Majesty s Government with a view to the adoption of the measures best calculated to solve the difficulty. That is how the Sarwat Treaty was going to deal with this point. Paragraph 6 of the present proposal imposes a definite Treaty obligation on Egypt to ensure the due discharge of the responsibilty for the lives and property of foreigners in Egypt. Our proposal is definite and, His Majesty's Government believe, adequate, and if tile Treaty is observed in the spirit in which it has been conceived I believe it will be effective.
There is another proposal on which I would like to say a word. Our proposal for financial and judicial advisers is based on the idea that the, Egyptian Government in its own interest will do well to retain for some time to come the services of British advisers—for, at any rate, the period while Egypt is passing through a phase of rapid and important development. We believe that this proposal will not create any difficulty. It is one thing to have officials from another country forced upon you, but an entirely different thing when the people in the country itself, having their own Government, feel the need of having experienced officials. I believe that we will find that this proposal of ours will work with great satisfaction. With regard to the police and the European element, my predecessor stipulated for the retention of the European element in the police until the reform of the capitulatory system had been carried through. The change which we have made is that we have stipulated a period of five years.
There are, of course, a number of other differences between the two drafts but in many cases they are of minor importance and the enumeration covers, I think, the main differences which emerge train a comparison between the Sarwat proposals and those for which this Government has made itself responsible.
I want, in conclusion, briefly to show the lines on which we have gone. We proceeded on the lines that no agreement can be of permanent value unless credit is given to the Egyptians for a desire to operate the agreement in the same spirit in which its provisions have been conceived. Irritating restrictions, calculated to arouse suspicion and which wound national susceptibilities, have been removed, because of the conviction that such restrictions, sought to be imposed from without, could only defeat the main purpose which both countries had in view. That purpose, so far as His Majesty's Government are concerned, is the establishment of a firm and lasting friendship with the Egyptian people, by the removal of those sources of suspicion which in the past have been the cause of so much damage to the interests of both peoples. His Majesty's Government believe that we must regard the Declaration of 1922 as having made a clean sweep of interference in the internal administration of Egypt. This is a position which was accepted as long ago as by the late Lord Curzon, and it is absolutely impossible to go back upon it to-day. Interference in internal administration is utterly incompatible with our recognition of Egypt as an independent sovereign State, and such interference, in my judgment, could only be maintained by force. The policy of force is hardly worth a moment's discussion. It is a policy for which to-day no Government would make itself responsible, and which no Parliament in this country would support.
I claim for the proposals that they are honest and mean what they say. They do not attempt to withdraw with one hand the concessions which have been made with the other. They are in full accord with the recommendations of the Milner Commission, and if, as I hope, they result in the conclusion of a treaty with Egypt, they will open, we believe, a happier chapter in Anglo-Egyptian relations. What this may mean for peace and for safety for our Empire, every Member of the House will be able to appreciate. It is my own firm conviction that such a treaty, by gaining for Great Britain the friendship and the support of Egypt, especially in times of difficulty and danger, will ensure the security of British Imperial communications far more effectively than an occupation enforced in the teeth of the opposition of the Egyptian people.
May I make just one final observation? The fate of our proposals still hangs in the balance. Some weeks may elapse before Egypt can signify, through the newly-elected Parliament, her response to the offer which has been made to her. His Majesty's Government, however, have confidence in the good will towards them of the Egyptian people. The Government believe that through the newly-elected Government they will reciprocate the spirit of friendship and faith which has been reposed in them in recent months by the representatives of this nation.
Sir HILTON YOUNG:
The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary has dealt with many interesting topics, but I do not think we can rid ourselves of the impression that among the many interesting things that he has said, he has not included a reply to my right hon. Friend the late Foreign Secretary. The greater part of his speech was devoted to establishing the proposition that some treaty ought to be made. That is a proposition which has not been denied in any part of the House, so far as I am aware, and certainly not on this side. It is a matter of common consent that some treaty ought to be made, and indeed the actual draft treaty to which so many references have been made was put forward by the late Government. The whole question in dispute is whether, in so far as the present proposed treaty differs from the draft treaty lately put forward, it is an improvement or whether it introduces certain specific dangers referred to by my right hon. Friend. Search as I may the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary, I can find no answer to my right hon. Friend but an appeal to authority. Authorities are very important, particularly about distant parts of the world, but when we are dealing in this House with so great a matter as the safety of Imperial communications and the future destinies of Empire, we have to do the best for our- selves and to depend upon our own judgment, trusting to authority only for matters of expert knowledge. About those, as a matter of fact, the Foreign Secretary has been singularly deficient in his weight of evidence.
The matter in which the right hon. Gentleman appeared to me most wholly to fail to satisfy the doubts and fears of my right hon. Friend was in regard to the future of the Sudan; and to that, very briefly, I would address myself. The problem of the Sudan is wholly different from that of Egypt. In Egypt we have the problem of a conscious democracy, a democracy conscious of the possibilities of self-determination. We have to decide there the most difficult of all questions inside the British Empire, the question of self-determination for an already conscious democracy, for a budding nationalism. But the problem of the Sudan is wholly different. There we have the other characteristic problem of the development of Imperial institutions, the problem of the evolution of a trusteeship on behalf of backward nations, where no conscious democracy exists, and where they are not as yet aware of the fascinations of self-determination. The only point at which this Treaty touches the Sudan is in the Clause as to the possible return, under hypothetical circumstances, at some future time, of an Egyptian battalion to the Sudan. This is the opportunity for a protest, and let a protest be made, as directly as it can be, against this course of policy, both as bad in itself, and as worse still in the implications which it contains for the future.
The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary has dismissed it as if it was a matter of relatively trivial significance. So far from it being so, I believe it may well be that this day, upon which we discuss our policy in this matter, will be marked by historians of the Empire as a turning point in the history of Empire. It is bad in itself, this policy as to the Egyptian battalion. That is clear from the history of the past. In the past there was an Egyptian force in the Sudan, and what we know about it is this, that while it was there it was the centre of political disaffection, it was the centre of a mischievous and wrecking propaganda against the Condominium and against British rule in the Sudan. There resulted from it directly disturbances which delayed the advance of civilisation in the Sudan. It was responsible for bloodshed and the loss of innocent life. I refer to the mutiny of the Atbara railway battalion, a mutiny among backward and simple folk, no doubt, but showing thereby how far this mischievous propaganda had got. More important, more sinister, was the mutiny among the cadets at Khartum, among those who were being trained to take responsibility for the government of the Sudan in the future.
The right hon. Gentleman will not be unaware, as a student of the history of the Sudan, how the most troublesome of all the tasks of those responsible for civil order in those days, the problem of combating the mischievous conspiracies of the organisation called the White Flag League, was the result of the maintenance of that League by funds and impetus from Egyptian propaganda against British rule. But indeed I need not argue this as a controversial matter, because it is put more clearly than I can put it in the White Paper bearing the signature of the present Prime Minister, after his conversations with Zaghloul Pasha, in which he says:
Not only has there been an entire change in the spirit of Anglo-Egyptian co-operation which has in the past prevailed in the Sudan, but also Egyptian subjects serving under the Sudan Government have been encouraged to regard themselves as propagandists of the Egyptian Government's views, with results that, if persisted in, in the absence of any agreement, would render their presence in the Sudan under the existing regime a source of danger to public order.
Let it then be taken as admitted, on the authority of the present Prime Minister, that the presence of an Egyptian battalion in the Sudan was the presence there of a radiating focus of civil dissension and disorder. Then there followed that consequence with which we are all familiar, after the horrid murder to which my right hon. Friend has referred, the battalion's withdrawal, as an essential measure for the preservation of order in the Sudan, accompanied by further disturbances; and again I need not argue that that was an essential measure for the preservation of order in the Sudan, because we have it again on the authority of the right hon. Gentleman the present Prime Minister in the same document, where he says:
His Majesty's Government have no desire to disturb existing arrangements, but they must point out how intolerable is a status quo which enables both military and civil officers and officials to conspire against civil order, and unless the status quo is accepted and loyally worked until such time as a. new arrangement may be reached, the Sudan Government would fail in its duty were it to allow such conditions to continue.
To permit the continuance of such conditions was found then to be constituting a breach of duty towards good government in the Sudan. What has changed since then to alter the position? In both these extracts to which I have referred, there is a proviso introduced—"in the absence of any fresh agreement." There has been an agreement, but not a relevant agreement. A relevant agreement would be an agreement about the status of the Sudan, a frank acceptance by the Egyptian people and the Egyptian Government of British rule in the Sudan. There has been no such acceptance, and there has been no change in the conditions that would make no longer applicable to the state of affairs in the Sudan those deliberate and convincing statements by the present Prime Minister himself, four years ago.
What must be the consequence of this most mischevious proposal if carried out? What must be its consequence, first of all, on the state of mind of the Egyptians? Must it not inevitably revive hopes of a success for the more extravagant claims as regards the Sudan made by the Egyptian propagandists? Of course it must. It will be looked upon, as under these conditions a movement always is looked upon, as a sign of weakness, as a sign of our readiness to make further concessions. It will be an encouragement to the further advancement of those extravagant demands which we sincerely hope His Majesty's Government will resist.
But more important than that, what will be the effect upon the minds of the Sudanese, unpractised in politics, uneducated in the ways of public opinion and the play of its forces hither and thither? Will they not inevitably look upon it as a signal that British rule in the Sudan is being qualified by an accession of strength to Egyptian influence there? Will they not look upon it as a contradiction, a retraction of the pledges and undertakings which we have given to the Sudanese that British rule there is to be maintained in its simple strength, a retraction of them all the more striking because it comes at so short an interval of time after the statements that were made to the Sudanese people in public at the time of the withdrawal of the battalion only a few years ago? These are the mischievous consequences that must result from admitting the possibility of the return of the battalion.
This raises a further question which I should like to ask, as to whether it is possible for the Government to give any information. Since the withdrawal of the Egyptian battalion the Sudan Defence Force has been organised upon a new basis. It has a wholly new status; its status now is that it owes allegiance to the Governor-General only. What is to be the status of the Egyptian battalion if it returns to the Sudan? To whom is this battalion to owe allegiance? Is it to owe allegiance to the Khedive or to the Governor-General? Is the force in the Sudan to have two different statuses, one part owning allegiance to the Khedive, and one to the Governor-General? That is a most undesirable arrangement, particularly in dealing with a backward and uncivilised community. It seems difficult to suppose that the allegiance of the Egyptian battalion should be transferred to the Governor-General. Has this matter been considered with the Egyptian Government? What is the understanding on the subject?
In reply to the questions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), and of my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State tells us that undoubtedly it is the view of His Majesty's Government that the Governor-General has power in the case of his finding the presence of the battalion inconsistent with the interests of civil order in the Sudan, to call upon the battalion to withdraw. A further question of practical moment is whether that is the interpretation put upon the Agreement by the Egyptian Government? Has there been any interchange of views on that topic? It is something gained to know that His Majesty's Government are prepared to stand for that. But is it accepted by the Egyptians? That is the legal position. The practical position may be otherwise. It may very well be that there is an authority in the Governor-General to call upon the battalion to withdraw. But under the new status for Egypt which we are approaching, it may be a very much more difficult thing in practice for the Governor-General to secure the withdrawal of the battalion. This is a position in which one should exercise common sense and not rely too blindly on a legal position.
Let me refer to the wider implications of this policy of permitting the return of the Egyptian battalion to the Sudan. I must make one reference to the argument of authority. The right hon. Gentleman says that the Governor-General of the Sudan has agreed to it in order to facilitate an Anglo-Egyptian agreement. It might be that the Governor-General would be prepared to agree to make a concession, even so undesirable a concession as this, to facilitate some Anglo-Egyptian agreement. But is this the agreement of the Governments the one that he wished to facilitate? I wonder. Again, let us remember recent events, Voltaire said that the English shot one Admiral in order to encourage the others. The Government have followed that example, with differences due to the greater lenity of modern manners; but after such an execution, the opinion of the other surviving Admirals must be taken in the light of recent historic events. Let me turn to the wider implications of this matter. The Government of the Sudan is a condominium. It it a form of government known in no other part of the world. It is a Government where there are two flags, two sovereigns, but one ruler. We remind ourselves of the difference between reigning and ruling. In the Sudan the Khedive and the King of England both reign, but the British Power alone rules. That singleness of rule is an absolutely essential feature for the good government of a country inhabited by tribes which are the most primitive of the peoples of the earth, and are the most formidable in their savagery of any that are to be found in the world. For the proper government of that country, the essence of efficiency is the maintenance unqualified of a single rule during the Condominium.
Is it not quite plain that the Condominium with the double reign and the single rule was possible, and even easy in the past, because Egypt was practically a dependent State, dependent upon other member of the Condominium. The reason why no difficulties arose was the dependence of Egypt upon its partner. Now you are looking forward to the time when Egypt will have independence. What the future history of the Condominium is to be when the partners are equal in status it is very difficult to foretell. All that one can foretell is that in order to maintain the single rule, it will be necessary to keep a stronger front against the demands of the Egyptian Parliament. For the sake of the Sudan, that front must be maintained. That is all the more so owing to the new element introduced by the admission of Egypt to the League of Nations, and particularly to the signing of the Optional Clause. What in this respect will be the position as regards the Condominium? Any dispute as to rights under the Condominium and any question of the Egyptian claims in the Sudan will be judged by the judicial Tribunal at The Hague. The Condominium will be in the melting pot.
I would not be guilty of the folly of prophesying how this struggle will work out but struggle there must be for the maintenance of the undivided rule under the Condominium in these new conditions. It is for that reason that at this time it appears particularly unwise not only to refrain from taking any possible step forward in the way of strengthening the position of Great Britain in the Sudan, but actually to take a step backward and to undo a, prudent and successful measure that has been taken in the past. We have a large responsibility; we have great duties in the Sudan; we have duties to the surrounding Powers; we have duties to our territories in Uganda and Kenya to protect their frontiers from the irruption of savage tribes. We have the strongest of possible duty to Egypt, to protect her southern frontier and to guarantee her those water rights without which she cannot exist. We have a duty to the whole world, for the power which holds the Sudan is the power which has its thumb on the slave trade. The Sudan has ever in the past been of the centre of that trade. Finally, we have the strongest of duties, a duty based upon undertakings, upon history, upon every conceivable national circumstance, to the Sudanese themselves. We have undertaken that task, and we should be double-dyed in weakness, and in the treachery which history most condemns, if we allowed anything to weaken the force of the authority which we have to discharge those duties.
The policy which is to be carried out is such a weakening. It is a weakening which may prevent us from discharging those duties, particularly in view of the march of constitutional evolution in Egypt. In comparison with these duties, it may seem trivial to refer to the commitments which we have in the Sudan. But we must not forget that £16,000,000 of the British taxpayers' money has been committed to the Sudan, and that it can only be made to fructify in the interests of the Sudanese themselves, and in the interests of the whole world, by the maintenance there of united and strong rule. Finally, I do not hesitate to refer to the record of our brilliant achievement in the Sudan. It has been one of the most characteristic and one of the most glorious achievements of the British Empire. It has been a characteristic achievement, because there all the forces which made for good in the Empire have worked most freely and with least qualification from the forces that make for evil. It will be a dark day if this little rift in the defences of good government in the Sudan is allowed to grow by any further weaknesses, and spoil a proud record for the past, and bright hopes for the future.
The right hon. Gentleman said that there was at the basis of this Debate a great deal of common ground. We are all agreed that a treaty ought to be made. The only question is as to the form which that treaty shall take. In the discussions which have taken place in this House and in another place, if the arguments put forward, and received with wide acceptance by hon. Members opposite, were followed to their logical conclusion, they would strike at the root, not only of the proposals which the Foreign Secretary is making, but at the whole policy of settlement. I want to look at some of the objections which have been raised by hon. Members opposite, and raised also in another place, against the proposals which have been made, and to see how far they are really justified. The Foreign Secretary was right in reminding the House that it is necessary to start our discussions from the Declaration of Independence of 1922. In 1922 we said that Egypt was to be a free and independent sovereign state. We allowed Egypt, in pursuance of that Declaration, to set up her own parliamentary constitution; we allowed her to organise her own foreign office and to send missions abroad. We reserve to ourselves only four points, and that provisionally, and for a period of time which should only last until it was possible, by free discussion and friendly accommodation, to come to a complete agreement in regard to them.
When we talk about making a settlement with Egypt, we mean only one thing—the settlement of these four reserved points. We do net mean the revision of the policy of independence of 1922. It is not in our power to take away the independence which we gave. The main question, therefore, which is raised is whether we are to make this agreement, or whether we are to go on drifting; whether we are to come to a settlement as soon as we can, or whether we are to remain indefinitely in the present position? The Government have decided, for the reasons which the Foreign Secretary has so admirably expounded, to make a settlement. They have done so because independence is not only the policy which is now inevitable, but the policy which we have wanted; it is the policy which was declared by Lord Cromer in the first official statement which he made when he went to Egypt; it is the policy which was recommended by the Milner Commission, even before the Declaration of 1922 was made. They recommended then that we should make a treaty at once covering the four points with which we are now dealing, and they said that they would regard it as a great misfortune if the present opportunity were lost. As we think, the Foreign Secretary has made an opportunity incomparably better than that which existed when the Milner Commission wrote those words. We, therefore, consider that it would be the greatest of possible misfortunes if this new opportunity which he has made should be allowed to go to waste.
What are the objections which are brought forward to this settlement? I want to deal with four only, and I hope that I have understood them, although I am not confident that I have. I start with one which, it seems to me, goes to the root of the whole policy of settlement, I mean the objection which has been taken in connection with the Government's signature of the Optional Clause. Until recently the situation in Egypt, the fact that no settlement had been made, was used as an argument against us to say that we ought not to sign the Optional Clause. Now the argument is reversed. The fact that the Government have signed the Optional Clause is used as an argument for allowing the present situation in Egypt indefinitely to continue; indefinitely because the argument is, if I understand it, that an international court is not to be trusted to apply the treaties which will be made. Therefore, it is an argument against the whole policy of settlement.
I submit with great respect but, as I say, without certainty that I have understood what has been said on the other side, that that argument is really just the other way about. Before a settlement was made, before there was a hope of such settlement, then, indeed, it might have been argued, and was argued with a certain force, that there was an element of risk in signing the Optional Clause, because then it might have been held that the Egyptians would by some device get themselves into the League of Nations, would sign the Optional Clause, and then would take us before the court to secure a decision upon our general position in Egypt and whether we had any right to be there at all. If such had happened, it might well have been that our case at The Hague would have been a difficult one. I do not say it would; indeed, for my part, I have always regarded that argument as rather an extravagant fancy raised on hypotheses which were most unlikely to come about, and I have always thought that as a reason for not signing the Optional Clause it was as dust in the balance against the vital British interests which will be promoted by our signature. In any case the basis of that argument is cut away by the treaty which we are now going to make, because if we have a settlement we shall then have a definite treaty right to have our troops in the canal zone, and we shall have a definite right to our position in the Sudan.
It was argued by Lord Salisbury in another place that it was excessively dangerous for us now to make a settlement because our position on the Canal or our position in the Sudan would be challenged in the way I have described. In fact it is not so. If we were so taken to the Permanent Court we should have a perfectly clear treaty right, on paragraph 13 of the proposals put forward, which says that we shall have our position in the Sudan definitely confirmed on the basis of 1899. If any hon. Member will take the trouble to consult the Conventions of 1899 he will agree, I think, that they do not justify the fears which the right hon. Gentleman who spoke just now expressed. On the contrary, it is inconceivable that any Permanent Court applying those conventions could do anything but support entirely our position in the Sudan. The same is undoubtedly true of the proposals put forward with regard to the defence of the Canal, because there we should have not a vague nebulous position in international law, resting on what basis nobody knows, but, on the contrary, we should have a definite position resting upon an article in our treaty which the Permanent Court would necessarily and obviously determine in our favour. In other words, our signature of the Optional Clause will operate in this case as it will always operate in every case, in support of the legal status quo on the basis of treaty rights and the maintenance of general peace and order.
I do not want to say more about the Optional Clause, but to pass on to the second objection which was made in another place, namely, that by making this treaty we shall be giving up the declaration of 1922 with regard to the non-interference of foreign Powers in Egypt, giving up that declaration by which we said we would regard the interference by foreign nations in Europe as an unfriendly act. It was explained by Lord Salisbury that he wanted to make perfectly certain that there would be no conceivable chance of foreign aggression as a right against Egypt. He spoke of Egypt being a rich land which might well tempt some foreign Power to annex it. I venture to submit that the proposals of the Foreign Secretary in no way diminish the effect of the declaration in any particular whatever but, on the contrary, that the policy of the declaration will be far better fulfilled than it could have been before.
Why do I say that? Because the declaration, our so-called Monroe doctrine, which we made in 1922, was no more than a unilateral declaration, made without the consent of Egypt, without the consent of any foreign Power and which, indeed, would be challenged by any foreign Power directly it desired to disregard it. In other words, it is a declaration which rests upon force alone; but it will now be supplemented by the admission of Egypt to the League of Nations, which will secure for Egypt the protection of Article 10 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. We submit that that Article 10 is a good deal better as a safeguard for Egyptian security, and for our vital interests in that security, than anything which could be done by a unilateral declaration in whatever form we might make it. Article 10 of the Covenant lays upon every member of the League an absolute obligation not only to respect but also to guarantee the existing political independence and territorial integrity of the members of the League of Nations. That is an undertaking which will bind every member of the League, including every possible enemy who might make an attack against Egypt.
Therefore, we say that, taken together with paragraph 7 of the proposals concerning the Anglo-Egyptian alliance, it is absolutely certain that if war should happen by the breach of the Covenant of the League and the Kellogg Pact, we should be in an infinitely stronger position that we would have been before. I think hon. Members opposite hold this objection because they do not take the Covenant of the League of Nations quite as seriously as we do. I recognise in the fullest way that hon. Members opposite are believers in the League of Nations and desire its success, but they are very often inclined, when they come to any practical example of its working, to regard what is contained in the Covenant as really of not much more value than a scrap of paper. Seriously and honestly, I think they are perfectly wrong, and if they would follow, for example, the relations between Lithuania and Poland in the last 10 years they would observe a very small Power next door to a very powerful military neighbour flouting and thwarting that military neighbour in every way and yet absolutely secure simply and solely because of the protection which Lithuania has had under the Covenant of the League of Nations. Therefore, we believe that this new basis for the security of Egypt will be far stronger than that which results from any unilateral declaration of 1922.
May I say a word on a subject on which I speak with a certain diffidence, because I am not an expert, and on which I simply read the views of experts with the intelligent interest of a layman—I mean the security of the Canal and the removal of troops from the central cities of Egypt? To ask that troops must be kept in the central cities of Egypt is really to strike at the root of all hope of a settlement within a measurable future of time. We know that for certain. We know from what happened to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) when he tried to make his treaty. We know we cannot expect that any treaty will be made with Egypt if we insist on the permanent occupation of the central cities. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham raised two points. He spoke, in the first place, of our communications with the Sudan, and said they would be absolutely cut if we had not a control of Egypt by keeping troops near the central cities. Unless I am wholly misinformed, and I think I am not, it happens to be the case that something like 90 per cent. of all trade with the Sudan goes, not through Egypt, but through Port Sudan and by railway from there up to Khartum, a 36 hours' run. If we send troops to Khartum we do not send them through Egypt, but we send them by sea to Port Sudan. In other words, unless I am much mistaken, it would virtually matter not at all to the security of the Sudan and to our position there if our communications in Egypt were absolutely cut, because we have an alternative and a better and a quicker route which we now use.
As far as the Canal is concerned, I submit again that the contest is between removal to the Canal zone, which the proposals have suggested, and the perpetual occupation of the central cities, which Lord Lloyd has said he definitely prefers. We ought to consider that question while trying to keep in mind the hypotheses that may raise. What are the actual dangers which may result from a removal of the troops? In the first place, there may be an attack from the sea or there may be an attack from the air, and the location of our troops will have no effect on such attacks, in either case. There may be attack from the east, from the desert, that is from the same direction as that from which the Turks made their attack during the War. Where shall we then keep our troops? Shall we then need the distant western base for which Lord Lloyd asks? The experience of the War of 1914 would suggest the opposite, because when we had that practical case before us we kept our troops in the Canal zone, and their base was at Tel-el-Kebir.
There remains the case of possible attack from the west, that is to say, from Egypt itself, and the question there is whether or not our position on the Canal will be a tenable one. It is sometimes said that it would be impossible, but I know there are experts who hold, on the contrary, that it would be a very strong position, and, indeed, actually stronger than a position based upon Cairo and Alexandria if Egypt were in revolt against our action. We must remember that the Canal cannot be attacked at all on its northern sector, because there are morasses and marshes four or five feet deep which make an attack on any large scale impossible. It cannot be attacked from the south, because troops cannot be moved against the great tract of desert which there exists. The attack must be made on the point of a narrow salient which is behind Tel-el-Kebir, and the question is whether we should be any stronger if we had a western post in the central cities. I think it is impossible to say that we should, because we should not only have to protect the Canal zone itself but to protect those bases, squandering our forces in holding positions which are not necessary to the security of the Canal itself. Lastly, on this subject, I would like to suggest what has been suggested by the Foreign Secretary, that the real security for the Canal is and must be the good will of the Egyptian people, just as in the case of the Sudan, about which the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last made reference. Our position will not be threatened if we are working in cooperation with the Egyptian people. It will only be threatened so long as there are the strained relations which have existed in recent years.
There is one other case upon which I should like to say a word or two, and that is the protection of foreigners in Egypt. It is quite true that we reserved the right to protect foreigners in Egypt in 1922, and that is one of the four points which we said we should be willing to negotiate upon. The question I want to ask is whether there is anything terrible in the proposals which the Secretary of State is making if independence is to be a reality. I am not much encouraged by what is said on this question by those who are against these proposals. Lord Lloyd, speaking in another place, told us that he desired to keep our army of occupation—
The hon. Member must not found his speech on quotations from speeches made in another place. That would not be in order. The only reference to speeches in another place that are in order are those of declarations of policy made on behalf of His Majesty's Government.
I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House for my lapse. The views I was going to express have received a wide measure of support in the Press. A great many people have put forward the view that the alternative to the proposals which are now being made is the maintenance of an army of occupation to secure British control of the Egyptian police. That may be an alternative but it is certainly not independence, and it is impossible to reconcile that policy with the independence for which we declared in 1922. Lord Grey and Lord Curzon have both declared that it would be necessary to give up those rights if we carried the policy of independence, and they have also said that it would have been impossible for us to play fast and loose with the policy which we declared in 1922.
I would like to ask whether these rights of protecting foreigners are really necessary. If we read Egyptian history, and I have tried to, there are only two periods when there was an anti-foreign feeling among the Egyptian people. The first was before 1882 when Egypt was being bled white by foreign usurers, and the other was the period following the War. if me want to understand that feeling aright, we must go to Egypt and ask what happened there during the War. The old men and women in the Egyptian villages know what happened to their sons who were taken for the War, and who never returned. In other ways, the Egyptian. people had a very great grievance against foreigners. Therefore, I say once more that the goodwill of the Egyptian people is the only real guarantee for peace in Egypt, and we have to consider how that peace can best be secured. In Egypt, there is a population of 15,000,000 people, and how can those people be happy and prosperous if we continue a policy which makes them hostile and suspicious and more embittered against us.
I would like, in conclusion, to repeat the wise remark made by the Foreign Secretary that only the goodwill of the Egyptian people can solve the Egyptian problem. I think the policy put forward by the Government will secure that goodwill more than it has ever been secured before, and we shall protect the rights of foreigners as they have never been protected before. This new Treaty, it made, will complete the process initiated by the Declaration of Independence of 1922, and we shall win Egypt to true co-operation. That goodwill will make the Canal safe almost from the possibility of attack; it will render safe and prosperous the foreigners who live upon Egyptian soil, and it will achieve all the purposes which we have stayed in Egypt to carry through. But to win that goodwill we must end and end for ever the regime of force. Why should we be afraid to do so? We shall never have any security in the real sense of the word until we have got rid of force in Egypt. I think it was Napoleon who said, in the zenith of his power, that the longer he lived the more he was convinced of the impotence of force to create anything that could endure. History can give many examples of the truth of what Napoleon said. His words are indeed the key to the whole political evolution of mankind, but nowhere have his words been more profoundly true than in the British Commonwealth of Nations. I hope that the House to-night will show once more that faith in the constructive power of liberty and justice which more than anything else has made our nation great.
We have just listened to a speech couched in felicitous and well-balanced terms from the hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. Noel Baker) which shows that the hon. Member has given a very careful study to this question. If I do not follow the line of his arguments, it is because I have a certain amount of ground to cover, and I do not wish to trespass longer than is necessary upon this Debate. First of all, I have a small point, a small discrepancy to which I desire to call the attention of the Foreign Secretary. I am sorry that I do not see him in his place, because it is a personal point. The House will remember the Debate which took place at the end of last Session on the eve of the Adjournment. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked a specific question of the Foreign Secretary. He said:
I want to know one more thing, and that is if negotiations have been going on, are going on, or are completed, have those negotiations been carried on without the knowledge of the High Commissioner of Egypt? Those are very plain and very simple questions, and I hope we may have an equally plain and simple answer."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th July, 1929; col. 1636, Vol. 230.]
The Foreign Secretary was very emphatic, and he repelled with indignation the insinuation that negotiations had been going on without the knowledge of the High Commissioner. In his reply the Foreign Secretary said:
There has been a suggestion in the speech to which the House has just listened, and which was made more emphatically in another place, that we had been carrying on negotiations behind the back of the High Commissioner. I challenge that statement most emphatically. … May I inform the House that the first meeting of that Cabinet Sub-Committee to consider these proposals with the intention of presenting a report to the Cabinet was held on Monday last, and I think that ought to dispose of the charge that we have been negotiating—at any rate, it appears that a new meaning has been given to the word negotiating.'" REPORT, 26th July, 1929; cols. 16.38–9; Vol. 230.)
The House has now heard that negotiations began in June, and we are now told that these proposals were considered in the early part of June, and we
have had a very full account of the course of those negotiations. I do not wish to exaggerate this point, and I make no imputation on the right hon. Gentleman's good faith, but I must say that I think, in the delicate position of the Foreign Secretary, he should look at the two statements which he made, one at the end of last Session, and the other this afternoon in order to see whether there are any important discrepancies which require to be reconciled.
I am going to ask the House this afternoon to consider this extremely difficult question of Egypt in two separate stages. First of all, upon its merits, and, secondly, in respect of the hardly less difficult matter of form and obligation. Whatever may have been the course of events in the last 10 years, whatever view we may take about them, nothing can relieve us of the responsibility of asking ourselves at this stage whether in fact we are actually approaching a good, permanent and peaceful settlement of Egypt. If the result of all that has been said and done is safe and satisfactory, if we shall be able to rest upon this settlement in tranquillity through the years that pass; if we have in fact reached the best solution of this question, then, of course, no other questions would be worth considering. On the other hand. if what we have done should prove that whatever roads we have trodden are leading us now to the edge of a precipice, and are leading us to a. far greater chance of strife than of peace, not merely to loss of interest and influence but of life, if it is leading us to continuing friction and bloodshed, then we must examine very much more carefully these questions of form, obligation, and commitments which I admit are also of the first importance.
The first question which I wish to discuss with the Government and place before the country is: Are we or are we not going to have peace as a result of the Treaty which the Government have proposed, and, particularly, as a result of withdrawing the British troops from Cairo. I remember at the time of the entente with France in 1904, when Liberals, Conservatives and Labour men were loud in their rejoicings at this settlement of our disputes with France which they looked upon as a great step towards the achievement of peace, that only one voice was raised against it, and that was the voice of Lord Rosebery who declared that the entente was much more likely to lead to war than to peace. Needless to say, those remarks were judged to be extremely inopportune by everybody. I am sorry to say that I must declare that it is my respectful and earnest submission to the House that the acceptance of this Treaty in its present form and the, withdrawal of our troops from Cairo is far more likley to lead to the shedding of blood in Egypt and to a very tense and dangerous situation arising in they Mediterranean than will occur if we go Ion more or less as we are.
There is no doubt that it is both difficult and unsatisfactory to go on as we are, but we must be very careful, in seeking clarity, in seeking what I would call juridical impeccability, that we do not set in motion a train of events which will lead to shocking and sanguinary disasters. The first question that we ought to ask ourselves—because I recognise that to a large extent the Government are considering these matters from the same point of view as we are—is, what will happen in Egypt when the British troops have evacuated Cairo and taken up new stations in the deserts along the Suez Canal? For 50 years British troops have been in Cairo and just outside it; they have been intermingled with the Egyptian troops. The Egyptian Army has been under British control and guidance. All those troops, British and Egyptian, have dwelt together in amity, in discipline and in comradeship. They have been in close and friendly contact. They have paraded together and have manoeuvred together, and together they have formed the common defence of Egypt against internal disorder or Turkish invasion. Now it is proposed to separate those forces; it is proposed to leave the Egyptian Army, denuded of its British officers, concentrated in Cairo, and it is proposed to withdraw the British Army to the other end of the lists, to fortified camps which are to be constructed in the Canal zone. I think that the mere act of this separation and of this taking up of opposite stations is pregnant with danger. I fear that it will create new dangers. I fear that it will mean the concrete expression of an antagonism which may very easily ripen, which will almost certainly ripen as the years pass by.
Originally, at the end of the last century, there were only 3,000 or 4,000 Egyptian troops in Cairo. When the liberation of the Sudan from the Mandist terror was achieved, those numbers considerably increased. When, as the result of the alarming events of 1925 at Khartum, the Egyptian troops quitted the Sudan, the Egyptian Army in Cairo rose from 7,000 or 8,000 to 12,500 men. It has been the constant desire of the Egyptian Nationalists, and of every Egyptian Government depending upon their support, or anxious to gain their support, to increase the size of the Egyptian army as quickly as possible. Two years ago my right hon. Friend was confronted with a proposal of the Egyptian Government to raise the strength of the Egyptian Army in Cairo to 18,000 men, and to equip it with machine guns and many other modern appliances. We were able to dissuade Egyptian Ministers from taking so sinister a step, but we were only able to dissuade them because we were on the spot, and on the spot in force. Although there was no need to use that force, nevertheless its presence had the effect of securing quite quietly, quite politely, and without trouble, the object which we all desired, and which pacifists and disarmament men should be the first to desire, namely, the abandonment of a large scheme of Egyptian military expansion. Once we have retired to the Canal zone, we shall have no means of dissuading the. Egyptian Government from any expansion or equipment of their army which they may think fit. Except during the brief period of the Protectorate, we have never had any legal right to do so, but we have had a moral right, and we have had the practical influence which secured the acceptance of that moral right. We may, indeed, have the moral right in the future, but we shall have neither legal right nor practical influence.
Nothing in this Treaty limits the armed forces which Egypt may raise and maintain. They have the wealth—they are very wealthy as the result of 50 years of our assistance; and they will have the sovereign right to raise as large an army as they please, and to equip it and dispose of it as they choose. It is obvious that any substantial increase in the Egyptian Army in Cairo would require the sending of precautionary reinforce- ments to the British forces on the Canal. For whom else can an increase in the Egyptian Army in Cairo concern except the British forces on the Canal? What other force is there in Egypt, or on the frontiers of Egypt, of any practical consequence that could constitute a, preoccupation to the Egyptian Army except the British forces on the Suez Canal? Therefore, if at any time the Egyptian Government increase their army, as they have been long and earnestly anxious to do, and as the Egyptian Nationalists are determined to do, we shall have to make a counter-increase, and a situation of marked tension will arise and speedily develop,
Of course it will be said, and I recognise that it is so, that there is no doubt of our ability, if the worst ever came to the worst, to overcome and even brush aside any force which Egypt might set on foot. We could undoubtedly at any time, as long as we retained the command of the seas, advance upon Cairo and win another battle of Tel-el-Kebir and re-enter Cairo. But do we want to do this? Who wants to do it? Is this a situation that we should ever wish to see again? Is this the kind of event that we wish to prepare for? Is this the kind of event that we wish to hatch out in advance? Even if it has been decided to march the British troops out of Cairo, surely, in the interests of peace, in the interests of economy, in the interests of disarmament, the Treaty should at least contain a strict limitation upon the size of the forces which, in times of peace and without consultation with their Ally, the Egyptian Government should raise. To go away from Cairo to the Canal, to lose all decisive influence upon Egyptian policy, and at the same time to leave them free to raise any army they choose, is simply manufacturing explosive in a retort. The British Government may take to themselves the credit of a peace-loving gesture, but the consequences of that gesture, however well meant, may, after a few years, involve serious loss of life.
These matters have already been in the minds of His Majesty's present Government, and they have regarded them in a spirit which in some respects is robust. Lord Thomson, the Secretary of State for Air, is a Socialist Minister, but his political training has not advanced suffi- ciently to enable him to conceal his misgivings under a perfect veneer of hackneyed phrases. He has remarked significantly, as I observed from the public Press, that armoured cars can reach Cairo from the Canal zone in six hours, provided, I presume, of course, that the roads have not been broken up. What does this significant remark of the Air Minister mean? I ask the Foreign Secretary specifically, because it is no use getting ugly facts covered up and camouflaged over, and leaving the working classes in this country and in Egypt suddenly to wake up and find that armed violence has broken out, and that they are expected to take part in it. [Interruption.] Let us see exactly where we are going. [Interruption.] I ask the right hon. Gentleman specifically—the Under-Secretary can answer me when be speaks, as I presume he is going to do—whether it is part of the plan of His Majesty's Government to keep an adequate mobile force of mechanical vehicles in the Canal zone for the purpose, if necessary, of advancing upon Cairo? I must point out that, if they are not kept in the Canal zone—if, for instance, they are left in England until the emergency arises—then Lord Thomson's assurance has no meaning, and I am sure he would not have given such an assurance on behalf of the Government unless he had honourably intended that reliance could be placed upon it. As a Socialist Minister has introduced this topic of armoured cars into the discussion, I feel bound to bring to the notice of the House the kind of situation which the Government have already been focussing in their minds, and it is no doubt seriously concerning their military advisers. [Interruption]. Laughter may sometimes, not only express feelings, but conceal uneasiness.
I have another point, and I will ask the supporters of the Government to consider it. The Egyptian Army, as hon. Members opposite probably know, is raised by conscription; there is compulsory military service in Egypt. The industrious peasantry of the Delta of the Nile are averse from the profession of arms; they do not wish to serve as soliders; they prefer to cultivate their feidls and lead peaceful, industrious lives, gaining a humble livelihood by their water channels and beneath their date palms; and it is quite impossible to induce them by monetary rewards alone to quit their homes, their villages, and their fields, in order to crunch the gravel on the barrack square or to exchange the implements of agriculture for lethal weapons. They do not wish to be soldiers. Why should they be compelled, against their own inclinations, which are at the moment in harmony with the dearest inclinations of lovers of peace throughout the world, to undergo the rigours of compulsory military training? [Interruption.]
If it be decided to evacuate Cairo—I think the House will see that my point is a reasonable one; at any rate, I intend to make my point—if it be decided to evacuate Cairo, surely the least that could be accepted in the Treaty would be that the conscription of the Egyptian peasantry for service in the Army should be simultaneously abolished. The general principle on which the Draft Treaty is framed is one of meticulous similarity and equality. There is equality of status between the two High Contracting Parties, and the Government, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, have carried this principle so far as to suggest that the whole British Empire shall refer its entire foreign policy to our Egyptian Ally, in the same way as our Egyptian Ally is to refer its foreign policy to us. If we are carrying equality and similarity to such fantastic lengths in the region of diplomacy, surely it would not be too much to ask that an equal provision should be introduced into the Treaty in respect of compulsory military service. I ask, will the Government add to their proposals a provision that neither of the two High Contracting Parties shall adopt or continue compulsory military service unless some great emergency outside Egypt arises? Is that an unreasonable request Is that a request which any of those who have taken part in denouncing conscription in every part of the world, and who sincerely advocate its abolition, can regard as an unreasonable request? We, too, have advocated again and again the abandonment of compulsory service, and we have not only advocated it, but we have set the example ourselves to all Europe. Are we not, in these circumstances, entitled to make a stipulation of this kind before we sign a Treaty or withdraw our troops? This is at once perfect equity and sound common sense. Those are the two points which I am asking the right hon. Gentleman to consider—first of all a restriction upon the size of the Egyptian Army and, secondly, the abolition of conscription for the recruitment of that army.
I shall no doubt be told that, once the Treaty is signed, all friction and causes of friction and all trouble between the British and Egyptian Governments will have been absorbed in a lasting settlement, a reign of peace and goodwill will ensue, and there will be a new atmosphere. I wish I could believe that this was true. Unhappily, no one who studies the draft agreement, and knows anything about Egyptian affairs, can pretend that all serious causes of friction—"all sources of suspicion," I think, was the phrase the Foreign Secretary used—will be disposed of by this Treaty. I take only one very grave cause of continual friction, which has been mentioned to-day on both sides of the House, the British occupation of the Sudan. It is common ground between the Government and the Opposition that the Sudan should remain effectually under British control. No part of the Government's declarations about Egypt have been so outspoken. The answer which the right hon. Gentleman has just given to the point pressed by the late Foreign Secretary appears to me to be all that could possibly have been asked from this side of the House on that subject. The declarations are outspoken and, although I think it is a dangerous thing to introduce a battalion into the Sudan, on account of the disturbance that it will create in public opinion, nevertheless I do not consider that those declarations on this point are unsatisfactory. We have been repeatedly assured that the most the Government will agree to about the Sudan is that it will consider sympathetically the admission of a single Egyptian battalion there as a matter of form and courtesy, simultaneously with the withdrawal of the British troops from Cairo, and we are now told that it will rest with the British Governor-General of the Sudan, irrespective of any provisions in the Treaty, and irrespec the of any interpretation that may be placed on those provisions by the League of Nations or otherwise, to order that battalion out again, and nothing can stand in the way of its removal from the Sudan.
From our point of view, that is a perfectly satisfactory answer. But does the right hon. Gentleman really think the Egyptian nationalists will be satisfied with this? Does he really think any Egyptian Government will dare to rest content with it? The connection of Egypt with the Sudan is ancient and traditional. Nothing appeals to the educated classes in Egypt so much as their intimate association with the Sudan. The Egyptian conquest of the Sudan early in the last century was for Egypt national war, and was regarded by her as a great national achievement. The sacrifices and the frightful losses endured in attempts to regain possession of the Sudan and to retain it in the days of the Khedive I small were not entirely the exactions of a despotic government. They were supported by strong Egyptian sentiment. Whole armies of fellaheen were dragged from their peaceful occupations by the Government and sent in succession to be destroyed by the fierce Arab tribesmen of the Sudan. To talk about conciliating Egypt, and gratifying Egyptian sentiment, and brushing away all causes of friction and suspicion without conceding them at the least an equal share in the administration of the Sudan is folly. No one can pretend that these causes of dispute will be removed by anything short of that; either you must be prepared to concede the full Egyptian claim about the Sudan, or you must be prepared to face a continued quarrel with all those forces in Egypt at whose behest we are no to evacuate Cairo.
There are other causes of friction which this treaty does nothing to remove—[Interruption]. On a matter of this immense consequence—I have not trespassed greatly on the House this Session—I am surely entitled to unfold my case in its integrity. There are other causes of friction which the draft treaty does nothing to relieve. The Egyptian Nationalists, who will be all-powerful in the immediate future, make no secret of their claim that the British troops should not only evacuate Cairo and the neighbourhood, but clear off Egyptian soil altogether. They will never acquiesce willingly or long in the continued presence of 'an all-powerful British force in the country. Whatever may have been said by Sarwat Pasha, or Mahmud Pasha, or any other of these fleeting figures who arise for the purpose of drawing pro- posals from various British Governments and disappear as soon as those proposals reach the point of decision, the demand of Egypt is that the British quit the soil of Egypt bag and baggage, and the Nationalist forces which Zaghloul formed and led forward will never be content with less. Zaghloul Pasha again and again made it perfectly clear that nothing short of the complete evacuation of the soil of Egypt would satisfy the national demand which he created, inspired and expressed. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is not true!"] We may have a difference of opinion on the subject, but I am basing myself on knowledge which has been gathered very carefully for a long period of time. The Government may, with our remaining influence, coax or cajole or coerce the Government of Egypt into accepting the treaty, but they will only accept it as an instalment and as a means of helping them towards their goal, and we shall simply be dceiving ourselves and sowing the seeds of a deadly harvest if we suppose that we can reconcile Egyptian nationalism to exclusion from the Sudan in the terms rightly proposed by the Government, and if we suppose that we can reconcile them to Lord Thomson's force of armoured cars, marshalled within six hours of Cairo. If you are trying to understand and meet another party's point of view, it is surely just as well to face the whole truth and the ugly facts as well as those that are easy and palatable.
Further, when we have gone from Cairo, when our troops have departed, we still have immense responsibilities in Egypt. It is true the Government propose in form to hand over the responsibility for the protection of foreign communities, and the protection of minorities, to the sole control of the Egyptian Government, but the Foreign Secretary has on more than one occasion said, and representatives of the Government in another place have said in terms of almost brutal candour, that, in the event of any failure on the part of Egypt to respect and protect the rights of foreigners or minorities, His Majesty's Government will be entitled to hold that the treaty is broken and that Great Britain will be free to take whatever measures she may think necessary. What can those measures be other than the advance of a military force and, if neces- sary, the re-occupation of Cairo? Henceforward we shall be without the power or the influence to prevent things from going wrong in Cairo. We shall nevertheless be watching vigilantly lest they should go wrong. We shall always be forced to nag and press the Egyptian Government where the interests of foreigners and minorities are concerned. We shall always be using the threat of an armed advance and a re-occupation of the Egyptian capital. We shall always be held accountable to Europe and the United States for the safety of their nationals. We shall always continue to take upon our shoulders the burden and the unpopularity of 'all the antagonisms that may arise between the Egyptian populace and foreign interests and colonies. We shall have no leverage at our disposal except the naked threat of invasion and re-occupation—[Interruption]. The League of Nations could not deal with this situation. It could only authorise us to utilise the force that we have and to fulfil the undertakings which we had given, lest the entire country should dissolve into anarchy and confusion.
I have tried to place before the House and the country the dangers now about to be created. I think causes of dispute will grow from year to year. The power of mitigating them in their early stages will be gone. To Egyptian eyes we shall still be the bugbear, we shall still be the interfering Power, the intruding Power, the trespassing Power, the threatening Power, and even, as it will seem to them, the bullying Power. The other European Governments and the American Government will profit from our exertions without suffering our odium. They will have the advantage without the labour. Once again Great Britain will be chained to the labouring oar without ever being allowed to lay a finger on the helm. At the same time, the Egyptians will be placed in a position to retaliate for every interference, however justified, however obligatory, however in accordance with the opinion of the world or the sanction of the League of Nations for every necessary advice that we have to tender by an increase of their military forces, by building up a numerous army under compulsory service and equipping it with deadly instruments of war, and thus forcing us to reinforce our garrison. in the canal zone in an atmosphere of ever-increasing tension.
I cannot think that this is a good conclusion to all our work in Egypt. I think that we have deserved better than that. I cannot think that it is a safe course to take if we wish to avoid bloodshed. On the contrary, it seems to me the exact manner in which a catastrophe of violent deeds would be deliberately and almost mechanically prepared. Would it not be far better to leave the British troops in Cairo? Would it not be far better to make it clear that it is our, unchanging policy that they shall remain there, and then to concede to Egyptian' sentiment and to Egyptian susceptibilities every form of considerate usage and every possible latitude of self-guidance and self-development. That is my counsel. That is the way I shall give my vote at all stages in these discussions. The departure of the British troops from Cairo will be a momentous event. If and when it occurs, it will resound' through all Asia. It will be noted by history like the recall of the legions many centuries ago. It will mark the point where great organisms slowly built up, exercising an immense pacifying and unifying influence upon the world, have reached their culmination and have begun the course of decline. I urge the House to resist the departure, but, if it should be within the power of the Government, which I am not sure it is, to carry through this dangerous and fateful step, I ask at least that the departure should be accompanied by a simultaneous restriction in the numbers of the Egyptian Army and the abolition of conscription throughout the valley of the Nile. Surely, that is not an improper demand to make, when it is the aim of the whole world to banish armed violence from human affairs. Then, at least, if any trouble should arise at any future date, it will be a small and not a large fight to which you will have condemned our soldiers.
I pass from the merits of these proposals to the separate question of the application to which they are put, and here I speak as one who, whatever his personal views may have been—and the right hon. Gentleman has access to our archives and knows what they have been—has borne a share of collective responsibility for all the important decisions about Egypt. During the period of the Protectorate Egypt was, with the formal approval of the allied and associated Powers, including the United States under President Wilson, actually incorporated in the King's Dominions. Our work in Egypt, except for that period, had been conducted on the basis of one of those anomalies which are dear to the oriental mind and by no means unknown to British mentality. For more than 30 years the status of Egypt was declared to be that of a tributary province of the Turkish Empire under temporary British military occupation. Since the abrogation of the Protectorate in 1923, its status has been that of a sovereign independent State subject to certain all-important reservations which were in conflict with and largely incompatible with sovereignty, but in respect of which reservations neither party was under any obligation to accommodate itself to the views of the other.
Lord Grey was entirely wrong in assuming that the Declaration of 1922 dealt wholly or mainly with the recognition of Egypt as a sovereign independent Power. I am sorry the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) is not in his place. As the then Prime Minister, he knows of the situation at that time, and, if he were in his place, he would confirm me in stating, as I now state, that the recognition of independence and the reservations were both integral parts of a single instrument designed to give recognition to Egyptian independence while reserving our necessary rights not only to preserve our own exclusive interests, but to discharge effectively our inalienable responsibilities. The 1922 Declaration cannot be divided; the two parts are integrally united. Then came the proposals of the late Government for the adjustment of the reservations. Those proposals were rejected by the Egyptian Government. They did not go so far as those of His Majesty's present advisers, but they were rejected, and we hold them as having lapsed. The Conservative Opposition, in respect of Egypt, resumes its entire freedom of judgment. It can always be argued that the fact that such proposals were put forward shows that we did not consider that they were necessarily incompatible with British interests. That is a consideration which weighs with us, but it was not a part of an understanding or bargain with any Egyptian party. As far as we are concerned, we are free from the 1928 proposals which were refused.
His Majesty's Government have made proposals which they say are their last word, and they are no doubt committed to them as a Government. If they are accepted, His Majesty's Government must accept the grievous responsibility of presenting them, with or without amendment, to Parliament. We, however, are entitled to go back to the Declaration of 1922, and no reproach can be made against us if we rest upon that Declaration until we are satisfied that a better solution for British, Egyptian, and international interests can be secured. I appeal to the House and to the Conservative party, apart from any other objections that they may entertain, to resist by every means in their power the withdrawal of the British troops from Cairo, and I urge on the Government, if they persist in this fateful step, to insist, by articles mutually agreed upon, that there shall be a limitation of the number of the Egyptian Army and a liberation of the Egyptian peasantry, if only as a parting gift, from the burden of conscription.
The right hon. Gentleman has dwelt to-day on the fact that from three to five years must elapse before the British troops leave Cairo. He rests on that fact with comfort, and he emphasised it to the House. That is only to leave to a future Government a legacy of great danger. As long as the troops are in Cairo none of these dangers will occur, but they will come upon some future Government in conditions of the gravest anxiety. There are other dangers in Egypt which are not remote, and I find it difficult to describe the ineptitude and imprudence of His Majesty's Government in their handling of Egyptian affairs during the short time that they have been responsible. In June, they were in communication with Mahmud Pasha behind the back of the High Commissioner. In August they dismissed Lord Lloyd, thus advertising our impending retreat to every subversive force in Egypt and Palestine. I believe the dismissal of Lord Lloyd and its manner was the direct precursor of the massacres in Palestine—[Interruption.] Oh, I do not mean that the Arabs of Palestine rose because they were angry at Lord Lloyd's departure, but because they attributed the sudden striking down of the hand that ruled Egypt and had given it four years of steady Government to an inherent weakness in the British Government, and they thought that the moment was ripe. That is my sincere opinion.
Lord Lloyd went, but Mahmud Pasha remained. What happened? His Majesty's Government, interfering in Egyptian affairs and meddling where they have boasted that no interference is permissible, insisted upon an election taking place in Egypt for a Parliament on a basis of manhood suffrage—manhood suffrage in an electorate, 92 per cent. of whom are illiterate, and, as has been said this afternoon, unable, in consequence of that illiteracy, to enjoy the secrecy of ballot! What does that mean? It could have had no other object and result than the absolute triumph of the Wafd, the Nationalist party, a caucus composed of extreme Anglophobes and the most violent figures in Egyptian politics. This powerful body has so manipulated and intimidated the electors that virtually no other candidates dared to stand. Not a single Liberal dared to stand. The Government have had much more success in exterminating Liberals in Egypt than they have yet had in this country. This interference of the Government in Egyptian affairs destroyed Mahmud Pasha, that "reasonable man" who so gratified and cheered the heart of the Foreign Secretary when he came on what was for him a very unfortunate visit to London. He was flung aside like a discarded and broken tool. No one of his party or political associates dared to present himself for election on the basis dictated by His Majesty's Government. Mahmud has gone, and now you are face to face with Nahas Pasha, the disciple of Zaghloul, the heir of Zaghloul, more extreme than his master. In a few months, therefore His Majesty's Government have annihilated all those Liberal elements in Egypt on which the Milner Report counted in an especial degree. They have confronted themselves only with the bitterest foes of Britain. They have produced a profound degeneration in the Egyptian situation and Egyptian society and encouraged a struggle between the Wafd and the Court, the end of which cannot be predicted.
Long before the five years are up events will occur which will afford evidence of the need of the British troops in Cairo. I do not know how long will be the life of His Majesty's Government, but I believe that they will live long enough to reap some at least of the wrath and evil and folly that they have sown.
There is a sombre philosophy nowadays which I hear in some quarters about Egypt and India. It is said:
Give them all they ask for! Clear out and let things go to smash, and then there will be a case for us to come back again.
The action of His Majesty's Government would bear that construction, and it is, in my opinion, not the worst construction to be put upon it. Such a doctrine is no foundation for the continuance of British fame and power. Once we lose confidence in our mission in the East, once we repudiate our responsibilities to foreigners and to minorities, once we feel ourselves unable calmly and fearlessly to discharge our duties to vast helpless populations, then our presence in those countries will be stripped of every moral sanction, and, resting only upon. selfish interests or military requirements, it will be a presence which cannot long endure.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), in the course of his speech, told us that in his opinion the proposals made by the late Government in 1927 had lapsed, but he agreed that the Declaration of 1922 remained. How does he interpret that Declaration? It was a Declaration which was to assure to the Egyptian people the status of sovereign national independence. What kind of sovereign national independence would he concede to them? Sovereign so long as they accept our guidance; independence so long as they submit to our control! The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), the late Foreign Secretary, said this afternoon, in speaking of our obligations to the Sudanese, that when the word of the British Government is pledged, it, is not its custom to break it. Whatever honour and authority we have in the world arises from that high claim. Our word is pledged to the Egyptian people, and it is not for us to break it.
Reservations no doubt there were, but reservations were not the whole of the Declaration. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping quotes Lord Grey and says that his declaration on this subject was erroneous sincehe omitted the reservations, it is not a correct rendering of what was said by the late illustrious Foreign Secretary in another place not long ago. The protest was against regarding the reservations as though they were the whole of the Declaration and forgetting altogether that independence was the dominating consideration. There were reservations on four points; not a definite withdrawal of those four points from all consideration. They were reserved. Reserved, what for? Reserved for future settlement. Yet the right hon. Gentleman says that the only way in which he would regard a settlement of the reserved points as being satisfactory would be one—I quote his own words—
which would leave us more or less as we are.
What was it to which the right hon. Gentleman referred when he said that he would like to see us remain more or less as we were. He was referring, as I understand it, to the presence of troops in the Sudan, the protection of foreigners, and to the maintenance of peace in Egypt.
My case is that we are under no obligation in the settlement of the reservations to adopt a course which we think injurious to our interests, and, rather than adopt that course, it would be better to go on as we were.
I think I have put a very close interpretation upon the right hon. Gentleman's words, for I gather that he thinks that any appreciable departure from the present situation would be contrary to our interests in the sense in which he has just used that term. For my own part, I think the time is fully ripe to secure a settlement of these reserved points, and more than ripe. The late Government, after five years had passed—five years is a long period—did set out very wisely and patriotically to endeavour to win the good will of the Egyptian people by removing those causes of dispute which are embodied in the four reserved points. If I have any quarrel to make with the speech of the Foreign Secretary to-day, it was rather that he was too modest in this matter, seeking with emphasis to disavow the accusation that he had initiated these negotiations, and to persuade the House that they were really pressed upon him by the Egyptians, and he had no choice to refuse to embark upon them. It would be to his credit if he had initiated these negotiations, and I regret that he did not do so.
In all these matters of international and imperial concern, there is often a dilemma which is put before us by those who wish to see nothing done. If things are peaceful, they say: "There is no need to act," "Leave well alone," "Why stir up troublesome questions?" And if, having left things alone, there is a revival of turmoil and disturbance, they say: "This is not the moment to surrender." "You will be yielding to the forces of disorder." Consequently, you find yourself in a dilemma, and on no occasion is it the right moment to take action. Of the two horns of the dilemma the one which is the most piercing is the latter. I think it is true that when there is disorder and turmoil it is difficult to take action, and that there is some force in the contention that it may be encouraging further disorder by taking action at that moment. If there is some force in the contention, though I do not say it is always conclusive, surely the right time to act is a time like the present when there is peace, when there is no disturbance, and when Great Britain can come to an agreement without a suggestion that she is yielding to anything in the nature of force majeure. Risks, to the right hon. Gentleman, there will be in taking the course which is now proposed. There are, of course, risks in a policy of this character, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping is always thinking, in dealing with world affairs, in terms of strategy and troops and war, and very little in terms of friendship and co-operation. That is the spirit which holds back the progress of mankind. Are there no risks in the present situation, in allowing it to go on indefinitely? I prefer to take the risks that come from good will and co-operation.
Then the question arises: Is sovereign independence compatible, after all, with the permanent presence of British troops in Cairo? That is the real question before us to-day. Whenever I have been in Cairo and have seen that Citadel dominating the town very much as the Castle at Edinburgh dominates the capital of Scotland, and when I see the British flag, not the Egyptian flag, flying from its towers, and when I see British soldiers walking up and down the streets with their batons at their sides, I can well understand the feelings of any Egyptian who is inclined to say: "They called this sovereign national independence. Are these symbols of such independence?" In the relations between peoples sentiment plays a great part, and I wonder what hon. Members from Scotland would say if over the Castle at Edinburgh there were flying some flag which was neither their own national flag of Scotland nor the flag of a Union in which they were admittedly and obviously the predominant party.
It is because of the great importance of sentiment in national affairs and in the relations between peoples that I regret three points—they may appear minor points—which have emerged in this Debate and certain phrases which have been used. In all these discussions all of us should have, and, indeed, most of us always have, in mind not only how the speeches which are made will read in the OFFICIAL REPORT, but how they will read in the Press of the countries concerned, and I could have wished that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping had had that consideration in mind on this occasion. The points I desire to mention are minor points of detail; yet they are not without their significance in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary, every word of whose speech will be read in Egypt to-morrow or in due course, said in dealing with the question of the troops leaving Cairo: "After all, it will be the best part of 10 years from the date of the Sarwat draft agreement before the troops will actually leave." I rather regret that phrase. It was useful for the purposes of debate in order to persuade hon. Members opposite that there was no great difference between his proposals and theirs, but it may be read differently in Egypt. I am afraid that it may be thought by those who are animated by no great feeling of good will towards us that the right hon. Gentleman is intending some subtle procrastination and means to put up dilatory excuses before the troops actually leave. I am quite certain that that is not in his mind, and I would only ask that when the Under-Secretary of State replies he may say a word or two in order to remove any possible misunderstanding on that ground which may perhaps lead to harm in Egypt.
The second point was another observation of the Foreign. Secretary's with respect of the Sarwat agreement. The late Foreign Secretary said that it was provided in the agreement which he proposed that after a period of 10 years the question whether the troops should leave Cairo was to be referred, in default of an agreement between this country and the Egyptians, to the Council of the League of Nations and would depend upon their unanimous decision. The Foreign Secretary, forgetting, I think, for the moment the terms of the Covenant of the League of Nations, said that it would have been more honest to have retained a definite veto rather than to refer the matter to the League of Nations and to exercise a, veto as a member of the Council of the League of Nations when the question came there. The point was corrected by the late Foreign Secretary, but it might be well for the Government to make it quite clear to the Egyptians that there never was any such suggestion in the mind of any British Government that we should pretend to refer the matter to. the League of Nations while at the same time retaining the veto in our own hands over any action that might be taken by the League.
The third point relates to the speech of the late Foreign Secretary. I very deeply regret the illustration which he gave.
Yes, well it is our function in this House and perhaps it may be useful if there are some elements in the House able to exercise an impartial judgment in all these matters. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman
regrets that the Liberal party in Egypt should be in a state of eclipse. Possibly he would desire to see the Liberal party restored here. He may retain in his present situation some of the clouds of glory which were trailing after him as he left us. Then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham commented upon Clause 4 of the Agreement, which is a very important Clause. That Clause says:
Should any dispute with a third State produce a situation which involves a risk of a rupture with that State, the High Contracting Parties"—
that is, Britain and Egypt—
will concert together with a view to a settlement of the said dispute by peaceful means.
The right hon. Gentleman said that it was absurd to put upon an equal footing the British Empire and Egypt; that it was as if you linked on the same footing an elephant and a mouse. The Egyptians are a very sensitive people. Any country which has been for centuries under foreign rule and is, at last, emerging into nationhood and is now being admitted into membership of the League of Nations, views these matters perhaps in an even more sensitive manner than more powerful, influential and independent countries such as ours, and I regret the patronising and—I am sure that it was not intended to be—almost contemptuous tone in which the relations of the two countries were phrased.
It should be remembered that under Clause 7 there is a provision that:
His Majesty the King of Egypt will, in the event of war or menace of war, furnish to his Britannic Majesty on Egyptian territory all the facilities and assistance in his power, including the use of his ports. aerodromes and means of communication.
That ought to satisfy the strategic aimbitions of my right hon. Friend the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. If the Egyptians are to fulfil these exceedingly onerous obligations, surely it is not unreasonable that they should be consulted beforehand in relation to any possible dispute which may involve them in the fulfilment of these undertakings. At the same time, possibly the Government would tell us whether Clause 4 is intended to apply to every possible misunderstanding or disagreement between ourselves and any other Power. For instance, if this Treaty had been in force
years ago when this country was engaged in a dispute with Venezuela, should we have been obliged to consult the Egyptian Government—
Has it been made clear to the Egyptians that it is only to apply to matters in which Egypt is, or is likely to be, directly concerned? These are the three points, perhaps they are minor points, to which I wish to draw attention before the Under-Secretary of State replies. In regard to the draft Treaty in general, it appears to me and to my hon. and right hon. Friends on these benches that it is most desirable in the interests of this Empire as well as of Egypt that it should be carried into effect; but we think, most of us, that the Government have really gone up to the furthest point to which they should go in meeting the desires of the Egyptian people. There appears to be no margin for any further extensions and, least of all, is there any margin for any further extensions in regard to the Sudan. If the Egyptian Government after the recent elections sees fit to concur in the proposals which are before the House of Commons to-day, and if the present Government seek the concurrence of this House to an Agreement on these lines, I believe that it will be found that the great majority of the House will be ready to give them their support.
The question of our relations to Egypt is of vital importance to the British Empire, and one on which when the moment of decision comes unanimity is so valuable, that I should like to see this discussion to-night lifted out of the atmosphere of party politics and dealt with entirely without heat, without prejudice and simply in the terms of real values. It is in that spirit that I propose to approach the question. Although I am quite aware that a good many hon. Members who sit on this side will have come down to the House to-day with a predisposition to take a very different view from that which I propose to put forward, I nevertheless trust that they will not lightly brush aside the views of one who has spent eight years of his life working officially in Egypt, and one of the surviving members of the Mission which produced the Milner Report.
This Egyptian question has to be approached by us with regard both to our interests and to our obligations, by which I mean our former pledges and our more recent undertakings. I do not believe that those are necessarily incompatible. I do not think that they are at all incompatible. But before we can arrive at a balanced judgment on a matter of this kind it is, in the first instance, necessary that we should be perfectly frank with ourselves. Are we going to trust, as we profess we mean to, the Egyptian people, when once they have entered into an alliance with us, to carry out the terms of that alliance in the spirit of reciprocated friendship and good will, or are we merely making mental reservations and harbouring misgivings which dispose us to seek for exceptional guarantees? I admit that in the relatively recent past there has been reason for a good deal of profound misgiving, but we have to take the matter a deal further back and examine the reasons for various manifestations which all sound and good Egyptians have deplored. We must make allowances for the political immaturity of a people who although they are a very old people are very young as a political entity and who, although they have a Constitution, have not yet acquired the habit and restraint of constitutional government. We have, above all, to make allowance for the presumption on their part—a presumption, I am sorry to say, often justified by public utterances over here and by misleading analogies such as those that are made between Egypt and India, which really have nothing in common with one another—that we really are harbouring such mental reservations, and that while we are making the concessions which we propose to make we still have it in mind to exercise that influence over Egyptian internal affairs which we claim to have renounced.
From conversations which I have had with many people during the last two or three days I have been surprised by the general ignorance there is about the history of the Egyptian question. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said that he has been re-reading the Milner Report. If those who wish to know something about the history of the British occupation in Egypt were to read the first few pages of that Report they would certainly learn a great deal about it. I do not wish for a moment to take the House back through the history of the British occupation, but as one of the survivors of the Milner Commission, in justice to my old friends who have passed away and, to some extent, in justice to myself as a colleague, I should like to say a few words about that matter. For 30 years we had no reasoned policy in Egypt, beyond the constant reiteration of the fact that our occupation was purely temporary, and the declaration which was known as the Granville doctrine, an announcement that so long as the British Army of Occupation remained in Egypt we should expect the advice given by our fully accredited representative to be followed.
During those 30 years we undoubtedly rendered Egypt immense services, greater services than were ever rendered, I think, to any one country by another in so brief a time, and always with the same end in view, that our aim was to enable Egypt to stand by herself and to manage her own affairs. Our long presence there awoke in a people who, perhaps, had never had them before, dreams, ambitions and aspirations for which we were to that measure responsible. Reference is so often made in discussing these matters to that great Minister Lord Cromer, and his views. Having had the privilege of being for eight years his second in command in Egypt I may be supposed to know something about his views. Lord Cromer certainly anticipated the eventual withdrawal of our Army of Occupation, which he considered might be accelerated or retarded by circumstances. No doubt, when I left him in 1901 that contingency was still remote. There was at that time an obstacle to our evacuation which was practically insuperable. Egypt was then a vassal state of Turkey and it was only our presence and influence in Egypt that enabled her to resist pressure and intrigue from Constantinople. Finally there came the Great War and it was possible to sever the last link with the old Ottoman Empire and to make Egypt autonomous under a British Protectorate. It would have excited no surprise in the world at that time if we had disregarded all our former pledges and taken the simplest and most direct steps to protect our Imperial communications, but we stood by our traditional engagements and, as a result, we received throughout the War the loyal co-operation of Egypt.
The real status of a. Protectorate has never been defined. I have heard it said this evening that the effect of our Protectorate had included Egypt in the orbit, I think that was the word, of the British Empire. The Egyptians, whose preoccupations were first aroused by our refusal after the Armistice to receive the President of the Council of their Ministers to discuss with us in London the conditions and terms of the Protectorate, regarded it as involving a. very serious diminution of that autonomy or independence to which they aspired, once the last connection of vassalage to Turkey had been severed, and to which they thought they were entitled after their attitude during the War and the privations which it had entailed upon them. Subsequent events are in the memories of everybody. After a long and very careful study of the situation that had arisen in Egypt and which brought about the crisis in 1919, the Mission was convinced that the maintenance of the Protectorate would be a never-ending source of trouble, an Achilles' heel in the Empire; that it could only be prolonged by a very large and probably a permanent increase of British military forces there, and that it could, in fact, be maintained only by force. Three of us had long and practical experience of administration in Egypt; all six of us were unanimous in recommending that the Protectorate should be replaced by an alliance, under which such concessions should be granted to His Majesty's Government as would insure the safety of Imperial communications. At that time certain points had to be reserved for future consideration; obviously, because there was then no definite constitution in Egypt under the new Sovereign.
The question of the Sudan has been discussed this evening and I will not touch upon that, but those are two other points with which I am somewhat concerned. The first was precisely where the British force, whose maintenance was considered necessary for the protection of the Canal was to be established, and the second was the protection of the lives and property of foreign subjects in Egypt. As regards the first we undoubtedly had in view a zone of territory in the neighbourhood of the Canal. Once the independence of Egypt had been recognised it appeared to us to be manifestly inconsistent with such independence that we should maintain a permanent military garrison in the Citadel of the capital. Obviously, on the other hand, the preparation and planting of a suitable area, the water supply, the building of adequate barracks, and all the other paraphernalia of a military occupation, the artificial creation of a Ramleh or an Ismailia in the Canal zone, was a matter which would take considerable time. In fact, I think the estimates that have been made this afternoon are really optimistic. However, all these points are duly recognised in the exchange of notes annexed to the Treaty. I think we should remember, in considering the removal of the British forces to the Canal, that the few thousand men we have maintained in Egypt for the last 40 years would never have sufficed alone for the defence of the Canal in the event of an attack from without. They were only a nucleus or symbol; but that symbol was important. Their presence will be even more symbolic of what they are there to do when we hold an area on the Canal with the acquiescence and goodwill of an allied Egypt.
As regards the second point, the protection of foreigners and their property, Article 6 of the proposed Treaty places the responsibility for the lives and property of foreigners on the Egyptian Government, and His Majesty the King of Egypt will insure the fulfilment of his obligations in this respect. Any failure on his part to do so would therefore be a violation of the Treaty and would give us the right to take such measures as a violation of the Treaty demanded. If we look back on the history of Egypt for the last 40 or 50 years we shall see that there have been from time to time outbursts of local fanaticism in that country which the presence of a British armed force in Cairo has been quite incompetent to forestall or prevent. All that we were able to do, so far as the victims were concerned, was to exact reparations after the event. Should such unfortunate occasions arise again in the future, and they are far less likely to take place once the political status of Egypt has been definitely regulated, it would again be. incumbent on us to do so. In that respect the position, therefore, seems to be not really changed, except that by the Treaty we acquire a juridical position to intervene. The property of British subjects or of foreigners in Egypt has never been menaced Any proposed legislation in the Egyptian Chamber, or elsewhere, which seems to threaten or compromise the legitimate rights of foreigners would entitle us to call upon the Sovereign to fulfil his obligations under the Treaty. Our position in that respect is clearly defined, which it never has been before.
In putting these points, and especially the question with regard to our position on the Canal, there is one matter which I desire to say. With all respect to hon. Members opposite it would be far more congenial for me to be criticising them than criticising hon. Members on my own side of the House, but, nevertheless, I must dissent from the opinion which has been expressed by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) when he said that it was the intention of the Nationalists, and he mentioned Zaghloul Pasha, to turn us out of Egypt altogether and that our position on the Canal would only be sanctioned by the Nationalists as quite a provisional measure. Having spent many months negotiating with Zaghloul Pasha I know him perhaps as well as anybody could know that supple-minded dialectic Egyptian, but I believe the statement of the right hon. Gentleman to be entirely incorrect. Zaghloul Pasha said to me again and again, "that position on the Canal we really approve." He also said: "Your presence there will be a guarantee to us." He went further and said that as long as we were there he thought we should probably be looking around and keeping an eye on affairs in Egypt. It is therefore untrue to say that he contemplated turning us out of Egypt altogether.
Time and opinion were not ripe in 1920 for the solution which was proposed by the Mission. However, some of the proposals were accepted in 1922 by the Declaration which terminated the Pro- tectorate and recognised the independence of Egypt. At the same time, we definitely laid it down that we should look upon any foreign intervention in Egypt as a hostile act. That Declaration of 1922 seems to me to have established special relations between the two countries which still stand. There have been successive attempts, extending over a period of 10 years, to bring about a permanent settlement but they have in every case been defeated by the action of a particular party in Egypt which will not suffer a settlement with Great Britain to be made by any group or Ministry except themselves. The longer a settlement is postponed al such matters the more difficult a solution becomes. I myself have always regarded it to be an important maxim in diplomacy that once it has been generally recognised that certain concessions have to be made and are equitable in themselves they should be made at once and not haggled over so as to produce the appearance of having been extracted by pressure and importunity.
The question often asked me to-day is whether or not the Egyptian fellah will have the same guarantee of fair play as he had when the country was under military occupation is not pertinent to the present discussion. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Because it has already been settled, Nor have we to consider whether the introduction of representative democratic government in Egypt is likely to be more to their advantage than the old-time consecrated principle of a theocracy interpreted by a prophet and applied by an autocrat. These are no longer questions of actuality. They have been decided long ago, and any attempt to raise them again now would only lead to the suspicion that some other intentions were underlying the ostensible plea. Therefore, as one of those responsible for the Milner Report I cannot do otherwise than generally approve the broad lines of the principles in the proposed Treaty. There are various points which will require consideration, but on their broad lines I believe them to be right. I believe such a statement will strengthen, not weaken, our position in Egypt. It will draw Egypt closer to this country, and as for Egypt it will give a feeling of security without which their independence may be a precarious advantage.
So far I have supported the Treaty but that does not mean that I do not find any points of criticism in the action of the Government in this matter. There is the matter which has been referred to by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham on which perhaps he has said sufficient. But I am not quite sure whether we have certainty on this particular point. The Declaration of 1922 was accompanied by notes to other countries that we should consider any intervention in the affairs of Egypt a hostile act. Since the Treaty proposals were drafted the Government have committed themselves to the acceptance. of the Optional Clause. The Declaration of 1922, although no exception was taken to it at the time, was nevertheless a unilateral declaration. An "unfriendly act," though somewhat of an euphemism, has a perfectly well understood implication as a diplomatic formula, and I want to know whether it will or will not lose its significance by the signature of the Optional Clause. There are other points which seem to me to demand careful consideration. In the covering letter transmitting the Treaty proposals to the then Egyptian Prime Minister the hope is expressed that patriotic Egyptians will examine them in a friendly spirit, and find in them a satisfactory basis for our future relations. If such should be the verdict of the newly elected Egyptian Parliament His Majesty's Government will then submit them to the British Parliament, and this I presume means to both Houses of Parliament, with a view to the conclusion and ratification of a Treaty. The Egyptian Prime Minister's reply to this expresses his readiness to submit them to the Egyptian people and Parliament.
I believe language somewhat similar was used in the negotiations for the Treaty with Sarwat Pasha, but there was then this difference that there was then an Egyptian Parliament actually in being. Unless there was some specific motive for doing so the insertion of this clause as a condition, so far as Egypt is concerned, is quite unnecessary seeing that the Egyptian procedure in the matter of treaties is regulated by the Egyptian constitution, which I have in my hand. Article 46 prescribes that the King concludes treaties and brings them to the knowledge of Parliament as soon as the interest and security of the State
permit of his doing so. The time for doing so is left by the Egyptian constitution in the Sovereign's discretion. It is a matter of common knowledge that a situation had arisen between the Government of the King and the late Chamber in Egypt which had paralysed the action of the administration and led to the temporary suspension of Parliament, and some revision of the constituencies was, it appears, contemplated by the late Prime Minister before the assembly of Parliament should be resumed. I am not at all concerned with the rights and wrongs of the issue or the desire of the organised majority in Egypt. But once the independence of Egypt has been recognised, it would seem to me that the moment for electing and the time for convening Parliament would be a matter for Egypt alone to decide without any intervention or pressure from without. The question is, whether or not there has been that pressure. I find that in a speech made on 9th August at Welwyn, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is reported to have said that the Secretary of State bad made it a condition of the Treaty that Parliamentary government in Egypt should be restored, and that that condition the Prime Minister was prepared to accept. But the Under-Secretary went on to say:
There was, moreover, to be no change in the existing electoral law.
I am anxious to know with whom that understanding was reached. It can hardly have been with Mohamed Pasha Mahmoud, who said that he would never agree to any intervention in the internal affairs of Egypt. Nor could he well, in negotiating a treaty, have expected a condition which would inevitably have led either to the rejection of the treaty or to his own resignation. There have been for some time in this country agents of the Wafd, the political party in Egypt, far the strongest numerically, that has always set itself in opposition to any settlement with this country which was not negotiated by themselves. There has been no attempt to conceal their rather close relations with many Members of the Labour party. I should like to have an assurance that their influence has not been allowed, directly or indirectly, to affect the attitude of the Government in making this condition. I should certainly
be reluctant to believe that the Government would have deliberately imposed a condition which they must have known, or should have known, would lead either to the rejection of the proposals or the resignation of the Minister.
Rightly or wrongly, a great many Egyptians have adopted the belief that there has been here an attempt to direct the internal policy of Egypt, which the Government themselves have specifically renounced. As things have turned out, the treaty has not been submitted to the Egyptian people, nor did it come up in the recent election. I would only add that in conversations which I had with the late Egyptian Prime Minister himself, I gathered that when he went away he had some reasonable hopes of carrying the majority in the country with him. Judged on merits there should have been no doubt whatever about his doing so with regard to the treaty proposals, but as a matter of fact the prospect of their being judged on their merits was only very slight indeed, and, knowing the position there pretty well, I understood from him—I may have misunderstood him—that he hoped to bring about some slight changes in the constituencies in Egypt which would result in a more equitable representation of all interests there. This, however, he was unable to do, largely owing to this condition which was imposed on him. He knew that he might fail in any case, but nevertheless, convinced of the advantage of this treaty to his country, he was prepared to take the risk. I am glad to have had this opportunity, as he is a very old friend of mine, of saying that I think Mohamed Pasha Mahmoud showed himself to be a patriotic and disinterested statesman.
I hope it may be possible to give satisfactory answers to the questions that I have raised. I am particularly concerned to know whether or not the special position which we rightly claim to occupy in regard to Egypt, has been in any way compromised by our commitment to the Optional Clause. If we can be reassured on these points, I should hope that this opportunity of co-ordinating the British and Egyptian points of view, the result. of an evolution in political thought to which statesmen on all sides have contributed, will not be thrown away, and that the two countries, when all semblance of dominance or compulsion has been eliminated, will be drawn together for their own advantage by the happier and more enduring bonds of a permanent alliance.
I am sure that the whole House has listened with great interest to the speech just delivered. The right hon. Member has spoken with immense authority on the subject. He was, as we know, a member of the Milner Mission. He was for a long time identified with Egypt in diplomacy and during that time he acquired great wealth of knowledge and experience. Therefore, what he says in this House should receive very great consideration. In these circumstances it was very gratifying to me to hear him say that he supported almost in toto the proposals of the Government. He made only one or two very slight qualifications. I can only regret that many more Members of his party were not present to hear his well-informed and enlightening speech.
I wish to direct my remarks more particularly to the speech of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). I can speak with freedom as a backbencher. It seemed to me that that speech was a thoroughly mischievous speech. It contained some phrases which I think ought not to come from the lips of any Member of this House who claims to be a responsible statesman. There was the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion, for instance, that the lamentable massacre in Palestine was to be attributed to the dismissal of Lord Lloyd. That seemed to me to be a. most wanton misrepresentation of the facts. There were other passages in the right hon. Gentleman's speech which seemed to be an incitement to the Egyptian nationalists to reject these proposals which are being put forward. I can only hope that the Egyptian nationalists will note the source from which the incitement is coming, and will take that as being the best reason for supporting and adopting the present proposals. I do not think they can possibly accept the right hon. Gentleman, with his record, as a true guide to their best interests in the matter.
The right hon. Gentleman told us that he was going to analyse the merits of the question, and judge on them. I would be prepared to accept the right hon. Gentleman as a judge on some matters —for instance if, instead of discussing whether Egypt should have its freedom or not, we were discussing a nice question of political apostasy, as to whether it would pay some hon. Member in this House to change his political party or not, or some nicely balanced consideration of that kind.
It seems to me that if there were one person who should be expert on that matter and should speak with authority, it should be the right hon. Member for Epping. But on this question as to whether bloodshed is likely to ensue as a result of these proposals to give Egypt independence, I am not prepared to accept the right hon. Member for Epping as a satisfactory judge. I look back on his political history. I remember some of the things with which he has been identified. I remember that some of the policies for which he is responsible have led to the shedding of very much British and other blood, and I am not prepared to accept him as an authority on such matters. The right hon. Gentleman sought to develop his argument by suggesting that great bitterness would arise between the Egyptian troops and the British troops as a result of the withdrawal of British troops to the Canal Zone. Although he said that in so many words, it seemed to me that he failed entirely by means of argument to establish that point. He seemed to think that even if the Treaty came into force, the British and the Egyptian peoples would still be as much at loggerheads as ever they were, and that as a consequence there would he tension between the British troops on the Canal Zone and the Egyptian troops in and around the Capital, and that the tension would reach such a point that there would be great danger of bloodshed. I fail to see how he can establish that point.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to argue that we ought to impose two conditions on the Egyptian Government. I do not know what information he had to support the suggestion, but he talked of a possible increase of the size of the Egyptian Army, and tried to make the House believe that the army would reach extraordinary dimensions. Then, most astonishing of all, the right hon. Gentle- man went on to suggest that we should impose on the Egyptian Government the condition that they should not have a system of conscription for raising their army. It must be clear to everyone in this House that if conditions such as that are imposed, if we were to say to the Egyptian Government, "You shall not be free, even if you desire to do so, to impose a system of conscription," by those conditions we quite clearly take away all the essential rights of sovereignty from the Egyptian Government.
I would remind the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping of what he did when he was a member of the War Government in 1914 and 1915. If my knowledge of the Egyptian situation is correct, I understand that the increase of anti-British feeling which arose in that country after the War was due very largely to the harsh and arbitrary action of the British military authorities in the course of the War. One of the things which they did in Egypt on the authority of the Coalition Government—of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping was a member—was to impose conscription upon the Egyptian coolies. They adopted a system of forced labour, whereby Egyptian coolies were compelled to carry out war work for the Allies. Yet the right hon. Gentleman now pleads that there should be no conscription as far as the Egyptian Army is concerned. He actually used the word "ineptitude" in regard to the policy of the present Government. If he describes the policy of the present Government as inept, I can only say that the more ineptitude of that kind we have the better it will be for the peace of the world and good relations between the British people and other peoples.
The right hon. Gentleman also referred to "meddling" in Egyptian affairs by the present Government, and there was a suggestion from the right hon. Member for St. Marylebone that in arranging for the election of the new Parliament the present Government might have been guilty of something like interference in the internal affairs of Egypt. A suggestion 'of that kind comes very strangely from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping. He stood at that Box this afternoon mainly as the advocate and champion of Lord Lloyd. The House will not have forgotten the Debate in July last, when the Foreign Secretary brought out proof positive that on a number of occasions, mainly at the instigation of Lord Lloyd and sometimes against the wishes of the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Foreign Secretary, there was clear interference with Egyptian affairs.
The right hon. Gentleman says he does not admit it. There was the case of the Public Meetings Bill. It came out that the right hon. Gentleman himself urged that there should be no strong action taken against the Egyptian Government to coerce them in regard to that matter. Lord Lloyd took the contrary view.
I purposely refrained from renewing the controversy which took place on that subject. I do not accept the account, given in my absence, in July, by the Foreign Secretary, of my relations with Lord Lloyd—to whom I was much indebted for taking that office, involving a very difficult and perilous task and for all the help he gave me. I do not accept the account then given by the Foreign Secretary, nor do I accept the statement now made by the hon. Gentleman.
I think the right hon. Gentleman will see that we have had no public disavowal from him in regard to the statements of the Foreign Secretary, and, in those circumstances, I was entitled to assume that the Foreign Secretary was speaking according to the book. It rests with the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Gentleman opposite to arrange their differences on that point. But throughout the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping there seemed to be a tendency to disregard the rights of the Egyptian people. They were concerned with the protection of British interests, British lives, British capital, Imperial communications, the rights and property of foreigners and the question of the Sudan. They never seemed to think about the rights of the Egyptian people. The War is over about 11 or 12 years, and one of the great things which came to the forefront during the War was the importance of the rights of communities or nations like the Egyptians to govern their own affairs.
Here we have an Egyptian nation with a clearly defined right to govern its own affairs—a right defined in the Declaration of 1922. Yet in the course of speeches of considerable length to-night, the ex-Foreign Secretary, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping hardly recognised that fact at all. That is typical of the attitude of mind of Conservative statesmen towards these questions of liquidating Imperialist responsibilities. For my part—and I think there is no division in the Labour party on this matter—I rejoice that the military occupation of Egypt is coming to an end after 47 or 48 years. When it took place, the British people were told that it was to be of the most temporary character—that it was only to last until order had been restored. It has continued for 47 years, but at long last it seems that a Labour Government is going to end it, and I, for one, rejoice. I support the view put forward by the right hon. Member for St. Marylebone who said that, having conceded the principle of Egyptian independence, and having decided that it was a good thing to give Egypt her freedom, we ought to do it as soon as we can. In other words
If it were done, when 'tis done, then' there well
It were done quickly.
I entirely agree with him in that view. I do not want to deal with the four reserved points which have already been dealt with very thoroughly, and by no one more thoroughly than by the Conservative Member for St. Marylebone. In the case of every one of them, the objections which have been raised seemed to be satisfactorily met by the present proposals. We believe that the letter of this agreement is good, and we believe that the spirit which it is going to create is very much more important. Assuming that this agreement is translated into the terms of a Treaty and finally ratified, it
is quite certain that there will grow up a friendship between the Egyptian and British peoples which does not exist at present, and the security of British interests and British lives will rest on a much surer basis when we have friendship and understanding between the two peoples.
I am a constituent of the right hon. Member for, St. Marylebone (Sir Rennell Rodd), and I was profoundly disappointed to hear his expression of views with regard to the position of the peasantry in Egypt, but I shall have an opportunity on another occasion perhaps of discussing the matter with him. My justification for speaking is somewhat like his. I was a resident in Egypt for some three years not very long ago, and so was able to form some opinion concerning the character and position of the people, especially of the peasants, with whom the principal sympathy of the British in Egypt has always been. Roughly speaking, the people of Egypt may be divided into two main classes, the small intelligentsia and the vast body of the peasants, the latter numbering, we have been told to-day, 96 per cent. of the total. The intelligentsia are either under the influence, or very easily can be brought under the influence, of a small body of notables, men of wealth and special influence, who can control their movement. This small body of men, many of them big landlords, owners of great areas of land in the Delta, are not sorry to see the intelligentsia spreading the idea of nationalism among the peasants, because they hope that the peasantry will permit them to have removed that British authority which in fact stands between this small body of powerful men and the peasants.
This small body of men are the same as those who were oppressing the Egyptian peasantry when the British went to Egypt two generations ago. These same men, who very easily may become, under the guise of Parliamentary institutions, the real rulers of Egypt, are interested in Parliamentary institutions possibly for their own ends, but they are not interested in free institutions as likely to bring benefits to the Egyptian peasants, and those of us who know Egypt fear that when British authority is removed from the administration in the Pro- vinces, we may look for a return of the corruption and oppression which we were able to remove when we went there in the last century. This British authority rests upon the presence of British troops in Cairo, and that is why I, for one, deprecate most strongly any early removal of our troops from Cairo. Let them go after a longer period of delay. Ultimately, that is the goal at which we should aim, but I feel that action such as is proposed by the Government now is precipitate. The authority of the British inspectorate in the Provinces depends upon the presence of the troops in Cairo. It is a psychological question, and if it is true that Lord Milner did not pay much attention to this point, he is the only expert who has ever expressed the view that it was not of the utmost importance that British troops should remain at the centre of affairs to the last.
I spoke just now of the danger of oppression, and it is only right that I should give some examples of what I mean. Such an example occurred in my time in Egypt. The Governor of a Province, one of the biggest Provinces, a man of great distinction, who had enjoyed and made good use of a European education, a man of great culture, permitted an outrage to occur under his administration which surely should give pause to those who are so anxious that British influence should immediately be removed. After he had been in that high position for some six months or so, it was discovered that corruption had gone so far that individuals who fell under the close attention of the police and of the head men of the villages were not only being subjected to undue pressure, but were being made the victims of floggings, of the greatest brutality, and even of deliberate torture, for the suppression of evidence or possibly to induce them to give evidence in some particular direction. That outrage, which was notorious at the time, occurred in the heyday of British predominance in Egypt. I leave it to the House to imagine what might easily occur if British authority were entirely and precipitately removed; and the authority of British officials would entirely be removed were British troops taken from the Citadel in Cairo.
British authority is of special importance in keeping alive the organisation whereby the irrigation system in Egypt has been brought to the perfect condition in which it is to-day. No better service has been rendered to the Egyptians by Britain than the organisation and the extension of the irrigation service. The way in which the presence of corruption would destroy that system, and through the destruction of the system injure the Egyptian peasantry, is roughly this: The water flows from the Nile in a channel which gradually gets smaller and smaller until, at the outside limits of the system, a mere trickle is sufficient to make fertile land that, when we came there, was either desert or a marsh in which little or nothing would grow. Now along the course of that channel there lies the estate of one of the wealthy and influential Egyptians whom I mentioned earlier in my speech, and it is certain that, if the authority of British officials is not present to make sure that there is a fair distribution of water along the canal, that powerful individual will take more than his share of the water as it passes through his land, and that ultimately thousands of Egyptian peasants on the outside of the system will starve for want of water, and no longer be able to cultivate their cotton.
Another organisation which depends upon British authority, discipline, and incorruptibility, is the Agricultural Department, whereby we have taught and trained the Egyptians to a certain extent to destroy the cotton pests, which are the greatest danger to their prosperity. Now the destruction of the cotton pests demands a good deal of discipline. The Egyptian peasantry are simple folk. Very often they do not understand the necessity of those agricultural operations which are required to make sure that the pests will not increase, and it is only by British authority and British discipline, working through a mere handful of inspectors, that that work is undertaken.
I have spoken from the point of view of the welfare of the Egyptian peasant, and I have stated my position. It is not that I believe it will never be safe to remove our troops from Cairo, but I think that at the present time free institutions have not established themselves strongly enough to permit of the removal of the troops with safety, so far as the bulk of the Egyptian population is concerned. If it is only on account of humanity and of our old connection with the people, I think we should stand by them, knowing well the great dangers which they run by precipitate action. Not only the Egyptians owe us much for what we have done for them, but we owe the Egyptians a good deal for what they have done for us. One instance has already been mentioned in Debate. We owe to the Egyptians the roads which were built by their sturdy labour and enabled our troops to move and to win through to the great victory which they gained in Palestine. That is another reason why it is unfair that we should desert them, particularly so soon after that event.
I have spoken from an unselfish point of view, but if I may add one selfish word, I would remind the House that by the maintenance of the irrigation system and by the destruction of the cotton pests, we have been able to increase enormously the supplies of cotton which come to us from Egypt, and which are essential to the life of the people of Lancashire. At the beginning of the century, Egypt was able to produce only 5,400,000 kantars; in 1922 it had risen to 8,000,000. If we take hasty action in removing our beneficient influence from the lives of the people of Egypt, that production of cotton will rapidly fall. Before very long, the effect of that loss of supplies will be felt by Lancashire. I do not know whether the mills of Burnley in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency use American or Egyptian cotton. I rather think that they use American, but there are many constituencies round about him, in Lancashire, where large and cheap supplies of Egyptian cotton are absolutely essential to the welfare of the people, and I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should consult them before he proceeds further, without any modification, with the schemes which have been discussed by the House this afternoon.
I am glad that the Noble Lord the Member for Northwich (Lord C. Crichton-Stuart) has directed the attention of the House to the large and vital question of the welfare of the people of Egypt, and so directed our minds to one test which we ought to apply to the result of our long period of occupation of that country. One of the most painful things that I brought back from my period at the Tenth Assembly of the League of Nations at Geneva was the recognition that, on all the Committees of the League which deal with such vital international questions as health and social welfare and traffic in dangerous drugs, Egypt represented a black spot of the first magnitude. One was compelled to recognise, however unwillingly, that the blackness represented by Egypt was due in large measure to the fact that in regard to public health and social questions, Egypt is not master in its own house. The Egyptian people are not able to take the steps which they would desire to take to protect themselves from certain evils, and to care for the welfare of their people.
I am going to mention them, but I will take them in order. I first take the traffic in women and children, and the League inquiry into that showed Egypt to be a centre for that traffic; it showed also that the Egyptian Government and the Egyptian people are unable to control it, because the trade, as was admitted by Lord Milner, and as has been admitted by everyone who has had to deal with Egypt, is in the hands of foreigners and, therefore, not amenable to judicial handling in the Egyptian Courts. Where cases of traffic in women, and of running disorderly houses, and so on, are handled by the Egyptian tribunals, and the accused persons are Egyptians, heavy penalties of imprisonment and fines are imposed. In nine cases out of ten, however, the cases come before a consular Court, and penalties are very light. The difference is extremely great. I do not rest this judgment merely on my own authority; I would remind the House that as far back as 1911 Lord Kitchener said that as the trade was carried on, not by Egyptians but by foreigners, who were subject to their own special jurisdiction, it was impossible for the Egyptian Government to deal effectively with the situation.
The case is even more serious when you turn to another grave evil which has been brought into Egypt by foreigners, and is growing day by day, and which again the Egyptian courts are unable to handle owing to the fact that foreigners are exempt from the jurisdiction of Egyptian courts. I refer to the introduction of narcotic drugs. The chief of the Cairo police, who is not a person who could be accused of anything sentimental, said four years ago that the Egyptian nation was in danger of being absolutely ruined by cocaine, and never before had a vice or disease seized upon its victims as the drug habit had upon Egypt. First cocaine, and more recently heroin—an even more deadly drug—is being bought in enormous quantities and imported by foreigners. The same Chief of Police reported that the dealers in heroin had said that, so far as the importation and use of heroin went, Egypt in a measure, and Sudan in even greater measure, was practically virgin ground. Enormous quantities of these deadly drugs are being brought in, and as much as 3½ tons in one year had been imported by foreigners. Again the situation is one which the courts cannot in full measure deal with. For instance, whereas a Consular Court will incur a fine of £23 or terms of imprisonment of 15 days up to a year, the Egyptian courts, which deal with a relatively small number of cases, impose terms of imprisonment of from one to five years and fines varying from £200 to £1,000.
The same thing applies to the more directly germane question of public health. Since the introduction of the change in 1922, a larger number of hospitals have been built and equipped by the Egyptians than were built in the preceding period, but still the public health figures are appalling, and are a most devastating commentary upon our responsibility and our administration of the country. Two frightful diseases familiar to those who know Egypt, bilharzia and hookworm, devastated the life of the population. In the Egyptian Parliament recently a member describing the conditions in his own constituency said he had found in a school that out of the entire body of children only two, and out of the masters only one, not affected by one or other of those diseases. Even more terrifying are the infant mortality figures. Do hon. Members realise that the infantile death rate in Egypt is 23 per cent. within the first year and no less than 45 per cent. within the first five years? These appalling facts must give us pause when we try to suggest to ourselves, as I think was done by the right hon. Member for Epping, that conditions in Egypt are satisfactory. We are compelled to face the probability that one reason why the Egyptians themselves have been hampered in dealing with these conditions, in so far as they are to blame, is that political life in Egypt is and will be until self-government is granted canalised and run exclusively in the narrow channel of nationalist politics. It is a misfortune for Egypt that 99 per cent, of those who take part in politics should, in fact, belong to one party, and until this limited and largely hostile outlook is changed we can hardly say that the Egyptian people have got the chance of seeing what they can do with their problems.
I do not know whether hon. Members opposite intend to press this question to a Division. If they do, they are asking us to decide on one of the most vital issues that could be presented to a Parliament, no less, in fact, than whether the authority of the Government and the institutions of our country has a moral basis or is exclusively connected with and related to force. I suggest that we should dwell in our minds on the very striking example of an opposite way of handling such problems which we have had presented to us. It was brought sharply to my mind by the speech of the right hon. Member for Epping. He seemed to me to invite us to follow out that course of bullying based upon fear through which we lost the American colonies, and through which our relations with the Irish Free State were ended in so much unnecessary bitterness. There is another line which we could pursue based on the wise advice and the wise conduct of the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. That would be a much wider and brighter line of action. I confess that I accept in the fullest sense all the profound meaning which was enshrined in that great saying of his that self-government is better than good government. Anyone who believes in progress, anyone who refuses to take the static and pessimistic point of view, must feel that in Egypt as in other parts of the world, in so far as we are helping them to self-government and rely upon our moral authority, we can both do a service to them and to ourselves and go forward with far better hopes for the future than any other line of action can possibly offer.
There is one point in the interesting speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Hamilton) with which I would like to deal. She laid great stress on the moral question. I think the hon. Lady has been scarcely fair to the British occupation when considering the moral question. If she will look up the history of Egypt since 1915 I think she will reverse her judgment. During that period of what has been described in this House to-night as "the very wicked military occupation" more was done to clean up Cairo and Port Said than at any other time in Egypt's history. Port Said used to be known as the sink of the world, but I know that when I went there in 1918 it was, for a Near East town, comparatively respectable. [Interruption.] Perhaps I did not go everywhere where some other hon. Members went. As to Cairo, I would only remind the hon. Lady that in 1916, after some direct action which may not have been approved of, the district known as "Wassa" was cleared up in a most definite manner by Australian soldiers. Regarding the disease of bilharzia, known to the troops in Cairo as "Billy Harris," British treatment and British research have done more towards finding out what that disease is and curing it than has been done by any other nation. The Cassel Eye Hospital, too, has done a tremendous amount of good among the children of Cairo.
Like certain other hon. Members opposite, the hon. Lady has looked rather on one side of the question. A lot has been said about Lord Lloyd. Perhaps there are some hon. Members who, like myself, may have been pulled up in the streets in Cairo in 1919 for not carrying a revolver. That was the state of affairs existing there then, and that is only 10 years ago. You may abuse Lord Lloyd, you may say that his régime was a terrible one, but at any rate a British subject or a man of any other nationality can now walk the streets of Cairo without needing a revolver to protect him. I think justice has scarcely been done to the régimes of Lord Lloyd and Lord Allenby in the speeches which have been made this afternoon.
If one examines these draft treaty proposals, it will be seen that there is one principle recognised by this Government, just as it was recognised by the last Government, and that is the need for defence. We find the defence proposals dealt with under the head of "Army" on page 5 of the White Paper. From a modern point of view there is nothing in the preliminary outline—and I know it is only a preliminary outline—to give us any great comfort, but, on the contrary, there are very grave grounds for misgiving. I presume that everybody in the House will admit that defence forces would be needed in three contingencies; firstly, in the event of Egypt being attacked, when we should help Egypt to repel an attack; secondly, in the event of internal strife, so that we could go to the aid of law and order; thirdly, in the very unlikely event, but one which must not be ruled out of account altogether, of our being at war with Egypt. I would point out that the most modern means of defence, air defence, has been very badly neglected in those proposals. All the defence proposals are lumped under the heading "Army" on page 5. Those who prepared that document seem to have forgotten that the forces of the Crown consist of the Royal Navy, the Army, and the Royal Air Force, and I should say that the weapon of the Royal Air Force is the most modern, economical and efficient of the three. Either through obscurity of vision, or bad preparations, all the references to the Air have been lumped under the Army proposals.
The Army proposals contain a few words about confining troops to the Canal zone. I do not attempt to criticise whether the troops should go to the Canal zone or not. Personally, I think it is a process of evolution which has to come sooner or later. The Army marches—what, three miles an hour, 120 to the minute, and stopping every quarter of an hour? You cannot surprise our army by another army; but you can surprise an air force on the Canal zone by another air force. In the one case, you have the speed of three miles an hour, and in the other they can come at 150 miles an hour, and only going half speed at that. The Air Force is a highly developed weapon, but anybody who studies the elements of the subject must know that it is peculiarly dependent upon its bases. The superstructure of offence and also of defence is built up from a sound base, and for an air base there are three specific requirements: Firstly, it should be suitable from a strategic point of view; secondly, capable of rapid development in war; and, thirdly, there is the question of its security from attack and protection for its "Q's" or technical supplies.
If we examine the Canal zone from this point of view, we shall find that it does not fulfil the needs of an efficient air base. Kantara is not healthy for troops, and is certainly liable to attack if we hold no coast aerodromes. We do not want war, but I would remind hon. Members that one 4,000 lb. bomb in the middle of an aerodrome on the Canal zone would wipe out that aerodrome; and as bombers can now fly at 180 miles an hour, or 12 miles in four minutes, unless we have out-post aerodromes there is little likelihood of our being able to defend the Canal zone aerodromes against attack. There is another difficulty which, though a small one, will have to be considered, and that is the difficulty of getting the semi-skilled labour which is necessary to the running of an air base in time of war. There is no provision for that on the Canal, and a shortage of labour and material could impair our efficiency in the event of our being at war in aid of Egypt against some common foe. We have Heliopolis, which is probably the finest aerodrome in the world, on which we have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of the British taxpayers' money, and I only trust that in the change over we may get adequate compensation for Heliopolis. We need to maintain flights at Heliopolis and at Aboukir. In the West there is the Sahara. If we could have a right of aerodromes round Egypt, and the right to use those aerodromes at all times, we should be able to ring Egypt round with a garland of security.
We want no war with Egypt, and we do not want any other Power to be at war with Egypt, but if we have to help Egypt against a common foe we must be prepared, and the defence provisions which are outlined in the proposals before us do not give the air security which is essential for the defence of Egypt in the most economic and most efficient manner possible. If we could have this ring around Egypt, with aerodromes at, Aboukir and at Heliopolis, and the right to bring aircraft carriers into territorial waters, we should be able to fulfil one very great duty which appears to be neglected in these proposals, and that is the duty of maintaining our communications with the Sudan. An hon. Member opposite said that we did not use Egypt for the passage of troops through the Sudan, but sent them via Port Sudan. That may be so, but there are times when the communications in a country are vital. The transfer of a statesman from one part of the country to another may be the means of making a war or saving a war. If we had an air base at Heliopolis we should keep a passage free, and, with the other bases which I have suggested, we could intercept enemy planes with fighter planes which will do something like 20,000 feet in 15 minutes, and thus we could adequately protect Egypt from any possible attacks from the air.
I know that what is enshrined in the draft agreement are only proposals, but even these proposals do not cover the very necessary points of air defence. On page 5, sub-paragraph 3, there is a reference to "army equipment," and I would like to ask whether army equipment includes air equipment as well. As I said just now, the air provisions are all lumped under the heading of "army," and I do not think any hon. Member opposite can deny that the principle of similar equipment is conceded in the case of the army. It is just as important in the case of the air, because it would enable us, in the event of Egypt having a war with some foreign Power, to supply spare parts. It would be very unfortunate if through an internal war in Egypt we were forced to withhold spare parts of engines and withhold the spare parts of aircraft. Here I would just like to say that it is now generally admitted that our air service has justified itself in an economic way, and that it is an efficient and merciful weapon of defence and not offence. There has recently been an example of this on the Western Frontier, where there was an operation which would have taken A brigade of infantry and many weeks to carry out, and our Air Force carried out that operation in 48 hours. In this case, the War Office refused to grant a medal because they did not consider it was a proper war. Then there is the case of Aden, which is controlled from the air, and Iraq is also controlled from the air. So that civilisation comes from the East and spreads gradually to the West. At any rate, the new air idea has spread gradually West, and I hope it will spread further West and be made the basis of our defence force in Egypt. The proposals say very little on many vital matters about which one would like to know, and particularly defence. They might be termed vague, nebulous and airy. I could quite well say that they are vague and nebulous, but to my mind they are quite insufficiently airy.
We have just heard a speech of a kind which I think accounts very largely for the many difficulties that we have had in Egypt. It reflects the war mentality. The hon. and gallant Member spoke of a ring round Egypt—a ring of aerodromes to keep Egypt in check—
If the hon. and gallant Member says anything different, he is quite welcome to the difference. He mentioned an aerodrome at Heliopolis, one at Aboukir, and one on the Western Desert. Is that the way, or is that the spirit, in which we are going to proceed in order to get peace with a nation like Egypt? It would be an impertinence on my part to follow the right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken on the major policy, but I would like to put before the House the point of view of a man who fought on the Canal in 1915, who lived in Cairo for four years, and who was in Egypt in September of this year. I went to Alexandria in the company of seven schoolmasters, and not a single one of them denied that this treaty was sound and generous. A business man, who had been in business in Alexandria for 40 years, supported the treaty, and asked if there was any reason at all why, at least, we should not try it out. It is perfectly true that there are British tradespeople in Cairo and Alex-
andria who are against it, but, if I may be allowed to quote from the biggest organ of opinion in Egypt, the "Egyptian Gazette," a paper which is entirely nonpolitical, the House will see how the treaty has been looked upon in Egypt by, if I may say so, the ordinary man in the street. It said, on the 20th August:
And we will set against Mr. Ketchum's view our own emphatically held opinion that a settlement of Anglo-Egyptian relations on the generous lines proposed will immensely enhance British prestige, not only in Egypt and the Near East, but throughout the world.
The same paper, on the 18th August, made this comment:
Finally, Mr. Churchill has informed a Toronto audience (according to Reuter) that 'conditions in Cairo are grave, murder and conspiracy are rampant, and certain public services, such as irrigation, which has been turned over to the Egyptians, have deteriorated under their management.' This amazing pronouncement surely contains the maximum number of utterly untrue statements that it is possible to compress into the number of words of which it is composed.
I should be deceiving the House if I did not say that it is held in Egypt to-day that no single Englishman has done more for education than Lord Lloyd, and that he has supported, as no other Pro-Consul has done, commercial men in Egypt. But, when one has said that, one has to say that Lord Lloyd failed in his primary work in Egypt, namely, in bringing the two peoples, the British people and the Egyptian people, together. At the beginning of September the whole of the political world in Egypt was chaos. That was due to the fact that the Wafd had been told that, irrespective of the result of the elections, they had to form a coalition; and they were told, too, that they had to declare their views on the treaty before the election. Great credit is due to the Foreign Secretary for clearing these two points away, and, in place of this political chaos, I found at the end of September a far better feeling, and also a means by which this Treaty will have fair consideration by the people of Egypt. What is the really difficult problem in connection with our relationship with Egypt? Surely it is to be found in this country's attitude towards Egypt itself. We went there 46 years ago, and ever since then we have been saying that we are not going to stay there any longer. Lord Cromer said that the ultimate abject of
British policy in Egypt was self-government—to fit the Egyptians for self-government. Lord Hartington went so far as to say that the British were in Egypt for six months only. Lord Salisbury, it will be remembered, in 1888 tried to come to a definite conclusion by means of the Drummond-Wolff Convention. May I remind the House that Mr. Gladstone, speaking in 1882, made this declaration:
We are against the doctrine of annexation; we are against everything that resembles or approaches it. We are against it on the ground of our duty to Egypt; we are against it on the ground of the interests of England.
And, three years afterwards, in 1885, he said this:
We have, according to my conviction, from the very first committed, by our intervention in Egypt, a grave political error and the consequence which the providential order commonly allots to such error, is not compensation, but retribution.
It seems to me that the very centre of this difficulty is to be found in the 1922 Declaration of Independence. After that we had the Milner Commission, and I remember very well seeing the members of that Commission sitting on the balcony at Shepherd's Hotel, where they were forced to stay because the Egyptian people themselves had made it impossible for them to carry out their work.
It seems to me that the present proposals for a Treaty are the natural outcome and the natural development of the Sarwat Treaty. It is sheer humbug on our part to say that Egypt is independent, to say that Egypt is free, if at the same time we keep our soldiers in Cairo or in Alexandria. If hon. Members on the other side refuse to accept these proposals, we on this side are surely entitled to ask them what is their alternative. Are they ready, are any responsible men in this country ready, to impose their will on the Egyptian people to-day? Everyone knows that that would take, perhaps, 100,000 men, and even then it would prove a failure. It is proposed in this Treaty to place British soldiers on the Canal bank. I venture to say that our position in Egypt has been entirely changed owing to the fact that we have Palestine. The Canal may be attacked from the north, the south, or the east, but the fact that we can put out in Palestine such an outpost that we could not possibly be taken by surprise alters the whole question of the defence of the Canal.
It has been asked how we can get water for the men on the Canal. I do not know whether hon. Members are aware that water is now taken by way of the sweet water canal, which is to the north of Cairo. Let it be remembered that that canal passes through a population of about 120,000, of whom 92,000 are Moslems; so that no Egyptian, anyhow, would lightly undertake to take away the water from 92,000 of his own people. It is quite easy, from the thirty-second meridian of longitude, to get four points by which we could control quite easily the whole of Egypt. For instance, to the north, it would be quite easy to control a line on to Alexandria to Zagazig, to Tanta and Benha, and, as hon. Members know, from Suez one can get to Cairo in less than three hours. It may be said that the Canal zone is not healthy, but I would remind hon. Members that Ismailia is one of the finest towns in Egypt, while in Palestine, in a period of five years, from a bare desert the modern town of Tel-Aviv has been raised. The Milner Report said:
So long as we maintain our occupation by troops in Cairo, so long will it be impossible to make any advance in giving Egypt the independence she desires.
The question of the defence and the care of foreigners has been mentioned. Why should there be any more question about the Egyptians looking after foreigners than one asks Greeks or Turks? As an example, where Egypt has promised to pay British officials, she has paid a price which I hardly think any other nation in the world would have paid. The British officials who helped Egypt went away with large sums down and substantial pensions as well. As regards the Capitulations, I do not think, speaking for myself, either the Greeks or the Italians or the French will give up their right to them for some considerable time.
I should like to ask my hon. Friend to note the very important position and the very important work that Britishers do in Egypt for education. I would especially ask him if it is possible to say, whatever our future in Egypt will be, that the work carried on by the three schools there will not have to stop for lack of money—the enormous work that is being done by the English school in Cairo and the great work that has been done by the Victoria College and the British school at Alexandria. It would be a great blow to British prestige if those schools had to close down for lack of money. I would further suggest that, if it were possible that money could be granted for the setting up of a school at Alexandria for girls on exactly the same lines as is done for the Victoria College, it would be an excellent thing for British sympathies in Egypt. I also wish to ask my hon. Friend what is going to be the position of the Egyptian currency. I am not very well informed on this matter, but I understand that we give a kind of guarantee for the currency now. I should be glad to know if it is to continue afterwards.
What is the problem for the Egyptians themselves? There are in Egypt to-day 96.2 per cent. illiterate women and 78.1 per cent. men, making an average of 87 per cent. Out of a population of 14,168,756, about 10,000,000 live on the land, and about 8,000,000 of those live in mud houses and in conditions that we would not allow our horses to live in. Those are problems, not for us, but for the Egyptian people. That is a problem for the Egyptians themselves. The problem of the fellaheen is this: A fellah requires an abundant supply of water, he requires security of life, and he requires a certain market for his products. All these things are problems which the Egyptians themselves can solve better than the Britishers, and it is for that reason that I say that while we regularise our place in Egypt—I had four years' experience in business there—I am certain that, as the result of this action of ours, we shall see a reaction in favour of the Britisher, and we shall certainly see that reaction reflected in better trade. If I might be so bold as to make a suggestion, it is that in some way or other—perhaps it is not possible—we may have, for the 50 years' service that we have given to Egypt, some kind of trade preference. It is for this reason that I say we are doing the right thing, and we ought to be proud of it. For us, there is bound to be a great risk. We took the risk with regard to South Africa, and it was a magnificent success. I see no reason, if this time we take the risk for Egypt, why we should not have an equal success there.
I have listened with great interest to the hon. Member's speech and I am sure we all appreciate the, knowledge that he has brought to bear from an expert experience. It did, however, occur to me that a part of his speech was hardly a matter for complaint. He stressed certain matters, as did the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Hamilton), in which the Egyptians were not perhaps doing all that we might wish. I would reply to him, as I would to her, that the remedy lies in their hands today, just as it would lie in their hands were this Treaty to be passed, and there is no reasonable motive that could not be brought into play now to enable the Egyptian people to deal with their health services which will be brought into play when actually this Treaty is agreed upon between the two Governments. Those complaints should not be addressed to the English connection with Egypt but to the Egyptian people, and if the hon. Member's experience of Egypt and Palestine had been extended a little further, he would know that his complaint covers the whole of what you might call, if you like, the Middle East mentality and that in actual fact in Iraq in particular, and in Egypt also, where English influence has had any following to support its efforts, there the native population owes a good deal in its health and its educational services to the happy ægis of temporary British assistance.
I should like to divide this subject into the two parts into which I believe it quite naturally falls. There is first the consideration of the importance of Egypt, and more particularly, of course, of the Suez Canal to the British Empire as a link in our chain of Imperial defence, and there is secondly the importance, not only to us but to the world, of the future development of the Egyptian people and of the maintenance of a close friendship between them and us. Those two matters, though separate matters, have not been in any sense incompatible in the past and I can see no reason whatever why they should be incompatible to-day. I do not think there is any need at present for some of those alarmist expressions to which we have listened. I do not share them and I believe if we are, as we should be, anxious to obtain the best results both for the security of our own Empire no less than for the future of the Egyptian people, the closest collaboration between us and Egypt must be realised, as in fact I think it can.
This brings me to my first question to the hon. Member who is going to reply. We hear much to-day of the importance of Egypt and the Canal to Great Britain. It is certainly the back door to the East, but its importance is no less to our Dominions, and to Australia and New Zealand in particular. If the Suez Canal is our back door to the East, it is the front door to Europe of Australia, New Zealand and India. If you like to mix your metaphors, it is, in fact, the swing-door of the British Empire, which has got to keep continually revolving if our communications are to be what they should. How far, then, have the Government consulted the Dominions in the progress of these negotiations? I feel sure they have consulted them closely, and I would ask the hon. Gentleman what opinion have Australia and New Zealand expressed on the present negotiations in their present form? Hay-they made any objections to the negotiations in their present form, and, if so, what are these objections? It is very important in a matter of this kind, which is essentially Imperial, that this House, before it goes any further, should know what is the attitude of these Dominions, whose concern is as great as ours, what representations they have made, and what attitude the Government have adopted towards them? I hope the hon. Gentleman will not content himself with saying: "We have been in communication and have considered their views." That is not enough. We want to know that their views have been met, and that any anxiety they may have felt has been fully allayed.
What are Australia's views as to the dispositions agreed upon for the troops along the Canal? They have very strong reasons and experience behind them to have their own views as to the method of defence of the Canal. For ray part, I think it is very natural—and I, personally, make no complaint—that the Egyptian people should wish that British troops should be removed from Cairo. That is a very natural ambition, but that is not for the moment the point we have to consider. Can the hon. Gentleman tell us the views of his military advisers, whom, presumably, the Government consulted in this matter prior to their decision, on the present allocation as regards the Canal, which is an extremely narrow zone. It is a zone of less than 20 miles at its deepest point. Are his military advisers satisfied with that zone, and that it is sufficient in depth for the defence of the Canal? Military opinion in this matter, as far as I have been able to discover it, has always been that the military defence of the Canal was only possible by means of defence in depth, and this very narrow limitation rules out any possibility of a defence in depth. I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Lady just now but frankly I am not content, and none of us should be content, to leave the protection of a vital artery, the jugular vein of the British Empire, to the good will of the people of Egypt, I hope we may claim that good will and get it, but we certainly should not be justified for one moment in leaving the defence of the Canal to the occasion of that good will. It has not always materialised; it does on occasions. Can the hon. Gentleman say if the present dispositions to which the troops are limited are sufficient to ensure under all conditions the military safety of the Canal? After all, that is the first and all-important consideration which this House must have in mind.
Now as to the conditions. Some of us in this House have a fair knowledge of the conditions on either side of the Canal. I confess that, although there are some battalions stationed along it now, there is nothing I should like less than to be stationed near the Canal for any long period of time. No one acquainted with the conditions there could view that prospect with enthusiasm. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will do everything he can, if British troops are asked to go there, to see that the conditions are really such as their health and needs require. For my part, I believe, if he is to secure that result, it will take him not the three to five years mentioned by the Foreign Secretary, but at least 20. That is the very minimum in which you can make a position on the Canal really habitable as a proper habitation for a large number of British troops. Next, I would ask the hon. Gentleman whether the Government cannot consider whether they could not find some other position not actually on the Canal—other than Cairo—which would be more suitable for the British troops which have to be in Egypt. I myself think that the provision in the Treaty negotiated by the late Foreign Secretary was very admirable in this respect, because it kept the British troops at Cairo for a period during which some other place might be selected. It seemed to me an ideal arrangement because it held out to the Egyptian Government the expectation, after a period of time, of the departure of the troops and enabled some other place to be selected. I dislike the Canal not only for military reasons but for health reasons also. Egypt is not limited to Cairo and the Canal, and it would be in the power of the Government to find some better position for the troops. I hope the hon. Member and the Government will not close their minds to that consideration.
There are one or two other matters to which I would like to refer. This Treaty does differ fundamentally on two points from the Treaty negotiated by the late Foreign Secretary. There is, first of all, the question of British personnel in the army. I do not know why it has been thought necessary to make this change. Under the Sarwat Treaty the British contact with the army was to be maintained for a period of at least 10 years. That does not seem to be an unreasonable period, and it is not one of which the Egyptian Army would complain. The association of the British officer with the Egyptian Army has been almost unanimously happy and, in the interest of Egypt herself, there is no need to make the abrupt change under this Treaty. Very much worse than that, to my mind, is the fact that these proposals do definitely close down the European Department of the Ministry of the Interior. Why do the Government want to do this? Here is this Egyptian Government which without British guidance, is going to have to deal not only with the British residents in Egypt but with one of the largest foreign colonies in the world. Surely it would have been of the greatest assistance to them to have had the expert advice, the long experience in the tactful handling of these many problems which the European Department of the Ministry of the Interior could have given them. Why have they done it? It cannot surely be said there is any Egyptian pride at stake in the main- tenance of this Department. It has always worked smoothly and usefully, and it is asking a great deal of the Egyptian Government that, without the assistance of this Department, it has got to face the many technical problems with which it will certainly be confronted in a very short time. I would ask the Government to reconsider their attitude in this respect.
It is also a pity that all British control over the Egyptian police goes, too. I think that is a pity at this stage. Many of us can remember that in recent years there has been need for Egyptian police to go into somewhat vigorous action. I hope it will not happen again, but should it happen—as most probably from past experience it will—it will be very useful that there should be some English control over the Egyptian police or some form of liaison such as has existed in the past. It is not as if we wanted to be the dragooning hand over Egypt, as hon. Members opposite are always suggesting, but merely that, if this transition period is to be successful, you must have experienced advisers. Nothing could be worse from the point of view of Egypt than if this experiment set up under this Treaty should fail and, if we are going to deprive Egypt of the help and assistance which alone these experienced officers can give her, then we are asking her to undertake a task under the worst possible conditions.
I now come to the most important point under this Treaty, on which this House has not had an answer from the Foreign Secretary, and that is the question of the rights of foreigners in Egypt. When the Under-Secretary of State comes to reply, we must press him strongly for an answer to this question, because it is of the first importance. What is the position In the event of the Egyptian Government failing to maintain law and order in Egypt, does the responsibility for the rights of foreigners come back once more to the British Government or does it not? Are we responsible or are we not? That is the first question. If we are responsible, and, as far as I understand the reply of the Foreign Secretary, we are, may I ask the hon. Gentleman—and again I would ask earnestly for an answer to the question—who should decide when such a position has arisen that the Egyptian Government cannot carry out its obliga- tions and the protection of the rights of foreigners? That is of the greatest importance, especially if our troops are not to be in Cairo and have to be moved some distance away. Are we to decide or is the Egyptian Government to decide, or, as is, I believe, actually the position under these terms, the international court at The Hague to decide? The position in regard to these negotiations at the present time is, that every single one of these matters is precisely such as can be referred, if either party wishes to do so, for arbitration by the International Court at The Hague. All of them are covered by the Optional Clause.
It does not require any imagination to see a situation arising like this: There is a disturbance in Egypt. The British Government say: "A serious position has arisen which you cannot control. We think that you should call in the help of British troops, or aeroplanes, or whatever it might be." The Egyptian Government may say: "We do not agree with you. We do not think that there is any such danger, and we appeal to the International Court under which we have protection by the particular terms of this agreement." That is always supposing, as we hope, Egypt takes her place as a member of the League. That is a very important position, if I am right in my surmise, because it is quite conceivable that it is of the first importance for the safety of the British Empire. Trouble may arise in Egypt in regard to which we can take no action, because we are held off, first, by the signature of the Optional Clause, and, secondly, by the terms of this agreement. I would respectfully ask the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State, when he replies, to give the most careful consideration to that most important point to which my right hon. Friend referred when he opened the Debate, and to which the Foreign Secretary returned no answer. Do the reservations which were operative under the agreement of 1922 still stand? I understand that they do. Are we to understand that this country would still regard as an unfriendly act any interference or the entrance into Egypt of any foreign Power? An unfriendly act is about the strongest term one can use, and is that still the view the Government would take of any action by a foreign Power in Egypt? That is all I have to say about our attitude in respect of the external problem.
There are a few brief things I would say about internal matters. We have a very real responsibility to the people of Egypt no less than to ourselves in respect of these Egyptian matters. It is true to say, though it may not be popular to say it, that we have saved Egypt from bankruptcy, and that British administration has multiplied by about 300 times the productivity of the soil in Egypt. That has been a very remarkable and unique achievement of British administration in Egypt. In view of that, I would personally agree with, and cordially endorse, the views expressed by hon. Members opposite that there was really no need for us to feel any anxiety or to wish for any undue interference in the internal affairs of Egypt. At the same time, I listened with some anxiety to the speech of the Foreign Secretary this afternoon, to the emphasis, almost the enthusiasm with which he spoke of the Parliament in Egypt and its interpretation of the views of the Egyptian people.
I would seriously enter a word of warning. Why are we, as I think in our conceit, so very sure that Parliamentary government, whatever it may have achieved for us here, is going to achieve such equally remarkable results for other countries, other nations and other peoples? I think it is arguable that on the whole Parliamentary government has been reasonably successful among the Nordic races. I would not put it very much higher than that, because I do not think that we can say, for instance, in this country during the last 10 years that we have been so extraordinarily successful in meeting the problems with which we have been confronted. I would be a little more modest than hon. Members opposite. I was not referring to any particular party in that respect. However that may be, we can say that the Nordic races up to a point have worked Parliamentary government fairly well, but there your proof stops, because if you turn even to Spain, Italy, Yugoslavia, all those countries are comparatively well-educated, and all of them have found it impracticable to work Parliamentary government.
If you turn to the Middle East, the evidence is far more emphatic. I wonder what makes the Foreign Secretary have such hopes of Parliamentary Government in Egypt. Look at Turkey or Persia. You cannot find a more acute and quicker people than the people of Persia—the very people who should be able to work Parliamentary Government. They have tried for 20 years or more, and they have never had any success of any importance whatever. There is exactly the same experience in Turkey. There you have people with very stolid qualities who, it might be thought, would be useful in debate, but there, too, Parliament is of no account. It is a dictatorship which rules both these countries. The explanation is quite simple. These two peoples do not take very kindly to democratic government. They may be right or they may be wrong, but the government they easily understand is autocracy, either benevolent or malevolent autocracy, as the case may be. If benevolent all the better, but most of them would rather have malevolent autocracy than democracy as we know it.
There is only one instance where a really democratic government might succeed, and that is in the case of the Arab tribes of Hejaz and Yemen. I would suggest that the hon. Gentleman might suggest to the Foreign Secretary, if he wants a holiday task, that he might go along with his Parliamentary Private Secretary to Arabia and try to set up a new Parliament there. But I would advise him to keep a swift camel at hand in case he had to remove himself faster than he might wish to do. But democracy is more possible there than in Egypt. Look at the election. An election takes place in Egypt and no one knows what the election is about. It is, frankly, a sham or a mockery. All that happens is that two rivals of the dominant party—the Wafd at the moment—cannot agree, and they have an election. There is no election on political issues. No one mentioned the Treaty from start to finish of the election. Nobody thought about it. Yet the right hon. Gentleman says that he wants the opinion of Egypt on his Treaty. Frankly, I think it is dangerous that this House should indulge in this somewhat sentimental slobber about a Parliamentary institution which these people do not understand, and do not want to understand. We ought to treat this matter
in a truer perspective. There is a saying of the Persian Poet Haftz:
When the ocean has delivered the pearl,
What further concern have we with the ocean?
As I listened to the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon, I thought that perhaps his view was that when Egypt has delivered its Parliament, what further concern have we with the internal affairs of Egypt. My interest in this matter is far more concerned with the millions of Egyptians that constitute the ocean than with the pearl, of the lustre of which I am a little doubtful. I would urge the right hon. Gentleman to be extremely cautious in the confidence which he places in Parliamentary institutions among nations who neither know nor understand, nor wish to do either. I would remind him that in the last 10 years there have been no fewer than 15 Parliamentary Governments in Egypt. Surely, that is a sufficient indication to tell the right hon. Gentleman that he ought not to place too much confidence in the stability of Parliament or democratic institutions in Egypt. A further word about democratic institutions. Here, in this country Parliaments, whether good, bad or moderate, are at least the outcome of our own institutions. They are indigenous to the soil. They are a plant of home growth. The trouble is that the moment you get into Eastern or Middle Eastern countries they are not indigenous; they are exotics, transferred to the soil there, and of very doubtful growth. Either they grow too quickly or they will not grow at all. That is the difficulty with which you are confronted when you are asking these countries, as you are doing in the case of Egypt in this Agreement, to adopt a form of government which is not native to the soil, and which has all the dangerous consequences which arise therefrom.
One very important matter to which I will refer briefly is that of the Sudan. Frankly and emphatically, I do deplore the Goverment's decision in regard to the return of an Egyptian battalion to the Sudan. I do not believe that on an issue like this it is either right or necessary for us to mince words. Egyptian history in the Sudan is sufficiently well known. The Sudanese detest Egyptian government, and they have every reason to do so. They fought against Egyptian administration and they freed themselves from it. Quite apart from that fact, I believe that the return of this Egyptian battalion to the Sudan will be viewed by the Sudanese as an indication that we have weakened in our intentions towards the Sudan. If we agree to accept the return of this battalion to the Sudan, it will be a very sad result of the work, the very wonderful work that this country has done in the Sudan
I was surprised at the authority which the Foreign Secretary quoted to-day. I do not want to be suspicious, but I should be very anxious to know how the question was put, the reply to which was quoted. I can scarcely believe that anyone with an intimate acquaintance with the Sudan would welcome, though he might have to endure, the return of an Egyptian battalion to the Sudan. I do hope that the right hon. Gentleman, in his desire to placate Egyptian opinion and the Egyptian Government, will not be led into doing what would be little less than a crime—in holding over the Sudanese the equivalent of the return of au Egyptian battalion and of Egyptian control. We shall be for ever shamed if we adjure our responsibilities to the Sudan. Will the hon. Gentleman say that the return of this battalion to the Sudan is merely an act of grace, of military pageantry, if you will, and in no way to be construed as an emblem of government? If we can have that assurance, it will assist us in some way to allay those fears which we have as to the meaning that may be behind the right hon. Gentleman's words and action.
Much has been said to-night about Anglo-Egyptian good will. I hope to see that good will fructify, and I believe that it can be made to fructify, but we shall not help it by ignoring those precautions which our Imperial responsibilities, no less than the interest of the Egyptian people, make it imperative that we should take. I am anxious about these proposals, because I think that some important precautions which I should like to see are lacking from it, and many declarations which we should like to see made emphatic are vague and uncertain, and may be misconstrued. There is the phrase "Parliament." Do the Government mean "Parliament" or "the House of Commons"? There are other matters even more important. I would, therefore, ask the Under-Secretary, who is to reply, to rest assured that we on this side, while anxious for Anglo-Egyptian friendship, do not believe that that friendship can be promoted except upon conditions which result in the mutual esteem of both nations, and in the mutual protection of rights which we both have to observe in regard to the future of Egypt.
I will ask the attention of the House for a very few minutes, because there will be ample opportunities later for discussing the vexed questions of Egypt in general and the Treaty in particular. I would like to call attention to the emphasis which the last speaker has put upon the amount of illiteracy amongst the Egyptian people. That illiteracy, to some extent, reflects upon the boasted success of our occupation. May I assure the hon. and gallant Member, speaking from a very wide knowledge of Egypt for many years, that I differ from him completely. The Egyptian people are not so ignorant and so unacquainted with their political position as he would lead the House to believe. I am convinced that the enthusiasm which they have recently shown in their overwhelming return of the Wafd party is not based wholly on ignorance. Earlier in the evening I had the opportunity of listening to a speech from the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I wondered what people in Egypt would think about that speech. Surely in England sensible men of all parties wish for an honourable settlement of the Egyptian question, and I think that the people in Egypt will feel that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was mischievous and deplorable.
Take the picture which he drew, the horrific picture, about the alleged condition of Cairo after the disappearance of the British troops. He seemed utterly to forget that Egypt governed itself long before we went there. He rather led the House to assume that Egypt had never had a Government of her own. I remember as a little boy coming back with my parents from India, landing at Suez, travelling up by an excellent train in an excellent first-class carriage, and arriving at Cairo and putting up at what was then and what is still one of the best hotels, Shepherd's Hotel. The ordinary life of the town was going on, and the government, if not on the lines of a modern Western State, was certainly up to the level in its civic and municipal developments of any mid-Balkan State of the period. The idea that Cairo cannot govern itself is the sheerest delusion. The whole tenor of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was unfortunate. I speak from a long acquaintance and knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman's career, and it seemed to me a pity that a man of such first-rate brains and intelligence should not have given the House something more dignified, more reasonable and acceptable. The whole of his speech, like those of other hon. Members opposite, was marked by such an ungenerous spirit. Think what it means to the Egyptians! I have been honoured by the friendship of Zaghloul Pasha.
Yes, it was a real honour, and I have kept in touch with friends in Egypt of various positions and views. Educated and thoughtful people in Egypt are now looking forward, after what has been a foreign domination for nearly half a century, an unacceptable domination, to real independence, not a sham independence, through the sagacity and courage of a Labour Government in England. At a moment when their hopes are before their eyes you get speech after speech in this House, and in another place and articles in the organs of the Press in sympathy with the Tory party, of a most ungenerous character containing innuendoes against their civil capacity, their administration and the purity of their law courts. That is a most unsympathetic treatment of the question and of a people. How much wiser is the more considerate attitude of the High Commissioner, Sir Percy Loraine, who, in his speech at Alexandria, called attention to the deleterious effects of such speeches on the negotiations and remarked that as the Treaty was still sub judice criticisms in advance should be avoided.
The only question to which I desire to allude is that of the Sudan. I am confident that with sweet reasonableness we shall be able to get under the treaty everything we can reasonably demand in regard to our Imperial interests and in regard to the interests of our trade and commerce, but at the same time I am equally convinced that we shall not get these desirable objects by riding the high horse and putting forward a rather newfangled doctrine—until the dreadful murder of Sir Lee Stack it was never suggested—that Egypt had no concern with the Sudan, and that it was entirely a matter for Great Britain. If we think we are going to settle the question of the Sudan by such rough-and-ready Imperialistic utterances we are mistaken. Egypt has a case in regard to the Sudan, and I think that the Foreign Office has, from its own point of view, been wise in keeping Egypt from submitting the case of the Sudan to the Court at The Hague. Personally, if I were a betting man and a case had been submitted, I should lay considerable odds that we should get an answer which would not come up to our expectations. The question, no doubt, will he argued on another and more appropriate occasion, but if you look back in the files of "The Times" to the year 1898, when Lord Kitchener made his final and victorious advance against the Mahdi's forces, you will find that not only every public man in Great Britain but every editor of a newspaper and every politician shared and expressed the view that what we were doing was to restore to the Khedive of Egypt his rightful possessions which had been torn from him by the Mahdi's revolt. Both the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer and myself took part in that campaign and were present at the battle of Omdurman.
I imagine that not only politicians at home then believed that Egypt had a certain claim by international law to the Sudan, but that the army itself believed it. I cannot swear that all the rank and file shared that view, because I remember a rather amusing incident which occurred after the battle. I remember seeing an Emir who had been captured, a comparatively insignificant person, being led along the bank of the Nile by a squad of Egyptian infantry when a band of English soldiers rushed up to the bank of the Nile shouting "Come along you chaps, they have caught the bloody Khedive." That incident only illustrates the fact that all down the centuries millions of men have been slaughtering each other with only the foggiest idea of what it was all about. I believe that with tact and judgment we can solve the question of the Sudan, but I am sure that when the time comes, if we oppose to the Egyptian claims a non possumus argument, or a j'y suis j'yreste attitude and nothing more we shall find the greatest difficulty in dealing with what is the real crux of the problem; that is the Sudan. However, we shall have to tread and retread everything that is said to-day on future occasions. In fact, I do not know why we are discussing this question at all to-night. The Egyptian Parliament has not met. Nothing has been brought before it, and here we are discussing a treaty which is quite in the air and which has not been formulated in any shape or form. I do not know what the object of the Tory party is in keeping us here. I cannot imagine that they think they are helping Egypt. They may help the Treaty in one way, because, when thoughtful people in Egypt are convinced that the Tory party are dead against the Treaty they may be all the more ready to accept it. I do not know whether they imagine they are helping themselves, or suppose they are doing damage to the Labour party, or what on earth they are doing. I can only say that the political feelings of my three small children have sensibly hardened against Toryism this afternoon, because I have been prevented by this debate from accompanying them to "Peter Pan." I hope therefore in a spirit of mild vindictiveness, tempered by the Christmas spirit, that some measure of domestic censure will overtake some of the hon. Members opposite, who have dragged us here to-night when we might all have been occupied more congenially and quite as usefully in other surroundings.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just entertained the House with a very interesting speech made several remarks, to two of which I may be allowed to reply. He seemed to complain that we on this side of the House had desired an opportunity to discuss this question, which is of such vital importance to the whole future of the British Empire. We can tell him quite shortly that we wanted to discuss it while the matter is before the nation with the issue of the White Paper, and that it is our duty, as the Parliamentary centre of the Empire, to consider these questions, and to consider them with greater care than has been shown in some of the speeches from the opposite side this evening. The hon. and gallant Member started his speech by saying that we were to blame in that Egypt was backward in such matters as education and the general standard of enlightenment. He evidently forgot having made that remark, for half way through his speech he said that Egypt to-day was the equal of other countries that were worthy of a Parliament and democratic institutions. I think that the hon. and gallant Member was answered by another hon. Member opposite, who in a well informed speech demanded that we should do all that was possible to maintain the British schools which had been such an enormous success and had added so much to British prestige in Egypt. It is rather difficult to say which of the two hon. Gentlemen knows most about the subject.
With all respect, I want to come to the realities of the situation. We have heard some really high idealistic speeches from the party opposite—the kind of speeches which I remember to have heard in years past when this country was lulled into a sense of false security by right hon. Gentlemen of the Liberal party. I remember when it was said that there was no danger in doing this, that or the other, and that in the spring of 1914 one of the greatest Liberal leaders told us that there was no danger whatever to European peace, and that we could safely cut down the Navy considerably. I am not going to suggest warlike necessities; I do not want to add anything on that side of the question but I do say to hon. Members that, with all the liberal and democratic ideas that they may put forward, and with all the sincerity that may be in their hearts, sometimes, when they allow their heads to be carried away by their hearts, they land this country into the most galling situation. That we have seen in the past. Hon. Members laugh, but I do not think that I am exaggerating when I say that we have been landed into nearly all the great tragedies of this country by great democratic leaders. [Interruption.] I do not want to get off my subject. Everyone who has watched the history of the Empire, from the days of the abandonment of General Gordon, the days of Majuba, to the opening of the Great War, will find that every situation has been due to the fact that people were prepared to utter the same sentiments as we have heard this evening.
The situation in Egypt is of vital concern to us because, since the Great War, it must be realised that Egypt is in fact the linch-pin of the Empire. Our communications depend absolutely on the security of Egypt. I do not profess to have any great knowledge of Egypt, although I have tried for many years to study the problem. Early this year I had an opportunity of considering all these questions on the spot, and I can say that I never found a British-born subject in Egypt who was not happy in the belief that Egypt at that time was calm, settled and peaceful, and, provided there was no violent political convulsion, that the march towards prosperity was secured. I can say, too, that I never found a single British citizen, or indeed any of the foreign population in Cairo with whom I discussed the matter—I discussed it with representatives of six different nationalities—who did not agree that the calm and the settlement were due to the fact that we had in our High Commissioner a man of such high purpose and lofty endeavour and true patriotism, such understanding of the mentality of the Egyptians, and such sympathy with the inarticulate masses of the poor who work along the banks of the Nile.
I know that there are hon. Gentlemen opposite who always think that their countrymen, wherever they may be in any distant part of the world, must inevitably be wrong. Perhaps they will not object if I quote the corporate opinion of their countrymen who are engaged in trade and commerce in Egypt at the present time. At the first meeting of the British Chamber of Commerce which was held after the resignation of Lord Lloyd, this resolution was passed unanimously. I know that the hon. Member for Shore-ditch (Mr. Thurtle) will not like it because these are British citizens.
This is the resolution that was passed:
During his tenure of office Lord Lloyd, in an exceptional manner and in extremely difficult circumstances, notably upheld the dignity and prestige of the British Empire, and in addition to furthering the maintenance of good order and the general prosperity of the country, unsparingly devoted himself to the advancement of British interests in Egypt, especially in the domains of commerce and education.
The resolution concluded with these words:
The inspiration of his example has had far-reaching effects and will long be remembered by the British community in Egypt.
We may remember those words long after the criticisms of those who do not know uttered against his name in this and another place in the last few days. From speeches of supporters of the Government it might be imagined that Great Britain had come along in recent years and had wrested Egypt from the Egyptians. After the discussion this evening, we are becoming a little more educated, and are beginning to understand that that is a flight of the imagination and absolutely contrary to the facts.
Through long years of time the Egyptians have proved absolutely incapable of defending or holding their own country. They have been overrun periodically by tidal waves of alien powers, and for 2,600 years they have not governed themselves. We have heard of various powers overrunning the country, beginning with the Libyans, followed by the Ethiopians, the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, and, before we came on the scene, by the Turks, who enslaved the country and are largely responsible for the backward condition of Egyptian thought and life to-day. Long before we came on the scene the glory of Egypt had departed, and the spirit of the people had been broken. The country was bankrupt, the finances were in chaos and the Nile, the richest fertiliser in the world, was pouring millions of tons of the best alluvial soil in the world wastefully into the ocean. The country was in the depths of despair and the government was utterly corrupt. Then came British genius to the rescue. [Interruption.] Is that denied by any Member of the party opposite? This is the difficulty here, Mr. Speaker. We are dealing with this immense subject and hon. Gentlemen on the back benches opposite deny the effects of British genius in Egypt, but I do not think any hon. or right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench would deny what has been done.
Anybody who has made even a cursory study of the facts realises that under British guidance the finances of that country have been restored. The Nile hats been harnessed by what we may describe as the most stupendous engineering feats ever known in this world. The result is that the peasant to-day is gathering three or four crops
every year instead of one. We have given him absolute protection so that the fellaheen dwelling in the Nile Valley is no longer subject to the attacks of wild tribes of Bedouins or savages from further south. All these facts must be realised and any man who has any goodness in his heart towards the institutions of mankind will thank Heaven for the intervention of Great Britain in Egypt and the fruits which have been garnered there as a result of British administration. It is written in the Prophet Ezekiel, chapter 30, verse 13:
There shall be no more a prince in the land of Egypt.
It is extraordinary how literally true that has been. To-day we have another prophet—the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I am sorry that he has found it necessary for so long to refresh himself this evening. The right hon. Gentleman, in spite of the fact that Salisbury and Gladstone and the giants of British statesmanship in the past wanted to get out of Egypt and could not, says, "Leave it to me." This new prophet declares "Behold, I am sitting in Whitehall and although the Egyptian people for 2,600 years have not been able to govern themselves, I have decreed that they shall by my edict have an election, and shall henceforth govern themselves."
Does anyone imagine that Egypt could have defeated the mighty armies of the Mandi. Will it not be admitted that it was by the strong hand of Britain that that was achieved? Can anyone deny that the great hinterland of the Sudan would never have been formed into a peaceful bulwark for the people of Egypt but for the friendly aid of the British soldier? For over 50 years Britain has given her best to Egypt and the Egyptian people and has rescued that country from a state of anarchy, slavery and corruption and built up an amazing prosperity there. I defy anyone to challenge that statement. After the War, in a great desire to encourage responsibility among the Egyptian people, the British Government did what they could and went forward as quickly as they thought wise along the path towards self-determination, as it is called. Finally, sovereignty was granted and a Parliament was established in Egypt. That that Parliament proved utterly unworkable and that ulti- mately the King, on the advice of his Prime Minister, had to close its doors, must not be put to the blame of Great Britain. It was not the fault of Great Britain, and no one knows that better than the hon. Members opposite.
Lord Lloyd is able to speak for himself and does not need such a champion as the hon. Member, but I doubt very much whether the hon. Member is wise, unless he has some evidence, in suggesting that Lord Lloyd had anything to do with this matter until it was decided upon by the authorities chiefly concerned, namely, the Egyptian authorities. If there was any blame attaching to Britain, I think it was because her statesmen in their great desire to show good will to Egypt, endeavoured to force the Egyptian people to run before they had learned to walk. They failed to realise this essential fact, which has been forgotten in this debate, that Egypt is not Cairo and that, apart from Cairo and Alexandria, where there are the great foreign colleges which have managed to spread their culture over the inhabitants of those two great cities, the population of Egypt, the real Egyptians, are living in mud huts in the great towns and villages of mud all the way up the Nile Valley. If it is seriously imagined that these people, living in these conditions, and, as we have heard from the opposite benches, 87 per cent. of whom cannot read or write, are capable of the Western idea of democratic institutions, I can only say that we are trying to bluff ourselves in suggesting what is not the truth.
The most generous terms were offered to the Egyptian people, giving them complete control over their own affairs, but it must be remembered that it was the extremists of the Wafd who refused those advances, which went, I think everybody agreed at the time, to the extreme limit of concession, and which every British citizen on the spot thought had somewhat passed the point of wisdom. It is these same extremists to whom the Government are now making what certainly appears to be a complete surrender on certain subjects. Only a few years ago, it must be remembered, Egypt was reeling under the murder of the Sirdar, and we also remember the situation when Lord Allenby, when driving to the palace, took an escort of a cavalry regiment with him. On top of this very serious state of affairs, in a situation which the Prime Minister had the generosity to admit was a most difficult one, Lord Lloyd came on the scene. He had not been long in the saddle before he discovered the difficulties and realised that you must be perfectly straight when you are dealing with these people and that you must be perfectly firm, and it was under circumstances of that kind that he realised grave difficulties and asked for, and received the presence of warships at Alexandria, so that their distant influence would affect the situation.
It is not long ago that the present Government, at great cost, quite rightly, very speedily sent warships, troops and aeroplanes to Palestine, but this action was taken after the event. In Egypt bloodshed was avoided, the situation was rendered calm, and the warships were able to leave, while in Palestine very much blood had flowed before the protection was sent and great suffering resulted. Yet I have heard Lord Lloyd blamed in this House for taking that precaution, which cost this country almost nothing. In Egypt, in previous years, we often failed to get our way with a weak policy, and murder and assassination of British officials and soldiers were frequent. Under Lord Lloyd we never failed to get our way on a matter of importance, with a strong policy, yet never a shot was fired.
I hope the Noble Lord representing the Government in another place will remember this fact, when he makes comparisons about the administration of Lord Lloyd, that Egypt during those four years was quieter and calmer, I believe I am right in saying, than at any previous time, in spite of the previous volcanic conditions. I want to call attention once more to the real dangers involved in this proposed Agreement. What does the surrender amount to? The removal of the troops from Cairo, the presence of which alone has guaranteed peace and prosperity in these difficult times, to the Suez Canal zone is one of the most serious decisions ever taken. I cannot for the life of me understand why, if you are going to remain in Egypt at all with your troops, you are not keeping them in a position which is of some strategic use, and where they will be maintained in health and comfort. It is very difficult to understand why the Government are choosing such a position, when it is well known that most of the troubles occur in Alexandria, and there is no speedy possibility of reinforcement, but that the reinforcements would have to come all the way round, and then a long journey to get to the threatened point.
I want to add my protest to the suggestion of sending a battalion of Egyption troops into the Sudan. Why should the Sudanese suffer what they consider this indignity? There is no reason for it, and, if self-determination were granted to the Sudan, it would only be a short time before every Egyptian soldier was forced beyond her boundaries. Again, if you take the great foreign population in Egypt, is it not a fact that henceforth they will be largely at the mercy of the Egyptian courts? If a Frenchman or an Italian or a Greek is murdered, the murderer will be tried, as I understand it, by an Egyptian judge in an Egyptian court, and if, as is not inconceivable, the murderer goes scot free, what will be the international situation I am suggesting what is quite a possible happening, and what will happen if an international situation arises. Is the victim's country going to appeal to their ally, Great Britain, and what moral right will we have to prevent the advent of avenging armies of Italians, or Frenchmen, or Greeks, when we have abdicated and failed to complete the trusteeship which it was recognised by the continent of Europe and other Powers that we had undertaken?
Lastly, we are told that the Egyptian people are to have this delightful Parliament, for which the elections have taken place. Does a single man who has served in Egypt and who has been any length of time in any of the great cities up the river, believe that these people have any chance of expressing their opinions? What happened in these elections two days ago? These fellaheen were marshalled and marched up with a whip behind them, and told which way they were to vote. They cannot read any name, they cannot write, and somebody must have held their hand. The country knows that what I am saying is true, and do not let us deceive our countrymen by asking them to believe that it is not true. If we scuttle out of Cairo with our troops, either this or some other country almost inevitably will have to go back there. We have had placed before the House to-night both the Liberal view and the Labour view. I want to state very briefly the Conservative point of view, which is that where-ever the British flag is to be found that flag should not be hauled down, but that every opportunity should be given to the governed country to learn the art of self-government and gradually work up to Dominion status. That is what has happened throughout the British Empire. Wherever the British flag flies it ought not to be hauled down unless you are absolutely convinced that the population living under that flag are going to be better governed. If you are convinced that they are going to be better governed and the Empire is going to be made more secure, then all is well, but otherwise we are fundamentally opposed to a policy of scuttle such as that which has been adopted by the Government.
I do not think the Government has any reason to complain of the course which this Debate has taken nor can any complaint be made of the tone of the speeches which have been made from all parts of the House. I make a striking exception in the case of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). The right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Marylebone (Sir R. Rodd) has made a speech of calm wisdom and ripe experience which in itself was an effective reply to the raging and ranting of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Marylebone is especially valuable because he speaks with great authority and experience such as no other Member of this House can claim in equal measure. The right hon. Gentleman went to Egypt in 1919 as a Member of the Milner Commission and he and his colleagues made a report in 1920. That Report stands today as a document of statesmanship and it represents a policy which the present Government is carrying forward to its final completion. It is not only from the Conservative Benches in the case of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Marylebone that the Government has secured valuable support because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) made a valuable contribution to the Debate and in a trenchant manner dealt with some of the wilder extravagances of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen put some questions to me, which I will answer in due course. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) is always delightful to listen to, but I do not propose to follow him in regard to the various matters which he has raised with regard to Lord Lloyd except to say that his Lordship has recently admitted that he was not a suitable instrument to carry out the policy of His Majesty's Government.
His Majesty's Government. I said that Lord Lloyd admitted that he was not a suitable instrument for carrying out the policy of His Majesty's Government, but I do not want to waste time on points of that description. May I now come to the points which have been raised from the official opposition benches and from the Liberal Benches? A good deal of the discussion has been devoted to the question of the removal of British troops from Cairo to the Canal zone. I do not propose to deal with that at any length, and all I will say is that the removal of the troops from Cairo to the Canal zone was a question which was deliberately inquired into by the Milner Commission, and they were in favour of the area which we have chosen.
In addition to that, the Sarwat Treaty contemplated British troops being removed from Cairo and Alexandria to the Canal zone. I have never been to the Canal zone myself, but it is not accurately described either as a fortified camp or as an and waste. I am informed by those who know Ismailia that it is one of the prettiest towns in Egypt and has a resident population of employés of the Suez Canal Company. Moreover, a considerable number of British troops have been quartered close by for a considerable time past, even in the days of Lord Lloyd. Furthermore, Port Said at the other end of the Canal zone is regarded in Egypt as a health resort and compares favourably with Alexandria, where our troops are stationed. This view is confirmed by the statements of those who have been there. I feel confident that if the Egyptian Government gives its approval to the draft treaty and carries out its undertaking to provide suitable barrack accommodation and amenities, then the Canal zone will compare favourably with the accommodation provided for the troops in many other parts of the world, such as Shanghai, where a large number of British troops have been stationed for many months.
That brings me to the first question which was put by the, right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen. He was a little concerned about the suggestion that it might be a considerable number of years before these troops would actually leave Cairo and Alexandria, under these proposals, for the Canal zone. The answer is that, assuming that the Egyptian Parliament and the new Egyptian Government accept these draft proposals, and that this House also accepts them, the speed with which the British troops will leave Cairo and Alexandria will be primarily dependent upon the speed with which the Egyptian authorities create these amenities in the Canal zone; and the Note, in the paragraph, on page 6 of the White Paper, relating to the movement of the Army, makes the matter quite clear. It says:
Upon the completion of this new accommodation, those forces shall be transferred thereto, handing over the lands, barracks, etc., thus vacated to the Egyptian Government.
It goes on to say:
In view of the technical objections to effecting this transfer piecemeal, it shall await the completion of the new accommodation to be provided. Having regard to the character of the region lying to the east of longitude 32 E., steps will be taken to furnish reasonable amenities by planting trees, gardens, etc., for the troops, who will also be provided with an adequate emergency fresh water supply.
It is a technical question how soon these amenities can be provided by the Egyptian authorities. The more rapidly they can be provided, the sooner will our troops be transferred; and the more slowly they are provided, the more slowly will our troops be transferred. The encouragement given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) to the turning down of the
Treaty will no doubt result in a slower movement than would have taken place but for his valuable contribution to tonight's Debate, but the general conditions governing the speed of movement are as I have stated.
If I may, for convenience, take now the other two questions put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen, he suggested that under the Sarwat Treaty the question of moving the troops from Cairo at the end of 10 years was dependent upon the unanimous decision of the Council of the League of Nations, and he suggested that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was wrong when he in turn suggested that the British Government, as a permanent member of the League Council, would have a permanent vote upon any such agreement with which it was not in accord. This is a legal question, of course, and on legal questions a layman may err, but I venture to suggest with all respect that my right hon. Friend was perfectly correct in his contention. The question whether the parties to a dispute vote when the League Council is considering the matter depends, I am advised, upon the nature of the dispute. If it is a dispute which is likely to lead to a rupture of the peace—as, for example, the Mosul dispute some time ago—then it is laid down that the parties to the dispute do not vote, but unanimity is taken without regard to the votes of the parties. I am advised, however, that there is a large number of other questions, when there is no risk of a rupture or disturbance of the peace, in the case of which unanimity in the fullest sense is required. It is not for me to justify the lucidity of the drafting of the treaty of the right hon. Gentlemen who preceded us, and it may be that there is some ambiguity in the matter, but, so far as I have been able to ascertain from legal advice in the short time at my disposal, I am led to believe that there is some ground for holding that, in a dispute which is not likely to lead to a breach of the peace—and this is such a case—unanimity in its fullest sense is necessary. I admit that there is some legal doubt as to the matter—
The hon. Gentleman will pardon my interrupting him, but would it not depend entirely upon the Article of the Covenant under which the Egyptian Government choose to bring the matter before the Council?
I do not think that hon. Members have found me slow to answer, provided only that my voice can prevail against their din. I am very willing to believe—though the right hon. Gentleman, of course, is an ex-Foreign Secretary with wide experience in the proceedings of the Council of the League of Nations, and this is a matter upon which more than one opinion may, I am assured, plausibly be held—I can well believe that one point which would determine the matter would be under which Article of the Covenant the Egyptian Government might proceed—whether they would proceed under an Article which touched upon the danger of rupture of the peace, or whether they would proceed merely under an Article involving conciliation in the case of a dispute which was not likely to lead to war. But, in any case, what we are dealing with is a dead Treaty. We are dealing with a Treaty which has passed away. I had to deal with the matter, because the right hon. Gentlemman below the Gangway pressed me to give my view, and I have given it to the best of my ability. In any event, this particular problem does not now arise, since we propose, without waiting for the League of Nations to settle any dispute about the point, to move the troops as soon as accommodation shall have been provided for them.
The third question asked by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen was whether we were undertaking some special obligation to consult the Egyptian Government with regard to every item of our foreign policy, whether, for example, in the dispute with Venezuela in
days gone by, if these draft proposals had been in the form of a binding Treaty, our policy would have had to be submitted to the Egyptian Government. I am advised that Clause 4 merely particularises, in the case of the relationship between Great Britain and Egypt, the general relationship which exists between all States which are members of the League of Nations and have signed the Covenant. In all such cases if any dispute produces a situation which involves a risk of rupture, the High Con tracting Powers, namely, all members of the League—
shall concert together with a view to the settlement of the said dispute by peaceful means.
It adds nothing to the obligations which will devolve upon any two members of the League of Nations.
For greater clarity and explicitness, so as to bring into clear light the new relationship which will exist between this country and Egypt when the latter has joined the League of Nations. The Venezuela dispute took place in pre-War, and, a fortiori, pre-League of Nations, days. Had it arisen in post-League of Nations days and had Venezuela been a member of the League, quite evidently the initial stages of that dispute would have taken a different course. It would not be a matter of the British Government contemplating the use of force against Venezuela, but of bringing the Government of Venezuela into friendly discussion with us at Geneva. That shows how far we have marched, since the dispute took place, in international relations.
Much has been said about the Sudan, and answers have been given from this side of the House to many of the points that have been raised, but there are one or two which I think I should touch upon again. Certain Members have been greatly concerned at the possibility of an Egyptian battalion returning to the Sudan. Let me re-emphasise that this is quite a contingent return. All that is undertaken is that when these amenities, which some hon. Members think will take such a long time to create, have been created and when, consequently, British troops have moved from Cairo to their new positions, then, or immediately before that point arises, the British Government will sympathetically consider the possibility of an Egyptian battalion returning to the Sudan. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping said that it was a splendid thing to have British mixed up with Egyptian battalions.
The right hon. Gentleman's whole speech was an incitement to the Egyptian Nationalists to be discontented. Let us trust that the Egyptian Nationalists will have enough commonsense and enough acquaintance with English political life to know that the right hon. Gentleman is now out of office and out of power, and that they are now dealing with a new Government and with new men propounding new principles and taking a different point of view from that of the right hon. Gentleman during the years when, in the Cabinets of the past, he—as common talk goes—consistently opposed every movement favoured by his colleagues for a liberal movement in regard to Egypt. His philosophy of life counts for little in British polities to-day.
Returning to the Sudan, where we hope to secure the advantage, elaborated by the right hon. Gentleman, of the educative effects, as he called them, of the proximity of British to Egyptian troops, that return of an Egyptian battalion is purely contingent. It can be reconsidered by the Government in the light of the working of the Treaty. It is clearly laid down in a note to the proposals that, only if the Treaty is worked in the spirit in which it is negotiated, the Government will consider the possibility of its return. Again, let me emphasise the Sudan Convention of 1899—and here we come for the first time to juridical ground. I recommend this to those who are terrified of the Optional Clause and of any legal basis for British presence in Egypt and on the Canal. I call their attention to the fact that the provisions of the Sudan Convention of 1899 are admitted to be binding by this Treaty. If this draft Treaty goes through, we shall have the assent of the Egyptians to the situation that the Convention legally establishes that the Governor-General is Commander-in-Chief of the forces in the Sudan and can issue any orders that he thinks wise for good order and peace in the Sudan. It follows that the Governor-General will be perfectly entitled to request that Egyptian battalion to leave, if he thinks fit to do so. That question, I believe, will then be established on a firm legal basis, and we can allow it to be taken with complete assurance and complacency to the Permanent Court at The Hague. With regard to other matters which have been raised by the right hon. Member for St. Marylebone, the Optional Clause and the relation of its acceptance to the Treaty, I have answered both in general terms. For the first time, this Treaty would place our legal relationship with Egypt upon a perfectly clear and unequivocal footing, and that would be, as in other branches of the Government's policy, the substitution of a regime based on clearly recognised systems of law for a regime based on mere custom lacking legal foundation. Other points of detail have been raised. Reference was made, for example, to the recent election of the Egyptian Parliament.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman raised various questions about the rights of foreigners and also dealt with the basis of the new Parliament. With regard to the rights of foreigners, the position is clear and has been already explained under the relevant article of this Treaty. The King of Egypt undertakes to make himself responsible through his Government for the proper treatment of foreigners. Either he will carry out this undertaking, or he will not. If he carries it out, all will be well. If he does not, he will have broken his Treaty with us and we will have the right to take whatever steps circumstances may demand. Let me add that the circumstances may vary considerably in gravity, and consequently the steps that may need to be taken may vary very considerably from one set of circumstances to another. But, and this is in pursuit of the point raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, there is no justification whatever for the panic suggestions and the cries which have been raised in certain popular newspapers and elsewhere that as a result of this Treaty we are making it possible for foreign armies to invade Egypt in order to establish the rights of their nationals.
The entry of Egypt into the League of Nations, if this goes through, will entitle Egypt to the same protection as that afforded to other members of the League and she will enjoy the same guarantee of her independence against external aggression as any other member has. [Interruption.] I thought we were talking about Egypt. The general position is surely this. When Egypt enters the League of Nations she will be entitled, in return for the obligation she assumes, to a collective support against aggression, just as she is entitled now, to support from us given under certain conditions to which in part exception is taken by Egyptian nationalists. Under the new regime she will be entitled, as a member of the League, to the general protection against aggression from outside to which every Member of the League is entitled.
We are very glad to notice that the policy which we are putting before the House is gradually winning acceptance in all quarters except a small section of the ground which is still occupied by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping who was disowned by the hon. and gallant Member for Warwick and Leamington (Captain Eden) in the course of his speech —[Interruption]. The burden of responsibility must lie exceedingly heavily upon the right hon. Gentleman with so wide a command of publicity and notoriety, who used such wild words and such melodramatic language to-night of which it would appear he is not yet ashamed. That saner and more balanced general opinion to which, in the last resort, we submit ourselves to judgment will mark down the right hon. Gentleman a few steps lower on the ladder of irresponsibility and mischief-making, qualities in which he has already a certain prominence. We go forward from to-night's debate heartened and encouraged by the widespread support which we have received and by the somewhat low quality of such opposition as has been offered to our proposals.