In view of my right hon. Friend's announcement that there will be a further debate tomorrow, I will, if I may, confine myself today to giving certain facts about the situation which are available to us and to meeting certain of the criticisms which may be in the minds of the House.
I will begin by saying this about the United Nations session. Yesterday morning, the United States representative tabled at U.N.O. a resolution which was, in effect, a condemnation of Israel as the aggressor in the events of the last few days. We felt that we could not associate ourselves with this and we said so through diplomatic channels both in London and in New York. Her Majesty's Government did not feel, and do not feel, that it is possible to pronounce in this way against one of the parties in the dispute for the action which they have taken, regardless of the cumulative effects that went before.
Throughout recent months, and, in particular, since the seizure of the Canal, the Egyptian Government have kept up a violent campaign against Israel, against this country and against the West. The Egyptian Government have made clear over and over again, with increased emphasis since the seizure of the Canal, their intention to destroy Israel, just as they have made it plain that they would drive the Western Powers out of the Middle East. [An HON. MEMBER : "What has happened?"] That is what has been happening and that is the background to understand what is happening. It is from these Egyptian policies that much of the present crisis has sprung, and to ignore them is to shun reality.
In these circumstances, is there any Member of this House who can consider Egypt as an innocent country whom it is right to exonerate at the Security Council by condemning Israel as an aggressor? Moreover, the Security Council resolution simply called upon the Israeli Government to withdraw within their frontiers. That seemed, and seems, to us in all the circumstances that have preceded these immediate events, to be a harsh demand if it is to stand alone. It certainly could not be said to meet in any way the guarantees for Israel's security which were asked for by several hon. Members in the course of yesterday's debate. As to our own request, to both sides, to cease fire and to withdraw, Israel accepted that request last night and declared her willingness to take practical steps to carry it out. The Egyptian Government rejected it. [HON. MEMBERS : "What did you expect?"]
As to the military situation on the ground, I must give the House what information is at our disposal. The Press this morning, the House will have seen, reports that one column of Israeli troops yesterday morning reached El Quseima, which is one of the biggest Egyptian bases in North Sinai, in an outflanking movement from Nakhl. To the best of our knowledge, this is true. I can confirm also what my right hon. and learned Friend said last night in reply to the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) that, so far as our information goes, Israeli troops are continuing to advance towards the Canal.
The Press also reports that a column is now well along the highway built by Lord Allenby's forces in the First World War. This highway leads through the desert to Ismailia. Other columns are reported to be nearer the Canal. Some troops may already be on it. The latest report is that they are approaching the Canal, and there are a number of details on the tape since, which hon. Members will have seen, within the last hour. A number of prisoners have been captured, I understand.
In the light of all these facts, can anyone say that we and the French Government should have waited—[HON. MEMBERS : "Yes."]—for a satisfactory resolution by the Security Council authorising definite action to stop the fighting? I must remind the House that we have recently been to the United Nations and we went with proposals for the future of the Canal, approved by 18 Powers representing more than 90 per cent. of the traffic that uses the Canal.
Admittedly, we received strong support for our proposals, but they were vetoed by the Soviet Government. Can we be expected to await the development of similar procedures in the situation of much greater urgency that confronts us now in and about the Canal? The action we had to take was bound to be rapid. I regret it had to be so, but it was inescapable.
We have no desire whatever, nor have the French Government, that the military action that we shall have to take—[HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."]—should be more than temporary in its duration, but it is our intention that our action to protect the Canal and separate the combatants should result in a settlement which will prevent such a situation arising in the future. If we can do that we shall have performed a service not only to this country, but to the users of the Canal.
It is really not tolerable that the greatest sea highway in the world, one on which our Western life so largely depends, should be subject to the dangers of an explosive situation in the Middle East which, it must be admitted, has been largely created by the Egyptian Government along familiar lines. I would remind the House that we have witnessed, all of us, the growth of a specific Egyptian threat to the peace of the Middle East. Everybody knows that to be true.
In the actions we have now taken we are not concerned to stop Egypt, but to stop war. None the less, it is a fact that there is no Middle Eastern problem at present which could not have been settled or bettered but for the hostile and irresponsible policies of Egypt in recent years, and there is no hope of a general settlement of the many outstanding problems in that area so long as Egyptian propaganda and policy continues its present line of violence.
What would the future of the Middle East have been if, while denouncing Israel, we had done nothing to check these Egyptian actions? The only result would be warfare spreading through the whole area and a great increase in the strength and influence of a dictator's power. In these circumstances, to have taken no action would have been to betray not our interests alone but those of the free world and, above all, of the Middle East itself. To have taken ineffective action would have been a greater betrayal than to have taken no action at all.
We have taken the only action which we could clearly see would be effective in holding the belligerents apart and which would give us some chance to reestablish the peace of the area. In entering the Suez Canal area we are only protecting a vital international waterway. We are also holding—and this is a point I would ask the House to bear in mind—between the combatants the only possible line of division which is practicable for us, because even if it had been fair it would not have been possible to have attempted to establish ourselves upon the armistice line itself. It is an irregular line, with no facilities and no possibility of any limited forces doing anything effective to control it, and, of course, would have been no assistance at all in respect of shipping in the Canal.
Now I wish to say something about our relations with the United States in the matter. The decisions which we and the French Government took were, as I said yesterday, taken on our own account and on our own responsibility. The Government remain convinced that we could have done no other and discharge our national duty. Now, it is, of course, an obvious truth that safety of transit through the Canal, though clearly of concern to the United States, is for them not a matter of survival as it is to us and, indeed, to all Europe and many other lands. Indeed, Mr. Dulles himself made this clear on 28th August, when he said the United States' economy is not dependent upon the Canal. Of course that is true. We must all accept it, and we should not complain about it, but it is equally true that throughout all these months this fact has inevitably influenced the attitude of the United States to these problems, as compared to that of ourselves and France.
If anyone says that on that account we should have held up action until agreement could be reached with the United States as to what to do I can only say that this would have been to ignore what everyone here and in the United States knows to have been different approaches to some of these vital Middle Eastern questions. They know it. We know it. Of course, we deplore it, but I do not think that it can carry with it this corollary, that we must in all circumstances secure agreement from our American ally before we can act ourselves in what we know to be our own vital interests.
Let me finish my sentence. I wanted only to do that. Then I will give way again.
There have been a number of conversations between the United States and ourselves upon this situation, and we have expressed our preoccupations and our reasons, dating right back to the Suez Canal seizure, why the matter seemed to us of such overwhelming importance. We have done that at all stages.
I was going to say there was conversation only yesterday morning between the Foreign Secretary and the United States Ambassador in respect of action to be taken at the Security Council, with which I have already dealt. I do not shelter behind this. [HON. MEMBERS : "Answer."] I will answer. I have said quite clearly to the House, and I repeat, that the decisions taken by us—the French Government and ourselves—yesterday afternoon were our decisions, which we thought it right to take at once in the interests of our own nationals and our own shipping.
Yes, but were we not bound by common obligations with the United States in respect of this matter, and did we not fail to inform the United States of what we intended to do outside the Declaration?
The moment the French Government and ourselves had reached conclusions as to what we should do, I authorised the despatch of a full message to the United States explaining our action, before even coming to the House. Earlier yesterday, I also informed the United States Government of our reasons for concern and our anxieties as to whether the Security Council was the method to deal with the increasing dangers that faced us, but I do not think that on either of these I have anything to repent, because it is sometimes a Government's duty to take decisions for its own country.
I am glad to see that Mr. Cabot Lodge, the distinguished American representative on the Security Council, said yesterday on this very question that it took
more than one question, important though it is, to upset relations between the United States, Britain and France.
That is true. Throughout this period, and longer still, in the communications we have had with the United States Government, we have done our best to make it clear why we thought that decisive action would have to be taken. While we agreed to the Security Council, we also explained, as I said just now, that experience showed that this procedure was unlikely to be either rapid or effective.
I conclude by repeating that our request to the Government of Egypt is still open. We are still convinced that this offer is the best opportunity there is of bringing hostilities rapidly to an end, and of preventing the conflagration from spreading widely. That was the purpose of our two Governments in the action we took yesterday. We stand by it.
There was at least one extraordinary omission from the Prime Minister's statement. Last night, we begged the Government to give us an undertaking that they would refrain from using armed force until the Security Council had completed its deliberations or we had had another chance of discussing the matter here. I must say for myself that I had hoped, even after the Government's refusal to give us that undertaking, that wiser counsels might still have prevailed.
We are this afternoon still left to some extent in the dark about what Her Majesty's Government have done. I must ask the Prime Minister now to repair the omission from his speech and to tell us, "Yes" or "No", whether, on the expiry of his ultimatum, instructions were given to the British and French forces to occupy the Canal Zone.
If the right hon. Gentleman will be good enough to read the statement which the French and our Government issued at the conclusion of our meeting yesterday—[HON. MEMBERS : "Tell us."] ; I have not the words with me here—he will see perfectly clearly that we made it apparent that if agreement was not reached we should consider ourselves free to take whatever action—
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I should like to ask him a question to which 50 million people in this country will want to know the answer. Are British troops engaged in Egypt at this moment? Have they landed, or where are they?
Order. The debate cannot really proceed profitably if hon. Members do not listen. If hon. Members think that they can demand an answer to a question by shouting, it is not true. It is not really right. I do counsel the House to treat these grave matters with decorum.
I am not in any way prepared to give the House any details—[HON. MEMBERS : "Resign."]—of the action which will follow the statement which I clearly made yesterday, that British and French forces will intervene in whatever strength may be necessary to secure compliance.
This really is a fantastic situation. It is not only hon. Members on this side of the House, but it is the whole House and the whole country that are waiting for an answer to this question.
When we adjourned last night, all of us knew from what the Government said, or were certainly led to suppose, that the decision was going to be made in the course of last night because of the Government's refusal to give us the undertaking for which we asked. I ask the Prime Minister once again. I do not ask him to disclose troop movements. [HON. MEMBERS : "Oh!"] No, I ask him simply to tell the House and the country, and, indeed, the whole world, whether the decision has been finally taken that British and French troops shall invade the Canal Zone of Egypt.
I made perfectly plain yesterday that if we did not receive an answer we would take military action at the expiry of the period. I am not going to give the House—[HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."]—and the right hon. Gentleman does not ask it—any kind of account of what that action, of what those plans with our Allies, might be ; but I will tell him that we stand by what we said, and we shall carry it out.
I am at a loss to understand why the Prime Minister should be so reluctant to give this essential item of information frankly and freely to the House of Commons. I can only assume, however, from what he has said that this decision has been taken, and that, therefore, British and French troops are at the moment on the move.
If that is not so the Prime Minister owes it to the House and to the country to say that it is not so, so that we can then conclude that there is still time to prevent fighting. He is evidently reluctant to do that, and I think my hon. and right hon. Friends must draw their own conclusion. All I can say is that in taking this decision the Government, in the view of Her Majesty's Opposition, have committed an act of disastrous folly whose tragic consequences we shall regret for years. [HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."] Yes, all of us will regret it, because it will have done irreparable harm to the prestige and reputation of our country.
Sir, this action involves not only the abandonment but a positive assault upon the three principles which have geverned British foreign policy for, at any rate, the last ten years—solidariy with the Commonwealth, the Anglo-American Alliance and adherence to the Charter of the United Nations. I cannot but feel that some hon. Gentlemen opposite may have some concern for these consequences.
The Prime Minister said yesterday that he had been in close consultation with the Commonwealth. What were the results of this close consultation? I do not think that there was ever much doubt about what the attitude of the Government of India was likely to be, and we now know. There has now been a special announcement, and in case hon. Members have not seen it, I will read it, stating that the Government of India considers Israel's aggression and the ultimatum of Britain and France a flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter and opposed to all the principles of the Bandoeng Conference.
The statement went on to say :
The Government of India learn with profound concern of the Israeli aggression in Egyptian territories and the subsequent ultimatum delivered by the United Kingdom and France to the Egyptian Government which was to be followed by an Anglo-French invasion of Egyptian territory.
I do not think that there is much doubt that substantially the same attitude is likely to be adopted by Pakistan and Ceylon. But it is not only the Asian members of the Commonwealth who are concerned. There are the older Dominions. It is a remarkable and most distressing fact that Australia was unable to support us in the United Nations Security Council. On one resolution Australia abstained, on the other resolution she voted against us. The Australian Government have said that they are still not in sufficient command of the facts to be able to make a full statement. So it does not seem as though the close consultation has been so very close after all.
The Canadian Government, through the mouth of their Foreign Secretary, have expressed in the coldest possible language their regret at the situation which has arisen. They have also made it plain, through Mr. Pearson, that they were not consulted in advance before this ultimatum was sent. [HON. MEMBERS : "Shame."] The New Zealand Prime Minister has said, in substantially the same words as the Canadian Foreign Minister, that he regrets the situation which has arisen and that he was unable to say whether he supported the United Kingdom or not.
This is a tragic situation and I cannot but feel, I repeat, that hon. Members, some of whom I know to be sincerely concerned with the maintenance of this unique institution the British Commonwealth, must too, in their hearts, feel the deepest anxiety at what has happened.
The second pillar of our foreign policy I described as the Anglo-American Alliance. Some of us on both sides of the House have worked very hard in the last ten years to strengthen and improve that alliance, and to us at least this is a terrible situation. Of course, it is true that from to time there have been disagreements between America and Great Britain, but in the light of what has happened in the last 24 hours I am bound to conclude, with the American Press, that a far greater strain is now being placed upon the Anglo-American Alliance than ever before.
What did we do? We found ourselves in the position of actually vetoing a United States Resolution in the Security Council. Let me pause for a moment and examine that particular question. The Prime Minister told us just now that this resolution contained a condemnation of Israel as the aggressor. I have not been able to get a full copy of the resolution but, strangely enough, the reports in the Press do not refer to that part of the resolution at all. What they refer to is the part of the resolution which called upon Israel immediately to withdraw her armed forces between the established armistice lines, and urged all members to refrain from the use of force, or threat of force, in the area in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.
If it is true, as the Prime Minister says, that the United States resolution contained a condemnation of Israel, then why did not the Government move a different resolution which excluded that part of the United States resolution from it but adopted the other part? Surely that would have been possible, and it would have been extremely likely, I venture to say, in those circumstances that there would have been unanimous support for it.
But no such action was taken and we are bound to draw the conclusion, in the light of what Sir Pierson Dixon said, that the reason why in fact no such amended resolution was put forward by France and Britain was that, in the view of their representatives, it would serve no useful purpose at this stage as their countries were about to take direct action to intervene and stop the fighting. I do not think that there is very much doubt that the Prime Minister's flimsy explanation of why we would not support the United States resolution is of no value whatever.
We are told that in this matter we have been in close communication with the United States. Those were the words which the Prime Minister used yesterday. And yet, even as late as yesterday afternoon, the State Department put out a notice to the effect that it had no prior intimation of what was going to be done. It is perfectly clear that no opportunity whatever for discussion with the United States was allowed or permitted.
I do not know how far the Prime Minister has had an opportunity of reading the dozens of messages, coming over the tape, which are showing the American reaction to his decision. He will be a little depressed, I am afraid, if he does. I will quote only one, which happens to have appeared in the Evening News and which, I think, summarises the position pretty well :
The British and French decision to ignore President Eisenhower's eleventh hour appeal to call off their armed intervention in Egypt has shocked and angered Washington. It is regarded not only as a reckless move which has brought the world to the edge of major war, but a calculated snub to President Eisenhower himself. The fact that the news of the Anglo-French air drop came only hours after Britain had used its first United Nations veto to kill the American cease-fire proposal further outraged the Americans.
There have been reports in the Press of what Mr. Dulles has said and what he has described as a "piece of trickery" on the part of Britain and France. Again, I can only say that those of us who feel as I do, and as I thought some hon. Members opposite felt, that the Anglo-American Alliance was the basis for the maintenance of peace, ought to be a little disturbed by the reports which are now coming in.
Even worse is the effect on the third pillar of our foreign policy which has now been so wantonly attacked by the Government—our support for the United Nations. Indeed, it is our attack upon the principles and the letter of the Charter which is the reason that our action has been so coldly, indeed hostilely, received by both the Commonwealth and the United States.
In the first place, there is the veto of the United States' resolution. The Foreign Secretary has frequently made play with the fact that the United Nations is not much good because anything that is put forward is vetoed. Who was responsible for the veto this time? Only the British and French Governments, and if it had not been for their action there would have been a unanimous resolution of the Security Council. I can only describe this as a major act of sabotage against the United Nations.
Secondly, and even more serious, is our own intervention, our own armed intervention, in this matter. Any impartial observer must recognise that this is in clear breach of the Charter of the United Nations. Whatever doubt there may be about the degree of aggression in the Israeli invasion of Egypt, the extent of the provocation which she suffered, there can unfortunately be no doubt about the nature of the British and French aggression. It is clear beyond all peradventure.
We are now faced with this situation. The Egyptians have, of course, as they were bound to do, protested to the Security Council against the threat of force, and no doubt very shortly against the act of force. There will, therefore, be a further debate in the Security Council. No doubt the British and French will be able once again, unaided, to veto any decision of the Security Council. They may be very proud of that, but it will not impress the public opinion of the world. The next stage will be, without doubt, the reference of this whole matter to the Assembly of the United Nations.
I wonder whether the Government can give us any idea of how many other members of the Assembly of the United Nations the British and French Governments think they can enrol in their support. I very much doubt whether they will have a single supporter. It is, I am afraid, only too obvious that if this matter is pressed, as it will be, in the Assembly of the United Nations, there will almost certainly be a two-thirds majority against us. It is a terribly serious situation. The whole power of the United Nations can be invoked to stop us. Is that what the Prime Minister really wants? Is that what hon. Members reckon is going to happen, and are they satisfied with it?
The Prime Minister's only defence in this deplorable episode is the story that it is necessary to go in under international law to protect British lives and property, and yet the very first bit of news we hear is not that the ships are to be protected but that they have been told to go round the Cape. If that is so, and if the ships have gone round the Cape—it is all announced in the papers this morning—what is it all about?
In any case, this is, frankly, the flimsiest possible excuse. Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary brushed aside some interjections from this side of the House about Hong Kong and Singapore. Perhaps he did not understand. Let me try to explain it to him. In Hong Kong there is a large Chinese population. In Hong Kong there were recently some serious riots. Have not the Chinese Government the right to intervene in Hong Kong to protect the lives of their nationals? Will the British Government say that they have no such right, and if they say that they have no such right, how can the British Government claim this right when it comes to intervening in Egypt?
In Singapore, about which Questions were asked today, there have been some riots. There is also a substantial Chinese population there. The Chinese Government could perfectly well intervene in Singapore and say that they were bound to do so and entitled to do so under international law to protect the lives and property of their own nationals. It has been set a wonderful example by the British Government. The terrible thing about what the Government have done is that it sets such an example to every potential aggressor in the world.
There can be no doubt at all about what the view of the world as a whole is on this decision of the British Government. They look upon it as a transparent excuse to seize the Canal to carry out the policy of force from which the Government were deterred by public opinion here and in the world in August and September ; and, indeed, what the Prime Minister has just said about the 18-Power proposals only lends further colour to that view.
There is, indeed, an even worse story which is going around and to which I hope we shall have some reference from the Government. It is the story that the whole business was a matter of collusion between the British and French Governments and the Government of Israel. I am asking that the Government indicate the truth about this. I will read again, if I may, a despatch from Washington on this subject, from the same newspaper :
There is no longer any doubt in the minds of American officials that Britain and France were in collusion with the Israelis from the beginning, and sanctioned the invasion of Egypt as an excuse to reoccupy the Canal Zone. Strenuous denials by British and French diplomats have failed to shake Washington's conviction that this was the case.
The despatch goes on :
American opinion appears to be shared by virtually all delegations to the United Nations.
It is also believed—and we cannot blame people for believing this—that the 12-hour ultimatum was decided upon precisely to prevent public opinion this time from operating effectively to stop the Government.
What will come out of all this? First, there is the question of Israel. I cannot believe that it is in the true interests of Israel to be associated with the reoccupation of the Canal Zone. After all, in the long run the people of Israel, somehow or other, have got to live with the Arab States. They are entitled to ask for proper security and again and again from these benches we have asked for that for them. But, if they are looked upon as simply "stooges" of Britain and France, a kind of advance guard of Western imperialism, then any prospect of a peaceful settlement with the Arab States is gravely endangered. To the many friends I have in Israel I make the appeal that they at least should now accept the resolution of the United Nations Security Council, insofar as it called upon them to withdraw their forces within their own frontiers, and do that forthwith.
In the Canal Zone we may seize territory, we may defeat—and, no doubt, will quite easily defeat—the Egyptian forces. Then what do we do? Do we stay there indefinitely? [An HON. MEMBER : "Temporarily."] The hon. Member says that it is temporary. At what point do we leave the Canal Zone and what exactly are we to leave behind, except a legacy of bitterness and hatred greater than anything which has existed before? I must say, in passing, that the Prime Minister's own comment today, that before we left we should have to make sure that this did not happen again, leads one to suppose that he has no real intention of evacuating the Canal. If he has, it is up to him to say the circumstances in which he thinks that withdrawal will be possible, even from his own point of view, but I cannot advise my hon. Friends to place very much reliance upon that.
There are even graver possibilities. The Arab States, as, of course, we all knew they would, have indicated their solidarity with Egypt. I do not know what kind of action they may take about oil supplies. It is possible that the intervention of America against us may be of some assistance there, and thank goodness for it. Does the Foreign Secretary, or the Prime Minister—[HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."] Well, I should have thought that hon. Members might see an advantage, where the Arab world is concerned, in having at least one of the three major powers in the West indicating that it does not participate in, or support, our action in the Canal Zone.
Then there is, of course, the shadow of Russian intervention.
No, we do not hope for that, but we are bound to point out these dangers and, indeed, some of us supposed that the Lord Privy Seal would have had a little more courage than he appears to have shown and would have pointed them out inside the Cabinet. It is surely abundantly clear that the whole of this operation is simply another effort to dictate policy on the Canal Zone just at the point when a negotiated settlement appeared to be in sight. [HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."] Yes, on the basis of the Indian plan, on which the Foreign Secretary, I am glad to say, recently made a not unfavourable comment.
There are wider implications in this matter, for this reckless and foolish decision has been taken just at the moment when events in Poland and Hungary had given the free world its greatest hope and encouragement for ten years. In the battle of ideas, to which the Prime Minister referred in a debate not so long ago, we could legitimately feel that the ideas of democracy and liberty had won a sensational and exciting victory. Now this act of the Government has done untold damage to the democratic cause throughout the world and, above all, in those vital, uncommitted areas of the world on which, we are all agreed, special concentration should be made.
Hon. Members may cheer their own Prime Minister and they may jeer at us and laugh at our faith in the United Nations and may rejoice—I know that some of them do—to be back in the days of the nineteenth century ; but all this, I ask them to believe me, will not stop the wave of hatred of Britain which they have stirred up. [HON. MEMBERS : "Shame."] All this will not rebuild the shattered fabric of Anglo-American understanding ; all this will not restore unity in the Commonwealth ; all this will not make up for the deadly blow which the Government have dealt the United Nations.
We, as Her Majesty's Opposition, have had to consider what attitude that we should adopt to the war on which the Government have so recklessly embarked ; we understand, let me say, the gravity of the decision we have to take. We were not, I repeat—and I make no complaint, I merely state it—consulted by the Government in this matter. They did not seek our consent and they indicated last night that we were completely free to make our own decisions.
I must now tell the Government and the country that we cannot support the action they have taken and that we shall feel bound by every constitutional means at our disposal to oppose it. I emphasise the word "constitutional." We shall, of course, make no attempt to dissuade anybody from carrying out the orders of the Government, but we shall seek, through the influence of public opinion, to bring every pressure to bear upon the Government to withdraw from the impossible situation into which they have put us. As a first step to that end we shall move a Motion of censure in the strongest possible terms tomorrow.
We shall do that because we consider it our duty in the present crisis both to do everything in our power to save the country from the disasters which we believe will follow the course set by the Government and to proclaim to the world, loudly and clearly, that there are millions and millions of British people—as we believe the majority of our nation—who are deeply shocked by the aggressive policy of the Government and who still believe that it is both wise and right that we should stand by the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the United States Alliance. We shall do this because we believe that there are millions of people who think with us and who have lost all faith that such policies can any longer be pursued by the present advisers of Her Majesty.
I entertain at this moment the most profound feelings of disgust and degradation. In opening my speech I cannot bring myself to use the same style of formal, point by point, condemnation which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition himself used. The country will judge of that speech. In due time, editors, columnists and public men will deliberate upon it and will finally judge its basic content.
The conclusion will be that the speech represents the nadir of British fortunes, the most miserable depth to which this country has fallen. If it proves to be the final epitaph on the monstrous era of weakness and ineptitude into which Socialism led the country, following upon a dangerous and deadly war, a national weakness which only history will discover, then that may suffice. The nation may forget the speech and go on to higher and better things. I find myself opposed to every word that was said by the right hon. Gentleman, despite the cheers that echoed and re-echoed behind him.
I find myself proud to be living upon this day. [An HON. MEMBER : "Put him into the Reserve."] On a previous occasion I detained the House with a speech in which I suggested that Britain and France, with or without the United States of America, should present an ultimatum to Egypt with a time limit attached to it. I was not asking for United Nations action, but I was asking that Britain and France, with or without the United States, should act in close association for the purpose of achieving what would ultimately become a great United Nations concept. I suggested that the ultimatum should be sent now to the Egyptians and that the date of its expiry should be governed by military considerations.
It, therefore, comes as a realisation of the tremendous opportunities which now confront this country and France, acting on behalf of world peace and order, for the maintenance of the great international waterway and free passage for the ships of all the world, to have heard the Prime Minister's statement of policy yesterday. Behind the immediate military action to separate the two contending forces of Israel and Egypt is the grand concept which the Prime Minister laid before the House in August of the internationalisation of the Canal for all time. [Interruption.]
Hon. Gentlemen opposite utterly dislike any form of military activity. They have such a weak attitude to public policy that I can only suppose that they object to all physical exercise in any form. They should realise in time that when these actions have ceased there will be established the kind of international order which they basically favour, that is to say, the placing of international commerce in an international political setting. I beg them to understand that in six months, or it may be very much less, there will be appearing upon the international scene just those concepts of organisation and planning which appeal to their basic philosophic instincts.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was dealing with the immediate military situation. He is quite capable of doing that without going into other matters. I do not wish to enter into all the themes on which the Leader of the Opposition spoke. I am content that they should await the day of full realisation of what the speech means to him and to his party. One or two of the points which he made, particularly last night, and reiterated to some extent today, should be looked at and debated.
Last night, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said that the action of Her Majesty's Government should await a full-scale debate, and that military action should be suspended until the Opposition had been brought fully into consultation. I will deal with the question of consultation with the Dominions, and so on, in a moment or two. The right hon. Gentleman has been Chancellor of the Exchequer, but after the speech that he has delivered today I cannot believe that he will ever be Prime Minister. He should know something of the details of our Constitution.
It is true that, as Leader of the Opposition, he receives a salary of £2,000, and that Members of the Opposition receive their Parliamentary salaries as do we all, but the Leader of the Opposition and Members of Parliament have no place at all in executive Government. The function of the Executive is to make treaties, make war and make peace. Those are absolutely reserved functions, handed to the Executive by our Constitution. There is no place for any claim, either by back bench Members or Leaders of the Opposition, to be consulted before action is taken.
That brings me to the question of consultation with the Commonwealth, a point which the right hon. Gentleman made again today. It would be very nice, upon these great international purposes, to consult the Commonwealth ; and we can consult all friendly nations as well as our own Commonwealth upon issues which are of a political, economic and constitutional nature, as well as on all matters worthy of political discussion.
But is the right hon. Gentleman going to suggest that when orders have been given to the troops, basic strategic orders with the timing and scales all worked out in the greatest detail—[HON. MEMBERS : "How long ago?"] I am not talking about when it began. Many hon. Gentlemen opposite served in the war and they know what D minus 4, minus 3, minus 2 means in terms of arms and men. When these basic instructions to an armoured force, to a military flotilla, or whatever it may be, to proceed have been given, it is quite impossible to arrest them in order to have consultations here, there and everywhere all over the world with our friends.
What would our troops, who may be landing in Egypt at this moment, say about that? What will they say when they hear that their representatives in the House of Commons and the leaders of the Labour Party which they may be supporting have demanded that everyone, high wide and handsome, should be consulted about the Middle East? What about the danger of leakage to the enemy. There is the danger that the Egyptians might have been forewarned, or the Israelis might have been forewarned, as a consequence of asking for direct consultation all over the world in the face of military action. There is the risk to life and limb.
Would the noble Lord agree with us to this extent, in spite of his emotion, that at no previous moment when the Government of the United Kingdom were contemplating action as grave as this have they failed to take every possible step to secure at least agreement with the Dominions?
It may be argued, of course, that before the beginning of the last war there was the fullest consultation with the Dominions, but the preparations were much more formidable. Preparations gathered momentum months before war began in 1939 and enabled those consultations to take place. That is not so today.
I now come to deal with one other point which the right hon. Gentleman made last night and again today. That is that we should have waited until the Security Council had decided. The Security Council has decided. It has decided in condemnation of us and in condemnation of Israel. Are we to suggest that today we should be bound by the decision of the Security Council and allow this war to take place? What notice would the Israelis or the Egyptians take of a United Nations decision of that kind? They have never taken any notice before.
If we had not got in in advance of the Security Council those two nations would be tearing at each other's throats today, instead of which, as a result of the brilliant planning and policy of my right hon. Friend and Her Majesty's Government, we and the French will be placing ourselves four square across the Suez Canal to prevent those two nations from engaging each other. It is idle to say that we should, in these circumstances and at this time, after all the experience of the ineptitude and futility of the United Nations Security Council, have waited for this appalling result.
I want to say one word about the United States of America. I ventured in a speech which I made in August to use words in condemnation of America and I will not do so again today, although it comes as an appalling realisation of the state of our relations and the state of understanding in the world of what Britain really is and what her purpose is today to find the Americans vetoing this and arguing that. [Interruption.] It is no good hon. Gentlemen taking exception to the veto in the United Nations.
Certainly. I support the veto, I like the veto and I am grateful for the veto.
It seems to me that there is not enough realisation in the United States of how profoundly important to us and to Western Europe is the Suez Canal. The United States is a vast conglomerate of dependent States, 48 of them, united together after a major war. They constitute an enormous territory. We happen to be a maritime Empire. Taking it geographically, our situation is utterly different from theirs, but the concept of sovereignty is the same and the Suez Canal is every bit as important to us as the Hudson River to the United States.
If a Power went sailing up the Hudson River, Americans would leap to arms to reject them. If any Power threatens the sovereignty, peace and commerce of the Suez Canal, it is right that we and France should leap to arms to defend ourselves in that position because the Canal is the artery to various parts of the Empire. Looking back to the gunboat action which America took in 1903 over the Panama Canal, she should regard her words and policy today with shame and regret. I think that it would do no harm at all if Her Majesty's Government themselves were to offer some mild condemnation of the attitude of the United States, seeing that we were foremost ourselves in supporting them in Korea, not so very long ago.
I have one final thing to say. One had hoped for a coalition view in the House. One had hoped that the realisation of the fundamental integrity and honour behind this policy would permeate to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. If there is to be no coalition view, as the Leader of the Opposition seemed to indicate, and if, this week-end, the party opposite is to depart to the country and campaign against the Government and carry out every sort of contemptuous attack upon Her Majesty's Government, then let me warn them of this. There is the strongest possibility and hope that the policy of Her Majesty's Government will succeed beyond the wildest dreams of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is quite possible that we are entering into a new age in this country—to reverse the famous words of Burke—the age when chivalry began, and that of sophisters, economists and desiccated calculators died away.
If that is true, and our troops return home victorious, leaving an internationalised management of the Canal secured by civilian police, with the Middle East pacified, those troops returning in Khaki to the triumph which awaits them for what they have done, then it is conceivable that the Government might hold a General Election in which hon. Members opposite, having opposed the policy of the Government, will be swept into the dustbin of opposition for half a generation.
Whatever else the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) has or has not done, he has certainly raised the fundamental issue which divides the supporters of the Government and hon. Members on this side of the House. The noble Lord talked about our being on the threshold of a new age. I suggest that what he is advocating is a return to the nineteenth century and, indeed, almost to the Stone Age. He suggested that hon. Members on this side of the House were exhibiting signs of decadence, that we were afraid to fight and afraid of the physical side of life. I hope the noble Lord will agree that there are many hon. Members on this side of the House who have shown in the past that they were prepared to serve their country just as much and as well as those who sit with him.
The issue dividing the House is something which apparently we are not going to be able to bridge. We take the view that for the last thirty-five years this country has turned its back on recourse to war as an instrument of national policy and has laid as the cornerstone of our national policy loyalty to all the principles which were first embodied in the Covenant of the League of Nations and which today are embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.
If we took the view, as does the noble Lord, that this country and the Government are justified, because of what he called the procrastination and ineptitude of the United Nations, in formulating the "brilliant" plan to which he referred and which he said was now in operation, I cannot understand why the Prime Minister was so reluctant to answer the question put to him by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in view of the fact that apparently the noble Lord has received inside information to the effect that our troops are actually in Egypt at the present time.
The question asked by my right hon. Friend was not when and where the troops were going, which obviously would be a matter of security. He merely asked a question of fact, which was whether British and French troops had in fact arrived in Egypt. If they have, then I have no doubt that the Egyptians are aware of the fact, and therefore no question of security arises. During the war years I had some experience of a Service Department and I know something about the requirements of security when dealing with warlike operations, but I cannot understand the reluctance of the Prime Minister to answer the question put to him by my right hon. Friend.
What is obvious to all of us in the House is the fact that the Government have completely lost faith in the United Nations as an effective international instrument for dealing with and solving the international problems that exist at the present time. That is a matter of very great regret, because as I said a moment ago, during the past thirty-odd years both parties have, broadly speaking, adhered to these international arrangements. It now seems from the speeches made yesterday, and especially from the speech of the Foreign Secretary, that the Government have completely lost their faith in the United Nations.
The whole tenor of the latter part of the Foreign Secretary's speech yesterday was directed to establishing the fact that the United Nations was powerless and ineffective. I do not know how long that has been the view of the Government, but it seems regrettable that they should have taken at least five years before informing the House and the country that this is now their view. It seems that as long as other people's interests are affected there is no question of the Government decrying the United Nations, but that when it is a question of British interests they say that the United Nations is powerless and ineffective.
Let me remind the House of what the Foreign Secretary said yesterday. I am dealing with this point because, in my opinion, there has been too much denigration of the United Nations by Ministerial spokesmen. The Foreign Secretary said :
There is a fundamental point which this House and other countries will have to face. We have created a system of international law and order in which we have to face the fact that the Security Council is, first, frustrated by the veto and, secondly, that it cannot act immediately. In a sense, the policeman has his hands tied behind his back."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th October, 1956 ; Vol. 558, c. 1381.]
I will take, first, the question of frustration by the use of the veto. As my right hon. Friend the leader of the Opposition pointed out this afternoon, almost while the Foreign Secretary was making that criticism of the United Nations and of the Security Council the British representative, acting under the right hon. and learned Gentleman's instructions, was playing his part in frustrating the Security Council by vetoing the United States resolution. It is interesting to note that for once—I do not think it has happened on many major occasions—the representative of the Soviet Union expressed his support of the United States resolution.
I will deal with that question when I come to deal with the second criticism made by the Foreign Secretary to the effect that the Security Council cannot act immediately, but, first, I want to deal with this question of the veto.
It seems to me almost tragic that the British Government should have opposed the United States resolution. First, that resolution called on all nations to refrain from the use of force or threat of force in Egypt. Secondly, it called upon Israel to withdraw immediately its armed forces to behind the armistice line. Is it an argument which should lie in the mouth of the Foreign Secretary that there is something wrong with the Charter when his own Government were principally responsible for exercising the veto in order to prevent and obstruct the passing of that resolution?
I am not disputing or differing from the statement, made this afternoon by the Prime Minister and yesterday by the Foreign Secretary, about the difficulty in deciding what constitutes an act of aggression. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when he stated that the Government of Israel, by crossing the Egyptian frontier, were guilty of aggression. But there are two types of aggression ; there is provoked aggression and unprovoked aggression, and certainly, whatever may be the degree of aggression which has characterised this incursion by Israeli forces into Egypt, I think there would be general agreement on both sides of the House and in the country that Israel has had to endure the most intense provocation from one or more of her Arab neighbours.
If we approach these problems from the standpoint of the Charter, one has to accept the fact that the Charter forbids aggression under any circumstances, and therefore I think it must be only right that the Security Council should have called on the Government of Israel to withdraw their forces immediately behind their established armistice lines. I cannot understand why the Government of this country object to the so-called aggressor, the Government of Israel, being called on to withdraw their troops in order to secure the end of the fighting which has taken place.
The other point made by the Foreign Secretary was that the Security Council cannot act immediately. Let us examine that statement. The British Government announced yesterday that they were going to dispatch this ultimatum—to the Government of Egypt on the one hand and the Government of Israel on the other—that if within twelve hours a satisfactory reply was not received, they would then move in troops and take the necessary action to enforce what they desired. The argument has been put forward time and again by members of the Government—the Prime Minister said it on 2nd August—that we cannot wait until the Security Council has taken action, that there is delay involved, and, as the Foreign Secretary repeated yesterday, there is the argument that the Security Council cannot act immediately.
The Security Council met at four o'clock yesterday, and within six hours, if the British Government and the French Government had not obstructed the resolution put forward by the United States Government, there would have been unanimity—within six hours. Which is quicker in point of time? Because of the reluctance of the Prime Minister we do not know what is happening in Egypt, but at any rate, within six hours the Security Council could have come to a decision. Therefore, what is the use of saying that the Security Council delays and that no decision could have been arrived at?
That is a matter for the Security Council. I do not think it is really so fantastic as some hon. Members would seem to suggest. The Security Council would have passed a resolution calling on the Government of Israel and the Government of Egypt to withdraw to ten miles on each side of the Suez Canal—[HON. MEMBERS : "No."]—calling upon the Israeli forces to go back to the other side of the armistice line.
—or if the Government of Egypt had declined to obey the Security Council.
Then it is for the Security Council to employ the provisions in the Charter. The Council has the power to impose economic sanctions, and there is the moral power, the moral influence, of putting the Government of Israel into the position of defying the whole of the United Nations. With all its weaknesses that, in my view, is preferable to the position in which the hon. Gentleman and his associates are putting the Government of Egypt by making them have to accept or reject something put forward by two countries.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for explaining so fully, but may we try to get this quite clear? He says that it would have led to the whole of the United Nations being against Israel, and Israel being against the world, and so on. The right hon. and learned Gentleman keeps referring to Israel, but we might have a reference to Egypt as well. They would have been against the world, if they had not done what the Security Council said. But what would have happened if they had been up against the whole Security Council, if they had refused to make peace, and the war had gone on? How would they have been stopped by the United Nations?
I think we can all agree that Egyptian troops are on Egyptian territory. There is a lot of difference between having Egyptian troops on Egyptian territory and Israeli troops in Egypt—
I am prepared to give the hon. Gentleman an answer. I gave way to him and I am prepared to give him a reply.
I suggest to him that if Israel, or any other country, defies the United Nations and commits an act of aggression, they will be in the same position as North Korea when the North Koreans invaded South Korea, and the full weight of the United Nations would have to be, or could be, deployed against them.
I am not going to be drawn into an argument about whether Russian troops should be brought in. I say that if we are to stand by the United Nations, we cannot have first-class and second-class countries in the United Nations ; and if Russia is prepared to implement her full obligations under the United Nations Charter, we should welcome that.
What of the Government alternative that we have to reserve to ourselves the right to take the necessary action in an emergency if we think fit, in other words, that we are not bound by the Charter, and we can, if we think fit, go it alone and in our own way, even though we may violate the principles of the Charter? Hon. Members opposite seem sceptical about my argument. I do not propose to ask them to accept my views ; I wish to tell them what it is to which we are committed as a result of this country subscribing to the Charter of the United Nations. I refer to Article 2, paragraph 1, which states :
The Organisation is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its members.
Paragraph 2 states :
All members, in order to ensure to all of them the rights and benefits resulting from membership, shall fulfil in good faith the obligations assumed by them in accordance with the present Charter.
Paragraph 4 is even more important. It states :
All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. …
In the light of their commitment under Article 2 of the Charter, to respect the territorial integrity of all other Member States, how can the Government justify their threat to send their Armed Forces over the frontiers into Egypt, when it suits their purpose, thereby infringing the territorial integrity and independence of that country? Egypt is a member of the United Nations and is entitled to the protection afforded by the principles which are inscribed in the Charter. The Government have no right whatever to send an ultimatum that they will send troops into Egypt in breach of the basic principles of the Charter.
It is a matter for grave suspicion, to my mind, that they sent a twelve-hour ultimatum to a Government which they must have known would, of necessity, have to reject it. Moreover, the Government are on weak ground when they insist that British and French forces are necessary to keep Israeli and Egyptian forces apart. To some Members on this side of the House it has been only too apparent for months past that the situation on the borders of Israel was deteriorating. From time to time we have urged that the United Nations should station police forces along the borders of Israel and her neighbouring States.
The Government poured cold water on that idea. They stated that it was not practicable, although the Foreign Secretary admitted that he had discussed it on one occasion with the Secretary-General of the United Nations. There is certainly no evidence that the Government had pressed for that action to be taken. But when our own interests in the Canal are affected they are prepared to move large forces, on their own authority and without any approval from the Security Council, in order to keep the Egyptian and Israeli armies separated. Would it not have been far better to place United Nations police forces along the borders of Israel and her Arab neighbours, so keeping their forces separated before these unfortunate and tragic events had taken place?
My next point refers to the suggestion that the Government are entitled to send troops to protect our own nationals and property. It is quite true that where the authorities of the invaded country are unable or are not prepared to give protection to the nationals of another country, it may be necessary for the Government of the country to which those nationals belong to take measures to protect them, but although I have looked for a precedent, I cannot find one for a Government intervening in the way that the British Government are seeking to intervene, without any apparent threat to our nationals, merely because Israel and Egypt are at war. There is no precedent for a Government seeking to do what this Government claim they are justified in doing, on the ground that they are entitled to protect their nationals.
Indeed, since this international law became established, we have had the League of Nations and then the United Nations, and there is ample provision under the Charter of the United Nations for dealing with any emergency of this kind. As for an attack upon our country or our nationals, if that were carried out as an act of war upon us or one of our Colonial Dependencies, it would be just for our Government to take action under Article 51. I agree with what Lord McNair said in another place about the limitations placed upon the right to send troops into another country to protect one's nationals.
In my view, the action taken by the Government will gravely weaken the prestige and authority of the United Nations. In delivering their ultimatum and threatening to send troops at a time when the Security Council was discussing the Israeli incursion into Egypt, they were delivering a direct slap in the face to the Security Council. They have done something which might well destroy the moral leadership which has been exercised by our country for many years past. They have embarked on a war which, in my view, is wrong both morally and legally. They have broken the solemn pledges made by our Government when they signed the Charter. They are violating the principles of the Charter by sending troops into Egypt, and they stand condemned at the bar of world opinion. I hope that it is not too late for the Government to retrace their steps.
Like every other hon. and right hon. Member, I can hardly wait to know where our troops are—but I suggest that that also applies to the enemy. I cannot accept the contention that Parliament should discuss whether or not certain decisions should be made or troops moved when time is the essence of the matter.
No—it is exactly the point of our strategy we must withhold.
Hon. and right hon. Members will surely have heard and reread exactly what the Prime Minister said. He said,
'… if at the expiration of that time one or both have not undertaken to comply with these requirements, British and French forces will intervene in whatever strength may be necessary to secure compliance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th October, 1956 ; Vol. 558, c. 1279.]
Therefore, the House and the country must assume that that is taking place. But it is quite illogical to suggest that Parliament should be told exactly where the troops are and what are the strategic requirements. In addition, it is only a Government which can take such decisions and accept such responsibilities—above all in war.
The right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) spoke at some length about the United Nations. I want to try to meet some of the points he made. At the very start, I would say that at this stage of our human affairs the United Nations is not an alibi for evading responsibilities. The British and French Governments accept a vast responsibility not only in their name, but also on behalf of the Commonwealth, Asian and European countries who claim that the Canal is their lifeline.
By defending the Canal we do not seek to conquer anyone or to win a victory ; we seek to separate the, two sides which are in conflict and gain time for peace and a negotiated settlement. The Prime Minister has made it quite clear that this is a temporary measure. Some hon. Members—notably the Leader of the Opposition—spoke as if Britain had declared war, or even as if we were anxious for war. I suggest that the Opposition should be careful before they once more start another "Whose Finger on the Trigger?" campaign in the country, because there are far too many hon. and right hon. Members to whom the memory of the last war is only too vivid.
We know quite well what are the risks involved. Having lived for nearly three years in Egypt, I know quite well that this is an extremely difficult military operation. But it is not inevitable that Egypt will fight—although it is true that dictators can rarely draw back. I support Government policy in this matter, but it has got to work. If we are forced to fight we do so in defence of our undoubted rights.
This country is absolutely within its rights under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, which says that where an act of aggression has taken place, the nations concerned have a right in their own self-defence to keep the status quo until the Security Council has come to a decision. Further, the Tripartite Agreement lays down that we should at once take action both inside and outside the United Nations to prevent the use of force by any of the Arab States or Israel. Furthermore, under the 1888 Convention we are bound to maintain free passage through the Canal.
Certainly ; I am glad to have an opportunity to do so. The object of the exercise in asking the two countries to draw back for ten miles on each side of the Canal, which is a defensible proposition, is to separate them and stop hostilities until a settlement can be reached. As to our own position, when the fighting was apparently advancing towards the Suez Canal, public opinion in this country would not have thought much of the Government had they not been prepared to take defensive action on behalf of our 13,000 nationals in that part of the world and, indeed, on behalf of those who use the Canal.
We must face the fact that the United Nations at present, if the veto is applied, or even if it is not, is apparently powerless to enforce a decision. Many hon. Members have often spoken of the unanimous decision of the Security Council in 1951 that Egypt should allow Israeli ships to pass through the Canal. Yet, apparently, there was no means of enforcing that decision.
Because we in Great Britain support the United Nations, do not let us be blind to two major faults in its constitution, which surely everybody recognises, first, the veto and, second, the principle of "one nation one member." As long as the veto exists, everybody has, of course, the right to use it, but that does not mean to say that the constitution would not be very much better if, first, the veto was abolished and, second, the membership was changed. The code of "one nation one member" means at the moment that, for example, the United States and Liberia have exactly the same influence.
We know perfectly well that the constitution of the United Nations was brought about after the war in its present form in order to secure that Russia should be a member, and also, to some extent, that the United States should be a member. That is the best that this world has so far managed to achieve. Therefore, I repeat that, because it is so, the United Nations at present is not an alibi for evading responsibility.
I submit that we cannot stand aside and let what is an age-old conflict destroy the trade lifeline of millions of people. One nation has got to take the lead. People say "Why not America?" America is of Europe but not in Europe, and, despite her oil interests, it seems that decision is hard just before polling day, and, in my view, it will be just as hard afterwards. It is interesting to note that Mr. Dulles apparently now has a whole array of unswerving supporters on the other side of the House. I have always been a firm believer in the Anglo-American alliance, but that does not mean to say that we must always await for decisions by our ally and, to use the more graphic terms of hon. Members opposite, be dragged at the heels of American foreign policy.
What about the Commonwealth? Canada regrets the necessity for having to take this action.
Canada regrets the necessity, and so do we. We deeply regret it, but we have no remorse for the action that we have taken. Australia abstained when the United States voted against, and voted against when the United States abstained. New Zealand also regrets the situation, and so do we.
There are times in all men's lives when unpopular decisions must be taken against the advice of one's friends and even of one's family. I feel that we are right at this time to bear the very great burden of this decision.
I would utter a warning to the Labour Party and to all those who find themselves in genuine difficulty. I do not believe that they have the slightest idea of what the Canal means to Britain. There is still in this House a very great deal of muddled thinking. A speech was made the other day by a Privy Councillor who is a member of the Labour Party, the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill), who is not, I regret, in the Chamber at the moment. At a Socialist Party gathering at East Ham she said :
It is as well for the British and French Governments to know now that the workers of this country will not fight a war designed solely to subject the people of the Middle East in the interests of French and British commercial interests.
The verbal support given by hon. Members opposite to that quotation absolutely makes my point. Do hon. Members opposite really think that the Canal is concerned only with the commercial interests of Britain and France? Why was the Canal built? The object was to bear trade between Asia and Europe. Also, do not let us forget that the larger part of the Commonwealth lies East of Suez. People now talk mainly about oil, but one day that source of energy will give way to the atom. What will never change is the ordinary pattern of our trade on which our jobs and lives depend. Hon. Members often say, "Why do we not scrap our losses and send everything round the Cape?", as if this route were some great new discovery. Are we going back to the days of Henry the Navigator 400 years ago?
There is one clear prime issue involved, which is that nations should honour the pledged words of treaties, and it is for that that we strive both in peace and in war. I suggest that our job now is to keep the Canal open for world shipping. If only one side, Israel, accepts the suggestion about the ten-mile limit, obviously the fighting will continue. For that purpose alone, we should insist as far as possible upon separating the two sides until a greater settlement can come about.
It is not for us in Britain to try to impose a definite withdrawal behind any armistice lines. Our immediate objective is to stop the hostilities. Consequently, I submit that our task is absolutely clear. It is defence of the Canal and of our 13,000 nationals and a determined bid to snuff out this fire before it leaps out of control. This is the greatest issue since the war. When all is said and done, I believe public opinion in this country, in the Commonwealth and in many parts of the world will support a Government which is both resolute and fair.
If our problem today were merely to survey the sins and shortcomings of policy of the British Government there would probably be no disagreement or difficulty on this side of the House, although some of us would feel that, in fairness, we should have to go back and survey the sins and omissions in the Middle East and in relation to the Israel situation of Governments prior to this one in order to get things fairly into perspective. Something far more practical than that has to be assessed, and that is what policy this Government should pursue in the present circumstances, both themselves and through their representatives in the United Nations.
Although in complete sympathy with the great principles enunciated by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, I find myself, unhappily, and in some important particulars, drawing materially different conclusions as to the facts and the policies which should derive from them. I am not in the least anxious to be provocative. I am very willing to learn as I speak, and would certainly yield to any hon. Member on either side of the House who wished to instruct me as to fact or opinion as I go along. I hope the House will believe that what I have to say is said in all sincerity, and that my hope is that, in this situation, my suggestions and remarks will be constructive.
If we wish properly to formulate policy we must first form some accurate views, based on reality, of the two main parties immediately in dispute here—Israel and Egypt. Let me assert right away that I deny that there is any legal or moral authority for the view that the fact that Israel has crossed her own frontiers into Egypt is any kind of proof that Israel is an aggressor within the meaning of the United Nations Charter, or within the meaning of international law.
There is no rule of international law, common sense or morality which compels the victim of aggression never to counterattack, for its own protection, into the territory of its aggressive opponents. I, therefore, affirm that there is the plainest evidence in support of the view that, in taking this action, the Israeli Government have been driven by the torment which followed the years of Israel's creation as a State in order to protect the country's very right to survive.
I deny to any Member of this House the right to prejudge the issue. We all claim to believe that within the United Nations Charter the correct place for deciding the whole matter of whether or not Israel is the aggressor is the Security Council of the United Nations. I hear an hon. Friend say that it was decided last night. It has by no means been decided. What is more, my own views on this matter will remain unchanged and, frankly, whoever decided it in any way, I shall still say that the plain facts are there to be seen. It is not that I would defy the United Nations, but I am entitled to my personal view. If the Security Council reaches a decision tomorrow that black is white, I shall still take the view that black is black. But I would not act in defiance of a United Nations decision if I were the Government.
Personally, I make no secret of the fact that the plain statement of what has been happening in Israel in recent years leaves me in no doubt whatever that the action of the Israeli Government was dictated by the very necessity of survival. Even though it forfeits the Israelis the sympathy of my hon. Friends, I want to tell my hon. Friends quite plainly that it is too high a price to pay, even for their approval, to re-enact in Israel on the grand scale the Warsaw ghetto massacre, when the Jews of Warsaw fought in their ghetto in one desperate struggle to survive which was hopeless.
I, for one, have no hesitation in applauding the courage and integrity of the Israeli Government in refusing to lie down to be doomed—and it would be the doom of an entire people—when it is perfectly plain that, as the Foreign Secretary—I am afraid, absolutely correctly—put it, the very necessity of preventing themselves having their throats cut compels them to force the knife from the hands of those threatening them.
I will come to that in a moment. I am dealing, step by step, with what are the issues, and I shall not shirk any of those issues.
I want to make it perfectly clear to my hon. Friends that they should not be bulldozed by the fact that Israel has crossed the frontier into asserting that Israel is the aggressor. I contend that she is not the aggressor, but that it is perfectly obvious that from the very day she became a State she has been attacked ; that she has reluctantly been compelled to build her economy with a spade in one hand and a gun in the other. Israel has been taunted and haunted by the fact that her enemies have been growing stronger, armed first by the right hon. Gentleman and then by the Russians. It is perfectly obvious that this little State has, among other things, tried to eliminate the source of the commando raids which have sought to destroy her economy and her peace. She has done this, and I think she has acted wisely, not in breach of her duties under the United Nations Charter, and not as an aggressor in the legal sense, the moral sense or in common sense.
Are we to take it, also, that the hon. Member does not, for one moment, believe a suggestion made earlier this afternoon that Israel has been acting in some sort of aggressive collusion with the United Kingdom and France?
Alas, probably to the disadvantage of all three Governments concerned, I do not enjoy the confidence of any of them. If there had been any such conspiracy, I am very happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that they have not confided it to me, either before it occurred or since.
So far, I have summed up only the Israeli position. I now turn coldly—and, as I honestly think, objectively—to the Egyptian position. Of course, my party—and I share this with my hon. Friends in the deepest emotional way—has a strong tradition of fighting for oppressed peoples, for backward peoples exploited by imperialists. Whether or not the imperialists are British, we, in this party, are always ready—and we have great tradition in that respect—to stand in support of oppressed peoples.
Of course, when we hear these wild charges of colonialism we must be anxious to ascertain that they correspond with current reality, and that we are not dealing with something that was, perhaps, the case fifty years ago but has no relevance to the present situation. Take these gestures and screams from the Nasser Government of colonial oppression, imperialist dictation and what have you. There is not the smallest evidence that at present there is any foreign oppressor dominating or exploiting the Egyptian people in any way whatsoever. [An HON. MEMBER : "Due to arrive."] I will deal with that, too.
At the present time all these screams are fraudulent. Those gestures should be seen for what they are worth. It is understandable that they should deceive the half-starved, oppressed fellaheen in the Nile Valley, who toil for their ruthless masters, who, in turn, use the fruits of their toil to get from the Russians arms for Colonel Nasser and his friends. That is understandable, but why they should deceive Members of my party is beyond me.
Whatever the Government intend to do may or may not be wrong, but let us be quite clear that, until the Suez crisis started, any claim that Egypt was being exploited by Britain in an imperialist or colonialist way was quite unfounded.
The only yoke that the Egyptian people need to throw off to achieve some sort of prosperity is not the yoke of the party opposite but the yoke of a little clique of scoundrels, the military junta, who are channelling all Egypt's resources in support of their own mad, ambitious and warlike aims. That is the yoke which, in their own interests, the Egyptian people should throw off at the earliest possible date. Therefore, let us not start to assess the Egyptian position on the basis of prejudgment which was formed and was valid half a century ago. Let us deal with it honestly and fairly on the basis of current reality.
The current reality is that nobody seeks any kind of imperialistic exploitation of Egypt. An hon. Friend of mine said that it is about to start. I do not agree. I will deal with the Foreign Secretary's actions in a moment. Even if it were wrong for the Government to march in, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, and take possession of the Canal Zone solely for the purpose of ensuring that traffic goes through the Canal peacefully, that is not imperialistic exploitation. It may be a breach of the United Nations Charter ; it may be folly ; it may be an unjustifiable warlike act. It may be all of those things, but it is not imperialistic exploitation. Nobody outside Egypt is exploiting the Egyptian people.
Let us start off with the clear understanding that the so-called aggression, which is sometimes taken for granted in speaking of this situation because the Israelis are across the Egyptian border, is not justified in law or fact, and the Egyptian Government have no cause for complaint that should arouse sympathy in our breasts on this side of the House on the ground that they are the proposed victims of colonial oppression.
The next point which has to be seen about the Egyptian situation in that the Egyptian Government are openly pledged to war. They have declared their open intention to set the Middle East on fire. They have declared that it is their policy to exterminate Israel, and it is not only Israel with which they will come into collision if Colonel Nasser's ambitions, military and political, are to be fulfilled. They will come into collision with many of the other Powers. This is not open to dispute.
Some hon. Members may say that this is an eccentric viewpoint, but it is a perfectly well-known fact which Nasser has not troubled to conceal. He has declared himself to be the great incendiary force in the Middle East. He says that he is biding his time, using his efforts and draining off his country's resources for the main objective of setting the Middle East on fire by exterminating Israel by war and establishing Egyptian hegemony in the Middle East.
The next fact on which I want to comment is the Tripartite Declaration. I am relieved that the Government have declared that in their view the Tripartite Declaration is not relevant to the present situation and ought not to be operated and implemented by the three Powers concerned in the present situation. The logic of the contrary view is that the Tripartite Declaration would have to be used to provide a military, political and economic shield for the Egyptian Government, to protect them from the attacks which they themselves have provoked and have well deserved, and which the Israeli Government find it impossible to withhold from making any longer.
I cannot see public opinion in this country approving the use of British troops—because this is what is implicit in the Tripartite Declaration—for the protection of Colonel Nasser from the attacks of the Israeli Army. Let us be quite clear that we have got this area in which we ought to be in agreement, that none of us wants the Tripartite Declaration to be enforced, as is desired by the American Government but not desired by the two other parties to the Declaration.
May I deal with the United Nations position? I must say that there has always seemed to me to be a misconception about the United Nations in the House and elsewhere. I cannot say that I have always liked the spirit in which hon. Members opposite have spoken about the veto and the hopelessness of the United Nations. Speaking as a devoted supporter of the United Nations, the position as I see it is this. The veto did not just happen. It was a carefully throught out and intended necessity for the United Nations organisation. The effect of the veto is this. The United Nations is to be an instrument of action where there is unanimous agreement among the great Powers who are permanent members of the Security Council. The veto was given precisely because where there was no unanimity among the great Powers it would be unrealistic to expect useful action to be taken of a military or a sanctions character. Therefore, the veto was put in.
There can be misuse of the veto. Continued obstructive use of the veto is tantamount to saying that we should pack up the whole thing. But the occasional use of the veto is not in defiance of the spirit of the United Nations at all. It is simply operating the United Nations as it was created and approved by all of us.
If I had had the responsibility of deciding how the United Kingdom vote should be cast at the United Nations, I would without the smallest hesitation have vetoed the American resolution last night in the Security Council asking, as it did, for the treatment of Israel as an aggressor and for the operation of the Tripartite Declaration, neither of which would appeal to me, and calling for the enforced return to the Israeli frontiers immediately of the Israeli armies.
May I say a little about the voting by the United Nations? It is true that the United States and Russia both voted in the same way upon this issue, but I did not read them as voting together. I read them as voting in competition on this issue. That is to say, they are still trying to outbid each other for Arab favour, a policy which has been pursued by both Labour and Conservative Governments and which they have been bitterly forced to drop. I am glad that at last this policy of bidding for Arab favour, irrespective of principle or peace, has been abandoned by the British Government.
As to United States criticism, we must be realists about this. I should like to see a Government, even a Conservative Government, inspired by loftier principles than sometimes appear. But no Government at present in their policies in the Middle East have ever supported any policy which they deemed to be contrary to their own interests. If anyone supposes that the policy of the present Government arises out of some affection for the Israeli people or for moral principles, he would be wrong. It is very understandable that we should want these lofty and idealistic things to happen, but the fact is that Governments of any political complexion anywhere in the world necessarily act in support of what they deem to be the interests of their country.
I like to think that sometimes those interests are not incompatible with the lofty ideals that we sometimes hold. If it is said that the British Government, in forming an intelligent and reasonable view of Israeli conduct and in behaving intelligently, are to be commended in that respect—I am not talking about the threatened invasion of Egypt—so far as they reject the American position I support them. So far as they have stated their position on the Israeli action, I support them. So far as they are antagonistic to Egypt's warlike aims, I support them. But the Government do all those things because, rightly or wrongly, they believe them to be in accordance with British interests. That is their job.
If anybody supposed that the American or Russian Governments derive their policies from some lofty spiritual source entirely contrary to their own interests, he would be very much mistaken. Whatever condemnation we have received does not derive from any lofty spirituality of the American Government, including General Eisenhower or Mr. Foster Dulles who, I notice, have been rather canonised on this side of the House ; it does not derive from any loftier source than that which motivates right hon. Gentlemen sitting opposite, namely, a desire to support the interests of one's own country.
It happens that my hon. Friend is entirely wrong. I speak as a British nationalist, first, foremost and all the time. I would tell my hon. Friend that I have often had cause to lecture the Israeli nationalists and Jewish nationalists at different times of crisis in their career, when they have been horrified at some of the unkind things I have found it necessary to say to them.
I am very happy to find myself supporting at last a position I have always believed in. I have always believed that the maintenance of the State of Israel in peace in the Middle East was entirely consistent with British interests, entirely consistent with the peace of the Middle East and with the progress of the Middle East. That has always been the official view of the Labour Party, and I do not understand, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition speaks in the same sense as I do on that general question, why I should be open to the accusation more than he of speaking first, foremost and all the time as a Jewish nationalist. I believe, have always believed, and have openly stated, that it has been great folly on the part of British Governments—not always Tory British Governments—not to recognise the harmony of our interests in the Middle East, and it is because of that that we have got into the sort of position in which we are now.
I want now to say a word about the proposed invasion of the Canal, and I shall be brief upon that. Our aim must necessarily be to bring peace, stability and progress to the Middle East. In my view, there are two great obstacles to peace, stability and progress in the Middle East. One is long-term, the fact that so long as we do not have great Power agreement about Middle Eastern affairs, so long will we have all the great Powers, without exception, using first the Arabs, then the Jews, then both together at the same time, as pawns in the international game. It is no good lamenting that. That is how life is. It may change in a century or a millenium or two ; but in this Parliament, at least until the next sitting at any rate, it is safe to assume that that is how the world will continue to go on. If we want peace and stability in the Middle East, we must ensure that the great Powers reach constructive agreement, because only then will they stop mobilising first the Arabs, then the Jews, and so on, against one another, to the disturbance of peace in the Middle East
The great trouble now arises from the mistakes of the past, when the British Government thought it wise to take the view that it would be useful if Arab policy were supported, leading as it did at one time to the possible—even probable—extermination of the Jews at the time when the Jewish State was formed in the first place. I am glad to see that kind of policy now abandoned. Really, if we want long-term peace in the Middle East, we must fight for agreement between all the great Powers.
The short-term objective, which comes first, is this. The immediate obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East, quite frankly, is the perverted, grandiose and obstructive Arab nationalism which is rampant there at the present time, the head, front and organiser of which is the Nasser Government. They are the greatest threat to peace and stability in the Middle East. Anything which is a blow to their ambition, anything which tends to curb them and bring their Government and rule to an end, must, therefore, promote the possibility of peace in the Middle East.
I am perfectly well aware that it will not be well for Israel if she becomes, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, a sort of stooge of Western imperialist power. I am quite well aware of that, and so, no doubt, are the Israelis. On the other hand, Israel is a State ; she needs allies. I am bound to say that, in the competitive morality of the nations, I have a certain weakness for the British Government as an ally, and I personally am very glad to see that for the first time since I have been in the House of Commons the British Government have come out four-square in identity of interest with the State of Israel. [An HON. MEMBER : "My hon. Friend should not say it too soon."] I am very happy to welcome that and I cannot find it in my heart to deplore it.
No—reservation. I know that all great Powers are trustworthy only to the point of harmony of interest, and I hope that harmony of interest, which I believe to be a long-term one, will continue.
I will also tell my hon. Friends this brutal fact. I share with them what I think is a general view, that Israel's future can be a sound one only if she comes to terms of peaceful, constructive co-existence with her Arab neighbours ; but there are circumstances where that is possible only on the same basis as co-existence with the criminal lunatic, as in the example referred to in the Dr. Johnson aphorism, when one has got to knock the man down first and sympathise with him afterwards.
This may sound a somewhat cruel and brutal doctrine ; it may sound silly to one or two of my hon. Friends, but they happen to live in a country which hopes to have peaceful co-existence with Germany, and let them not forget that those hopes are based on the fact that we beat the daylights out of Germany in two great wars in this century, and until that had been done, I assure them, no satisfactory co-existence with the Hitler Government would have been possible.
To be quite frank, it is perfectly plain to anyone not obsessed with unreal doctrinaire ideas that no peaceful coexistence is possible between the Nasser Government and the Israeli Government. Colonel Nasser would be hanged, drawn and quartered by his own supporters if he showed the first glimmer of intention to live peacefully and constructively with the Israeli people.
In my view, the British Government, in supplying arms to Nasser, were much to be condemned. I have not hesitated to condemn them in the past, and I do not think my views on that are in any way ambiguous.
All I am saying is that it is idle for my hon. Friends to believe that what is lacking is a little good will on the part of the Israelis and that with it they could live in peace with their Arab neighbours. I say it detesting war and bloodshed as much as anyone in this House, but it may be that there will have to be fighting and bloodshed before this can be achieved. If certain Arab aggressive intentions are not going to be moderated, then I am certainly not among those who would invite the Israelis to sit back quietly and be hacked to pieces, as their enemies mobilise on all sides ready to slay, bomb and ruin them, their consolation being to bathe their mortal wounds in the crocodile tears of the leader writers and cartoonists of the Manchester Guardian.
I, for one, could say many things in criticism of the sanctimonious humbug of those on the sidelines, who are rather like Othello, I think it was, who said of Desdemona that he would kill her first and love her after. I think the Manchester Guardian would sometimes like to do that with the Israeli people and the Israeli Government ; it is willing to admire and love them after they have lain down peacefully, qualifying under all the rules of the best north-western Liberal school for a good conduct medal, but having sold the pass of their kingdom and sold the right of their people to live in peace, freedom and progress. Nobody on this side of the House need be ashamed of defending the rights of the Israeli people to exist.
I conclude with these words. I have no illusions that the peace of the Middle East can be achieved without the great Powers reaching agreement. I repeat that it can be achieved only then. Therefore, all people who truly love peace and who wish to procure it in the Middle East should use every effort to get that agreement between the great Powers. In the second place, in the immediate future they will not get peace in the Middle East as long as certain aggressive Arab Governments are in power and are encouraged in their ambitions by one or other of the great Powers.
My hon. Friend told us some time ago that he would state his attitude to the British-French invasion of Egypt. As he is just concluding his speech, it would be rather nice to know.
I apologise to my right hon. Friend. I am afraid that in the heat of the moment and in my willingness to be instructed and interrupted, I have gone on rather long. I was not purporting to deal comprehensively with every aspect of the subject but I will certainly deal with that point.
If the House will be patient, my right hon. Friend will not find me unwilling to deal with it.
I have already made it plain that, in my opinion, Nasser is a great force for conflagration, war, distress and destruction in the Middle East. Therefore, if it were not illegal or if there were no other objection to it, I would welcome any measures that helped to bring him down. So I start with the assumption that unless it is illegal, I would welcome the action taken by the British Government, even military action, if it could be properly supported as being within our other obligations under the United Nations. [An HON. MEMBER : "Can it?"] About that I must confess that I am at the moment extremely doubtful. I therefore cannot support the Government's action.
I was trying to clear up certain misapprehensions about the general situation. I am not here to defend the Government. [HON. MEMBERS : "Yes the hon. Gentleman is."] No, I am not. I am defending the Government only where I agree with them, and there they are plainly right.
So far as I am concerned, it is quite a myth to suppose that the only part of British Government policy announced yesterday was the invasion of the Suez Zone. There were vital other matters implicit and explicit in the declaration, including, for example, the complete turn which has been made in British Government policy towards the State of Israel. As a Member of the House, I am entitled to express my view—because nobody else so far has done it from this side of the House—and to say how glad I am that the identity of British interest with the State of Israel has at last belatedly been recognised. It was an obvious fact which some of us saw a long time ago but which neither party when in office has seemed to grasp until now.
I appreciate the point that my right hon. Friend is making. Many of us supported the Israeli Government. Would my hon. Friend not agree with me, however, that the danger of this Government at the moment is that the French Quai D'Orsay and the British Foreign Office might make a scapegoat once again of these battered people who are living in Israel? Secondly, is my hon. Friend aware that even when the Anglo-Palestinian Inquiry was taking place, the head of the Middle East section in the Foreign Office told the people while the inquiry was being held that Palestine should be an Arab State?
My hon. Friend has clarified my position in the matter. I have been making it perfectly plain that in my opinion, since 1945, whichever party has been in power, the British Government have pursued a thoroughly misguided policy in the Middle East which, not unnaturally, has justified all the forbodings we felt about it and has produced the present dreadful situation. I am not in the least defending either the present Government or their predecessors in their Middle Eastern policy ; for, at the time to which my hon. Friend refers, we on this side were responsible for the conduct of His Majesty's Government, as it then was.
Would the hon. Member not agree that over the last eight years Israel has had every right to distrust the United Nations and the Security Council, who have done very little to help her during that period? Egypt and Jordan have flagrantly violated the United Nations Charter and the Security Council. Does the hon. Member not therefore think that he can come all the way with us and support the Government in direct intervention now?
This is the fundamental dividing point between myself and right hon. and hon. Members opposite concerning the United Nations. In the first place, hon. Members opposite do not understand it, and secondly, they do not very much believe in it. When I believe in it, I do not believe in it as a spinster maiden believes in romantic love, without any sort of qualification or reservation. I believe in it as it was intended to be, on a realist basis, and I think that the Israeli Government believe in it, as they have shown. Although the Israeli Government have many complaints about the United Nations, they have much to be grateful for to them. Their very existence derives from the United Nations. I am happy to say that I happen to be the hon. Member who first made the suggestion in this House that the matter should be referred to the United Nations. I remember recommending that to the then Labour Foreign Secretary, the late Mr. Ernest Bevin. I do not suggest that my words, the first on the subject, carried any weight with him, but that is what happened. We should not expect too much of the United Nations but we should not be cynical about it, nor should we break our obligations under it.
I must say quite categorically that if I were satisfied, which I am not at the moment, that the invasion of Egypt were directly and unambiguously in contradiction of our obligations under the United Nations Charter, I would have to oppose it. But even if I had to oppose that, there is much else in the Government's policy and principles which I feel reluctantly compelled to support in the present situation, although I cannot give them support upon the proposed movement of troops into the Canal Zone.
I did not intend to speak for long and I want to conclude. I know that my hon. Friends who are quite impartial in the matter of my views are anxious to speak, especially those—like my hon. Friend who sat down quickly—who advocate that the British Government should consult the Jordan Government before taking action. That betrays a certain understandable ignorance on the subject. I do not know whom my hon. Friend wants us to consult in Jordan—
The thing I am concerned about is that this country should not involve itself in action against one Arab country which ensures that all the other possible friends we might have in the whole of the Arab would leave our side and go on to the other side. I think my hon. Friend will agree with me that that is an aim which the Israel Government would profoundly share.
Or into the arms of Egypt. Unfortunately, the latest and precipitating factor for the Israeli attack would appear to be that three of the Arab countries have fallen into the hands of Egypt. They have taken up positions on the borders of Israel which caused this alarm and compelled the Israeli Government to take the action which they have taken.
I do not know whether the British Government should consult Jordan before moving. Even though I would agree with my hon. Friend that the Israeli Government has a vested interest in supporting good relations with the Arab countries and all of them, I would not, however, agree that when it comes to defending herself, as she has done, in the present situation, she should consult Jordan or anybody else.
I therefore conclude simply in this way. I hope that nothing I have said will condone any breach of our solemn obligations under the Charter. [Interruption.] I have not said one word to any other effect. On the other hand, I remain an unrepentant supporter of the United Nations based on a realist assessment of what it can do and what it was intended to do. Furthermore, I deny outright that Israel is the proven aggressor in this situation.
I am profoundly convinced that we must take such action as we can to get great Power agreement if peace and stability are to be ensured in the Middle East. Apart from military action which would be a breach of the United Nations Charter, I shall be reluctantly compelled to support the Government in any action short of breach of the Charter—economic action against the Egyptian Government, for example. I should have very much welcomed it had the British Government at the earliest date of the Suez crisis organised the users urgently and immediately to bring economic pressure to bear upon the Egyptian Government. Alas, too late they have toyed with both horses. They were hoping to come to some agreement with the Egyptian Government.
The news on the tape, which my hon. Friend may not have had time to see, is that at this moment British bombers are bombing Egyptian territory. Would my hon. Friend like to tell the House whether he thinks that in accordance with the United Nations Charter, whether he thinks it right, whether he thinks it is of any service whatever to Israel?
Let me make it quite plain that I cannot make a decision on the spot upon my hon. Friend's version of the report on the tape. I repeat again that, as a matter of principle I will not and I cannot support the Government in any military action of any kind which is in breach of the United Nations Charter. [HON. MEMBERS : "That is what it is about."] That is not all that it is about, and that is not the whole point of the debate.
It is not enough to condemn what the Government have done. We have to put forward some constructive alternative proposals. The implication of our proposals is that the Tripartite Declaration must be enforced against the Government of Israel, and with that I cannot agree.
However, I have delayed the House rather longer than I intended. I have done that because of frequent interruptions. I conclude by saying that those who genuinely want peace in the Middle East must support the Government, except when the Government are in breach of their Charter obligations, in order to bring about peaceful co-existence with Israel amongst the Governments of Arab States prepared for peaceful co-existence ; and those who want peace and stability must earnestly seek to bring about great Power agreement in the Middle East, with all its problems, for without it there can be only bloodshed and disturbance as chronic features of that area.
I think all of us who have listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Cheetham (Mr. H. Lever) have enjoyed it because of the pleasant way in which he has presented a case which differs very considerably from that which other hon. and right hon. Members opposite have put. However, much as we have enjoyed it, it is very important that we on this side should remain fully aware of where we differ from him, too. There is a danger of assuming, as he has apparently assumed, that in the light of what has happened in the United Nations the Government have reorientated their policy and come down definitely in favour of Israel. The hon. Member suggested that was so, and, of course, that is not so. The Prime Minister made very clear in his speech today that what we were not prepared to do in the Security Council was to condemn outright one party only to the dispute, and in this fighting in the Sinai Peninsula.
I was referring to what the Prime Minister said in this House since what happened in the Security Council.
It is important that we should not assume that, just because we were not prepared to condemn only one party outright, we do not very heavily frown—to put it mildly—upon the fact that there is fighting by either side in that area.
There is a very long-standing belief among all too many people in this country that if one has ever been an officer—especially, unfortunately, if one has ever been an officer—in the Armed Forces, therefore one rather enjoys a war. I do hope that no one's opinion on this vital matter will be coloured by that appalling misbelief. I should say that those who have been in the Armed Forces, in whatever rank, are the people who, above all other people, not only dislike war in the ordinary way civilians do, but dislike it even more because they know exactly the sort of conditions in which one has to live when fighting. Therefore, however tempting it may be from the political point of view, I hope our debate is not in any way coloured by that belief, even though not expressed by those who speak in it.
Yesterday I did my best to appeal to the House to ensure as far as it could that Britain should speak with one voice on this matter. That appeal has fallen on very deaf ears—all too many deaf ears. I deeply regret that it has. I felt that I was as entitled as anybody to say what I did yesterday in view of the fact that I, too, have in my time disagreed with the policy of the Government in the part of the world we are now considering. Far from Britain's speaking with one voice, it appears that the House is more deeply divided than it has been for a very long time.
I would emphasise—and I hope that this may be conveyed by the debate, too—that what is happening today in this House is very considerably coloured by what happened at Blackpool not very long ago, where it was made quite clear that hon. and right hon. Members opposite had decided that a bipartisan foreign policy was not to be part of the Labour Party's ticket any more. However, opinion in the country as a whole will, I believe, be found to be very different.
What is it that Government policy is trying to achieve? [HON. MEMBERS : "War."] The first thing above all other things we are trying to do is to honour our own international obligations. There has been a good deal of talk about what our rights are, but before our rights we ought to consider what are our obligations. In this matter, as I see it, there are two main obligations that we have. The first derives from the 1888 Convention, to which I referred in an intervention during the speech of the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) yesterday, and that obligation rests upon us because of what we inherited from the Ottoman Empire after the First World War, since we have become, second only to Egypt—I shall refer to that again in a moment—the nation principally responsible above all other nations for ensuring free passage through the Canal.
Of course, I am no more closely in the confidence of my right hon. Friends than any other back bencher, but, as I see it, what the Government have shown, by confining the activity of British troops solely to the Canal itself and the area ten miles on either side of it, is that we have uppermost in our minds the fact that our first duty to the world—apart from our rights, which are not nearly so important—is the duty to see that the Canal is safe for the world's shipping, even though we divert our own ships round the Cape. By the 1888 Convention any nation of the world is entitled to send ships through the Canal, and to ensure that those ships, no matter where they come from, can go through the Canal in safety is our first obligation, and that obligation was in being long before the United Nations was set up.
I said that I would deal with that point. The position in Egypt at present is that Egypt is engaged in fighting the Israelis and Egypt has already broken practically every international obligation to which she was bound in relation to the Canal. I believe that when conventions are agreed to and laws are passed they are meant to be interpreted intelligently. Surely, if Egypt has defaulted on her international obligations already in respect of the Canal, those on whom the next duty falls to implement their obligations are number two on the list, and that is us.
I entirely agree with the argument which the hon. and gallant Member is now making, but will he tell the House why, over a long period, he has never put a similar argument to us? This is an extremely important matter.
I am trying to avoid engendering heat on either side of the House. As the House knows, it is not my custom to do that. There are many things which many of us could say about what has happened in the past, and there is no conscience in the House that ought to think itself entirely clear on this matter. As to what has happened in the past, there is no question that we have been slow.
I agree that we have been slow—and I put it no stronger—to fulfil our obligations. The reason for my doing some of the things that I have done in the past has been that I thought we were slow.
Let us, however, deal with what is now before us. Our first duty in the area is to honour our obligations under the 1888 Convention, even though Egypt has defaulted on hers. I was glad when the Prime Minister, in his statement yesterday, made it quite clear that one of the first reasons for our deciding to do what we are doing was to ensure that we fulfilled our international obligations relating to the shipping that goes through the Canal.
A second obligation arises out of the Tripartite Declaration. It is extremely difficult here to establish who is the aggressor. Many hon. Members have said today and yesterday that we cannot in the House of Commons decide who is the aggressor in the matter and that that is a question for the Security Council. We all have our opinions about that, but I believe that if any attempt is made to establish who is the aggressor the United Nations will find in the long run that it itself is the aggressor.
The moment the United Nations decided to establish the State of Israel before it had agreement from those who were living there before, the United Nations, not intentionally by force of arms but, as it turned out, in effect committed an act of aggression on those who lived in Palestine. Therefore, any talk about who is the aggressor is an invidious point to raise in debate today. I leave it there at the moment. No doubt later we may have to discuss that matter.
The United Nations is hardly the body to determine the issue in the light of what has happened. If the United Nations was right to establish the State of Israel in the way it did, then it behoved the whole of the United Nations to co-operate in ensuring that the State was safe from then onwards. I agree with the hon. Member for Cheetham that it is obligatory on those who set up the State of Israel to see that it is safe, and I agree with him that the great Powers must be brought into this.
I would agree almost entirely with the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) when he said in a speech in London on 3rd March :
Now is the time to strengthen the Tripartite Agreement. The Agreement should be immediately put into operation by informing in the most direct and explicit fashion all the Arab States that if they seek to take advantage of apparent weakness in the State of Israel the signatories will use such force as will be required to deal with the situation.
Is not that precisely what the United Kingdom and France are attempting to do today?
When two dogs are fighting—and I say "dogs" in no derogatory sense—the first thing to do is to decide whether the fact that they are fighting is doing any harm to anybody ; and because of our first obligation, to which I referred earlier, it is highly dangerous that there should be any fighting in this area. Surely, from the point of view of humanity, all fighting is to be deplored.
The next thing to do is to get the two dogs apart and stop them fighting. Is not that precisely what Her Majesty's Government are attempting to do in conjunction with their co-signatories?
If one cannot get the two dogs apart, it may be necessary to shoot one if one wants to stop the fighting.
I have not seen the tape, but I heard the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) make his announcement just now. Surely the object above all other objects that we must have, and which I know the Government have, is to prevent the dispute between Israel and Egypt becoming a world war. That is the purpose, and I do not believe that when the United Nations was set up or when the Tripartite Declaration was made it was ever intended that any party to either the United Nations or to the Declaration should, purely for the sake of procedure, stand idly by with its troops in order to get discussion over first before action was taken, especially when there was a very real risk of a full-scale war breaking out unless action was taken promptly.
How are we in the House to know that plans were not already laid last night for the bombing of Tel Aviv or, for that matter, the bombing of Cairo by the Israelis? Is it not possible that the action which Her Majesty's Government have taken deterred both sides from such scandalous acts? If that be so, and I believe that the risk must have been there that those things would happen, surely it is not outside our duties as a member of the United Nations or as a signatory of the Tripartite Declaration for us, with France, to take the action which we decided to take.
There has been considerable confusion in some people's minds between ends and means. The first person I read as having been confused was Mr. Lester Pearson, who said that unless we maintained peace in the world the United Nations would collapse. If ever there was a confusion of ends and means, that is the absolute epitome of it.
What was the United Nations designed to achieve? Not, I believe, to secure peace at any price but to ensure that the rule of law and of common decency and the honouring of international commitments prevailed. Yesterday, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) described my reference to the rule of law as a slogan. It need not be a slogan, but it will be nothing more than an empty slogan just as long as no one in the United Nations is prepared to take action before all the procedure has been gone through, as written down ten or twelve years ago. Times change and circumstances change. Some things are more immediate than others, but I am certain that when the United Nations was set up it was never intended that it should be obeyed so much to the letter that any action possible after that would be too late.
It is for that reason I support the Government in what they have said and in the action they have taken. But may I make one reference before sitting down to the charge which the Leader of the Opposition made against the Prime Minister today? I should have thought those who fought in a war who sit on the other side of the House would have informed the right hon. Gentleman before now that when troops are in the process of carrying out the most difficult part of that operation, the initial stage, the one thing one cannot do with any safety to those men is to disclose what are your plans or when they are expected to be operated.
It was obvious yesterday that operational orders had been given on what to do in certain circumstances. I am sure that what was in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman today, and what he felt the country wanted to be informed about, were the facts. Of course we want to be informed. I am just as anxious as he is to know all the facts as soon as possible. The one thing I should never expect the Government to do would be to make a statement in this House, or to the Press or anywhere in the country, which might by the remotest eventuality endanger the lives of those men going in.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman obviously misunderstood the purpose of my question. I specifically said that I did not ask for information about troop movements. All I wanted to know was whether the ultimatum had been acted on or not. Although the hon. and gallant Gentleman says it was perfectly clear yesterday, I can only say that to me and to many of my right hon. and hon. Friends it was not.
I should like to feel that all the right hon. Gentleman said today was absolutely sincere and completely devoid of all party bias, but I find it difficult to do so. I ask him to put himself for one moment in the place of our troops who are actually taking part in this operation. Would he feel any safer as a result of the enemy having been told by the British Prime Minister in the House of Commons, for publication all over the world, that the operation had started? I beg the right hon. Gentleman to see this. I am not trying to be partisan or unfair to him. I beg him to understand that the moment the enemy knows you are off you have given half the game away.
I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Would he please face this responsibility? Fifty million people want to know whether we have really declared war. Also, it is the first time in the history of this House that a Prime Minister has refused to tell the British people whether or not we have acted on an ultimatum that was delivered the night before.
The hon. Gentleman is confusing two things. The operation we have launched is designed to stop a world war developing. The war had already started. The war was already on between Israel and Egypt. Our intervention is designed to restrict that and to stop those hostilities as quickly as possible. The element of surprise in that is immensely important.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to know me well enough by now to realise that one of the things I really resent is not being told all the facts which I ought to be told in this House. I do ask them to realise that in a hazardous operation of this kind the most dangerous thing they could ask is for our plans to be disclosed.
The hon. and learned Member ought to know by this time that in the realm of politics everything is not just black and white. It is always a question of degree, and he cannot plead for this in view of what his own party has said so far. If his party is complaining that we have not paid enough regard to the United Nations, he cannot now try to argue that I am wrong in supporting the Government in having issued an ultimatum. But the hon. and learned Member has tried to confuse me, and I am pretty sure that he has technically confused himself.
I do not want to keep the House any longer as I have already spoken for longer than I meant to do because of the interruptions. In conclusion, I ask the Government to do two things which I believe to be important. The first is to nail the lie that has been suggested in certain quarters about collusion between the French and the Israelis and ourselves before this action. That rumour ought not to be put about, and the country ought to know the facts as soon as possible.
Secondly, if it be true that certain operations have already started, and that has become known, I hope we can have an assurance that the country will be kept as fully informed as possible and that we shall not have to suffer the full rigours of wartime censorship. I say that because there is this great difference. This is essentially first of all a police duty. It may be necessary in instances to use force, but I hope we shall not behave as though this country was riddled with Egyptian or Israeli agents, because that would seem to me to be the only justification for a full-scale war censorship over this matter.
I hope that we can have an assurance before the debate is over that the Government will keep the House fully informed. But let me make it quite clear that I am certain that the Government and the Prime Minister were absolutely right. I am certain that the Prime Minister was right this afternoon, despite the appalling noise to which he had to listen, to refuse to give information until this operation had started. Once again I appeal to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to remember that, whatever our differences may be, we are all still proud to boast of the same nationality. I hope we shall continue to believe that there is more which unites us than causes us to dispute with each other. I regret what happened earlier this afternoon, and I particularly ask the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition to remember who we are in this country and what unites us and not to over-emphasise those things that divide us. It is absolutely essential that this country should be united on this matter. I assure right hon. and hon. Members opposite that the more disunited they tend to show this country to be, the more difficult they will make it for those upon whom we rely to carry out their arduous task.
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) will forgive me if I do not reply in full to his speech. I am sure he will agree that the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheetham (Mr. H. Lever) was much more weighty and effective in support of the Government's policy than his own speech.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheetham intervenes rarely in these debates, but when he does he speaks volubly. The pattern is always the same. He starts by vociferously attacking his party and then at the last minute he back-pedals violently to save himself from the consequences. That is the pattern he has followed again today. In his speech he has elevated the basest political cynicism into the highest political principles in the conduct of affairs between nations.
I was going to do so, but my hon. Friend was too quick in getting to his feet. His whole thesis was that in international relationships between major Powers it is only the self-interests of the Powers concerned which can motivate their activity and that, therefore, it is proper for Israel or any other nation to concentrate solely upon taking what advantage can be gained, even temporarily, from the selfish politics of the major Powers.
My hon. Friend also said that high moral principle was completely irrelevant to the issue. I would point out to him that if Britain, as a major world Power, had been concerned solely with political cynicism in the affairs of the Middle East, Israel would not exist today. The British Government tried a short time ago—I think they were mistaken in doing so—to organise a Bagdad Pact of Arab Powers, which they thought, in their own selfish interests, would be extremely valuable to the defence of this country. One thing and one thing alone prevented the full execution of the Bagdad Pact, and that was the existence of Israel as an irritant in the Middle East. The Government rightly refused to sell Israel in order to create an alliance among all the Arab Powers. Consequently, I say that if the Government had sold Israel at that time in pursuance of a bitter political moral cynicism, Israel would have been in a difficult position today.
My hon. Friend has grotesquely, offensively and arrogantly mis-stated everything I said. I beg to interrupt him to correct him. I said that Israel was entitled to survive and to prevent the re-enactment on the grand scale of the Warsaw ghetto, in which the Jews were placed in a position in which they were no longer able to defend themselves. The right of self-defence does not mean that one must wait until the knife is at one's throat. One is allowed to strike the knife out of the hand of the aggressor. If that is cynicism, I hope I shall never be ashamed of it, and in this respect I shall not want to earn the approval of my hon. Friend. It is too much to expect Israel to accept a position in which she is no longer able to defend her women and children.
As to that aspect, I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend's remarks. I have no complaints to make about that part of his speech. I have the utmost sympathy for that point of view. However, I am sure he will agree that at various times in his speech he returned to his general thesis that in the conduct of international affairs it was the selfish cynicism of nations which counted and that high moral principle had nothing to do with it. I insist that a large amount of the support which is rightly granted to Israel by this country is based not upon political cynicism but upon the high moral principles at which my hon. Friend took care to sneer from time to time. I am sorry to have had to say this, but my hon. Friend will agree—
My hon. Friend will agree with what I am about to say. In some of his remarks attacking my hon. Friends and supporting the Government he was as forthright as I have tried to be in reply to him.
I do not resent a forthright criticism, but I wish my hon. Friend would not mis-state what I said. I said that Powers necessarily act in support of what they deem to be the interests of their countries. That is a plain fact known to every schoolboy over the age of ten. There is nothing cynical in asserting that plain fact. There was nothing cynical in anything that I said.
Let us leave it at that. My hon. Friend and I will check in HANSARD tomorrow what we have said.
It was one of my chores as a political journalist to attend the Tory Party conference. One of the lines which gained the greatest amount of applause occurred in the speech of a delegate who, in reference to a resolution condemning Nasser's action at Suez which demanded forthright and strong action, said, "We must not assume that this resolution is just written in water ; soon it will be written in blood." Today the Government are proceeding to write the resolution in blood.
There is no doubt at all that the Government's action at this moment is related not to any tenderness for the State of Israel—I warn my hon. Friend to be careful where he chooses his allies—but simply to the attitude of mind displayed at the Tory Party conference.
The Government's first intention was obvious. It was to mount a military operation at the drop of the hat, as soon as Nasser had seized the Canal. The Government were not able to do that. Although they pride themselves on being masters of strategy and defence and in the last few years have spent millions of pounds organising our defences, we did not have an army capable of doing anything at all, and so the scheme was deferred. The operation was mounted, Reserves were assembled, stores were organised, bases were prepared, and the troops were moved, until in September the Government were in a position to launch some kind of military operation. This time they were stopped. They were stopped by action in the House of Commons, by the mobilisation of public opinion throughout the country and by the voices of free people all over the world.
Now comes the third opportunity. The Government have seized upon—whether it should be "seized" or "organised" is a debatable point—the Israeli border incidents to provide a certain cloak of moral sanctity to enable them to follow up the plans which they have been cultivating and preparing ever since the incident was first launched.
The hon. Member has made the serious insinuation that the Government intended to go to war as soon as Nasser nationalised the Canal and were only prevented from doing so because they had not got the arms with which to do it. Can he put forward any evidence whatever to show that that was the Government's intention?
The only evidence one requires lies in the speeches of Her Majesty's Ministers and the atmosphere they engendered, the mobilisation of the Forces, the calling up of Reserves, taking ships out of "mothballs" and moving aircraft to Cyprus. In general, that is the whole gamut of military operations. Simply because of failures in the Government's defence policy, all this was not enough to launch an operation in a very short time.
The Government's concern over going to the aid of Israel at this moment is essentially nauseating in character. How can my hon. Friend the Member for Cheetham take comfort from the aid of a Foreign Secretary who only a few weeks ago was condemning the State of Israel for mounting an operation against Jordan which was, possibly, an extremely justifiable military retaliation? This proves that the Government have no real deep-seated concern for the people of Israel. The Israel situation is simply something available at the moment to cover or to make decent the plans which the Government have had all along.
We have had further illustrations of that today. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that the Government proposed temporarily—and to underline the point he repeated "temporarily"—an operation in order to secure the Canal during the course of these military operations. Today his emphasis was suddenly changed. Today he was not giving any time limit for the duration of our stay in that part of the world. It is quite clear that the objective is not to isolate or separate two forces. One does not separate two military forces by landing several miles behind the battlefront and throwing a cordon sanitaire across the lines of communication of one of the sides. That is not the separation of military forces but active intervention in favour of one military force, again under the cloak of moral sanctity which the Government seek to wear.
My charge against the Government is simply that they are now implementing plans which they had in cold storage all along and that if they had not found or created this opportunity no doubt some other opportunity would have arisen. What is the net effect of this in the world? We are a major Power, we have to operate a foreign policy, and our foreign policy must surely be based on two things. To put it at its lowest, it must be based on a system of military and strategic alliances, and to put it at its highest it must be based on some moral and ethical consideration.
Let us take the lowest of the two pillars of foreign policy first. To preserve our position in the world and to exert influence, we must have a system of closely integrated military and strategic alliances. What has happened to every single one of the military and strategic alliances, which are part of the basis of our foreign policy, since the Government action in the last two days? The Commonwealth, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, is split ; the N.A.T.O. alliance is split ; the Bagdad Pact, which was one of the instruments of Government policy, is dead ; the Canal Users' Association, which was a sort of alliance come together for some kind of common purpose, never really lived, but it is certainly moribund now.
The alliance with the United States is subjected to tensions which, although I do not think they will break it altogether, are certainly not tensions which should be encouraged, not tensions which should be created. So, wherever we go throughout the whole range of our military and strategic alliances, we find this one action in one day by this one Government has split or destroyed every single one of our alliances.
In return, we have an alliance with France. I love France dearly, but I have just spent ten days touring Algeria, ten days watching how almost half a million French soldiers are completely incapable of pacifying—their word—the Arab nationalists in that area. Within the last few days the Paris Government, by what many people regard as a rather underhand trick, captured five leaders of the Algerian nationalists by forcing down their aircraft when it was flying from one part of North Africa to another. That one act alone has more than ever inflamed the whole of the Arab world against France, has sharpened the conflict between France and Muslim countries. It is at this moment that we make France our prime consort and ally, the only ally we have left in terms of the present operation.
Let us turn to the moral and ethical basis of foreign policy, having dealt with the lowest common terms, the nature and degree of our strategic alliances. The first thing we have done is to break the rule of law. During the last war, I thought that I was fighting to recreate and ultimately to preserve and maintain the rule of law. Let the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely not gather the cloak of military glory around himself and himself alone. Many of us fought for what we thought was the common cause to establish the rule of international law in the world. It is that rule which his Government with his support are now breaking. I do not want to make too glamorous a thing of it, but it makes a lot of sacrifices extremely tawdry now.
I have never tried to monopolise this matter. I realise that there are hon. Members opposite—and the hon. Member is one—with most gallant war records. However, I am certain that none of us was fighting just for an idea. We were fighting to make sure that the world did not fail to live up to that idea simply by nobody daring to take action in time.
I entirely agree, and surely that was the basis of our action during the war and has been the principle of our international action since the war. It is all that which has gone by the board, because the Government make no pretence at all of basing any of this action on any rule of law. They do not pretend that their action is based on the Suez Agreement, which specifically excludes the possibility of an Israeli attack. They do not pretend that it is based on the Tripartite Declaration. They do not pretend that it is based on the 1888 Convention. They pretend only that this is a military operation, or a police operation, based on the need to defend our interests in the Suez Canal, or to defend our £50 million worth of shipping, or to defend our nationals in that area.
The interesting thing is that our people were in no danger in that area until a few hours ago when we started bombing that part of the world. If British nationals are now in danger and if Egyptian individuals and Egyptian soldiers now turn on British ships and pillage and loot them and sink them, the responsibility lies not on the Egyptian Government—and I do not want to praise the Egyptian Government nor absolve them from any part of the blame—but on the British Government who have launched an attack. Our "blokes," whom we seek to defend, will be the first recipients of the Egyptian reprisals. So there is no argument here.
I want briefly to deal with the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheetham, that in international morality it is proper in self-defence, if a man is about to cut your throat with a knife, to kick the knife out of his hand. There is a good deal of substance in that argument, but it is a little too subtle to be applied in international affairs of nations when we band ourselves together to prevent aggression.
Right from the beginning of the operation in Korea, the Government of North Korea said that they were taking action because Mr. Syngman Rhee in South Korea had for months fiercely insisted that he would march into North Korea. They managed to adduce evidence that there were troops available for him to carry out that operation. They produced quotations from his speeches—they were rather fiery, as fiery as anything Nasser has ever produced—before the bar of world opinion. They said that they were kicking the knife out of the hand of Syngman Rhee who was about to cut their throats.
The analogy which my hon. Friend is drawing is not correct. After all, murder gangs were being trained to go into Israel and, in fact, operated in Israel as aggressive forces.
I do not dispute that. I am trying to say that in the complex issues of international affairs, when countries are going to go to war, one must be absolutely clear about the terms on which one goes into the operation. With this both-sides-of-the-argument case, the matter becomes unclear and the dangers are magnified, because other people can use this argument, as Hitler used it and as others before him used it. In deciding whether an operation is aggression or not, one must see whose armed forces cross the territory of another nation.
On this particular case, I am prepared to agree that the issue about whose forces went where first is in doubt. The aggression may initially have been on the part of commandos moving from Egyptian territory into Israeli territory ; but let that be the issue of fact which is before us. Let us not try to construct a new international definition which will lead to the maximum confusion in the future. We must be very careful about this.
My hon. Friend has made out a strong case in order to try to define aggression so as to be able to take a stand against it when it occurs, but is he aware that the United Nations, having constituted themselves to prevent aggression, and having spent some three and a half years in trying to define what it is, finally abandoned it as a completely hopeless task? This is one of the basic dilemmas which is inherent in the United Nations organisation.
I am not suggesting that an organisation like that of the United Nations can arrive at an easy answer, but I have my answer. I say that when an organised military force of one nation crosses the frontier line—when the first soldier, either in or out of uniform, crosses the boundary—with malice aforethought, that is aggression. That is my definition of aggression, and, lacking the subtlety of some of my hon. Friends, I am prepared to rest my case upon that definition for the time being.
I am sorry, I cannot give way. The trouble about interventions from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is that they are so lengthy—not because of their content, but because of the rate of delivery. I should be apt to lose the trend of my speech while waiting for him to finish.
The Labour Party cannot stop this war today because we are in opposition. This nation is now at war, but the Labour Party cannot stop it going deeper into war. But about 20 Members on the other side of the House, answering the real dictates of their hearts, minds and consciences, instead of a three-line Whip, could stop the course which this Government are pursuing. I know that they can rationalise every single one of their actions, but just as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheetham had the courage to say that he was in disagreement with his party—and, although I heckled him for it, I applaud his courage—1 beg that at least 20 Members opposite shall have, this day or tomorrow, a similar courage.
I am not asking them to vote for the Motion which will be put upon the Order Paper tomorrow. Let them abstain if they like. That in itself, from 20 men who really believe that the action of the Government is wrong—and there are 20 who do—would be bound to stop this Government in their tracks. It was done before by Members of the Conservative back benches, when Neville Chamberlain had led this country, militarily and strategically, into an untenable and impossible position. It was not the votes of hon. Members on this side of the House which rectified the position, because we were in a grotesque minority. It was the abstention of hon. Members opposite which really mattered.
There are many hon. Members opposite who are really worried today. This fact reflected itself earlier in the dramatic change of policy on the part of the Prime Minister at one stage during the Suez debate. Although pressure came from hon. Members on this side of the House, and although the carpet was whipped away from under his feet by Mr. Dulles during the course of that debate, the real reason why he decided to take the Suez issue to the Security Council was that some Conservative back benchers said, "We will not risk war over this issue unless it is within the Charter of the United Nations."
The issue is infinitely graver today, and for that reason I am asking those men to have the courage and the guts to do again what they did then, because neither we in opposition, nor any industrial action—which I should deplore—can put a halt to this matter. Only if men on the benches opposite are true to their hearts can this precipitous course be stayed, and I implore them to be true to their hearts tonight.
The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) has made a very eloquent speech. I very much regret that that is the last word of praise I can give it. He has got his facts mixed so far as his reference to the 20 Members is concerned. Those 20 Members who may not vote with their own leaders, or do not in their hearts agree with them, are to be found not upon these benches but upon the benches opposite. I believe that that has been shown in recent debates and also, to some extent, in this one.
The hon. Member imputed the worst motives to this Conservative Government for all that they have done since Colonel Nasser nationalised the Canal. When I asked him to state the evidence upon which he based that charge all he could say was that he based it upon the military precautions that the Government had thought it right to take. We have never yet had a clear announcement from the Opposition whether or not, had they been in power in these circumstances, they would have taken military precautions. I believe that they are sufficiently responsible to have taken those precautions, just as we felt bound to do. But for the hon. Member for Islington, North then to draw the conclusion that, sooner or later, this Government meant to attack Egypt, is to impute motives to the Government which I can only say, in their very nature, reveal a state of mind on his part which is derogatory of his judgment of affairs, to say the least.
I want to make one further reference to the hon. Member's speech. He said that in this matter our only ally was France. He went out of his way to say that France, because she had succeeded in capturing five leaders of the rebellion in Algeria, had done wrong because, by so doing, she had annoyed the other rebels. Was there ever such a fatuous argument as that?
It must be many years since a Leader of the Opposition moved a Motion of censure upon the Government of the day in terms so strong as has been done in this debate. [Interruption.] Well, he is going to move a Motion of censure that, with the background of the speech he made today, is indeed a very serious matter, and the country must take it very seriously. My suggestion is that there are some very good reasons why the seriousness of that Motion of censure is not quite so weighty as might appear.
One can go back a long way in the history of this Middle East problem, but I want to go back only to the beginning of August, when, at that Box, the Leader of the Opposition made a speech immediately following the nationalisation of the Suez Canal by Colonel Nasser. It will be within the recollection of those hon. Members who were present that the speech he made upon that occasion was generally taken to be in overall support of the attitude which the Government were then adopting. In fact, because of it, I made the comment then that it seemed to me a satisfactory thing that the Session was coming to an end upon a note of national unity.
Since this charge is so repeatedly made by hon. Members opposite, I would ask the hon. and gallant Member if he can deny that on that famous occasion the Leader of the Opposition declared the whole-hearted opposition of Her Majesty's Opposition to the use of force in the Suez Canal outside the United Nations Charter.
The hon. Member may be quite right, but what I am saying is that the whole tenor of his speech was taken by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and by the country as a whole, as being in general support of the attitude which the Government were adopting—and at that time the Government were seeking to set up an international instrument to which Egypt would be prepared to agree and by which the Canal would not be left within the unfettered control of one nation. That was what the Government were trying to do by the conference of 18 nations and later on by taking the matter to the United Nations. That was the policy then of the Government, and at that time it appeared that the Leader of the Opposition was in favour of that approach. But what happened?
I think that it is important to get the record correct about the conditions under which my right hon. Friend spoke. When he spoke on 2nd August the Government had not announced any particular expression of policy beyond the calling of the 18-nation Conference. It was after the debate of 2nd August that our fears were aroused because of Press reports. It was after the 18-nation Conference that the political divergencies began to appear. What my right hon. Friend said on 2nd August represents the policy of Her Majesty's Opposition today in relation to the Suez Canal.
The policy of the Government remained, first, that they were going to try to get an acceptable agreement by means of the 18-nation Conference and then take other steps, such as going to the Security Council and so on. The Government's policy in this matter remained steady throughout. It was the Opposition—and the hon. Member cannot get away from this by denying it—which completely changed its attitude, and I remind him of the steps by which it did so.
I cannot give way too much, because many hon. Members want to speak. Later, at their party conference the attitude and policy of the whole Labour Party changed. If ever there was an example of the leader having led and then the tail of the dog beginning to shake until the tail shook the whole of its body and finally its head, we had it in the way in which the Labour Party behaved in those summer months.
I wonder if the leader himself changed his mind. We have never heard him say so. Or was it perhaps the shaking of the tail of that dog which resulted in the insertion near the seats of power of others apparently far to the left of him in his policy? Did he in fact have a grim shadow in the shadow cabinet in the form of another "Big Brother" supported by the little brothers in the tail of the party?
I will give way later on.
The final result was that the leader was held firmly in the seat of the car by the back-seat drivers, with the wheel turned well and truly to the left. [An HON. MEMBER : "A rather mixed metaphor."] The hon. Gentleman must forgive me if I mix my metaphors, but I hope that my speech will be all the more colourful because of that.
I submit that we have seen in the debates today and yesterday and in the Questions which have been asked at Question Time a most deplorable attitude not, may I humbly say, by everybody across the Floor of the House but at least by many of those who have spoken and who seem completely to fulfil the Gilbert and Sullivan lines of the "idiot"—I am sorry to use that word, but it is in the quotation—"who praises … every country but his own". We have had very much of that these last few days, and I want to give quickly three examples. I have warned the hon. Gentlemen concerned.
The first was a disgraceful statement by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) when he said that our attitude would have been more effective—this was in reference to what was happening in Eastern Europe—if our own hands had been clean in Cyprus. How any hon. Member of this House can really make a comparison between what has been happening in those Eastern European countries and what we are trying to do in Cyprus goes, to my mind, beyond all bounds of decency. A similar remark was made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey)— I warned him I was going to refer to him—when, referring to any action that alight be taken in Egypt, he said British soldiers in tanks would be shooting down women and children. I say that is an absolutely disgraceful statement to be made by any hon. Gentleman in this House.
The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) made a surprising speech when he said—and he should have known better—that the history of the British Empire had been founded on aggression. That is just not historically true. The right hon. Gentleman has occupied many high posts in the Government but I am glad he has never been Minister of Education. Many of us think that his contributions to debates are very often useful and enlightening and I sometimes wonder why he is no longer on the Front Bench opposite. I hope that that thought will do him no harm. But in making that comment he was not, I think, up to his usual standard.
I come now to the actual essence of the speech which the Leader of the Opposition made last night. It was a speech the more damaging because, as a debating effort, it was an extremely powerful one. It will therefore do all the more damage because the basis on which it rested was so completely false. It was false for this reason, and I want to get back to the real basic issue which is at stake in this problem. It is that, whatever the rights or wrongs of the Israeli-Arab question, a war has started. One nation has attacked another nation.
Israel attacked Egypt after many provocations by the Egyptians ; it is useless, I think, to try to fix the blame too much on one side or the other. What I am saying is that war has started. We all want to stop it. What was the best way we could stop it? The Opposition wanted to refer the matter to the Security Council without taking any action on their own. That, I think, is a fair statement. If the Government had done that the Security Council would either have been speedily effective—and I say "speedily" because the essence is speed—or it would have been ineffective. I leave hon. Members to make up their own minds on the basis of the history of the last few years as to which of these two courses was most likely to happen.
The hon. and gallant Member seems to be referring to what took place in the Security Council last night. I understand that it was Great Britain which exercised the right of veto in the Security Council last night. How can he square that with the statements which he is making?
I think that the hon. Gentleman has missed my point. When this war started, the Government had to make up their mind as to what they were going to do. They could, and hon. Members opposite say that they should, have referred the matter to the Security Council—[HON. MEMBERS : "They did."]—and they say that they should have waited until the Security Council had pronounced. We said, not knowing what the Security Council would say, that because firing was going on action should be taken at once, that we were not prepared to run the risk of letting the war go on a moment longer than necessary, more particularly when there were British lives at stake, to say nothing of a large amount of shipping actually in the Canal.
What we did was to send forces which had been reinforced earlier. Earlier, we had been condemned for reinforcing those forces, but because we had so reinforced them we were able to intervene. That is the action which is now at issue. It is a thankless task to intervene between two people who are fighting, but surely it is the sort of thing which must be done in a situation of this sort.
We should like the United Nations and the Security Council to be effective in upholding the rule of law. But they are not effective at the present time, and even if other great Powers are prepared just to sit back and hope that something done by the United Nations organisation will be effective, I say that that is not the rôle which this country as a great Power ought to pursue when war has actually started.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has any military experience, but I would point out to him that if one is trying to stop an advancing force one does not only put troops in the way of it ; one bombs its line of communication. The two things are by no means incompatible, and the hon. Gentleman knows that. One has to do all one can to bring the advancing armies to a halt. That is intervention. One of my hon. Friends gave the analogy of two dogs fighting. It is dangerous to argue by analogy, but I thought that in this case the analogy was a good one. Apparently hon. Members opposite would have sat back and done nothing about the dogs which were tearing each other to pieces. We said that that was not good enough, and that we would go in and separate them. I think that the analogy is close enough to be used as an illustrative argument.
We on this side of the House believe sincerely, strongly and fundamentally in the ideals, and, indeed, in the reality which we all hope will grow greater as the years pass, first, of the British Commonwealth of Nations, secondly, of the Anglo-American Alliance, and, thirdly, of the United Nations. I believe that when time has passed and it is seen that what we are trying to do has been crowned with success a very different tune will have to be played by hon. Members opposite and an awful lot of things said from the benches opposite gainsaid.
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman think that we are improving our relations with America by what we are doing? Does he think that by our present actions we are building up the United Nations organisation or destroying it?
We are not destroying it. When the United Nations organisation is not as great a reality as we should like it to be, then it is essential for Powers which have the necessary forces, and which are willing to take the responsibility to do what they can, to arrive at the end which we all want, which is peace and law and order.
Having listened to what has been said in the last few days from the benches opposite, I shudder to think what would have been the position if the Socialist Party had been the Government of the day and if that Government had said and done the things which hon. Members opposite have suggested. In those circumstances, what would have happened to our fortunes and to the peace of the world? If the party opposite is one day to be in effective control of the country, then I say heaven help the country.
Her Majesty's Government have given a lead in this matter. Of course, whenever one gives a lead one is always attacked. But the Government have given a lead to try to secure what we all want, which is peace and law and order. I believe that the country as a whole, including many of the people who send hon. Members opposite to this House, and the world in general, will increasingly see that the lead which we have given is the right lead and will bring about the result for which, irrespective of where we sit in this House, we all hope and pray.
The hon. and gallant Member for Poole (Captain Pilkington) must forgive me if, except by implication, I do not reply to the remarks he made about my intervention on the Hungarian statement. Nor do I wish to follow him in detail through the various strange contortions of intellectual argument he has addressed to the House this evening. Having said that, I will turn to the really serious statement of the Prime Minister.
We are dealing, I think, with the blackest day in the history of this country since Munich, but with this difference, that at the time of Munich we received some sympathy from other countries. We at least got a telegram of congratulation from President Roosevelt. All we have today are the French and, with all respect to France, she is the worst ally we could have at the present time in relations with the Muslim world.
During the last ten or fifteen years this country has been moving in a particular direction in relation to its former Colonial Territories. In the history of great empires there has nearly always been a fatal point of decline when the perimeter and the centre reach breaking point. We in this country set out to show in relation to our Colonial Territories that we could cheat history and set up a new concept of Commonwealth. What has happened today? It is that that great idea has suffered a major setback. Whatever hon. Members opposite may say, the Commonwealth today is feeling very sad about the Mother Country. The hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) shakes his head. I urge him to read the newspapers tomorrow morning. It is not what we think and say that matters ; it is what other people in other countries think and say that matters. That is why I feel particularly sad about a great ideal being set in reverse.
In the last ten years we have tried to build a bridge between the Western World and new resurgent beliefs of the Asian countries outside the British Commonwealth. We had begun to build that bridge. Alone of the Western countries, Britain's stock stood very high in Asia in the last year or so, as anyone who has travelled in Asia will appreciate. One of the reasons for that was the special attitude which we took over China, but if anyone looked at the Bandung Powers they would have realised that Britain had a special relationship with the resurgent nationalism in Asia. That relationship has suffered a blow today.
The third thing that has happened is this. We have, in the past, stood in the main stream of history. The main task of civilised man in the age of the hydrogen bomb has been to try to liberalise the harshness of Communism behind the Iron Curtain and to civilise the intolerance of capitalism in the Western world. This country more than any other stood in the main stream bringing about those two ends.
What has happened today has been the best propaganda which has been made on behalf of the Communist countries in the last ten years.
No, we are not trying to stop war, because we have started war. There were some outcries from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite last Monday when I said that we should have gone to the United Nations with clean hands. It is possible that I did not express myself very clearly, but I have been observing, as also has my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh), the Conservative Party at the Llandudno conference. At the back of my mind was the attitude of hon. Members opposite towards the whole idea of the United Nations and of the Colonial Territories, and the statement of the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in the Suez debate at Llandudno. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said yesterday, what has happened today has undone a great deal of the capital gain which the democratic world has achieved out of the events in Hungary in the last few days.
The party opposite cannot evade any of those three points. This has nothing to do with what we think but what has actually happened in the outside world. That is really the gravamen of our charge, as an Opposition, against Her Majesty's Government.
Why has this action been taken? Why have we embarked on this Act of, as my right hon. Friend has called it, incredible folly?
The first reason is the special viewpoint of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister. I exempt the Prime Minister from collusion with the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite and the party behind him in their attitude to the United Nations. I believe that the Prime Minister is a genuine believer in international collective security. I respect his stand in the 'thirties at the time of Hitler and Abyssinia, but at the same time I think he has become so obsessed with the events of the 'thirties that he is still re-fighting the same battles in the 'fifties.
The Prime Minister imagines Nasser is Hitler, but he is not. Nasser is something much less significant and much less evil. That does not mean that I condone him. but he is not nearly of the same calibre, or evil, or the same danger as was Hitler. He is the political barrow boy of the Middle East. What the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has done has been to continue to refight that battle in the 'fifties. He is so obsessed with the appeasement that led to war in 1939 that he thinks that it might lead to war, or a disastrous situation in the 'fifties. It is that which has been at the back of his mind during the last few weeks.
The real tragedy is that, like the generals who are always trying to win the last war, the Prime Minister has been trying to prevent the last war. That is his mistake. It is a profound tragedy for this country and the world that the intellectual and character deficiencies of the man who happens to occupy the chief elective position in this country should be inadequate to the challenge of events at this moment and that he should so misconstrue the whole nature of the situation in which we live today.
What has been happening in the Middle East has been part of a general resurgent nationalism in that area. It is in no way connected with the detailed evil obnoxiousness of Fascism as it existed in Germany. Nor is it necessarily the right thing to elevate Nasser to that same position. Nor is it possible to relate the same sort of political events ten or fifteen years later and imagine that they have an exact parallel.
There is another reason why the party opposite has taken this course of action—and I make no partisan point of this. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I exclude from this the Prime Minister, are nostalgic about our former imperialism. I remember, looking down from the gallery at the conference at Llandudno, that there were two points on which their anger erupted ; one was capital punishment, the other was Suez. The eruptions were all the more grotesque because they had to be confined to those two points. I would warn hon. Members opposite that, by failing to appreciate that they are living in the second half of the twentieth century and not in the first half of the nineteenth century, they have taken a course of action today which may well end in their political party being out of office for a very long time.
These are considered words. I think that in six or seven weeks' time those on the benches opposite will find that what I am now saying will have a direct relevance to the political situation existing in this country. As an Opposition, it is a sad, sorry and most invidious situation in which we find ourselves. We have always taken the view on this side that we should support the Government of the day in their foreign policy whenever they were acting on behalf of the nation. We have always done it. We have never hesitated to do it, however unpopular it might be The fact is that we do not believe that hon. Gentlemen opposite have been acting on behalf of the nation, nor that what they have done today represents this nation before the world. That is really where the difference lies between us.
What I say is in no way a condonation of Nasser or of his disreputable régime. Nor am I in any way condoning what I myself believe to be an act of aggression by Israel. I know that some of my hon. Friends hold different views. I appreciate that there has been great provocation and a long history to the situation. Nevertheless, that does not mean that I in any way condone what has happened.
At the same time, we as an Opposition have no alternative but to oppose this, as my right hon. Friend has said, by every political means in our power. In the political history of this country, with Charles James Fox, Gladstone and Lloyd George, it has always been recognised that political action must be taken when we disagree on foreign policy. We in this party have no intention to resort to industrial action. Of course, there may be people who will attempt to capitalise this situation. They will not be members, responsible members, of the Labour Party in the industrial field. Our opposition will be political, but that does not mean that it will not be carried to the uttermost limits of our capacity.
I warn the supporters of the Government that during the next few weeks they will find that there will be demonstrations up and down the country. In the interests of the country, we shall do all that is within our power to redress the situation, and the only way in which we believe that this can be done is by the removal of this Government. I warn right hon. und hon. Members opposite that this will be the most bitter political fight in the post-war decade in Britain.
The only way in which the war will be stopped will be by the resignation of the present British Government, and the only way in which I believe the resignation of that Government will come about will be either by a stand by hon. Gentlemen opposite, as ray hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North has said, or by a General Election, in the latter alternative we will then see who represents the majority of the people.
In pursuing this action, I am fully aware of the consequences of what I am saying. I am aware that in the next few days it may not be a popular course, but that does not mean that we should shrink from it in any way. We on these benches will have no hesitation in maintaining our opposition. I warn hon. Members opposite that they have taken a step which is going to lead to far-reaching consequences for the British nation.
I am glad to have the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly). He has given a very solemn warning to those of us who sit on these benches, but he is perhaps rather rash inasmuch as political prophets are not always as wise as they may appear.
I am also glad to have the opportunity of speaking in this debate, because I want to offer my wholehearted support to the Government in the policy they have enunciated and the act which they have taken. For the short time that I have been in this House, I have never felt so wholeheartedly behind the Government in any step that they have taken as I do today. I support the communications that we sent to Israel and Egypt. I support the veto which was used in the Security Council, and I support the action of our troops.
The time has come for decision. The alternative would have been to make it a time for drift. The hon. Member for Pembroke has spoken of the obsession, as he called it, of the Prime Minister with the 1930s. There are many other people who have a similar obsession. Surely it is up to us to learn from the past and to realise that when the country seems to drift and to abdicate from its responsibilities there inevitably comes a world holocaust such as came in 1914 and 1939, and I have been appalled to listen to some of the unreality which has been uttered about the United Nations. One hon. Member spoke about the moral leadership of this country. Leadership is something which has to be won and maintained.
I understand perfectly the actions of the State of Israel. The hon. Member for Cheetham (Mr. Lever), who was accused by one of his hon. Friends of speaking as an Israeli patriot, replied that he was speaking as a British patriot. I, too, speak as a British patriot, and I say that I am glad that Israel has taken the action she has. I believe that the whole future of the Middle East lies with the intelligent leadership of this great people.
The Israelis have been ringed by a wall of steel. Their ships have been prevented from passing through the Canal. What help did the Security Council give to them? There have been commando raids into their territory in an attempt to destroy and wear down the life of this young nation. I have no doubt in my mind as to who is the aggressor. The aggressor is not always the person who crosses a certain line at a particular date. It is obviously possible that after a series of raids, thrusts and threats, the oppressed will kick the knife out of the aggressor's hand.
I have never been one who has had romantic ideas about the Arab States. I personally believe that the future of the Middle East rests with Israel, that Israel should be our friend and that Israel is the country which can lead the Middle East into a settlement which, with the support of the West, can make that area one of the greatest economic centres in the whole of the world. I believe that the Israelis have started a defensive war which they were fully entitled to do.
I believe that the balance of arms has been fairly maintained, and I have such faith in the Israeli nation and army that I believe that if they were left to fight a war by themselves they would in the end succeed against all their enemies. But while I believe that this balance has been maintained, I consider there has been a buildup of provocation to such an extent that it was inevitable that Israel should do what she did.
We have had what I can only describe as a lot of lip-service from the Leader of the Opposition. He has said that nobody could accuse him of lack of sympathy for Israel. We have not seen much evidence of such sympathy nor any practical demonstration. The right hon. Gentleman said that stories were going about to the effect that there was collusion between the British and Israeli Governments. On what authority does he come here and refer to such stories? Is he referring to stories on the Stock Exchange or in the Smoke Room? What is the authority upon which he makes that suggestion?
Surely we are entitled to expect the Leader of the Opposition to do more than to peer through the files of newspapers and quote stories from them. He himself has been in the United States of America. He knows what Washington is like. He knows what the American Press is like. Does he think it is proper to sneak through the tittle-tattle of the commentators in the American Press and come here talking about such stories? I thought it was a shabby moment for the leader of a political party.
The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) has paid more than lip-service to Israel. He said in July, 1955, in a question relating to ships which were being prevented from going through the Canal :
Are the Government going to sit silent and acquiesce in the present situation, well knowing that diplomatic efforts have failed through the Security Council? Do not we require other steps to be taken?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th July, 1955; Vol. 544, c. 356.]
Those were very brave words then. I should like to know what are the steps the right hon. Gentleman had in mind. What did he think should be done to see that the orders of the Security Council were carried out?
I do not condemn Israel. It was clear, then, that war was likely imminently to straddle the whole of the Canal. Within 18 miles, as I understand it, or even less, were the Israeli troops, pushing forward their long-range desert groups. At the same time Egypt was concentrating to resist. At such a time, hesitation and timidity dressed up in rather prim and precise language might appear to be wisdom. But it was, in my view, a time for decision and action. I believe that public opinion in this country is fully behind my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I see some hon. Members opposte are shaking their heads. But in all their pronouncements they have been wrong about public opinion since 1945. They were wrong in 1950, 1951 and 1955. I do not think they are great experts in deciding what public opinion will be.
What, anyhow, is the alternative? When we talk about the Security Council, Security Council resolutions, Security Council police and United Nations forces, what in fact does it mean? It means, of course, absolutely nothing. In the short time I have been here, I have, of course, heard the artificial thunder which is often created by the Opposition because it is the Opposition's duty to oppose. I suppose it is essential that we have this particular system, but I wonder how much good it does to the prestige of Parliament. Having listened to some of the speeches today, I can only echo the words of one of my right hon. Friends, that certainly here was being created merely party political capital.
One of the most surprising features of this matter is that we have found a strange collection of bedfellows—an unholy alliance of President Nasser, John Foster Dulles and Cabot Lodge, the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition. Good heavens, what a strange collection in alliance! The hon. Member for Cheetham canonised "Saint" John Foster Dulles ; but a little before that "Saint" Foster Dulles was a Torquemada weaving his tortuous way around the non-conforming consciences of so many hon. Gentlemen opposite. Suddenly, we have a great change and "Saint" John Foster Dulles is held out to us as the person whom we should follow.
Obviously, that was not very difficult in the circumstances.
Turning to American public opinion, let me say that in August when I was there, at the time when this crisis first developed, there was a very different attitude on the part of the newspapers, the man in the street and the politicians I spoke to in Chicago and elsewhere from that expressed by the Secretary of State and his Department. One can only speak, of course, from one's limited personal experience, but having seen some of the leading politicians and some of the lesser politicians in the country, I found a volume of opinion in our support. But do not let us underestimate the importance of the election campaign managers and those who control the Press in the United States. The whole of the Press is in fact Republican, and to the campaign managers there could not be a more unpleasant mishap than that there should be war in the Middle East at this time.
I am not ashamed to put before the House my views about the United Nations. As an ideal, and eventually as a world instrument, it is the objective towards which we should all strain ; but it is clear beyond a peradventure, is it not, that in the minds of all of us and the minds of the public the United Nations is not yet an effective answer to the problem of maintaining the peace of the world?
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said in a speech I heard him make when we came back in September that he once doubted if this country had the will. The Government have shown, in my view, that they have the will to act in this crucial time. I believe the country will show it too. If the country does not show it, then I think it will be in large measure due to some of the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
If I do not reply in detail to the speech of the hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. Rawlinson) point by point, it is because I think that what I have to say tonight is itself a reply to his speech. But I should like to take up in passing a point or two which he made, and tell him that it is the opinion of the Opposition that Britain does not show great leadership if she embarks on an act of aggression outside the United Nations Charter. Though he poked fun at the fact that, I think he said, the British Labour Party was a "bedfellow" with Colonel Nasser at the present moment, Nasser incidentally being the man the British Labour Party has denounced as heartily as the Government have done, the tragedy of Britain's position today is that not only are Nasser and Secretary Dulles and the British Labour Party on a different side of the fence from Her Majesty's Government, but the whole of the world, with the exception of France, finds itself bedfellow with the people whom I have just mentioned.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that the Opposition always plays Opposition politics. I shall have occasion to refer to that later. I would point out to him that grave political decisions in foreign policy were made in the period which more or less coincided with the last two Parliamentary Elections, but Her Majesty's Opposition, then the Tory Party, suffered no inhibitions in its criticisms of the foreign policy of the Labour Government of the time. It is the Opposition's duty to oppose what it believes to be wrong.
We always listen with respect to someone who has knowledge from personal experience of another country. What the hon. Gentleman said about America interested me ; but I became sceptical when he stated as a fact that the whole of the American Press is in the hands of the Republican Party. I am sure he would not want such an extravagant and incorrect statement to remain unchecked on the record.
The hon. Gentleman is running away from the statement he made ; he has modified it now and has stated what is broadly true, that big business controls a majority interest in the American Press, just as big business controls a majority interest in the British Press.
I will refer to the point which the hon. Gentleman and the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) made about collusion. We have a right to ask, from whoever is to reply to this debate, where the Government stand in the matter of collusion, because in the American Press various disquieting statements have appeared. I think that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Epsom would concede, when he cools down a little, that the best American Press, newspapers like the New York Times, is at least as reputable and honourable as any in the world, including our own country. In the American Press today appears the statement that the State Department of America is of the opinion that there has been collusion between Her Majesty's Government and France and Israel over this business. One report even suggests that Mr. Dulles himself has expressed some kind of opinion of that nature. We have a right to ask the Government whether there has been any such collusion.
This debate is merely the introduction to what will be the fiercest debate in the history of the country for a very long time. For the first time in this century, to my recollection, Britain has embarked on what may be a war—[An HON. MEMBER : "It is a war".]—without the support of at least just under half the population, and possibly over half the population. This is the most serious occasion of its kind since the South African War, when the father of the present Home Secretary played a noble part on behalf of the Liberal Party in those days in taking exactly the same attitude to that action as we are taking to this.
As the debate is going to be a fierce one, let us clear the decks at least inside the Chamber. Let us agree with the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely that our case against the Government is not that they like war ; no hon. Member of this House will accuse hon. Members on the other side of liking war.
It is not a question of their liking war but of using war as an instrument of policy. The charge we make is that, whether they like war or not, they are using war as an instrument of policy in contravention of solemn obligations entered into by this country again and again.
But if I am willing to concede to the other side of the House that it is my belief that no hon. Member opposite likes war, I think that the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) struck a low note, even for the noble Lord, when he suggested that the Opposition's opposition to war was because we lacked physical courage, on the one hand, or, as the noble Lord even suggested, because we lacked physique, on the other hand.
I agreed with the noble Lord in one of his remarks. He said that this today is the nadir of British policy. It was the one remark in the whole of his speech with which probably the whole House is in agreement. Tories think it the nadir because the Tory Party has a naïve idea that its appeal "Let us all be British together" when it really means "Let us all be Tory together" is something that the Labour Party in opposition ought to accept.
If the Opposition finds today the nadir of British policy, it is because Her Majesty's Government have turned their backs on the United Nations, on the Commonwealth and on the United States of America, have jeopardised N.A.T.O. and have thrown away the support and good will of almost the whole of that part of the world which was in their favour to gain the doubtful support of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheetham (Mr. H. Lever).
I was surprised to find the noble Lord indulging in a very offensive attack on my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and quoting Burke as the instrument of his attack on my right hon. Friend—Edmund Burke, the friend of the Americans, the defender of the rights of small nations, and the defender of the rights of the British Member of Parliament against the Executive. There was nothing that the noble Lord said in his speech this afternoon that Burke would not have attacked bitterly.
I would take up, too, a point made by the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir). The noble Lady explained at great length—and nobody would cavil or argue about this—just what the Suez Canal means to Britain. But if we are to argue that the Tightness of our invasion of Egypt is due to the fact that the Canal is important to Britain, we cannot condemn the Soviet Union because it has destroyed the liberty of those three precious little Baltic States whose absorption into the Soviet Union we deplore. We cannot complain about the Soviet Union's action over Poland, Hungary and all the Iron Curtain countries in these last years.
I am quite certain that any Soviet statesman, getting up in the Soviet Parliament to meet the criticisms of the Soviet opposition—some day, one hopes, that kind of picture will not be fanciful—could make a statement on the need for the absorption of the satellite countries quite as convincing to Russians as the noble Lady's statement on the importance of the Suez Canal sounds to British patriots.
I want, first, to remind the House of the background. I am not interested in the motives of the Government's action—it is impertinent to attempt to impute motives. What one is concerned with is actions and their results. Whatever the Government think about their own actions, or even know about them, during the last eight weeks, it is a cold fact that the world thinks that eight or nine weeks ago Britain and France were prepared to go to war with Egypt, or prepared to take armed action alone, early in August, and that Foreign Secretary Dulles stopped them.
Her Majesty's Opposition is also of the opinion that the British Government were prepared to take armed action in Suez. The emergence of anti-war public opinion in this country and the debate which took place in this House on the recall of Parliament showing not only the determined opposition of Her Majesty's Opposition but serious legal criticisms from the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), the former Attorney-General, and eminent members of another place, also helped to prevent the Government from taking armed action in Egypt.
The world may be wrong, the Opposition may be wrong, and Her Majesty's Government may never have had such intentions at that time, but immediately the debate of 2nd August was over and Parliament adjourned, British newspapers plunged into a mass description of armed action—the "Britain and France must go it alone" theme. The House will remember my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition quoted these in the debate when the House was recalled in September.
The hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery), with some of us at Vienna on an Inter-Parliamentary Conference, stated there his view, at least, that sanctions over Egypt were no good, that reference to the United Nations of the Suez Canal problem was no good and that armed action by France and Britain was the only possible solution of the Suez Canal, to such an extent that the Labour representatives who were there did what is most unusual for British Parliamentary delegations outside our own country, and publicly repudiated the views expressed by the hon. Member for Preston, South. When he made a similar speech at Llandudno, it contained the phrase that we must take the action that he advocated either with America, without America or against America. That speech, it will be within the recollection of those who attended the Llandudno Conference, was loudly cheered by the Conservative Party.
It may be that the extremists of the Government have never really represented the Government's point of view, but even assuming that the Government never intended armed intervention without the support of the United Nations, as some of their supporters have argued to us in the last month, surely, in view of world opinion about Britain's intentions, in view of the behaviour of the British Press in the first weeks of August and in view of the known views of the 1922 Committee and the antics of wild reactionaries at Llandudno and elsewhere, the last nation to step in alone last night, allegedly in the interests of peace, should have been Britain, especially when the action which Britain is taking is just the very action which the world thought Britain intended to take eight weeks ago and the action which then as now would have been so bitterly resented and resisted by Nasser.
If Britain, then, was the last person to act as an honest policeman at this moment, how much worse it is when the only ally to support Britain in this police action is France, because at the moment at least, if anyone is hated more by the Arabs than the Jews, it is the French. So that even if the Government claim that they are acting as policemen, they must have known yesterday that the last people whom Egypt would accept as policeman in any international measure would be Britain and France, and that the ultimatum which the Egyptians received last night would remind them of the ultimatum which they received in the early days of the crisis summoning them to accept without amendment an agreement on the Suez Canal.
By the same token, hon. Members in this House may believe that the Government want temporary occupation of the Suez Canal. Who could expect Egypt to believe it when Egypt has recently got rid of the temporary occupation by the British of the Suez Canal which dates back to 1870 or 1880? And so Egypt last night rejected the ultimatum out of hand. Nobody in his senses—and, I am certain, nobody in the Government—could have known otherwise than that Egypt would reject that ultimatum.
However, the matter is worse than that. Egypt has a point of view. I am a British patriot, and anyone who believes in British patriotism and praises Israelite patriotism, as the hon. Member for Epsom has just done, must accept the fact that there is an Egyptian patriotism, just as there is a Polish patriotism which I am happy to see alive and kicking in the world today, and an American patriotism. And Egyptian patriotism has a point of view.
I sympathise with Israel. I admire her great work in building a new State. I admire the courage and endurance and vision of her people, building, as Nehemiah did, with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other. However, whatever the background of the recent history of that country or of Egypt may be, and however mixed Egypt's motives may be, Egypt can claim that at the moment, under international law or at least to her own nationals, Israel is the aggressor. How, then, can one expect Egypt to react when at this moment, when she has been attacked by Israel, Britain in the name of peace seeks to punish her or to protect her—both equally repugnant to the Egyptians—by seizing the very spot over which we were nearly going to war with her two months ago?
Egypt has reacted as the British Government must have known she would react, and is at the moment denouncing Britain as an aggressor, and must, ultimately, I think, take that denunciation to the United Nations. Over this issue, when Egypt goes to the United Nations, the bulk of world opinion will be behind Egypt. Someone once said—I think it was Talleyrand—"This is not a crime. It is worse than a crime. It is a blunder." I can imagine no more clumsy action, no action more likely to unite the Arab world under Nasser, than in the name of peace taking just the very aggressive action which Dulles prevented two months ago, and about which all the trouble has been.
There are in this matter far worse things than mere clumsiness. The hope of the world is the United Nations, and the Prime Minister helped to found it. He made some of the best speeches ever made in defence of its ideals and its purposes. Obviously the United Nations has not achieved all we dreamed, but it is still the only hope of the world, and the only alternative to the United Nations is the rule of force, and the rule of force ultimately means the rule of the strongest nation in the world.
I would go so far as to say that ultimately the United Nations is the only hope of the Soviet Union and of the United States of America. It is true that temporarily they are the two major Powers in the world, but within the next twenty-five or fifty years China obviously will be the most powerful and India will obviously be the second most powerful. I have often said, and I do not think it is quite fanciful, that the day may come when the Soviet Union will come rushing to the Western democracies to join in some collective security pact against that mighty nation, China.
It may be that the United States of America and the Soviet Union can for the time being do without the United Nations. But the remarkable thing is that we are living at a moment when the Soviet Union and the United States of America are both beginning really to belong to it and when both candidates in the Presidential election in America are openly and wholeheartedly declaring support for the ideals of the United Nations.
But if mighty nations may dispense with the United Nations, the only hope of our own survival rests in collective security ; and British policy should always be, not to run away from the basic principles of the United Nations, but to stay inside the United Nations and help to see those principles achieved.
I regret the heart of the tragedy of the quest for internationalism, and that is that every country tends to be international until its own national interests are involved. Russia can be high-minded about Guatemala and hold down brutally the peoples of Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the rest. America can be high-minded about British colonialism, but practises something not dissimilar from it in the Panama Canal and Puerto Rico, and takes an obstinate line over the admission of China to the Security Council.
I believe that the record of this country during the last ten years has been one in which Britain has done her best-to think and act internationally. We have at least shed much of the British imperialism for which America rightly and Russia wrongly blame us. How often have we said in debate after debate in this House and in annual United Nations services that the task of Britain in this century is to provide the moral leadership for a world which needs moral leadership so much. We have taken our stand on U.N.O. on principle. We have condemned the use of the veto. We have restrained our democratic friends in the United Nations. We have attempted to bridge the gap between us and the totalitarians.
All that has been swept away in the last twenty-four hours. It is Britain, not Molotov, who has used the veto this time, on the one occasion when the Soviet Union has really played the game by the United Nations, on the one major occasion when the Soviet Union and the United States of America have lined up together in defence of its principles. Remember how we said in 1945 that if the United States of America and the Soviet Union would underwrite it together and really mean it, world peace could be achieved?
Would the hon. Gentleman tell the House how much blood he would have allowed to have been shed, how many lives he would have allowed to have been lost, in war between Egypt and Israel, and how much damage he would have allowed to have been done to the Suez Canal, before intervening by direct action to stop the bloodshed and damage?
I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman has not understood my speech—probably because it was badly phrased—but I am telling him and the House that our duty was not to intervene in the Suez Canal, our job was not to put troops in the country of a fellow member of the United Nations, but to go to the Security Council and support its collective decision.
At the moment the Soviet Union and the United States of America have lined up in condemnation of hostilities between Israel and Egypt and have told both sides to get back. They have told them to stop the war. The one nation which seeks to make that decision ineffective is the British—or, I Should say, the two nations are the British and the French—toy the use of the veto. For the first time in the history of the United Nations the nigger in the woodpile at the Security Council is the British Government.
I believe this is indeed a tragic position for a Britain which I really believe to be a Great Britain, a Great Britain because of the war she fought, for a time alone, for freedom, great because of the efforts she has made in the postwar years for international law and collective security.
Yet we must condemn the Government on an even narrower ground. I believe that friendship between Britain and the U.S.A. is one of the most precious safeguards of world peace. We belong to one family. It is true that like brothers and sisters we have family quarrels, but if there was one common strain between Tory policy and Socialist policy that common strain was to build up the unity of all the peoples of the world who believe in freedom, and especially unity with the United States of America.
Those of us who have visited that country have experienced the warm friendship and deep kinship which underlies all surface differences between our two nations. If I may be personal. I remember keen arguments in the Senate House in Washington with my host. Senator Knowland. They were obviously bitter arguments between a British Socialist and an American extreme Right-winger, but we were both free to disagree, and that was the vital thing. I did not expect then that the occasion would come when Senator Knowland, Right-winger as he is, would be rightly able to denounce the Conservative Government in this country as an aggressor, as he did last night.
It is to the pass when our foreign policy is condemned by Secretary of State Dulles on the one hand and Senator Knowland on the other, that Her Majesty's Government have brought us. I begin to think that Senator Knowland is a progressive Left-winger compared with the advisers of Her Majesty's Government at present.
Kefauver, in a political quip yesterday, ironically congratulated Mr. Dulles on getting America and Russia into one lobby, and her ally Britain in the other. Kefauver was wrong. The real responsibility for this rests squarely and solely on the shoulders of the Prime Minister. I regret bitterly the division of Britain into two camps on foreign policy, but this division began in the days when the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) threw a penny on to the Table of the House of Commons because he did not agree with the peaceful foreign policy of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), the then Foreign Secretary. It now reaches its full measure with Her Majesty's Government's aggressive action in Egypt and her veto at the Security Council, which will be condemned in every corner of the world except by the coalition Government of France. The only support which Her Majesty's Government can expect, with France, is that of those who cheered at the Llandudno Conference and of those who will vote in the Government Lobbies this week.
During the last few weeks in the country I have been denouncing the Government's foreign policy and I have said that if there is one thing worse than war it is a war without friends. I think that I was wrong. There is one thing worse than that and it is a war in which one is wrong—an unjust war. I plead with the Government to get away from expediency and from nationalism and to return to the principle which the Prime Minister so magnificently expounded at San Francisco and in debates in the House on the United Nations Charter—the principle of international law, collective security and world peace.
It is preposterous to suggest, as the hon. Member for Itchen (Dr. King) suggested earlier in his speech, that the whole world is against Great Britain and France in the course they have decided to follow. On the contrary, there are millions of people in every continent who are now thanking God that British leadership in the world has revived. [HON. MEMBERS : "Where are they?"] When we hear so much about world opinion and public opinion, what is really meant is those sections of public opinion and opinion at the United Nations and elsewhere which, for one reason or another, are hostile to the purposes of the British Government.
I believe that the stronger we stand today the more support we shall rally to our side, and I am convinced that Her Majesty's Government will not be deterred either by the mass observation of the hon. Member for Itchen or by the political demonstration of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly), or even by the strictures of Senator Knowland.
One is almost asked to believe that a state of conflict does not exist between the forces of Israel and of Egypt. It is a travesty of the facts to try to make out that the policy of the British Government and of our French allies at this time is anything other than to confine the conflict and defend the lives and property of their nationals, which is a Government's duty.
Yesterday we heard from the Leader of the Opposition that it was not for this country to play the part of a world policeman. I suppose there was a time when the Royal Navy was the nearest approach to a universal police force that we have known, but those days are gone. I do not think anyone in the House wants Great Britain to play the part of a world policeman, but it is equally true that the United Nations cannot be a world policeman and was never intended to be one.
The United Nations is made up of sovereign States, and the Charter upholds she sovereignty of its members. I agree very much with what the hon. Member for Cheetham (Mr. Lever) said about the veto. The veto is essential to the United Nations. If it did not exist in the Security Council, those great Powers which are its permanent members would not agree to remain within the United Nations.
The United Nations is a world forum. It is not a world government. It is a place for contact and for conciliation in a divided world. Those who most believe in the usefulness of the United Nations are doing it most damage when they seek to use it as an excuse for ignoble inaction and as an instrument for relieving great nations of their duty in the world.
Will the hon. Member explain why the Government have taken no initiative in the United Nations to secure the enforcement against Egypt of the right of Israeli ships to free passage through the Canal?
That is a matter which concerns more than one Government, and it is not a matter with which we are primarily concerned at present. If we want to go back in history, we ought to go back to the shameful surrender of the Palestine Mandate by the Labour Government before our duty was done—a surrender which set Jew against Arab and both against us. It is that surrender of their duty by a previous Government which is responsible for many of our present difficulties.
In the case of Korea, it can be urged that the action under the auspices of the United Nations was efficacious. However, it worked only because there was a great Power with a primary interest in the area where the act of aggression took place which was prepared to take the lead until other countries rallied to its side. The United Kingdom and France made their contribution in Korea. The British Commonwealth Division was second to none. But let us freely admit that the major burden was borne by the United States, and it was natural that this should be so because the United States was a great Power with great interests in that part of the world.
At this time, I should like to pay tribute to France, about which we have heard so many words of scorn from the other side of the House. I think that the constancy of France has been an inspiration to Britain. I only wish that some such message would go out from this House as went out from the French Assembly, where I understand the only criticism of the course being followed by the French Government came from the ranks of the Communists. It is perhaps appropriate that a word of tribute to M. Mollet, the French Socialist leader, should come from a Conservative Member of this House.
The French sometimes see things more clearly than we do, and sometimes that is a disadvantage. It was a disadvantage in 1940, but in the present situation they have seen earlier and more clearly than some of us have in this country what Colonel Nasser really means. They knew, as we now know, that the aims of Colonel Nasser are nothing less than dominion in the Arab world and Islam and also supremacy in Africa. We know that if Israel is unable to build her life without having to make a sword of every ploughshare and without armistice lines between Israel and the Arab States being infringed by atrocious incidents for which not one side only is responsible, much of the responsibility for that lies in Cairo.
In the action which we and our French allies are taking we are serving the interests of the Commonwealth. The hon. Member for Pembroke said something about that, and if he were here to listen I would say to him that I, for one, am not nostalgic for nineteenth century imperialism. However, I am desperately anxious to make a reality of the British Commonwealth of the twentieth century. This does not mean that on every occasion we can expect absolute unanimity and an identical view in every capital of a Commonwealth of completely independent sovereign nations. It is only natural that people in Delhi should be influenced by voices from Peking, just as I suppose it is only natural that some people in Ottawa should be influenced by voices from Washington.
It is nothing new for not every Commonwealth country to be agreed in every particular. I understand that it was not the case in the Chanak incident, and it was not the case in 1938 at the time of the Munich crisis. The Commonwealth nations have this in common, that they look to London for leadership, and when they see that the course which we are following is the right one—and I believe they will come to see that—then the true unity of the Commonwealth will be revealed.
The Government have been criticised because they are out of step with the United States. There are some hon. Gentlemen opposite who have not always been conspicuous for devotion to the Anglo-American alliance, but it is strange that there should be this excess of pro-American sentiment at a time when voices on the other side of the Atlantic are being raised against this country.
Reference has been made to the canonisation of Secretary Dulles by the hon. Member for Cheetham. I do not know what the distinguished Presbyterian body in the United States, of which he is a leading member, would have to say about that. I hope, however, that at some future conference of the Labour Party Secretary Dulles will be a fraternal delegate.
The Government have been attacked on the grounds that they have, through an act of collusion with Israel, been seeking to regain control of the Suez Canal. All I can say is that people who assert that really have at the back of their mind a willingness to leave this international waterway at the mercy of a Soviet satellite dictator.
Nothing has changed in the Government's policy. They still seek an international system for the Suez Canal. I believe that to make such a system effective it will be necessary to have an international force, and that will mean a force which is primarily British and French. I do not see anything wrong in that, because the British and the French are the Powers with the forces available and the major interests at stake.
After all, it is not the duty of the United States to underwrite everything that we do. Much unnecessary anti-American feeling is caused by the shock and surprise which some people evidence when they find that the United States, a very great Power, pursues its own interests instead of doing it exactly the same as we do or exactly what we want it to do. I do not believe that it is one of the purposes of United States policy to secure the permanence of British Commonwealth and French Union interests and territories in the Middle East, Africa or anywhere else. The United States has a different world view, one in which Panama rather than Suez is the vital international waterway.
We ought to view the conflict in the Middle East in relation to the wider conflict in the world for control of the world economy. We ought to try to understand why people like Colonel Nasser come to power. I believe a Nasser or a Peron comes to power when nationalism revolts against world conditions which impose a choice of loss of national sovereignty to one or other of the two competing systems in this divided world.
Despite her cruelty and oppression in her Eurasian empire, Russia poses as the champion of national sovereignty—it has proved very effective with Egypt in the present difficulties—against the supranational imperialism of Western finance, and by that means she has been able to turn Nasser against the free world.
I agree most heartily with the hon. Member for Itchen that we should respect Egyptian patriotism. If there is not an Egyptian patriotism, there ought to be. Whatever we do in the present situation, we should do nothing to make Suez or Egypt just a pawn in the world conflict of which I have been speaking.
The hon. Gentleman said that we must respect Egyptian nationalism. Surely the first way in which one breaks the national pride of a nation is by putting in occupying forces. That is why Poland is revolting against the mighty Soviet Union and why Hungarians are dying in the streets tonight.
We may respect somebody but still have to take action against him. If I develop this argument, perhaps I shall go some of the way to explaining my position to the hon. Member.
Suez and Egypt should not become a pawn in the greater world conflict, should not become the subject of a bargain between the two great conflicting systems at the expense of other Powers. We ought to have made it possible and should still strive to make it possible to have closer economic co-operation on a preferential basis between the States of the area. This is a matter which has been discussed at the International Islam Economic Conference and by members of the Bagdad Pact, but it was found that the way was barred by existing international agreements and arrangements.
I believe that it should be the longer-term purpose of the nations of the Commonwealth and of Europe who have their special concern in the Middle East to join in support of a Middle Eastern system of economic development and discrimination which will enable the Arabs to develop and secure their independence in a better relationship with the State of Israel. I believe most profoundly that we have to find not only the answer to Nasser but the answer to Nasserism. That, of course, is for the future.
The present need is for resolution, for unity, for constancy and courage. I should have thought that the greatest possible measure of support should have gone from the House to the troops of our own country and those of our allies. We have the duty of protecting our people and their property, securing the free commerce of the nation, defending our interests and installations and thus helping to restore peace in the Middle East.
I will not deny that this is a moment when courage is evidently required. Particularly is it a moment when courage is needed by some hon. Members opposite who manifestly now realise that the course upon which the Government are embarked is plainly suicidal. We have listened to a point of view put by the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) with which in part I am in very considerable agreement, and in a moment I should like to take up those points and elaborate upon them.
I want to try to divide my speech into three parts. I should first like to make a few general comments which are exceptionally relevant, then say why I think that the Government are so madly wrong on this occasion, and, thirdly, with humility, say what I think they should do and how they should try to do it. It should not be denied that in the world in which we now live, alas, a jungle world which has no effective world government, there may be occasions, there have been in the past and can be in the future, when for the benefit of the human family as a whole some nation may have to take forcible action.
Few will deny that on the occasion in 1948 when Britain decided first, and then got others to help, that the airlift should take place, had the Russians or anyone else decided that that was aggression and had taken it to the United Nations, we should not very much have minded at that moment what other people thought, because we were right and determined to provide that airlift, and our Foreign Secretary at that time was right in that issue. Many people argue that in 1950 Truman was right to decide—I think off his own bat—that aggression had taken place and that he would order the American armed forces into action. He then hurriedly remembered, or was reminded, that it would be polite, at least, to take the matter to the Security Council and see if he could get a white sheet there before it was realised that he had jumped the gun.
It is a matter for speculation whether or not he jumped the gun. It can only have been a matter of minutes, and I do not believe that historians will ever be able accurately to verify the truth of the matter. But I think that many things were learned by the exercise of force in Korea in the name of the United Nations. The first thing was that it was probably right that it happened then, in that context, but that it would never be right to let that kind of thing happen again. I think we realised that, as it stood, the United Nations was not a force-exercising organisation. It is in fact a force-denying organisation, and was created very largely with that fact well in mind.
It was hoped—I think idealistically and crazily—that we might be able to dispense with the use of actual force if we could get agreement among the big Powers to threaten to use their collective force to prevent smaller Powers from fighting, in which case force would never need to be used. This was a complete illusion. I do not think there was really ever any substantial hope that it could be realised, or, if there was, I cannot understand how anyone in his right mind could hope for it. At the end of the campaign in Korea, I think that we had begun to realise that the United Nations was not a suitable organisation for the exercise of collective force. Instead, we saw that there would have to be a balance of power mechanism, outside but related to the organisation of diplomats at Lake Success.
Those who have been inveighing against the use of the veto had better have another think about it now. If they do think about it they will realise, first, that the veto is a derivative of existing military power and has nothing to do with a piece of paper, a charter or a constitution. If we are going to leave the human family divided arbitrarily into national sovereign States, some with great power and some with little, those with great power can and will, whatever one may say, have a veto which they can exert.
The interesting thing is that when the veto is used in the only place where it can be used, namely, the Security Council, it makes not an iota of difference. What did it matter to the world, yesterday, that the formal passage of the resolution moved by Mr. Henry Cabot Lodge did not in fact get minuted as passed? The fact that Britain and France vetoed it is quite irrelevant. It makes not a bit of difference, first, because we know now that the Security Council will never pass a resolution involving the United Nations and those who pass the resolution in the immediate use of force to implement their decision.
If the Government had had the sense—and it is a mystery to me why they were so stupid about this—to refer immediately to the Security Council the danger to the peace which existed as a result of the movement of Israeli troops deep inside Egyptian territory, and had been prepared to argue that this looked like a clear case of aggression, using the word in the context in which it is normally used, namely, the movement of armed forces into the territory of another sovereign State, and had demanded that the Security Council should condemn the aggressor and pass a resolution to do something about it, does anybody really believe that Mr. Henry Cabot Lodge would have been in favour of that resolution? Would he have supported a motion involving America taking military action against a Jewish State five days before Jews are going to decide who becomes the President of the United States? Whether or not the Jews actually decide or the negroes decide is something I can never know.
The party politicians always seem to think that the floating vote decides, and it is precisely these elements, as my hon. Friend very well knows, that are important factors in the minds of politicians. Henry Cabot Lodge is a first-class party politician. It was he, I think I am right in saying, who drafted General Eisenhower to become the Presidential nominee. Was he, at this precise moment, going to take an action which might very well put his opponent, Stevenson, into the White House? No—but we gave Lodge his wonderful opportunity by being idiotically stupid ourselves.
Instead of referring this problem to the Security Council and the United Nations, as I have suggested, we first went and made fools of ourselves by issuing an ultimatum, saying that we, with France, were going to occupy strategic posts in the Suez Canal after we had ordered Egypt to move her forces ten miles away from the Canal in her own territory and ordered Israel not to come within ten miles of the Suez Canal. What we actually did made the result absolutely inevitable, and I cannot understand why I myself and everyone else did not guess exactly what was going to happen at the Security Council hours before the vote was taken. Looking back on it, it is just too obvious that had the thing been put the other way, the American vote would have been exactly the opposite way.
I am merely stating this because I think that we have to realise that we cannot take the view which some people do—I admire them for holding this view, although I wish they would think it out a little more carefully—that every matter in dispute that involves a possible breaking of the peace must be referred instantly to the Security Council and then, come what may, we must be bound by the decision handed down by that institution, as though it were a law of the Medes and Persians. That will not be because that institution is not designed for making just decisions. It ought to be.
I part company with an hon. Member on the other side of the House who spoke recently. I agree with him that the United Nations is not by any means an adequate institution for solving problems of that kind, but I think that it is not good enough simply to point out its weakness and then to say that, because it is weak, Britain shall exercise her imperialism in respect of what she thinks is in her own selfish national interest. That is not good enough.
After all, it is precisely because the system of imperialism does not work and did not work that practically my whole life has been lived in one war or another war or in preparing to try to avoid a third world war. In this century, the old idea that one or another big nation—a chosen nation—can govern the world does not work any more. We have been struggling to replace the old imperialism by the institution of world law. I say, therefore, that the first thing we have to realise is that we have not got what we badly need and that we ought to do something about it. No person and no Government and no party has a right, in my view, to say that its military action is justified by the insufficiency of the United Nations unless it has pointed out the weakness beforehand and done something about correcting it.
When the Prime Minister said yesterday that his manoeuvre was merely designed to part the protagonists and prevent them from fighting, that it was intended to be purely temporary and we would very soon get out once we had achieved our object, I do not know whether or not he believed what he said. I can only conclude that if he did he is mad, because I do not believe anyone else believed it It is a shabby piece of silly deceit, silly beyond words, because if a man with the Prime Minister's background says that kind of thing one must either believe he is mad or deceiving one. Manifestly he must know that what we are worried about, what he has been worried about and what everyone is worried about, is the fact that it is possible for one nation, that is, Egypt, arbitrarily to block the passage of the Canal and that, therefore, something ought to be done about it.
The reason why Egypt has that power is not because she now claims to own the Suez Canal Company. She had that power long before she owned the company. She had that power and still has it because she is a sovereign State fanatically determined to use her armed forces and to get more. This is the problem—sovereignty. One cannot go on any longer unless one tackles this problem of how to civilise the sovereign nation State.
Let me say straight away that I do not believe that with the best will in the world one can make laws to control sovereign nation States. I have heard it said that what is now required is for the Sinai Peninsula to be demilitarised and occupied by a United Nations force. I believe that if that could be done, and if everybody believed it could be done and had faith in it for long enough, it might work for a little while. But the trouble is that it begs a basic principle.
If the Sinai Peninsula were demilitarised and a United Nations force were put in, who would control that force? As I said earlier, the basic nature of the United Nations is that it is a force-denying organisation and not a force-using one, because, if it could use such a force, then one would want to know who gives it orders and by what right those orders are given for the use of the force.
I do not think that we can escape the conclusion that the solution, somehow or other, involves the surrender of sovereignty to some supranational organisation, because so long as we get Arab, Israeli or British States maintaining armed forces and able to increase those armed forces by fanatical nationalism which is spreading all over the world, the danger will explode in one part of the world or another. Even if we could pacify by the use of armed force such as the British and French intervention proposes—whereby these countries are doing what other nations have not got the guts to do, as an hon. Member opposite said a day or two ago—we should merely glorify the nation which used armed force in its own interest. But there is another nation coming along soon which has done that twice already and which might be tempted to do it a third time. I refer to Germany.
I believe the solution to this Suez problem is the solution to half a dozen problems which have harassed us recently, and of twenty more which will harass us in the next decade or so.
The solution is desperately difficult and dangerous and cannot be achieved quickly. It may take twenty-five years or longer. What I am saying is that something has got to be done soon, because I believe that if we do not realise its importance we are going to fall back from the United Nations' ideal into the old-fashioned imperialism. As I said, force will sometimes be needed and justified. If Israel gets away with her aggression, what conclusions will she draw? She can only draw the conclusion that the United Nations was a lovely dream, but it did not help her until she used her own force.
If we succeeded in doing by military force what the Prime Minister says be is sure he can do—I am sure he cannot—we shall merely underline precisely the wrong thing. If we find national force successful, why should not Nasser say that if the Arab States get together they could form a better and brighter Arab imperialism than the old French and British washed-out old imperialisms can muster? But whoever gets away with imperialism, the human family will be the loser.
Something must be done, and I shall conclude by saying what I think it should be. This war has to be stopped at once. It is madness in this context. The concern of those people who are planning this war and intending to try to carry it out was to stop Nasser making a nuisance of himself and Arab fanaticism from getting out of hand in the Middle East. I suggest that that has very little to do with who actually owns the Suez Canal. I think that Nasser had not much right to nationalise it, but that question is academic and unimportant. He did it the wrong way in any event. What matters is whether in the end the Arabs will unite and get sufficiently powerful, as a result of the oil which they could then corner, in order to get sufficient armed forces to win the "holy war" against the Jews, which is the admitted end and object of Nasser and almost every Arab.
If, therefore, we now allied ourselves outright with the State of Israel, if we were able at their invitation not only to put British troops into Israel but as many other national troops as could be persuaded at the United Nations level to underwrite and expand the old Tripartite Declaration, then, first, we should have made it abundantly clear in the Middle East that the State of Israel was there to stay and that there could be no doubt about that. When that is clear beyond a peradventure to all Arabs, the danger of the holy war is very largely removed.
If the possibility of launching a successful holy war is removed, then I think the probability or even the possibility of Nasser uniting the Arab States under his leadership and as a single empire becomes very remote, because the only thing he can offer them in order to overcome their dynastic feuds is the successful leadership of a holy war, and without that I do not think that he would easily be able to unite the Arab States. If he could not do that, no one single person hostile to the West would hold the monopoly of the product which is absolutely vital, namely, oil. If that monopoly is not held, then I think that the West can do a fair trading business in order to buy, at a fair and reasonable price, the oil which it needs from those who happen to live on it or own it.
If we could do that, we should get our oil, and if we got our oil, and avoided the possibility of the Arabs attacking Israel, then I think that we could let Nasser have his Canal. I do not think that it will matter very much, because he will find it a hollow victory. Why not proceed that way round? Instead of proceeding in the right way, with a realisation of the ultimate demands and with an intelligent use of power politics—although I hate power politics—we seem to have done everything in the wrong way. This war is the most crazy, stupid, unexplainable, idiotic folly. I hope that it will not happen. If it is to be avoided, one person will have to quit the Government Front Bench ; and I think that the sooner he goes the better.
We think it tragic on our side of the House that this assembly should be speaking to the nation and to the world with a disunited voice. But it is not we who have caused this lamentable division. It is the Government, and the hon. Members who support them.
We are standing by the policy to which every British Government since 1919 has always been committed, and which, since 1945, we have repeatedly and emphatically declared. That is the policy of the United Nations, of loyal adherence to the Charter ; the submission of our disputes to its arbitrament ; using our moral influence and our material strength to uphold its decisions when they are made.
Perhaps I may quote the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), who made a speech to the Congress of the United States in 1952, when he was Prime Minister of this land. He then said :
If we adhere faithfully to the Charter of the United Nations and walk forward in sedate and sober strength seeking no one's land or treasure, seeking to lay no arbitrary control upon the thoughts of men ; if all British moral and material forces and convictions are
joined with your own in fraternal association, the highroads of the future will be clear, not only for us but for all, not only for our time, but for a century to come.
Sir, the whole Commonwealth stood behind that policy in Korea in 1950. British and Commonwealth blood was shed in its defence. And we think it tragic that, after three months of hostile propaganda by Ministers and by their supporters against the United Nations, we should now have challenged the whole system on which, as the Prime Minister has so often said, our hopes of stable peace inevitably depend.
What are the Government's arguments for this course of action, as set out by the Prime Minister and by the Foreign Secretary yesterday afternoon? In many years of Parliamentary life I have never heard anything so perfunctory, so shallow, so irrelevant to the great issues which we face.
The Prime Minister yesterday used two arguments. He wiped out the Tripartite Declaration by saying that Egypt had made it clear that she did not want the Declaration invoked on her behalf. What an argument! Whoever thought that the Tripartite Declaration was made to meet the wishes of Egypt? It had one purpose, and one alone. It was to serve notice on all those nations in the Middle East, and on the world, that we would do in the Middle East what we had done in Korea ; that we would not allow those nations to start a war in violation of the Charter to which we all were pledged.
It was not to please them but to serve our own vital interests that we drew up the Declaration, and we and the Government have always agreed that it was the foundation of our Middle Eastern policy and the bulwark of peace. In January of this year the Foreign Secretary used these words in the House of Commons :
We intend to fulfil our obligations under the Declaration. It has been said again and again, but we say it once more so that there need be no misunderstanding about it at all. We intend to honour our obligations under that Declaration in the spirit and in the letter. The fact that we should have to reiterate our determination every time the matter is raised is quite absurd. We have stated the position and we mean to adhere to it.
In almost the very next sentence the Foreign Secretary said :
We all agree—or most of us—that it is of supreme importance that our policies should
be in alignment with those of the United States."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th January. 1956; Vol. 548, c. 164.]
Most of us, and most of the nation, will agree with what the Foreign Secretary said then—but not the Government, and not the hon. Members opposite.
Two months later the Prime Minister said this in the House of Commons :
… since the Declaration of 1950 all the policies of successive Governments have been based on that declaration. … I do not consider … that it is a light engagement which we have to carry under the 1950 Declaration. It is very serious indeed for the people of this country, perhaps more serious than many of them yet realise. It is of the greatest significance that we and the United States should be in complete agreement about it and have discussions as to the nature of the action we should take in such an event. … We repeat to the House tonight that we intend to uphold … the 1950 Declaration, with all its possible ominous consequences for the people of this country ; to be loyal to all those engagements."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1956; Vol. 549, cc. 2230–2233.]
Now the Prime Minister wipes it out with meaningless excuses and treats the United States and President Eisenhower as if it did not exist. Then the party opposite talks about honouring international engagements and loyalty to the pledges which Governments make!
I come to the second argument which the Prime Minister used, though I venture with respect to say that it is hardly worth attention. He said that Egypt insisted in the annexe to the Treaty of 1954 that we should have no right to reactivate the base in Suez if Israel attacked her, but only in the case of attack by nations outside the Middle East. Of course, the Prime Minister stood this argument on its head. If there had been no such annexe to the Treaty he might have claimed that Israel's attack gave him the right to reactivate the base. It would have been a phoney claim because the annexe could not override the Charter of the United Nations ; but as the annexe is there, it wipes out the claim for good and all.
I come to the more serious argument about Israeli ships. I know that that troubles hon. Members opposite, and sometimes it has troubled my hon. Friends. What is the good of getting decisions in the Security Council when they are not carried out? Let me face it as fairly as I can. The action of the Security Council depends on the action and the will of the members who have the honour to be represented there. If no one gives a lead, nothing will happen. And, of course, for many years, the other countries have expected that in anything to do with Suez or the Canal Britain would give the lead.
What has been the history of the Israeli ships? In September, 1951, just before we left office, we raised the matter in the Security Council and we demanded that the Council should declare that, under the Convention of 1888, Israeli ships had the right to free passage through the Canal. We raised it and we had a debate. We got a unanimous decision in our favour. Then what happened? We went out of office ; the Tory Government came in, and in five years of office they have never raised the issue again at all.
Britain ought to lead in the matter of the Canal. Here is this vital right of free passage through the Canal for which we have been demanding international guarantees for these last three months : the Labour Opposition calling in every debate and very often at Question Time for action by the Government in the United Nations, five years of Security Council meetings, five assemblies to which British delegations went, and never once have the Government raised it. Never once have they sought to bring the moral pressure of the United Nations upon Egypt to carry out her obligations under the Convention of 1888.
Why? Some people say it is because they wanted to curry favour with the Arabs, and so they sacrificed the vital principle and the legal rights for which they claim to have been standing during the last three months. If that is so, it is only one more illustration of how a policy of anarchical power-politics always goes wrong.
The Government have adduced a fourth reason, argued yesterday by both the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, the danger of fighting near the Canal to British ships and British crews. The Prime Minister told us the crews and passengers must be numbered by hundreds, that the value of the ships without the cargoes is £50 million. The Foreign Secretary asked why it should be abhorrent to us that the Government should assert our rights to defend our own people. The question arises, shall we defend our ships and British citizens by doing what the Government have done, or shall we place them in greater danger?
Let me develop the argument which my right hon. Friend began this afternoon. Yesterday, at an early hour, the Government warned all British ships to keep out of the Canal. It takes 12 hours for a convoy to pass from end to end. By this morning there were no British ships in the Suez Canal, and none near it, if the instructions were obeyed, as of course they were. There are no British ships in the Canal. There will be none until the fighting is over. If Egypt resists us, as she will, the fighting may be long. We shall prolong the danger and vastly increase the risk of long term damage to the Canal by the action which the Government have taken.
In whose name are we acting? To defend our rights, said the Foreign Secretary yesterday. To act for everybody concerned in the Canal, said the Prime Minister. The Lord Chancellor said, in the country, that it was vital to India because of her five-year economic plan. The whole of Asia and the whole of Europe is apparently involved. Let us look at the facts. The 18 nations represented in London owned or controlled more than 90 per cent. of the shipping which passes through the Suez Canal. But our proportion is 28 per cent. and that of France is 10 per cent., making a total of 38 per cent. for the two nations which are taking this action.
Did we ask the opinion of those who own the other 62 per cent. of shipping? Have we asked the 16 other nations who agreed with us at the London Conference what they think? Is there one of them who would have given us support? Did not those who were at the London Conference and who voted with us then vote against us in the Security Council last night? It is lamentable that the Government should claim to act for the community of nations when they know that the overwhelming majority of the community of nations has openly declared that it opposes the policy of force of which the Government have spoken since 2nd August.
What was it that the Government vetoed last night? Two paragraphs ; the first calling upon Israel immediately to withdraw her armed forces behind the established armistice lines. Since 1920 I have watched British statesmen for whom I had a great respect—Lord Balfour, Sir Austen Chamberlain, Lord Cecil, Mr. Arthur Henderson, Mr. Ernest Bevin, and many others—handling disputes in the councils of the League and the United Nations. I have never known a single case—except one—in which the first thing they demanded of the Council of the League or of the United Nations was not that those who were fighting should withdraw within their own territories. The one exception was the incident, which the Prime Minister will remember, when Mussolini staged his bloody attack on the Abyssinians at Wal Wal in December, 1934.
This proposal which we have made to Egypt and to Israel is more grotesque and more unjust to Egypt than the action taken by the then Government over Wal Wal in 1934. By implication, by our veto and by our proposal, we say that Israel has the right to keep her troops 100 miles inside Egyptian territory, while Egypt has to withdraw her troops 120 miles behind her frontier, or else we threaten them with all the force that we command. I say that this action and threat prolongs the danger of fighting between Israel and Egypt. It encourages Israel not to withdraw. It increases the risks of disaster in the Canal with every hour.
Here is the second paragraph which we vetoed, and I ask hon. Members to note this language very carefully :
The Security Council calls upon all members to refrain from the use of force or threat of force in the area in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.
We vetoed it. Is that not a declaration by ourselves that we are aggressors? I submit to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary that our vote last night marks a black day in British history.
What else could we have done? What could the Security Council have done if we had stood in with the United States, Belgium, Australia and the others who voted against us then? I know that hon. Members are genuinely disturbed about what they consider the impotence of the United Nations. They go on saying that the Security Council can do nothing, and I am sorry to say that the Foreign Secretary encourages them by repeating "Veto, veto, veto" like a kind of incantation, as though by his words the United Nations would disappear.
Yesterday, there would have been no veto had we voted with the United States. [Laughter.]
Hon. Members opposite ought to remember that the country listens when they laugh at the United Nations, when they laugh, as they did yesterday, at the Commonwealth and when they laugh, as they did today, at India, which is the leader of the Asian peoples. Hon. Members opposite might remember that that organisation which played so large a part in their party conference—the League of Empire Loyalists—two days ago tore down the flag of the United Nations and trampled it underfoot.
I submit to hon. Members opposite, to whom I am trying to put a serious argument, that if we had voted with the United States, with Australia, with Belgium and with our other friends, action in the Security Council would have been swift and effective. [An HON. MEMBER : "How do you know?"] Wait until I have done. The Council would first have unanimously called upon the Israelis to withdraw. Do hon. Members really believe that they would have not done so? Of course they would have withdrawn.
If they had not, what would have been the next step under the Charter? It is all laid down. We should have withdrawn our ambassadors. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh, but the departure of all the ambassadors from Tel Aviv would have been no laughing matter to the Israelis. If that had not made them stop, we could, under the Charter, have cut all sea, rail, air, postal and telegraphic communications. If that had not brought results we could have imposed a blockade. Is there any hon. Member opposite who really believes that the Israelis are so mad that they would have resisted the whole United Nations imposing a blockade? That could have been followed by a naval demonstration. [HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."] Of course under the Charter there could be a naval demonstration. [HON. MEMBERS : "By whom."] By all the members of U.N., and we could have had every fleet in the Mediterranean and the Russian fleet as well. [HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."] We shall be lucky indeed if the Canal is not closed for much longer than it would have been by action of that kind through the United Nations.
And all such actions—I say this with great sincerity—would have been in the interests of Israel itself. Israel must live in peace with the Arab nations. There are 1¼ million Israelis. They have 40 million Arab neighbours. The Arabs are not cowards. They will get arms. They will get foreign instructors. If Israel tries to assert its national status by force, its ultimate disappearance is as certain as anything can be.
What the Government are doing, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) said this afternoon, is very dangerous to the Israelis. If President Eisenhower believes that the Israel attack was arranged with Britain and France before it happened, we may be quite sure—[HON. MEMBERS : "Who said so?"] Oh, yes. Mr. Gold in the Evening News, which is a very loyal supporter of the Government, and, as I think, a very honest paper ; and he was reporting what was said to him officially by the State Department.
If the Americans believe that, we may be very sure that every Arab will believe it for long to come. And every Arab will believe that Israel is linked with an attempt by the West to re-occupy the Canal. It is no good the Prime Minister's saying "temporarily" to the Egyptians or to the Arabs. That is what Mr. Gladsfone said in 1882, but we stayed in Egypt until 1954.
I should like to say much more about the Government's rupture with the United States. I find it hardly credible that they should have had two meetings with the United States, on Sunday and Monday, about how to implement the Tripartite Declaration, and should have concealed from President Eisenhower, as they did, the plan which they had prepared. I find it hardly credible that we should have treated the Commonwealth as we have done over both the Users' Association and over this Charter-breaking war. We know that we never consulted them at all. In recent times the legal ties of the Commonwealth have grown weaker, but by consultation, which was the foundation of the Balfour Declaration of 1926, the political cohesion and the spirit of unity of the Commonwealth have grown much greater.
We on this side of the House left the Commonwealth in 1951 greatly changed from what it was when we took office in 1945. [Laughter.] Then, in 1945, 10 per cent. of the Commonwealth belonged to self-governing independent nations. In 1951, 90 per cent. belonged to such nations. Are hon. Members opposite saying that that was wrong? That was what enabled the Commonwealth to survive. In 1951 we left the Commonwealth the greatest single force in international affairs. Today, in this grave crisis, the Government have smashed it to smithereens.
I am thinking now of the troops who are being sent into Egypt and of the families whom they have left here in Britain [HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."] The situation is immensely grave. Do hon. Members opposite understand what it is they have started? [HON. MEMBERS : "We do."] Perhaps the Foreign Secretary can say whether it is true, but it has just been reported that our aircraft have started bombing Egypt. [HON. MEMBERS : "Shame"]. That means that the Israeli-Egypt war goes on.
The United States regards this as aggression, and President Eisenhower himself has said officially that he will give aid and assistance to the victim of aggression. The Russians have said that if we are fighting Egypt they will send in "volunteers." They do not need to call them "volunteers." They do not need that hypocritical Nazi device. They can send in troops under Article 51 of the Charter, which we invoked in Korea six years ago. Jordan has said that she is linked with Egypt and will fulfil her obligations. Iraq has said that she will stand with Egypt. What is it the Government have started by the policy which they are pursuing?
It is no good hon. and right hon. Members opposite thinking that the Arabs will ever believe that we want to carry out a little peaceful exercise and that then we will quickly go away. They know that the policy of the Conservative Party has been determined by back bench Members who have wanted force from the first day onwards. They have often said that they want to insulate the Canal from politics. They said is no fewer than seven times in one note from Mr. Menzies to Colonel Nasser in Cairo.
What the Canal needs is to be insulated from the politics of the Conservative Party. The thing was started by the hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) who, three days after Colonel Nasser's nationalisation, wrote an article with an immense headline saying, "Send troops to smash Nasser." He wrote :
We must face reality. There is now only one sure way to rid Egypt and the world of Nasser. There is only one way to curb his defiance of international obligations, and that is by force. The use, and not just the show of force. … Very likely this ultimatum will be sufficient. But if it isn't? What does force mean then? The reoccupation of Egyptian soil? If necessary—yes. Fighting and killing and destruction of the enemy? If necessary—yes.
And the hon. Member was chosen to propose the vote of thanks to the Prime Minister at the Tory Conference at Llandudno three weeks ago.
I beg the Government to cease their Charter-breaking action. I beg them to get Israel to withdraw. I beg them to propose in the Security Council tomorrow that we should set up a broad neutral zone around the frontiers of Israel and get it policed, as we so easily could, by the United Nations. [HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."] Of course we could. If the United Nations asked Sweden and Switzerland to send forces in to police the zone, they would do it tomorrow. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite continue to laugh at the United Nations. [HON. MEMBERS : "No."]
I beg the Government to show in this grave hour that Britain still stands by the principle of replacing force in international affairs by the rule of law, by reason, by discussion, on which our Parliament here is founded and by which our British Commonwealth was built.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) that this is a very serious situation, and I will try to put before the House some of the considerations which are in our minds.
At the end of his speech the right hon. Gentleman indicated how much more practical it would be if we were to suggest to the Security Council that there should be a neutral zone with an international police force. One of the points about that is really that we have been trying for months and for years to get more international personnel guarding and safeguarding those frontiers. We have not succeeded.
One of the accusations of the Leader of the Opposition was that the action we have taken is a flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter. No doubt he believes that. [HON. MEMBERS : "And Eisenhower."] I believe with equal sincerity that that is not so, and that the effect of the Charter is that force may lawfully be used or threatened on the express authority of the United Nations or in self-defence. [HON. MEMBERS : "Self-defence?"] And self-defence un doubtedly includes a situation where the lives of the state's nationals abroad are in imminent danger. The Leader of the Opposition suggested that if this doctrine were accepted we might be giving free licence to aggression in the world. He suggested, for example—
In referring to the right of self-defence under the Charter I presume that the Foreign Secretary was referring to Article 51. Is he now suggesting that the behaviour of the British Government in this matter is justified under Article 51? May I read out the relevant passage? [HON. MEMBERS : "No."] This is what it says :
Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations. …
What armed attack has occurred against us?
It is apparent that hon. Members opposite are so intent on playing the party game that they are not going to listen.
The right hon. Gentleman suggested that it would justify an armed intervention by the Chinese Government in Hong Kong or Singapore. I do not believe that those sorts of local disturbances are comparable with the dangers which now exist near the Canal. Nor, I think, would it be claimed that his argument can be carried to its logical conclusion and that Her Majesty's Government should take no action to protect the lives of British subjects abroad unless and until they are expressly authorised by the United Nations to do so. Article 51 of the Charter recognises the right of self-defence, and it would be a traversity of the Charter to say that no intervention can take place until our nationals are actually being attacked and perhaps killed.
I believe that the tests of whether intervention is necessary under customary international law are as follows. The first is where there is an imminent threat of injury to our nationals. One must remember that the people with whom we are concerned are the Merchant Marine of this country, the people who are manning our ships and who contribute so much to our economy. The second is where there is a failure or inability on the part of the territorial sovereign to protect the nationals in question. The third is where the measures of protection are strictly confined to the object of protecting the nationals against injury.
It has certainly been argued that there is a great distinction between the prevention of the loss of human lives and the protection of property. Yet if the interests concerned are sufficiently vital and if the damage which threatens them is sufficiently great, then I believe that action to protect our interests is also justified. I should not have thought that anyone could have disputed that the Canal is acutely threatened, and that if major hostilities took place in or near it, that would cause damage to freedom of transit and grave economic hardship in this country. I believe that the Canal is vital not only to us but to many other countries east and west of it. We believe that there is an imminent threat to our nationals, to our ships and to the Canal itself, and it is to protect all these by keeping the peace that we are acting.
Reference has been made to the proceedings of the Security Council. When the Security Council met on 30th October, the United States representative tabled a resolution which noted that the armed forces of Israel had penetrated deeply into Egyptian territory in violation of the armistice agreement. The resolution called for an immediate cease-fire and called upon Israel to withdraw her force behind the armistice line. The resolution further called upon all members to refrain from the use or threat of forces in the area in a manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations and to give no assistance to Israel as long as she did not comply with the resolution. Therefore, the effect of that resolution was to pronounce judgment on the case at once and to pronounce judgment against Israel at once.
It has been pointed out by many speakers on both sides of the House that the issue is not so simple as that, and that the measures proposed in this resolution, if taken in isolation, would clearly have been insufficient to deal with the problem. Moreover, as the United Kingdom representative pointed out, the first and immediate objective of stopping the hostilities would have been met if the British and French appeal had been accepted.
This action taken by us is also designed to maintain free passage through the Canal, and I do not believe that there is any assurance that either of those objectives could have been achieved by the adoption of that resolution by the Security Council. I do rot believe for a moment that the Israeli forces would retire without obtaining any assurance or guarantees for their future against the Egyptian threat.
If they did not retire, hostilities would be likely to continue and the threat to the Canal would increase. Therefore, we did not quarrel with the principles underlying the draft resolution, but we did not feel that that was the effective way to achieve the immediate objective. Our disagreement, therefore, was on the method rather than the principle. It is upon that ground that we voted against the resolution.
We have said that we understand why Israel should regard her action as vitally necessary from her point of view, but that is not to say that we regard it as right and much less that we condone it. At the same time, we understand the concern which it has caused in other lands. Once our intervention, which we have said is only temporary, has brought hostilities to an end, we shall at once address ourselves to the problems created by Israel's advance. It is, of course, our view that Israel should withdraw her forces from their present positions as soon as that can be satisfactorily arranged. Moreover, we must speedily work for a settlement of the whole Middle East question, which takes account of the legitimate interests of the Arab countries as well as those of Israel, and which Israel and the other parties will have to accept.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition made three criticisms. The first was that we were not acting in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. I disagree with him on that. The second criticism was that we had not had adequate consultation with the Commonwealth and the United States. This specific course of conduct was not put to the other Governments. It could not have been. It was decided upon only shortly before the Prime Minister came down and informed the House.
In an emergency, which this was—I should not have thought that anyone could have denied that fact—it is not practicable to have prior agreement. The hon. Member for Yardley (Mr. Usborne) talked about what happened over Korea. That was a clear case in point where action was taken in an emergency. As the hon. Member said, it is not quite certain whether President Truman beat the pistol where the Security Council was concerned. Certainly there was no consultation.
There were consultations on 28th and 29th October with the United States and France about the Tripartite Declaration. Our impression was that it was the common view that Egypt had dissociated herself from that Declaration and that it was inapplicable in her defence. That was certainly our impression, and if we had come to the House to ask that we should deploy British armed forces to defend Colonel Nasser's régime in Egypt at the present time against Israel, I doubt whether right hon. Gentlemen opposite would have supported that course. Our position with regard to Jordan was made clear.
On this point of consultation with the United States and Commonwealth Governments, ever since 26th July we have been in constant discussion with them on every point affecting the Middle East and the situation relating to the Canal. The contingencies in which force might or might not be used have been publicly and privately debated, and I should not think that there has ever been such intimate, constant and prolonged discussion between the countries concerned.
Whether hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite think that that process of discussion has been successful in solving the problem is quite a different matter, but it has been going on through the United Nations and other conferences and so on for the last three months. As for the question of our not being aligned with the United States in this matter, we have been trying for over three months to work in collaboration with them over a settlement of the Suez Canal problem.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether there had been collusion with regard to this matter. Every time any incident has happened on the frontiers of Israel and the Arab States we have been accused of being in collusion with the Israelis about it. That allegation has been broadcast from Radio Cairo every time. It is quite wrong to state that Israel was incited to this action by Her Majesty's Government. There was no prior agreement between us about it. It is, of course, true that the Israeli mobilisation gave some advance warning, and we urged restraint upon the Israeli Government and, in particular, drew attention to the serious consequences of any attack upon Jordan. [HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."] We did that because, under the Anglo-Jordan Treaty, we should have been compelled to proceed at once to the defence of Jordan in those circumstances—and that was a Treaty which the party opposite made in 1948.
As the Prime Minister has said, we received a firm assurance that Jordan would not be attacked, but from the time that the Israeli forces moved into Egypt we felt, and we still feel, that there could be no delay. The French and ourselves were in a position to act, and we decided that we must do so. I know that our decision has been criticised in many quarters of this House, but any form of decisive action always runs the risk of that. The one complete divorce from reality which seems to me to appear from many of the speeches made by hon. Members opposite today and yesterday is the failure to understand the steadily deteriorating situation in the Middle East. Over the past months and years the risks of war have become increasingly greater.
Our objectives are to stop the fighting and to safeguard lives and the shipping using the Canal, which is vital to our interests. If the suggestion is that we should not use the Canal and should keep all our people away from it in perpetuity, that would have a profound effect upon our standard of living. What we are carrying out is the necessary police action to achieve those objectives. We intend our presence to be temporary. We shall not take advantage of it to impose our will in connection with other questions. When considered views are formed I believe that our action will be seen to have stopped the deterioration of the situation and to have improved the prospects of a reasonable long-term settlement.
So far as the action which has taken place is concerned, as the House will be aware Allied aircraft have commenced operations against military targets in Egypt. I cannot give details because those operations are still in progress. I would, however, draw attention to the fact that they are being strictly limited to military targets, primarily airfields, and that the civilian population was warned to keep clear before the operations started. Their aim is to obtain compliance with the request for the cessation of hostilities by the Egyptian Government, and both their extent and objectives have been limited to achieving that aim with the minimum loss of life and the minimum destruction. Our request to the Egyptian Government remains open—[Interruption.] It is quite untrue that Cairo has been bombed. Our request to the Egyptian Government remains open, and it is our hope that it may still be met without the necessity for prolonged military action.
The right hon. Member for Derby, South began with a quotation from the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) with regard to the United Nations. I think that in that same speech my right hon. Friend said something about a world instrument endowed with the necessary authority. One of the difficulties of the situation is that the United Nations is not at the present time endowed with the authority to act quickly.
The hon. Member for Yardley (Mr. Usborne) I think pointed out very clearly that the United Nations is not yet a world government and, therefore, it has not the power to take action and produce practical results on the ground in a particular situation rapidly. We know that in one case—the case of Korea—that was achieved, but as the hon. Gentleman said, and I have already referred to it, we have a strong suspicion that that would have happened whatever the United Nations said about it, and that the United States would have acted in that situation, and, I think, rightly. We in the present situation are, I believe, taking the right course in order to achieve peace, in order to protect British lives and interests and contribute to a final settlement.
I am afraid that these are matters outside the rules of order. It is a question for debate. There will be another debate tomorrow on this matter and I have no doubt that the matter can be referred to then, but I cannot see anything in it which enables me to intervene. These are questions of debate.