We move the Adjournment of the House in order that I may make the following statement in accordance with the undertaking that I gave yesterday to give the House as soon as I possibly could an indication of the reply we propose to send to the Resolution of the Assembly of the United Nations.
I should first recall a statement which I made in the House in the course of my speech on 1st November when I said this :
The first and urgent task is to separate these combatants and to stabilise the position. That is our purpose. If the United Nations were then willing to take over the physical task of maintaining peace in that area, no one would be better pleased than we. But police action there must be to separate the belligerents and to prevent a resumption of hostilities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st November. 1956 ; Vol 558 c. 1653.]
Since that statement was made, I have had consultations in London with the French Foreign Minister. As a result, Her Majesty's Government and the French Government are sending the following reply to the Resolution of the United Nations General Assembly :
The British and French Governments have given careful consideration to the Resolution passed by the General Assembly on 2nd November. They maintain their view that police action must be carried through urgently to stop the hostilities which are now threatening the Suez Canal, to prevent a resumption of these hostilities and to pave the way for a definitive settlement of the Arab-Israel war which threatens the legitimate interests of so many countries.
They would most willingly stop military action as soon as the following conditions could be satisfied :
We have been in consultation with the Governments of Australia and New Zealand. [HON. MEMBERS : "And Canada?"] I am coming to that. The House will understand the difficulties of timing in these consultations, but I have good reason to believe that those Governments will welcome my statement. We have also communicated the substance of the statement at once to the Governments of Canada and the United States, and to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
The first paragraph of the Resolution carried by 64 votes to 5 in the General Assembly of the United Nations calls upon all parties now involved in hostilities to agree to an immediate cease-fire and to halt the movement of military forces and arms into the area
It is unfortunately perfectly clear, both from the reports of the continuing and, indeed, intensification of bombing by British planes and from the Prime Minister's statement this morning, that the British Government are not carrying out the recommendation of the Assembly. We are, therefore, faced with the position that our Government are defying a Resolution of the United Nations Assembly, carried by a majority which is larger, I believe, than that on any other Resolution previously carried by the Assembly. We can only say that, for our part, we regard this as utterly deplorable.
As regards the conditions laid down by the Government, it is no part of the business of Her Majesty's Government to lay down conditions in this matter. It is their duty, as loyal members of the United Nations—if they were loyal members—to accept that majority decision. [HON. MEMBERS : "And sell Britain?"]
I must ask the Prime Minister a number of questions on his statement. First of all, is he aware that the Egyptian Government have already announced that they are prepared to agree to an immediate cease-fire if all the other parties do so as well? Therefore, one of the combatants at any rate has already agreed to this.
Secondly, is the Prime Minister aware, as he should be, because the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation has announced it, that the Suez Canal is now blocked and that the consequence of the intervention by Her Majesty's Government, far from facilitating the passage of ships through the Canal, has had precisely the opposite effect?
Is the Prime Minister further aware that the Israeli Government have announced that the fighting in the Sinai Desert area is virtually at an end, and that, therefore, the original situation, from that point of view, has substantially changed?
The Canal is blocked, there has been no rescue operation for British ships, no British lives have been saved, and all that has happened is that the intervention of Her Majesty's Government on behalf—or, rather, against Egypt—has no doubt prematurely brought the operations in the Sinai Desert to a close. [HON. MEMBERS : "Warmonger."] In those circumstances, what is the objection—[Interruption.] What Her Majesty's Government have undoubtedly done, of course, is to intervene against Egypt, which was clearly attacked by Israel. I do not know whether they regard that as a matter of which they should be proud. I do not know whether they regard that as separating the combatants. I do not know whether they regard that as settling hostilities. What they have done is to bomb a number of civilians as well as military installations in Egypt. What they have done is to destroy all faith in collective security. What they have done now, by refusing to accept the United Nations Resolution, is virtually to destroy that institution, which the Prime Minister once described as the hope of mankind.
I must also ask the Prime Minister this. He speaks of the United Nations force, which has been proposed by Mr. Lester Pearson, being brought in. [Interruption.] Never mind ; it was proposed in the Assembly of the United Nations. [Interruption.] We need not really go into this. We proposed this long, long ago. The Prime Minister speaks of the United Nations deciding to constitute and maintain such a force until an Arab-Israel peace settlement is reached and until satisfactory arrangements have been agreed in regard to the Suez Canal.
So far as an Arab-Israel peace settlement is reached, there is a case—in our opinion, a strong case—for a United Nations force to police the Armistice Agreement frontiers of the Arab States and Israel. Is it the view of Her Majesty's Government that this United Nations police force should do that, and if they do that, what reason is there for such a police force to operate in the Canal Zone at all?
Secondly, I would ask why the Prime Minister has brought in the phrase about satisfactory arrangements being agreed in regard to the Suez Canal. Does he mean by that that Egypt is to be bound to accept, by force, the eighteen-Power proposals, or what does he mean by it, and why indeed should the settlement of the Suez Canal issue be brought into the matter at all?
Finally, by what right is the Prime Minister now proposing that, until the United Nations force is constituted, both combatants have still to accept the original ultimatum?
All this is unquestionably in defiance of the Resolution of the General Assembly. One cannot get away from that. For our part, we regard the Government's reply today as the most tragic statement that has been made in this House since 1939.
I know that passions run very high on both sides of the House in this matter, but I do beg hon. Members opposite to realise how terribly anxious we are about the implications of this action. It may be possible, and no doubt is possible and comparatively easy, for British and French forces to subdue Egypt—nobody ever doubted that—but do hon. Members not reflect in their hearts that the implications of this defiance of the Resolution of the Assembly mean that in future that Assembly can never hope to cope with any international crisis again?
Do not hon. Members appreciate that at this time above all, when the news of Russian aggression in Hungary is coming through, it is an immense tragedy that the moral strength of this country and of the United Nations, because of our action, is so gravely damaged? We have had a great opportunity—and even now it would have been open to the Government—despite all that has happened, to accept the Resolution of the General Assembly, to say that in the light of this and because we believe in international order and because we believe in the Charter of the United Nations, despite everything that has been said and done in the last few days, we are prepared to accept it.
The Government could, if they had done that, to some extent at least have restored our reputation and moral authority. They could, if they had done that, at once have made it a thousand times easier to deal with the Hungarian situation. [HON. MEMBERS : "How?"] I beg hon. Members—I repeat that I know how high passions rise—to listen to my words on this. We represent very many millions of British people. We represent on this issue the point of view of millions of men and women, not all Labour Party supporters, many of them of no political persuasion, and, I venture to say, many of them persons who have hitherto voted Conservative.
If only the Government had been prepared to accept the Resolution, much of the damage could have been repaired. Unfortunately, they have refused. They have not only refused but are continuing the war against Egypt, continuing the bombing and the destruction and the casualties. All that has been put forward today is a niggling, haggling kind of proposal, which is—[Interruption.]. Up to this moment, I for my part had hoped for a change in Government policy. I had hoped originally that the Government would have accepted our first proposal to defer action. They refused. I hoped then that the pressure of world opinion upon them would have made them change their mind, and I hoped finally that the passing of this Resolution by such a vast majority in the United Nations Assembly would have brought them to their senses.
Alas, that is not so, and we can draw only one conclusion. That is that if this country is to be rescued from the predicament into which the Government have brought it, there is only one way out, and that is a change in the leadership of the Government. Only that now can save our reputation and re-open the possibility of maintaining the United Nations as a force for peace. We must have a new Government and a new Prime Minister. The immediate responsibility for this matter rests upon the only people who can affect the situation—hon. Members opposite. I beg them to consider in their hearts to where we are being led at the moment. I beg them to consider the appalling international consequences of this grave error, and I ask them, having done so, to do their duty.
The Adjournment was moved at once, because I thought that that was the best way to proceed. Of course, I am entirely at the disposal of the House. There are one or two questions which the right hon. Gentleman put which I should like to answer now on points of fact, but I propose to give nothing but fact and not to reply on matters of controversy, and then my right hon. and learned Friend can later deal with the points, if that is an agreeable way to proceed. My points of fact will be short, but I want to make clear our attitude ; I am in the hands of the House, and I can speak only with permission.
I have never made any objection to that procedure. The first of the two points on which I want to concentrate, because they are important, is our attitude to the General Assembly Resolution. I must say to the House that it is not true to say that countries are not allowed to make counter-proposals or other suggestions if the General Assembly has passed a Resolution. That has never been the position, because a General Assembly Resolution, as the House knows, is a recommendation to Governments. Action, of course, can be approved only by the Security Council. Therefore, I hold—only as a point of fact—that we are entirely within our rights in putting forward our views on the Resoluton. That is exactly what we have sought to do.
The second point which the right hon. Gentleman raised and with which I want to deal concerns his question of why we had included the Suez Canal in the second paragraph of our reply. We considered that carefully. The object—as I think hon. Members will see when they have had time to study the reply—is to show that we shall try to use this situation to deal with all the outstanding problems in the Middle East, and it would be unwise to leave any one of them unresolved.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me why we should operate in the Canal Zone. The answer, of course, is that it is in the Canal Zone that, in our judgment, the danger has lain and still lies.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman said that after this the United Nations would never be able to operate again. Each one of us is entitled to his judgment on that. I take exactly the opposite view. I am sure that a great many people in other lands share it. If the United Nations would take this example—[An HON. MEMBER : "This example?"]—this opportunity to build up an international force and take practical action to meet a situation which cannot be met by passing resolutions, then I am sure that the future of the United Nations would be assured and peace much strengthened.
We do not contest the right—in a legal sense—of the British Government to make what reply they like ; what we contest is their moral right to defy the Resolution of the Assembly. As for the Prime Minister's last remarks, let me remind him of this ; he spoke of the United Nations following our example—
Yes. Does not he realise that the whole essence of the United Nations is that countries should not act independently and without its authority? Does not he realise that other countries, acting independently [AN Hon. Member : "Korea."] Somebody raised the issue of Korea. In the case of Korea, action was taken under Article 51 of the Charter, in self-defence, whereas in this case an act of aggression was committed against another country. [Interruption.] If hon. Members opposite do not understand that, they understand nothing.
If I may complete what I wanted to say upon this point, does not the Prime Minister realise that this example of independent, aggressive action, under the guise of a police action—an excuse which nobody believes—may be, and almost certainly will be, followed by other potential aggressors in the world, and that we ourselves will be the greatest sufferers of all from what the Government have now done?
May I, as a not so very junior private Member, submit that this is a matter not for the Prime Minister to determine but for you, Mr. Speaker? Private Members are entitled to their long-established rights. If it is agreeable, one or two questions can take place between leaders, as it were, by the use of the phrase "Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down"—the usual old method that we find so convenient ; but that does not and should not open the door to what, with respect, I suggest is an abuse of the ordinary, long-established tradition of proper debate. There is now a Motion before this House. It cannot be right to let that develop from a debate into a series of questions and repeated speeches.
he hon. Member is quite right in what he says, and normally I should hold the House to that strict procedure. But a statement of great importance has been made, and the Prime Minister himself has expressed the view that he will be perfectly prepared to answer some questions upon it. Before the House proceeds to the Motion, it might help to elucidate the matter that it is going to debate. But when I think it right, it will be my duty to bring the House back to the Question which is before it. That is what I propose to do in this matter. If the hon. Member whom I called does not wish to ask a question, I shall not call him now.
I want to put two questions to the Prime Minister in order to elucidate certain of the points that emerged from his statement. First, does the Anglo-French reply to the Resolution of the United Nations mean this, among other things—that in the event of the acceptance of the proposal for a United Nations force to intervene and to hold the peace until a final and peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute is reached—which we all desire—the Government are ready to have the Anglo-French forces replaced by United Nations forces as rapidly as possible? It obviously could not take place overnight, but would he agree to the change being made as speedily as possible?
My second point—[Interruption]—I understand that this assembly believes in free speech, and if I am asking a question that is disagreeable I cannot help it : I am putting it because I sincerely believe in the necessity for what I am asking in order to reach a settlement. Do we understand that while the reply is being considered the Government will cease to bomb Egyptian airfields or other parts of Egyptian territory? Do we understand that to be the position? It appears to me that if the Government agreed to that suggestion it might go a long way in the direction of a reasonable and final settlement.
As regards the first of the right hon. Gentleman's questions. the answer is "Yes". In our conception the United Nations force would go in and do that work. and we should naturally not expect to be excluded from it. We should want to be a part of it.
That is natural. I do not want to mislead the House. If there is to be a United Nations force, this country, with considerable interests in the matter, could be part of it. I should hope that the House would feel that I was not unreasonable—[An HON. MEMBER : "Burglars."] We are not burglars. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has himself told us that we brought some fighting prematurely to an end.
I really do not think that the nations of this world, when they ponder this matter and all the history that has gone before this last Israeli attack, are going to say that all the blame is on Israel and all the credit is for Nasser, or say that one was the householder and the other the burglar.
As to the right hon. Gentleman's second question, I could not give that undertaking because, in the meanwhile, there must be a continuation of the action which, in my original statement, I said was necessary in order to
separate these combatants and to stabilise the position."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 1st November, 1956; Vol. 558. c. 1653.]
I am not sure that I can put in the form of a question what I want to say following upon the answer which has just been given to the second question asked by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). Perhaps I can put it in this way. Does not the Prime Minister realise that not only as signatories, but largely as the proposers and largely as the draftsmen of the United Nations Charter, our first duty is to obey the Resolution of the United Nations?
I asked the right hon. Gentleman yesterday if he did not regard that Resolution as an actual directive, and I put it for the reason that not only are we bound to follow the recommendations of the United Nations, but that under Article 2 we pledged ourselves to assist the United Nations in carrying out its actions. Therefore, it is much more than a recommendation. That being so, I think that the whole world will be disappointed with the answer which the right hon. Gentleman has given.
What the Prime Minister ought to have done the moment that Resolution was passed was to say, "I obey that ; I cease fire, but I also now propose to the United Nations these proposals for discussion." It may be, as the Prime Minister said, that out of this evil good may come, that at last we may have an international police force to carry out the recommendations of the United Nations.
That is a matter which I shall ponder. It depends to some extent, I think, on whether it is really a question or a speech. I am the judge of that, and I think I can form a pretty shrewd opinion.
I wish to put a question, and I think it is one which the Prime Minister will accept as relevant. The House of Commons has been given no official information, although we are in armed conflict with Egypt, as to the military situation. Surely this House is entitled to hear from the Prime Minister, or from somebody on the Government Front Bench, what exactly is the military situation, and, for example, what truth there is in the statement which we have read in the Press that the Suez Canal is blocked, and what the Government propose to do about it. Is anybody going to inform this House of what is happening to our troops who, in the name of this country, have been sent into action? Surely, the right hon. Gentleman must give the House some information.
Certainly. The intention is that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence shall make a statement on this in the course of the discussion. I thought, however, that what the House wanted to deal with at once was this Resolution in respect of which I undertook to make a statement at 12 o'clock. I think I ought to say that we are sending it now to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and to the Governments of Canada and the United States. I made the statement here first because I wanted to tell the House at once. I am sure those Governments will not regard it as a discourtesy that I have done so.
Yes, Sir. I wish to ask my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister whether he is aware that, although many of his followers have had misgivings, there is not one of them who is not 100 per cent. behind him.
I also want to ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that in the unanimous opinion of the Conservative Party throughout the country the Government would have failed in their duty had they not taken this immediate action? I think that my right hon. Friend may have been aware of this. I think that the Leader of the Opposition is living in a world of his own imagination. If the Resolution of the United Nations means anything at all it must be backed up by a police force.
I desire to ask the Prime Minister a question arising out of the last part of his statement in which he intimated to the House that the Government had been in consultation with the Governments of Australia and New Zealand. I think that the Government also communicated the substance of the statement to the Governments of Canada and the United States and to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. We are a member of a Commonwealth. Do the Government propose to communicate with other members of the Commonwealth, and, if not, why not?
Certainly we do, and probably already, mechanically, have done so. I particularly mentioned Canada and the United States in this connection because of Mr. Pearson's observations in connection with the contribution of an armed United Nations force when he spoke at the Assembly. Therefore, I immediately communicated in particular with him, but I trust, indeed I am sure, that by now communications have gone out not only to the Commonwealth Governments, but to a number of other interested Governments.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that to make a statement on this matter in the House and to exclude consultation with Asian members of the Commonwealth on the statement is another blow to Commonwealth unity?
My right hon. Friends tells me that messages have already gone to them. I told the House actually before, I think, the messages had gone to anyone in detail because I wanted to give it to the House. I repeat again that I sent the statement to Canada because of the speech of Mr. Pearson and because I thought the House would think it right to tell him at once.
point of order. May I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that following the statement last night of the Minister of Transport with regard to the blockage of the Suez Canal, there is now very grave apprehension so far as industry in Britain is concerned? Would it not be improper if our questions on the Middle Eastern issue were to be discontinued until we had ascertained from the Government precisely what the position is as regards the flow of oil to this country?
I suggest that it would be for the convenience of the House if we could separate these different issues and continue for the time being with the Suez and Egyptian question and have a statement by the Minister of Defence before we proceed to the question of Hungary. I have no particular timetable to suggest, but I am sure that so far as my right hon. and hon. Friends are concerned they have a great many more points to put on the Egyptian situation before we go on to Hungary.
I am quite agreeable to any course which suits the House, but I think that if we get on to the Adjournment debate it will then be in order for all these points to be raised and answered. If we go on with questions which tend to adopt a rhetorical and persuasive nature, rather than a purely interrogative one, what we get is an irregular debate without a Question before the House. It is my duty to prevent that as much as I can, and I think I ought to, but if the House wishes to defer the statement of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Foreign Secretary it is a matter for him and for the House. If he chooses to rise I shall, of course, call him.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, and with respect to what you have said. Surely it would be for the convenience of the House that we should be told just what is the military position? We do not know yet if anybody has landed. Surely, we should be told whether troops are engaged other than from the air, and it would be a matter of convenience for us if the Minister of Defence makes his statement at an early time.
Further to that point of order. One realises that this is an unusual situation with probably no precedent. But would it not be in your view, Mr. Speaker, for the convenience of the House if we could be told at least one fact which the Prime Minister must know and in the ignorance of which most of our questions may be almost pointless? Without waiting for the Minister of Defence to give us an appraisement of the whole military situation, cannot we be told now by the Prime Minister whether one of his junior Ministers was correct last night in a statement which he made in his constituency, and which is reported in the Press this morning, that troops are actually on the point of landing? Have they landed, or are they on the point of landing?
Further to the point of order which I was endeavouring to raise earlier, Mr. Speaker. Surely you would agree that it is much better that we should deal with this defence issue quite separately from a statement on Hungary, and that if we get the statement on Hungary, the whole thing will get into a muddle.
Order. I wish to remind the House that we have a very short time for this debate. I hope that hon. Members will not try to anticipate their chances of asking questions later by raising points of order. We should really get on. The conduct of business is only to some extent in my hands. I wish to try to do what pleases the House and what hon. Members find convenient, but I am bound to say that if the Government wish to make a statement on Hungary now, there is no reason why the House should not listen to it.
On the same point of order, Mr. Speaker. I cannot see why there should really be any difference of opinion about this. It is obviously extremely inconvenient to have the Hungary issue thrust in the middle of the discussion on Egypt. It would be much more satisfactory for all hon. Members if we could stick to the same subject. What I venture to suggest is that we continue to the conclusion of the debate—whether it is questions or debate is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, to decide—on the Egyptian question, and that the Foreign Secretary makes his statement on Hungary at about half-past two ; because I think that if we were to apportion time, that kind of distribution would be appropriate.
The difficulty which the Government are in is that we were asked for a statement on Hungary, and it so happens that we were not asked for a statement on defence—[HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."]—but the House need not get worried. Hon. Members are to have a statement on defence in a very few minutes. But the Minister of Defence will not be ready to give his statement before about a quarter-of-an-hour or twenty minutes from now. He is trying to oblige the House, and he is still collecting the latest facts, and will oblige the House by giving that statement as soon as possible.
As the Foreign Secretary is ready with his statement on Hungary, I suggest that we should ask him to give the statement on Hungary and then we could have the statement on defence when it is ready. Then we could revert to the general debate on the Question before the House. [HON. MEMBERS : "No."] I think that is the best way to avoid a scrappy interchange and to give the House the information which it desires.
The last thing in the world that we on this side of the House wish to do is to waste our time in a wrangle on procedure. But I submit to the Leader of the House that there are a number of questions to be asked and comments to be made on the Prime Minister's statement. I think it would be far the best course, therefore, if we were to spend the next twenty minutes or so continuing our discussion on the Prime Minister's statement. Then we could have the statement by the Minister of Defence and after that, and when the discussion has finished on that, we could have the statement on Hungary.
I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that that course would be most unfair to back bench Members, particularly hon. Members on this side of the House.—[HON. MEMBERS : "Why?"]—because Mr. Speaker himself has said that a question, if it is in the nature of a speech, would rank as a speech, and would preclude the hon. Member asking it from intervening further in the debate. I have myself had experience of that in the last two or three days. I am most anxious that those hon. Members who wish to speak, and who have an argument which cannot be put in the form of a question, should have an opportunity of doing so. If the debate is limited solely to the interrogation of Ministers and points of order, if it is cast solely in an interrogatory form, it will be highly unsatisfactory ; and an opportunity should be given for speeches as well.
Order. I hope that the House will bear with me if I try to come to a decision on this and advise the House. Otherwise it is my experience that we shall waste a great number of precious minutes on this matter. Is the Minister of Defence ready to make his statement?