Adjournment (Christmas)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20 December 1956.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed,That this House, at its rising Tomorrow, do adjourn till Tuesday, 22nd January.—[Mr. R. A. Butler.]

4.40 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

While we do not desire to debate this Motion at any great length, we feel that it would not be right that the House should approve the decision to rise for the Christmas Adjournment tomorrow until 22nd January, until we have had some further statement from the Government about the Anglo-French discussions which preceded the recent crisis in Suez.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

If I may interrupt, I must make a personal explanation in order not to be discourteous to the right hon. Gentleman or the House. I have to preside over the Committee of Privileges at 5 o'clock, and I shall, therefore, be obliged to leave the Chamber. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is returning to the Chamber. I would also say that we have had no notice of this subject—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I hope the House will accept this statement in the spirit in which I make it—but we shall do our best to meet the right hon. Gentleman's requests. I simply mention that, being on the Committee of Privileges, I have no alternative but to attend the Committee.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I know that he is taking the Chair at the Committee of Privileges and has to go there at 5 o'clock. It may be that we can clear this matter up before then. In any case, I am glad to see the Prime Minister back in the Chamber—I appreciate the fact that he has returned—and he may perhaps give us some further information on this matter.

Mr. Speaker suggested that we should return to this matter on the Motion for the Adjournment, and I therefore think we are particularly entitled to do so this afternoon.

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

I was under the impression, although I have not been in the Chamber all the time, that the Motion for the Adjournment to which Mr. Speaker referred was that to be moved shortly by the Government.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

I do not think that was the case. In any event, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I do not think you will quarrel with my argument, as I have put it, that we ought not to agree to this Motion until we have had a further statement from the Government.

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

This is a very simple Motion—simply that at the rising tomorrow we adjourn to 22nd January. The right hon. Member is entitled to say that he is against it but—[HON. MEMBERS: "More than that."] May I be allowed to give my Ruling? It is perfectly simple. Hon. Members may say why they are against the Motion and why they would prefer not to accept it, but they cannot go into too great detail.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

I naturally accept that point. I put the matter rather clumsily, but I had the same idea in mind. We are against this Motion for the moment and until we have heard something further from the Government on the matter to which I have just referred.

We have this situation. Originally, the Government's point of view was that everything had to be done on 30th October in a tremendous hurry and that that was the reason that we could not even wait for the United Nations Security Council to consider the matter, and, further, that no consultations with the United States were possible. The whole impression created, therefore, was that on 29th October, the night before, when the Israeli troops attacked Egypt, it came as a complete surprise to Her Majesty's Government.

The only other original comment made in this matter was the answer to a question which nobody had ever put, namely, did we, Great Britain, incite Israel to make this attack? The answer given was, "No." We never put that question. That was not what we asked and not what we are asking now. What we asked, and what we continue to ask, was what prior discussions took place between the British and French Governments on the possibility of an Israeli attack on Egypt? What plans were jointly made for Anglo-French action?

Photo of Sir Godfrey Nicholson Sir Godfrey Nicholson , Farnham

On a point of order. Surely the Question before the House is not directly related to this subject. The Question before the House is the date of our reassembly and the period of our Adjournment. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is the hon. Member trying to hush up?"] There is nothing to hush up. I am raising a point of order. Surely this is a proper subject for a debate on the Adjournment and not on this Question.

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

I was just on the point of rising myself. I gave my Ruling and the right hon. Gentleman said he would keep to it. I wonder whether he will keep to it.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

I entirely agree. I am explaining our reasons for opposing this Motion. I think I am entitled to do that. You have not ruled me out of order on it, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. If hon. Members will allow me to continue I will do so, because I think this is a matter of some importance.

Before the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) interrupted me, I was saying that we have been told by the Government that there was no incitement to Israel to attack Egypt. I have said that that was not a question which we have ever posed to the Government at all. What we were concerned with was the question, what prior discussions took place about the possibility of an Israeli attack on Egypt and what plans were laid by Britain and France together in the event of such an attack taking place? I do not propose to go over all the details and I have no desire to keep the House for any length of time, but since the events which I have outlined we have had an extremely important statement by the French Foreign Minister.

Photo of Sir Godfrey Nicholson Sir Godfrey Nicholson , Farnham

On a point of order. Am I to understand that any right hon. or hon. Member can raise on this occasion any question which may be agitating or disquieting him? If so, it could be a very long debate.

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

It is perfectly clear what Motion is before the House. Going back to what happened in October or in the year before last has nothing to do with whether the House should reassemble on 22nd January. That is my view.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

You told me, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that it was perfectly in order to explain the reasons why we are opposing the Motion. With all respect, it would not have been possible for me to do this adequately without making a brief reference to what happened on 29th and 30th October. Before I was interrupted for a second time by the hon. Member for Farnham, I was about to come to something which was said yesterday. Perhaps you would prefer that, and, if so, perhaps I could continue with my explanation.

Yesterday the French Foreign Minister made the rather interesting and important statement which I quoted at Question Time, that France and Britain had for long realised Israel's predicament and had therefore decided together what action they would take if Israel began a preventive war. That is quite categorical.

The first question which I put to the Prime Minister, therefore, is whether, in fact, such decisions were taken. Does the Prime Minister agree with M. Pineau and does he agree that decisions of this nature were taken? Were they taken on 16th October or 23rd October at those secret meetings to which references have so frequently been made?

Assuming that M. Pineau was telling the truth on this matter, as I am sure we must assume, there are only two serious possibilities: either Israel's preventive war to which he referred was a preventive war against Jordan or it was a preventive war against Egypt. As far as Jordan is concerned, the Prime Minister has told us this afternoon that that subject was discussed with the French. He also told us, or his colleagues have told us on other occasions, that we gave the Israel Government a warning against attacking Jordan. I do not propose to pursue that matter any further except to say once again that under the Tripartite Declaration any such warning should also have been addressed to Israel in respect of the possibility of an attack on Egypt.

The question which I want to ask the Prime Minister is whether discussions with the French also took place about the possibility of a preventive war against Egypt.

Photo of Mr Henry Price Mr Henry Price , Lewisham West

On a point of order. Surely it cannot be in order for the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition to address any such question to the Prime Minister on the Motion which we are now discussing. Surely such a question might be relevant to a debate on Suez, but cannot be relevant to this Motion.

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

That is perfectly true, and I think that if we go into too great detail about why there should be a different date in the Motion it would be going beyond the Motion.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

May I finish? I can answer only one point of order at a time. I am in rather a difficult position and I ask the right hon. Gentleman for his kind assistance.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

If hon. Members opposite would not interrupt me so frequently I would conclude my remarks quite quickly. With all respect, I do not think that I am going into too great detail.

Photo of Mr Anthony Fell Mr Anthony Fell , Yarmouth

On a point of order—

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

I have dealt with that point of order.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

What we are asking is what discussions took place with the French about the possibility, to which M. Pineau's statement certainly may refer and I believe does refer, that Israel would begin a preventive war against Egypt? What plans were made? Were these plans in fact the plans which were carried out in the ultimatum of 30th October and the succeeding days? Were they plans for the invasion of the Canal Zone of Egypt in the event of an Israeli attack upon Egypt? That is the question which I want to put to the Prime Minister.

Photo of Mr Anthony Fell Mr Anthony Fell , Yarmouth

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I crave your indulgence for rising again on another point of order. On at least four occasions there have been points of order put to you, asking for your guidance on this matter, and on four occasions you have upheld those points of order and appealed to the Leader of the Opposition to keep his points short. On each occasion the right hon. Gentleman has gone on in exactly the same way.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

Further to that point of order. Surely—

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

Order. I can reply to only one hon. Member at a time. If hon. Members wish to oppose this Motion or to support it, they should remember that it is to do with the date of 22nd January, and I hope that hon. Gentlemen will try to keep to the point.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

Surely my right hon. Friend is perfectly in order—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] With respect, my right hon. Friend is perfectly in order in asking that this Motion should not be accepted by the House and that the House should remain in continuous session until we have got to the bottom of this matter? In fact, my right hon. Friend is arguing that the House should not adjourn for the Christmas Recess and that, if necessary, it should continue to debate this matter—if not by the ordinary process of sitting, then by a Select Committee or a Royal Commission, or some such other device known to the House—in order to get to the bottom of it. My right hon. Friend is not, as it were, discussing the merits; the point he is making is that the House should not adjourn.

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has not said that up to now—

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

With respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I said it more than once. If I refrained—

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

I beg the pardon of the right hon. Gentleman. I did not hear him say that. I gathered that that was what he was going to say, but I did not hear him say it.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

If I refrained from saying it sufficiently frequently, it was only because I wished to get on to the other part of what I had to say in asking the Prime Minister—and this is the reason, or one of the reasons, why we are opposing this Motion—whether, in the discussions with France plans were laid before 29th October for joint Anglo-French action against Egypt in the event of an Israeli attack upon Egypt, following upon the ultimatum that was, in fact, eventually dispatched to Egypt?

The further question which I wish to put to the Prime Minister is this. These consultations, which he admits took place, apparently took place without the knowledge of the United States. I should like to ask why that was so. After all, the United States was a signatory to the Tripartite Declaration. What was there that we had in common with the French in this matter that we did not have in common with the United States? What was the reason for excluding the Americans, for keeping them in the dark, about what we were intending to do? Is the Prime Minister of the same opinion—

Photo of Mr Henry Price Mr Henry Price , Lewisham West

Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will you please be good enough to give a definite Ruling on whether or not it is in order for the right hon. Gentleman to put to the Prime Minister, or to anybody else, the kind of questions he is now asking on the Motion which we are discussing?

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

The rules of order are perfectly simple. Hon. Members can give their reasons why they oppose or support the Motion to adjourn until 22nd January, but, as I have said before, I do not think it is right to go into lengthy details of what has happened in the past. That is going beyond the rules of order, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman should realise it.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

With respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that is not what I have done at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If I had wished to do that, it would have been perfectly possible for us to have raised this matter on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House. But I did not wish to do that; I wished to make only a short statement—that is what I should be doing were it not that hon. Members opposite were interrupting me—about why we do not think it would be right to adjourn for the Christmas Recess until we have had an answer.

I come now to the last point I wish to put. I wish to ask the Prime Minister whether he accepts the statement of M. Mollet that the reason why the United States was kept out of these discussions, kept in the dark, and not made aware of any plans or intentions of the British and French Governments, was that the British and French Governments felt convinced that the United States would disapprove of those plans and would do everything to prevent them from being carried out.

Those are the essential questions. We have sought to put them on many occasions and we have never had an adequate answer. The Prime Minister now has a last opportunity to answer those questions, and to do something to rescue the reputation of this country.

4.55 p.m.

Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington

I should like to speak at once on this matter.

First of all, regarding the last observation of the right hon. Gentleman about whether I agreed with what M. Mollet has said about the United States, naturally, I suppose, the House has not entirely in its mind what I myself said at the beginning of the whole of this business, on this very subject, on 31st October. I am sorry to have to quote myself, but I did say this which, as I think the House will see, is not, shall we say, irrelevant to what M. Mollet said the other day. I was referring to the United States economy not being dependent upon the Canal. I said that was true and that their position was different from ours. I went on to say: 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"— And here is the point— 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October, 1956; Vol. 558, c. 1453.] I am bound to say to the House that the list of the charges has changed in character. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I want the House to note that. I want to try to tick off those charges which are not, shall I say, now made. Some may say that they were never made. They have not been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, but at any rate they were made by others. There is no charge of incitement—[HON. MEMBERS: "There never was."] That is very interesting. I am merely readjusting the list. Nor is there a charge of any prior agreement with Israel or foreknowledge. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I do not know about that. Last weekend the right hon. Gentle- man himself said that we had a "shrewd idea." That is quite a different matter from "collusion" or "incitement." To have a "shrewd idea" of what may happen in the Middle East seems to me the minimum which could be expected of a Government—the very minimum. To have a shrewd idea of what is likely to happen is quite a different thing from "collusion".

I want to come to the last question, which is, "Did we have plans with the French, and discussions about plans with them?" Most certainly we had discussions about plans with the French. We have had them, roughly, from the beginning of August in one form or another—military discussions of some kind. They had been going on in various forms also in the tripartite discussions. What was different from the beginning of August and any earlier time was that we were moving out reinforcements to the Eastern Mediterranean, and so were the French. We both had forces there and, as a result, it was only proper—it would have been mad if we had not—to have some form of discussion with each other.

The right hon. Gentleman made a previous reference to Jordan and wrote that off quite quickly. I think he will understand, and I think I am entitled to say to the House, that although it is quite easy to write that one off quickly now, that was, in fact, by far and away the greatest anxiety we had at that period—by far and away—because it seemed to us—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]. I will say that it seemed to us, particularly when the staff talks were made between Egypt and the two Arab States of Jordan and Syria that—and Israel could see it—it was tightening the noose round Israel's neck. That being so, which of the three countries—supposing Israel reacted at all—was she most likely to react against?

Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington

I cannot give way. I am trying not to trespass upon the time of the House. I think that I am entitled to put this view. Looking at the matter from a military point of view, it seemed possible, to put it no higher—I would put it higher than that, and say probable—that, feeling the noose tightening—

An Hon. Member:

It is all in order now.

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

Order. An hon. Member said, "It is all in order now." The Prime Minister is answering questions which the Leader of the Opposition put to him. That is why I am allowing him to continue.

Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington

If anybody had been in Tel Aviv at that time, and if they were concerned with what had happened, they would have known that Israel would strike out before she was strangled. Jordan was a possibility upon the list, and a possibility in a different category from Egypt, from our point of view, because we had a Treaty with Jordan. Not only had we a treaty with her, but nobody else had. If there is anybody in the House who thinks that France or the United States would have acted in a military sense if Israel had taken military action there they are entitled to their belief; it is a belief about which I would have some doubts.

The position is more difficult than that, because we had the only air arm and armour in Jordan. I can tell the House that there was an occasion, in one of these raids, when it seemed that we would actually be called upon to put the Royal Air Force into operation, because it was thought that Israeli aeroplanes were in action. If they had been, it would have been a very grave matter indeed. If we had put the Royal Air Force into action against Israel's air force it would have been a matter of the utmost gravity. I do not know what it would have led to. We should have been involved in the actual fighting. [An HON. MEMBER: "We all agree about that."] All I am saying is that this fact cannot be left out of our discussion.

The right hon. Gentleman said that I told the House recently—in fact, we told the country publicly at the time—that we issued warning after warning. I give that as one example of the matters which we raised. I do not deny that this was a matter which we discussed with our allies. I do not deny that it was a matter about which we warned Israel. There were no plans got together to attack Egypt; there were military discussions of various kinds and finally the decision was taken on that day.

I am not going to say what our military plans were, but I say that we were right to make those preparations. Otherwise, I cannot conceive the point of having troops in the Eastern Mediterranean at all. The decision to put them into operation was taken here on the day I gave.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

I am sure that the House will have listened to the Prime Minister with great attention and with sympathy on the point he made about Jordan. But the point which has been made again and again in this country and abroad is not about Jordan, but that the Government are alleged to have had information that Israel was going to attack Egypt. Some people say that that information came from the French; others may say that it came in other ways, but it is said that there was information before 29th October that Israel was planning an attack upon Egypt, and that that information was known to the Government. That is the allegation to which we are very anxious to have a categorical denial.

Photo of Sir Godfrey Nicholson Sir Godfrey Nicholson , Farnham

There are two comments upon which I should like answers before I can agree to the Motion. First, is my right hon. Friend aware that the whole nature of the charge of collusion has fundamentally changed, partly owing to confusion as to the dictionary definition of "collusion" which I have now looked up? The word "collusion" was first used by right hon. Gentlemen opposite in the sense of connivance and incitement; now it has come down to mean intelligent anticipation. That most important change should be registered.

Secondly, is the Prime Minister aware that many statements, which I am sure he would agree to be definitely misleading—and that is a moderate way of expressing them—have come from an individual who was employed very closely under the Prime Minister and has now left his post? He has been spreading widely around statements which I believe to be untrue.

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

The hon. Member was rather particular in raising his point of order a short time ago. He had the right idea then, but he has not got it now.

Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelli

On a point of order. The hon. Member has been attacking an unnamed person who was in the employ of the Prime Minister and was therefore a civil servant. I would ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether, speaking in this House, an hon. Member is entitled to attack a civil servant without naming him or giving him any opportunity to reply.

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

That was not the point I was making. The point is that we are discussing whether or not we shall come back on 22nd January.

Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelli

I am rising to a point of order about the statement made by the hon. Member. It is within the recollection of the House that he said that some unnamed person in the employment of the Prime Minister has been spreading rumours and making statements which the hon. Member apparently thinks are untrue. Is it in order for an hon. Member to make such statements in this House about an ex-civil servant, without naming that person?

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

As far as I can see, it was quite a reasonable debating point to make. The hon. Member was out of order for quite a different reason.

Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelli

With respect, it is not a debating point. It is an allegation against a former employee of the Government that he has been spreading false rumours and, added to that, that he had been a former employee of the Government in the personal service of the Prime Minister. Is it in accordance with the rules of order and the traditions of the House that that should be said by an hon. Member?

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

Yes—I have already ruled that it is debating point.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

The charge made is not that the former employee was spreading false rumours, but that he had been telling the truth.

Photo of Sir Godfrey Nicholson Sir Godfrey Nicholson , Farnham

I have made my point and I will leave it, after saying that I very much hope that the Prime Minister will look into the matter.

Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelli

Further to the point of order. If an employee of the Government has been spreading any knowledge that he learned whilst in the service of the Government, he is guilty of an offence under the Official Secrets Act. Is it, therefore, in accordance with the best traditions of the House that a charge of that kind should be made, affecting the honour of an ex-civil servant, without his being named and without his having any opportunity to reply?

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

Ministers are responsible for their civil servants. That is why, in this House, a Minister may be blamed for something which is not directly his responsibility. He is held responsible by us.

Photo of Sir Godfrey Nicholson Sir Godfrey Nicholson , Farnham

I do not ignore that. I have made that charge after careful consideration. I am very anxious to be in order and not to be hoist with my own petard. I will put myself in order by saying that I shall be reluctant to agree to the Motion unless I have some sort of an answer to these questions.

5.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

I should like to follow up the question asked by the Leader of the Liberal Party about foreknowledge. It seems to me that the Minister has two questions to answer in this connection. One concerns our foreknowledge of Israel's intentions and the other Israel's foreknowledge of our intentions. They are two specific questions. It is widely alleged in France, for instance, that there was foreknowledge by Israel that in the event of their attacking Egypt France would use her veto in the Security Council in order to enable the attack to continue.

I should like to know whether this is one of the decisions to which M. Pineau referred in his speech yesterday as something which had been decided between the British and French Governments. Was it known in advance by the Israelis that if they moved then they could be assured of the veto of the French Government? This would seem to be an important and relevant question which the Prime Minister has to answer.

My second question relates to the use of the French Air Force to protect Tel Aviv in the event of major bombing attacks by the Egyptians. Here I would disassociate myself entirely from the special correspondent of the Manchester Guardian about the use of French pilots in the Israeli offensive. This is a much more difficult question, as I can well understand. Here again, the French make no disguise about it. They say that Israel took the precaution to ensure that the French Air Force would be available for the defence of Tel Aviv if Ilyushin bombers were used by the Egyptians and that it was by that foreknowledge that they were able to stave off the use of those bombers.

I should like to know if that is another of the decisions, which—as the Leader of the Opposition mentioned—M. Pineau says had been taken well beforehand. M. Pineau said that he made decisions with the British on a number of matters. I suspect that these are two of the matters. I have no right to allege it. Categorically I only ask the Prime Minister those two specific questions.

There is one other point. The Prime Minister was careful to say, quite rightly, that we have a right to take decisions with the French without consulting the Americans. That is quite correct. On the other hand, we were fellow members of the Tripartite Declaration. The Prime Minister made speech after speech to us, and so did the Foreign Secretary, saying that the Tripartite Declaration was the vital thing. I remember going with the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) to Washington and reporting on three days of talks between the Prime Minister and President Eisenhower only last January, when he assured us afterwards that everything had been agreed between London and Washington on how the Tripartite Declaration would be implemented in the event of aggression.

It was not, therefore, unreasonable to expect that all decisions about what to do in the event of an Israeli or Arab attack, one or the other, would be tripartite decisions. What I want to understand from the Prime Minister is: was M. Pineau correct when he asserted yesterday that a whole series of decisions was taken by Britain and France about bipartite action to take place without America? If that is so, we have the basis for the inquiry which my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has demanded. I do not think that we can get all that we want by this sort of question. I think that we want a Select Committee on this question of how the operation started and how it was conducted.

I think hon. Members opposite will agree with me in saying that when we move from how it began to how it was carried out this House has the right to answers to many questions. It was not the fault of the unfortunate Navy, Army and Air Force that they were given such ludicrous political directives which caused the operation to fail, and fail ignominously. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If hon. Gentlemen opposite do not know that that is true, then they have not been outside this country to find out what other people feel about our conduct in Egypt.

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would care to explain to the House the part that he has taken in this unfortunate incident. During the debate in September, he said—

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

The debate is on whether or not we come back on 22nd January.

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

This is very relevant, because certain allegations are being made, and I am trying to show that we—and perhaps some hon. Members opposite are being a little over-vehement in their attacks on the Government today—are just dealing with the decision when we should come back. The hon. Member said in September that he had been to Israel and had been to Nasser. It is in the OFFICIAL REPORT—

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

Whatever he said, it has nothing to do with 22nd January.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

Does the Prime Minister agree with M. Pineau that, quite outside the tripartite discussions, dual discussions took place with the French and decisions were reached, some of which were imparted to the Israeli Government? I ask this because the Prime Minister must agree that, if the Israeli Government knew in advance of certain actions which we and the French would take, that was bound to influence their decisions. I do not blame them in the least. If I were an Israeli I would myself have made sure that I got firm support from Britain and France before I made an attack on Egypt. What I object to is that the Government, which had given those assurances to the Israelis, then tried to pretend that we went into Egypt to stop the war when, in fact, the actions of the Government did not stop the war but encouraged it.

Photo of Mr Cyril Osborne Mr Cyril Osborne , Louth Borough

On a point of order. May I put a real question of order to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, on the question before the House, "That this House at its rising tomorrow do adjourn until Tuesday, 22nd January"? May I ask your guidance for the protection of certain hon. Members who have come to this House in order to discuss economic affairs. We have been waiting since half-past three. In view of the fact that we came here to take part in an important debate on economic affairs and that this discussion looks like going on unreasonably, would it be in order to ask "That the Question be now put" and that we vote on it?

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

Even if it were in order, I could not accept it. It is only Mr. Speaker who can do so.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

I am giving our reasons why we object to the Adjournment of the House now. I thought that the Prime Minister's explanation gave excellent reasons why we should not adjourn, and I am trying to find out what happened in those deplorable weeks.

I believe that the Israelis were wholly justified in seeking British and French guarantees of help in the event of their going into Egypt. That was a perfectly reasonable thing for them to do. What would not be reasonable—what would, in fact, be infamous—would be for a British Government which had given those guarantees to say that they sent our troops in there to divide the combatants and that they went in there to put out the forest fire.

Did these guarantees when they were given make the Israelis feel that it was safe to attack? I do not know. All I know is that these things are being said by M. Pineau—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]. Certainly they are. M. Pineau has stated that the Anglo-French decisions were reached about what to do in the event of an Israeli attack on Egypt. We have a right to ask what those decisions were. I have been indicating certain suggestions as to what they might have been and those suggestions are widely held in Israel where French help was very useful to the Israelis for their attack.

I have pointed out that, from the Israeli point of view, these policies were wholly reasonable. And they would have been reasonable for our Government too if it had stated we were going into Egypt to knock out Nasser. What I object to is the thought of our Government going in and saying, "We are stopping a war" after encouraging a war by giving Israel assurances. If that were true, it would make our Government—I am sorry to say this Mr. Deputy-Speaker—guilty of lying, guilty of giving one reason for going to war when actually the real motive was another. I would love to have all this disproved by the Prime Minister. [Laughter.]

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

Hon. Members opposite can laugh as much as they like. [Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris) is yelling, "Do not tell lies" and "Stop telling lies". May I ask that you will deal with him? It is being heard here. I do not think that the hon. Member will deny it.

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

I hope that the word "lies" will not be used. The hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) used it in a way which I think is quite in order, but it is not a very nice word. It leads to trouble and I hope that it will not be used at all.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

Hon. Members opposite may laugh when I say that we would like to have this disproved, but I assure them that uncertainty is really doing this country no good in the world. If, on investigation, these charges were found to be true, the only way of saving the honour of this country would be to get rid of the Government guilty of doing these things.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

I wish to draw attention to another phrase reported in the Press as having been used by M. Pineau. I think it is a point of view which is very widely held in this country. If it does not satisfy the Opposition it certainly seems to satisfy many of the electorate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] M. Pineau said that if there had been collusion this operation would have been carried out far more quickly and that it would not have taken six days for the heavy armour to go from Malta to the scene of this operation.

Surely it is evident that if this operation had been anticipated the heavy armour and L.S.T.s would have left Malta very much sooner. The whole operation would have been completed not in eight days, but two days. I think that that proves conclusively that there was no collusion and no anticipation. That phrase in M. Pineau's speech was completely overlooked by the Leader of the Opposition, but I believe that it is a point of view widely held in this country.

5.12 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) is an unconscious humorist, or he does not read HANSARD. I asked the Secretary of State for War the time at which the 6th Royal Tank Regiment and the L.S.T.s left Malta and the right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to tell me that the 6th Tank Regiment went on board at 10 p.m. on 30th October. I subsequently asked at what time the armoured fighting vehicles were put on board and the right hon. Gentleman told me that it was at 1 p.m. the same day.

If the ultimatum was not presented before 4 o'clock and the 6th Royal Tank Regiment and the 3rd Commando Brigade left the same night, the hon. Gentleman is asking for collusion, because he is wanting them to start before the Government had presented their ultimatum. [An HON. MEMBER: "It proves that there was not."] If the hon. Member does not see that armoured fighting vehicles and commandos were put on board ship before the ultimatum had expired, I am sorry for him. The hon. Member does not see that the 6th Royal Tank Regiment and the 3rd Commando Brigade could not have arrived before they did even though they heard the pistol at the start. [Laughter.] Of course they could not have arrived before they did. They could not have arrived before first light on the 6th.

Hon. Members opposite will notice that the paratroops went in 24 hours earlier than was intended, or would any hon. Member opposite who knows anything about it advocate putting paratroops into Port Said without any armour or any seaborne link-up? The fact is that that stage of the operation had to be undertaken at that time because the political reasons for going into Port Said—that is, separating Israel and Egypt—had expired and, therefore, the gigantic risk had to be taken of putting in the battalion parachute group from the 6th Royal Tank Regiment because that regiment could not get there one minute before, in fact, it did.

I argue that this House should not adjourn if the Government will not set up a Select Committee or a Royal Commission and that the House should remain in continuous session to establish the facts. My first argument is this. Twice today we have heard arguments from hon. Members opposite, one from a back bencher and another from an hon. Lady who is a Privy Councillor, contending that it was discreditable of the Opposition to make these allegations because that affected the honour of the country. In other words, hon. Members opposite cannot draw a distinction between themselves and the country. Of course, the constituents in Melton have drawn that distinction. They see that there is a difference.

We are not, in fact, attacking the country; we are attacking the Government. We are saying it is a prime requirement—a requirement which ought to be given first priority—to clear the name of this country from the charges which are being made against it. The first charge is of collusion. The detailed charges of collusion were not made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. They appeared in Time magazine, on 12th November. On 12th November, Time gave a detailed account of the link-up, the planning of the operation and supply of equipment by Britain and France.

I have never accepted that view. I wrote a letter to The Times, in which I made that point. I asked a Question of the Prime Minister weeks ago. I asked whether he would set up a Select Committee to gather the evidence—it would not be difficult—from the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of Defence on a quite narrow point, the point of what knowledge the Government had of the Israeli attack and of its scope.

Obviously, the case of the Prime Minister was that there was an Israeli attack which, so far as he took the country into his confidence, was in the nature of a surprise. The Israelis, in a matter of hours, found themselves within reach of the Canal and, had the Government not taken action to separate Israel and Egypt, the lives of British subjects would have been endangered and the passage of ships through the Canal would be stopped. "Therefore," the Government said, "there was no time to lose; we had to deliver that ultimatum on the afternoon of 30th October and, if in the time limit we were not satisfied, we were going to take action."

My evidence on this point does not depend upon Time, or stories told by the Prime Minister's former employee. My evidence is based on what has been said by the Minister of Defence. On 5th December, I asked the Minister of Defence the time and date on which he informed the General Officer Commanding, Middle East Forces, that the Israeli Government were preparing major operations against Egypt. The right hon. Gentleman replied: On 26th October the Government were informed by Her Majesty's Ambassador at Tel Aviv that mobilisation of the Israeli forces had begun. During the next two days further information was received indicating that Israeli forces were concentrating in the Negev. The Commander-in-Chief Middle East Land Forces, who was in London at the time, was at all times kept informed. Later, I asked: Does the right hon. Gentleman still say that neither he nor General Keightley knew that the Israeli operation was to begin, and also that neither knew of its scope? The Minister of Defence replied: The possibility of an Israeli attack on Egypt has been in the minds of the General Staff and of the Defence Committee and the Cabinet for some considerable time. Our first true knowledge that it was going to take place was when we were informed about the mobilisation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th December, 1956; Vol. 561, c. 1243–4.] The Prime Minister, if he has any decency left at all, will go out and resign; because the Minister of Defence has said that on the afternoon of 26th October the Government knew that the Israeli attack was going to be made on Egypt. I will read now from HANSARD for 8th November.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I cannot follow the drift of the hon. Gentleman's argument. The Question before the House is whether we should adjourn on the date specified in the Motion.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

I am much obliged, Mr. Speaker. Before you came in I said that the House should not adjourn, and that if the Government would not set up a Select Committee or a Royal Commission the House should remain in continuous session in order to establish the facts in this matter. It is a matter of the highest priority that the honour of this country should be cleared on this issue. I am doing my best to clear the honour of one or two right hon. Gentlemen opposite.

On 8th November, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, speaking in the debate on the Address, said: There was clearly no time whatever to consult the Commonwealth in advance if we were to take timely action to protect the Canal and to stop the conflict."—[OFFIGAL REPORT, 8th November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 291.] I looked at the Secretary of State for the Colonies when he was speaking, and I watched his eyes. They are always a good thing to watch. I am sure that he was telling the truth. I am sure that the Secretary of State for the Colonies honestly believed that there was no time in which to consult the Commonwealth.