Orders of the Day — Middle East (Jordan Waters)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th March 1965.

Alert me about debates like this

4.9 a.m.

Photo of Mr William Yates Mr William Yates , The Wrekin

I have no desire to cause distress by upsetting the Ministerial Front Bench, but I want to point out to the House that, although I have been present since 11 p.m. and I have been greatly interested in the subjects raised by hon. Members on the Government benches, I do not want to discuss the subject of consumer councils.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rhodes Mr Geoffrey Rhodes , Newcastle upon Tyne East

Before the present subject was raised, the other four subjects were raised by hon. Members on the Opposition side.

Photo of Mr William Yates Mr William Yates , The Wrekin

I cannot go into that myself. All I can say is that on the Consolidated Fund Bill, once an hon. Member has been called by the Chair, he is here to present a point of view to the House on any subject he desires. I apologise to the Minister of State, Board of Trade, if it is inconvenient for him, but both the Foreign Office and the Leader of the House, as well as both Front Benches, have been warned that I considered that some time during the course of the Consolidated Fund Bill attention should be paid to the affairs of state which are taking place in other parts of the world.

I hope that the House will bear with me, because on the chances that I have had to speak on foreign affairs over the last year it has not been my fortune to be called. Therefore, now that I have the Floor of the House, I have some urgent matters to bring to the attention of hon. Members. I have noticed, for example, on the Order Paper of the House, references to the use of gas in Vietnam. I have seen another Motion on the Order Paper concerning the use of gas in the Yemen. If the House would be kind enough to bear with me, I should like to go in for about 20 minutes of discussion of just where this country is going in the Middle East.

Let us look carefully at the world situation. There are two great voids, the loss of President Kennedy and the disappearance of Khrushchev. Therefore, the whole world situation must be re-examined in that light. Secondly, there are only two people or groups who are in command of the situation. The statesmen of the world who really count are Chou En-lai and Mao Tse-tung, and General de Gaulle.

We have, therefore, to consider not only that some of the greatest statesmen are missing from the platform of the world when two great countries are on the collision course. We have also to recognise that the United Nations is partially paralysed. Therefore, I cannot see how a great debating chamber like the House of Commons cannot afford for a few moments in the course of one evening to concentrate its attention on British interests in the world.

While all this unease is developing, an even worse situation is arriving in the Middle East in which we are bound to be involved. As, throughout my parliamentary life, I have devoted most of my speeches to foreign affairs, I must tonight, even at this late hour, give the country, my constituents and this House one, and only one, warning which I gave prior to the Suez crisis in 1956. My warnings at that time—

Photo of Mr Arthur Newens Mr Arthur Newens , Epping

On a point of order. I should like to know, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. William Yates) is in order in raising this matter at this stage as No. 22 among the list of topics for debate deals precisely with this subject.

Photo of Sir Samuel Storey Sir Samuel Storey , Stretford

Any hon. Gentleman is entitled to raise any subject during the debate. The list in the Lobby is only a general guide of what hon. Members have indicated to Mr. Speaker they would like to raise. An hon. Member is perfectly entitled to raise any subject.

Photo of Mr William Yates Mr William Yates , The Wrekin

I am sorry if I have given the hon. Member displeasure in this matter, but I wanted to discuss this subject, and I now intend to exert my right, as he can exert his.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

To be fair to my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Newens), I think it is true, with no disrespect to him, that he was not aware—as we are, as older hon. Members of the House—that it is right that the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. William Yates) and any hon. Member has the right to raise any subject he likes. I think it was because my hon. Friend thought that he would not have the opportunity to get back to the subject in which he is interested that he was worried. We can, of course, get back to any subject we like.

Photo of Mr William Yates Mr William Yates , The Wrekin

I am sure that the hon. Member for Epping will be able to get back to the subject if he is called.

Photo of Mr Arthur Newens Mr Arthur Newens , Epping

I have waited very patiently, and hoped that it would be possible to raise this matter later on in the debate. Having sat and waited patiently for it, I wanted to find out when it would be possible for me to deal with this subject, particularly in view of the fact that hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House have been saying that we have been using this debate merely to play out time, which, in my case, is not so—

Photo of Sir Samuel Storey Sir Samuel Storey , Stretford

If the hon. Gentleman makes such long interventions, he will exhaust his right to speak.

Photo of Mr William Yates Mr William Yates , The Wrekin

I cannot possibly argue with the hon. Member for Epping about what his hon. Friends are doing. I am here as a House of Commons man. I have sat through many debates on Consolidated Fund Bills, until five, six and seven o'clock in the morning. It is up to hon. Members to be here and to know when other hon. Members are called and what subject they will raise. I notified Mr. Speaker and the Foreign Office.

In 1956, at the Conservative Party Conference of that time, I felt, from experience in the Middle East—both living in the countries there and in service with the Foreign Office administration and the Army—that a major crisis of enormous intensity was about to break on us. The man who warned me was Sir Edward Hulton of the Picture Post, who came to me in Cairo in 1955 and said that we should get home to Sir Anthony Eden and warn him that we considered that there would be a major crisis in relations in the Middle East, in which our country was bound to be involved. At that party conference, I warned the country of an impending crisis. I know that I did not speak politely enough at the time, and my words of warning were not heeded. I repeat them tonight, and perhaps on this occasion both the House and the country will hear me.

It is quite clear that the situation in the Middle East has resolved round two very important countries, Israel and the U.A.R. In this country's discussions and foreign policy, anything which does not take into account Britain's relationship with the U.A.R. and the State of Israel must be founded on a false base. Therefore, it is essential that, before the Press start working things up and abusing people's minds one way or another, the people of the country should get balanced arguments from somebody like me. If I am wrong, if I offend on one side or the other, I have no doubt that hon. Members will endeavour to correct my point of view or the facts which I put to them.

There has been no peace in the Middle East since 1948. There is not a peace treaty between the State of Israel and the Arab world. That is a fundamental fact and the first thing to realise is that there are two great fears. There is, first, the fear by the State of Israel that the Soviet Union and the Communist world will so arm the Arab States with all the modern arms that they can get that they will be forced to fight a defensive war and be driven eventually out of the land which they now occupy. That is fear number one, and I am not now saying whether it is reasonable or unreasonable; but unless that fear exists the money from Zionists throughout the world would not be so freely forthcoming.

Let me make my position clear. I will not be pro one side or the other and I hope that my personal Jewish friends in Paris, New York and London will thank me for what I am going to say tonight because some of them find it extremely difficult and often very embarrassing to have to make the sort of statements I am going to make.

I have given the fear which Israel has for her security. I do not think it is necessary because she has a fine army, which is extremely well equipped, and so far no Arab State has mounted any major attack in formation—harassing yes, but no formation attack—on her.

Secondly, there is the fear of the Arab States. Their homeland, Palestine, had a small Jewish minority in it of about 500,000 people. That has now gone up to 2½ million. At the Peace Conference of 1919 the World Zionist Organisation claimed—and laid down perfectly plainly; it can be read in any book—that the State of Israel would have 5 million people, would extend down to Sinaia—so understand the Suez operation, when one knew that as the background—all the west bank of the Jordan, including the headwaters of the Jordan, the Hasban and Banias rivers.

Therefore, naturally the Arab States fear that Israel will get more, more and more people, will require more and more land, will have at some time to take more of their land from them—and this is the important point—and in order to feed these people, will require more water. That is what the problem is really about; the sharing of the waters of the Jordan.

They are the two great fears, finely balanced on either side. Let us consider exactly what the water problem is. Everybody must know—or if they do not they should—that the Israel Government have constructed a pipeline from Lake Tiberias to Fluga in the South Negev and intends to divert—indeed, is diverting—the waters of the Jordan about 120 miles out of the Jordan Basin, something unheard of in river water agreements because in river basin agreements the water is usually shared in the valley. So this operation and this pumping station is already drawing water. So the waters are already being diverted.

The Arab States have never been able to come to an exact agreement, because they do not recognise Israel. They do not want to do anything to make her more secure, so there have been three major attempts to get a Jordan water agreement in that valley. The first—the Bunger scheme, by the American working with Point Four—was perfectly satisfactory to Jordan and Syria. The second scheme which was put forward was not accepted by the Arab States because it did not take into account the political settlement over the refugees that they thought was necessary. That was known as the Johnson Plan.

So here we have a situation that is now fraught with danger. Why? The Arab States have announced that in order to safeguard the waters that they require, they intend to pump water out of the Hasbani and over into the Litani, and the Prime Minister of Israel, who is in London tonight, has announced that if they attempt to do this it will be a cause of war. In addition, President Nasser has already announced that he considers that the State of Israel will make an attack on the Arab States this year. I therefore do not think it possible for this House, and the country, not to consider its position, and what it should do in the present circumstances.

Let us, therefore, examine the exact situation, and how we find ourselves today. I shall not take any sides on the question of the Suez crisis, because that raises the temperature of the House. It raises the temperature of discussion to such an extent that in some places it is not even safe to mention the crisis, because everyone orders nine pink gins, and says, "Down with the wogs," or words to that effect. People go off their rockers when the subject is mentioned. Nevertheless, the situation has to be faced, and faced fairly and squarely.

There is no denying, and I think that Randolph Churchill got it right, that if this country had known the facts which I knew in 1955 and 1956, and of which I tried to warn the House and the country, it could never have agreed to the Suez operation that it attempted to undertake at the time. We could have done the operation, politically, with France and ourselves alone, but having ourselves used the State of Israel as a secret ally, though for France it was an open alliance, we prejudiced gravely the whole of our position in the Middle East.

We lost £2,000 million and a great deal of our trade, and every man and woman in this country must know that our interest lies in the free flow of power—oil and gas—from the Arab lands of the Middle East. That is our interest. That is the one thing that makes our economy function, that makes the Treasury function, and which we could not be without. We tried it when the pipelines were cut in Syria—we had no oil—

Photo of Mr Arthur Palmer Mr Arthur Palmer , Bristol Central

If I may speak just on a point of accuracy, this country is now far less dependent on Middle East oil than it was. There has been a great switch in the last five years or so.

Photo of Mr William Yates Mr William Yates , The Wrekin

The hon. Gentleman is exactly right about the switch to Libya, the possibility of supplies of gas from under the North Sea, and so forth. All these things are coming, but, nevertheless, anyone one talks to in the City or anyone who knows about the oil of the Middle East will say that, for the next ten or fifteen years, the Persian Gulf and Kuwait will still be the biggest factor. So we must consider how to protect our country's interests in this vital sector of our economy.

This is the major theme: how do we secure our interests in the modern world? Where, and how, do we conduct our affairs in the Middle East?

There is a line of thought that, if one wishes to make Israel part of Great Britain, which it is not, or to create special arrangements with her for strategic reasons, one will offend the entire Arab world. I do not believe that such a policy would be successful. But one must remember how many leading Zionists warned people in this country and elsewhere that, once the State of Israel was created, they would automatically have dual loyalty. It cannot be helped. The Governor of the Bank of England, Sir Montagu Norman, the Sebag-Montefiores, the Brandeis family in America—they all said, "If you create the State of Israel, you will create throughout the Western world people with a dual loyalty".

It is a most difficult problem emotionally, financially and otherwise, for some people to decide where their loyalties lie in a conflict in the Middle East. This country cannot afford another Suez crisis or getting itself entangled by taking one side or working on one side or the other. All my friends in Paris, in Washington or in London who are connected closely with the Israel Government must not, I implore them, press their Prime Minister to buy British Chieftain tanks during the next three or four months. The disclosure in this morning's paper that the British Government have supplied gas, the same sort of gas as has been used in Vietnam, to the Israel Government will already have had its devastating repercussions throughout the Middle East. We must be very careful with whom and how we conduct our foreign policy in the Middle East, taking into account that there will be a serious crisis over the Jordan water. I am not saying that our country should not provide defensive weapons to the Israel Government, but they must take the situation into account and not enter into arms deals and upset the balance of arms in the Middle East at the present time.

Any Western Government, whether of France, the United States or Great Britain, must clear their mind about these developments in the Middle East and put their cards straight down. Either they will be the secret allies of Israel or they will maintain their oil interests which are vital to them. If there is a crisis, I fear that not only will the oilfields be nationalised but there may be a serious disruption of oil supplies.

Photo of Mr Norman Atkinson Mr Norman Atkinson , Tottenham

This is an extremely important point. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has checked his facts. Is he now saying that this Government have supplied poison gas for warfare purposes to the Government of Israel?

Photo of Mr William Yates Mr William Yates , The Wrekin

These are very important matters. I am weighing extremely carefully what I am saying. I have to be extremely careful. I am, I hope, going to the Middle East shortly and I would never say anything that I thought would make the situation worse. I am trying to bring the House to the frame of mind in which we can get the matter into perspective.

The Daily Mail yesterday, on its front page, gave a notification of a statement by, I believe, the United States Defence Department, that gas of a similar sort used in Vietnam has been used by the British Government in Cyprus and Singapore and that the British Government have exported some of this gas to Israel and Indonesia.

Photo of Mr George Jackson Mr George Jackson , Brighouse and Spenborough

Would the hon. Gentleman remind the House that, of course, this gas was used in Cyprus and Singapore not under the present Government and that the supply to Israel was also made before the present Government took office?

Photo of Mr William Yates Mr William Yates , The Wrekin

I am not going to start on that line. I am dealing with missing myths here at the moment but do not let it be said that I was attributing to your Government actions which they have not taken, but your Government have supplied—

Photo of Sir Samuel Storey Sir Samuel Storey , Stretford

Order. I have no Government.

Photo of Mr William Yates Mr William Yates , The Wrekin

I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Her Majesty's Government have, in fact, supplied a large quantity of arms to Saudi Arabia. I have here a reply from the former Foreign Secretary on the matter. I said I would raise it in an Adjournment debate, but now that I am pressed I will raise the point now.

The former Foreign Secretary, whom I respect, used red ink in saying so. He was taking a right away from another distinguished person in the Middle East because, by the laws of the Byzantine Empire, only the Archbishop of Cyprus is permitted to sign official letters in red ink. This was a very interesting thing for me. The supply of arms to Saudi Arabia was authorised by this Government. Supplies of arms are also being brought in from the other side of Saudi Arabia, and if they are arms in that quantity, and if they are new arms for the National Guard of Saudi Arabia, where, may I ask, are the second-hand rifles likely to go which they are now replacing?

I do not know that these rifles are going down into the Yemen disputed area but I would have thought that it would be imprudent of Her Majesty's Government to supply arms to Saudi Arabia at the present time and that, if arms were needed, they could well have been supplied by the United States. For a Labour Government to be in the arms running racket is more than even I can endure. I can only say that I received that letter from the former Foreign Secretary with deep regret. I did not and still do not understand the purpose behind it. That deals with that point.

Let me get back to where we were in discussing how we can deal with the situation that is developing. It is clear that Mr. Hugh Gaitskell, when he was Leader of the Opposition, was correct in his statement that he considered that no Middle East solution for the safety of either Israel or the Arab States could occur without an agreement between Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union and France. I would have thought that this is one of the most vital things that must be done now. I hope that high on the agenda of any discussions by the Foreign Ministers is which Powers will guarantee the present frontiers of Israel. I hope that the Government are taking an initiative in this matter; if not, they should do so.

If Syria and Lebanon start constructing a pumping station on the Esbani and Benares rivers, I hope that the Israeli Army will not go out at once and seize the whole of the area and present the Great Powers with a fait accompli. I hope that that will not be permitted or tolerated.

It may be said that it is all very well for an hon. Member such as myself to be critical, but what suggestions have I to make and what suggestions dare I make in public? If the Arab States wish to preserve their water rights they should form an organisation to conserve and protect them, and they should be able to discuss, through the United Nations or any other organisation of which they approve, how much water Israel is removing from the Jordan. This is one way in which the temperature could be lowered. It is clear that major decisions of foreign policy in the Middle East must be taken on these lines.

If this country and other countries go on playing around in the Middle East, trying to set one State against another, we shall be in a very awkward position because people will suspect that we are following two important principles of the foreign policy of Israel. The first is to make sure that British bases remain in the Middle East so that we can be called upon to help them at a moment's notice. The second is to divide the Arab States at every opportunity. Many Front Bench speakers from both sides of the House have pointed out that if our foreign policy is right there is nothing wrong with Arab nationalism and that it need not run counter to any British interests in the Middle East.

How does one approach the problem? There are two keys in the Middle East—the U.A.R. and Syria. All the communications run through those countries. Open any air route map and see how many aircraft pass down that lateral link communicating with the free world. The first important issue is our relations with the U.A.R.—and I am sorry to say that they are shocking. The situation is very unfortunate and very unhappy. We are both faced with a difficult problem. We have armies in South-West Arabia, and both those armies should not be there. The U.A.R. have 50,000 troops in the Yemen fighting to maintain their position and to support the Republican régime in the Yemen; and we have an army in Aden—doing what? Nobody quite knows. Presumably, it is to make quite sure that the sheikhs remain in power in the sheikhdoms. For why have we given £3 million to the Federal Army if it is not for the purpose of maintaining the power of the sheikhs in the sheikhdoms?

Therefore, clearly, the object of British foreign policy must be quite simply to enable the U.A.R. to be able to extract its forces out of the Yemen so that we, likewise, will be able to extract our forces out of the Aden area. How is this to be achieved when the U.A.R. Government are suspicious that, through the Sheikh of Beihar, or through second or third parties, arms are going, have been going and are getting to the Royalists in the North? That is going to make the civil war carry on even longer. Far from putting the U.A.R. in a position to be able to get its forces out, more arms to the Royalists, more trouble in the North, means that the U.A.R. forces will have to stay. So that would not be a sensible line to adopt. Vice versa the Republican forces in the Yemen, or their agents, are now sending freedom fighters who are throwing bombs into British settlements and injuring our soldiers in Aden.

So whatever has been said on the high policy, it is clear that both sides suspect one another. We suspect them of sending people to cause trouble in Aden, and they suspect us for sending people to support the Royalists. How are we to get over that, because, clearly, that situation cannot go on. It will flare up into something far more serious.

Now I have to say that I regret that the Leader of the Opposition is not here. I did warn him that I was going to say something about the past tonight, and he asked me to speak to his P.P.S., the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Frank Pearson). Last January the Republican Government of the Yemen were most anxious to get better relations with Her Majesty's Government, and, in particular, to try to sort out the conflict which they were almost certain was going to develop. Therefore, I was able to see the Foreign Minister of the Republican Government of the Yemen in Cairo, and he and those who were with him put forward ordinary and sensible suggestions to ease relations between the British Protectorate in Aden and the Yemen. These arrangements were perfectly fair and they would have worked on either side. They were brought back and given to the Foreign Secretary, they were discussed and they were not accepted. There were some remarks that, perhaps, better feelings could be generated with United Nations' assistance. Shortly afterwards, after the Yemenis had been causing trouble in the northern areas, the Government decided to blast the fort at Harib. I want to know one thing. Before we blasted the fort of Harib, did the Yemen Republican Government or their representatives warn us that if we did this they would open up terrorism and internal fighting in Aden and in the Protectorate? Because if they did give us clear warning, and if we, outright, rejected a genuine offer made by them, by which they said they thought international treaties as they stood should be observed, then the Government in charge at that time, to my mind, should be condemned.

During the most critical time, when one hoped that relations would improve between our country and the U.A.R., the Leader of the Opposition spoke in the United States and was asked a question on television about what he thought of the troubles in Panama, and over the networks of the United States he is said to have said that it would have been very much better if during the Suez crisis the Americans had let Great Britain deal with the Egyptians as she wanted to. That statement, coming from a former Foreign Secretary, who ought to have known its implications, must have been the most critical embarrassment to our Ambassador in Cairo and to every Ambassador throughout the Middle East. It is a matter of the most terrible regret and must have made their task very difficult.

So I have some sympathy with the Government coming into the position in which they find themselves now. I am just wondering, though, whether they are in charge of foreign policy yet or not. There seems to me to be the same trend going on. I see no major reverse of policy or any making of headway in improving relations with the U.A.R. I know they desire to improve them, and I perfectly agree that the broadcasts over Cairo Radio do nothing but damage to the good intentions which the Government have or desire to have with the U.A.R. I hope that at the right time the Minister will be able to tell the House and the country, in view of what must be another Suez crisis on the horizon, what is Her Majesty's Government's foreign policy towards the U.A.R., and towards the Government and the State of Israel.

I must say that I am sorry to detain the House for this length of time on these matters, but they must be of concern to every hon. Member. When one reads the Press and one finds that stories given on one side are not quite fair to the other, one must remember that certain of our national newspapers have got the problem which I mentioned to the House earlier; they have got the problem of editorial alliances—I go no further than that—and problems within the State of Israel, and this is a very grave difficulty for them.

So, in conclusion, I must ask the Government now, when British lives are being lost in Aden, are we going to go through it all again?—the Canal Zone, 1952, Cyprus, 1955? And are we now going to be faced with attempting to hold a base in an area which we may not any longer want? Do we desire to hold this base by force, or do we desire that it shall be a Commonwealth base and also be available for the United Nations? What the Minister shows to be the ideas of the Government on how our bases should be used and their purposes will be most helpful to the House and the country.

I realise that the Minister does not accept that the Tripartite Declaration of 1950 has any validity now. Then, what is in its place? This was the key to foreign policy in the Middle East both for the safety of Israel and for the safety of the Arab States. What is our attitude to the Jordan waters? Are we to go on supplying more arms to Saudi Arabia? The good name of this country is involved in all these things.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

We on this side know how courageous the hon. Gentleman has been over the years, and we know that he speaks with sincerity. He spoke of the Leader of the Opposition not being here. I, too, regret it. Has he attempted to discuss this privately with, or given any notice to, the Leader of the Opposition? I agree with him that, in view of the Leader of the Opposition's actions in the past, particularly at the time of Suez, it would have been nice to know what the reaction of the Leader of the Opposition is to this.

Photo of Mr William Yates Mr William Yates , The Wrekin

I spoke to the office of the Leader of the Opposition this morning and gave notice that I should be raising an important matter tonight concerning the speech he made in the United States and the effect it had on our ambassadors in the Middle East. His secretary said that I could find his Parliamentary Private Secretary, but I have not been able to do so. If there is any argument about the matter, we will argue it out tomorrow. It does not worry me.

Photo of Mr Tom Iremonger Mr Tom Iremonger , Ilford North

Is my hon. Friend talking about the Leader of the Opposition or the Prime Minister? Perhaps I might point out that the subject on which he is speaking was put on the list only a short time ago. It was not on the list this morning.

Photo of Sir Samuel Storey Sir Samuel Storey , Stretford

Order. The Leader of the Opposition is not the responsibility of the Government. The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. William Yates) must relate what he is saying to matters for which the Government are administratively responsible.

Photo of Mr William Yates Mr William Yates , The Wrekin

I would ask the hon. Member to realise that if the Leader of the Opposition thought that this debate or my remarks were of any consequence, he would have been here, or one of my other right hon. Friends would have been here.

I ask the Government to let the country and the Middle East know exactly what we are trying to achieve in the Middle East, how we are to protect our oil interests, in what way we can protect our interests and the interests of our people, what future there is for our forces in Aden, what their purpose is there, and how we resee the political arrangements being made in that area.

I am glad that the Secretary of State is here. I told him that I would raise this whole problem tonight. If I have been rather long, it is only because in previous foreign affairs debates I have not had the opportunity of bringing these matters before the House. If any hon. Members feel that I have offended them or have not acted with courtesy, they need not worry; they can argue it out with me tomorrow.

I warned the country in 1956 and I am doing it again tonight for the last time. If the present Government, of all people, get themselves into a Suez crisis—I hope they will not do so—they have nobody else to blame but themselves.