Foreign Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th July 1965.

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Photo of Sir Douglas Dodds-Parker Sir Douglas Dodds-Parker , Cheltenham 12:00 am, 19th July 1965

I shall listen with interest, as, I am sure, will hon. Members on both sides of the House, to the reply of the Government to some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson). I am delighted to hear him say that he fully supports the American alliance and that he is all for peace and not victory in Vietnam. I think it is worth pointing out for the sake of the record that Mr. Harriman, since he first came to this country in 1941, has been a consistent supporter of his country's foreign policy whichever party in America has been in power; and though he became for a short period Governor of New York he always supported the American Government's international policy taken up by either party in the United States, which, I suggest, is a different comparison from that drawn by the hon. Member.

This debate, as a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, is somewhat unsatisfactory because it is drawn far too wide. I think we would all agree that the narrower a debate the better it is; also I myself shall be as brief as I possibly can.

I want to deal with three different parts of the world, considering as a thread connecting them the phrase "centres of dissolving power"—which is a phrase used, the hon. Member for Penistone may remember, at a conference we both attended in Poland some three or four months ago. It was interesting to have this idea raised in those circumstances, and I think it led them to feel, as we did, and as did my hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell), who has had United Nations service, that we had a different approach to a number of these problems 15 or so years ago.

In the immediate post-war period our policy was based on the belief that upon the withdrawal of the colonial powers from various parts of the world they would be followed by the United Nations taking over and safeguarding the successor Governments from aggression, whether overt or covert, clandestine or subversive. Unfortunately, the experience of Czechoslovakia, Korea, Malaya, Cuba, Zanzibar have belied those hopes, and now Vietnam, as the latest and most immediate problem before this House, has brought again the fears that those hopes will again be belied, those hopes which were built up in the post-war years.

The next point I want to take is Vietnam, as a centre of dissolving French power, as it were, in the period of 1945 to 1954. It is a mistake, I feel, to suppose that, in that part of the world, or any other part of the world which the French or British or Dutch have occupied in their different ways, their influence has ended. I think myself that French influence will stay in Vietnam and that it will be of great benefit in the long run to the people of that country. My right hon. Friends have covered and will be covering in some detail the problem of Vietnam. They have been more responsible recently for British policy in that part of the world; but I may perhaps be forgiven, since I myself served at the Foreign Office at one time, for saying something about it; I cast my mind back to 1954 when Sir Anthony Eden obtained the Geneva Settlement in 1954, which was, perhaps, the year of his greatest achievements—that, and the establishment of Western European Union. Later that year he sent me to visit many of the countries of Asia and of South-East Asia, and I saw the leading statesmen, and they all welcomed the achievement of the Geneva Settlement, as it was then called. They were, however, all apprehensive about the possibilities of Chinese expansion and also of subversive activities throughout those areas.

It is strange, looking back, to remember how difficult it was to get the United States to take any practical interest in that part of the world and to remember how difficult it was then as, indeed, it still is, to get other Western Powers to take an interest or to become involved. It is one of the recurring problems of this country. My personal experience goes back to the League of Nations in 1935 declaring Italy an aggressor; and there was then all too little interest taken by other countries of Western Europe, and far too little was and is done by them to protect their friends and allies from aggression. Despite the lesson of Korea four years before—I am speaking of 1954 now—practically nothing was done in Vietnam, despite the knowledge of subversive action by what is now called the Vietcong south of the armistice line.

I would point out once again that the whole Western Alliance, and indeed the whole free world, is concerned with preventing the further spread of subversive anarchy in South-East Asia. The Prime Minister said in his speech today that it is a very difficult situation, and I am certain that we must back our allies, and look for every way to stop the bloodshed in that part of the world. When history comes to be written it will be found very difficult to say that the President of the United States has not done his utmost to try to find a way round these difficulties. He has offered to negotiate, and offered in a way which, three or four years ago, would, I think, possibly have been thought by sovereign States to be humiliating, but he has had the greatness and the courage to do what he has done, and I think we all have to respect him for it.

The next point I want to take is the Middle East; not the Near East as it is so often called, but the Arabian Peninsula which has been a centre of dissolving British—or rather, British-Indian—power in the last twenty years.

Looking back on the history of it, our original interest was that it lay on the line of communication first with the Persian Gulf and with India, and after that with the Suez Canal and Aden, the coaling station. Indeed, until comparatively recently—I think, 1935—Aden came under the Government of India and was only transferred then to the Colonial Office. So, until 1945 policy for the most part was made from Delhi. It was transferred to the Foreign Office here in 1947, with Indian independence, when the whole of the area came under the Foreign Office. During the same period oil was discovered in that area, both in the States with which we had a direct treaty relationship and also in Saudi Arabia, and so there was a common interest between them.

There was a book which I had the pleasure of reviewing recently, called "Eastern Arabian Frontiers", which tells the story in full. I shall not go into it, but I would make the point that in that period, since 1945, we have been preoccupied with other affairs, and new, direct responsibilities and circumstances led to insufficient attention being paid to that part of the world. One of the problems which have resulted has been insufficient delineation of frontiers, and that led to our conflict with Saudi Arabia. That conflict over the years is a great pity, because for so long the Kings of that country have been great friends of Britain. Ibn el Saud was among our best friends, and his sons, first King Saud and then King Feisal, have had very friendly personal relationships with this country.

I would point out to the Government, and to the Minister of State, who, I think, is to reply to this debate today, and who, if I may say so, made a very useful tour of that part of the world recently, that we should now make a particular effort to improve relations with the Saudis. I think in the last few years our relations with them have been better, but I think that a mission of a senior Minister to the Arabian Peninsula would be more productive of good than to other countries in the Near East. There was a recent visit by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation, who was the first Minister to visit Saudi Arabia since I went there in 1956. If the visit to which I have referred could include friendly visits to Saudi Arabia and the Trucial Coasts and South Arabia, again thereby linking up the whole area, it would be good. Since the unfortunate quarrel between the Trucial Sheiks and Saudi Arabia there have been a number of friendly visits by some of the Trucial Sheiks to Saudia Arabia when on pilgrimage which have led to better relations with Saudi Arabia.

These States, which are under British protection, and whose internal administration, and their health and education and other services depend equally with Saudi Arabia, on oil revenue, have many common interests. We should therefore go further and encourage a closer association between our friends and allies in the Persian Gulf and in South Arabia with Saudi Arabia. After all, their interests, both internal and external, are very much the same.

We should also help them, or prepare the way to help our friends in the Yemen when Egyptian aggression is forced out, as has been happening steadily during the last few months. I was in Jedda in 1956 just after the treaty between Saudi Arabia and the Yemen was signed. I think that we should now be ready to build on this and help our friends there to build on that treaty for the benefit of the Yemen, of Saudi Arabia and for our immediate responsibilities in South Arabia.

We must go on to stabilise this area which produces the main energy source, not just for this country, not just for the larger part of the Western world, but for almost the whole of the Eastern hemisphere. It is too little recognised that the policing of the area now called "east of Suez" has been carried out primarily by the British for the benefit of both trade and political stability of practically the whole of the free world. I commend to the Government the opportunity which now arises of following up and sending out a Minister who, by going round these areas, could do much to draw them further together for the benefit of themselves and of Britain.

My third point concerns a different part of the world, and that is Spain and her relationship with Gibraltar. This is not a "centre of dissolving power". It is possibly a point of "change of power". Here again the aim should be for closer association with, and co-operation in, Europe. If I might again go back in history; between 1939 and 1944 I was involved in Spain and in the Western Mediterranean. I had a number of Spaniards who had fought on both sides during the Civil War. They fought on our side during the 1939–45 war, and they all said the same thing, "Whatever else you do, do not start up the civil war again". They were prepared to go in on Hitler's line of communication when there was a German plan to go down and attack Gibraltar in 1942–43. They said, "If we do that, do not start up the civil war, because after the defeat of Germany the régime will ameliorate and change." It has not done so to a greater extent because, as I think is generally known, after the war certain Left-wing elements in the Socialist Party treated Spain as a pariah. This consolidated the regime and rallied many people who were friendly to us, many patriotic Spaniards, behind the regime. They disliked, as would most British, what they regarded as outside interference in their domestic politics.

Between 1951 and 1964 relations between Spain and this country improved considerably, to the benefit of the Spanish people, and of British holidays and trade. With the return of the Socialist Government in 1964, and the Prime Minister's speech in this House about this time last year, the Spanish realised that they had no friend in him. The cancellation of the joint manoeuvres and the refusal to allow them to buy frigates and arms, confirmed that there was a return to the old policies.

Listening to the Parliamentary Questions put to the Colonial Secretary, I often wonder whether he was consulted about all this, because he has certainly been left to carry the baby. The Spaniards were prompted to react in a way which was least harmful to Spain, namely, by blockading Gibraltar, and I must regret most strongly that Spain is taking it out of Gibraltar rather than out of Britain if she must take it out of somebody; and we are forced to support any defensive action by Her Majesty's Government because we do not believe that two wrongs make a right. It is regrettable that Gibraltar should be the exception to the improvement in British-Spanish relations. I am sure that it is a great grief to all the friends of the Spanish people—there are many on both sides of the House—who welcome this steady evolution in Spanish politics and economy—much of it is due to the extension of the O.E.C.D. to the affairs of Spain.

We are sad that the Spanish authorities are so vindictive over Gibraltar, to the acute detriment of good will between us all and hardship for the people of Gibraltar and the Spanish workers who earn their livelihood there. These actions over Gibraltar are losing Spain the support of many of her friends in this country. How much better it would be for Spain's relations with Gibraltar and with the British people if she now said, "We realise that this Socialist Government is only a temporary and final outburst in Britain" and withdrew all her restrictions. There would be an outburst of material benefit and good will between the three peoples—the British, the Spaniards and the Gibraltarians—which would show up the foolish dogmatic and outdated vendettas of certain Socialist elements in this country who, as so often before, luxuriate safely at home in futile impotence while others suffer for their mistakes. But if the Spanish authorities continue with these ill-judged counter measures, we must all be behind the Government in the measure they take to support our friends in Gibraltar.

There is, of course, one special point that I should like to make on this. I think that Spain is understandably interested in the future constitutional status of Gibraltar. I believe that this is of legitimate concern to her. Ever since I served on a committee under a previous Labour Government, from 1948 to 1950, I have believed that Gibraltar might be given some status equivalent to that of the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man. I am not a constitutional lawyer, but I believe that this can be reconciled with the Treaty of Utrecht. My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) wrote an interesting letter on this point to The Times some months ago, and it was mentioned in the Press, I think yesterday, as being something which is being considered by our friends in Gibraltar.

I believe that such a status would benefit the people of Gibraltar, and would remove the fears of the Spaniards that they might one day find a hostile State on their doorstep. I therefore urge the Government to consider this and to discuss it with the Spanish authorities in due course, but not, of course, under duress.

Out of all this, I make two quick points. The dispute with Spain and Gibraltar shows once again the foolishness of Europe quarrelling over points which, given a modicum of good will and commonsense on both sides, could be solved without any delay, for the benefit of all. We are trying to unite Europe. We believe that thereby lies the best way of preserving our way of life. If we are going to do it, we must surely find a way to resolve this sort of problem within the community of Europe, within the Council of Europe, the O.E.C.D. or by direct confidential negotiations.

I believe that here is an opportunity for the Foreign Office to start making approaches. I am sure that the Iberian Peninsula, as much as the countries of Eastern Europe about which the Prime Minister talked today, is an essential part of Europe in which we all believe. Like the Prime Minister, I visit these countries behind the so-called Iron Curtain. I know, as does the hon. Member for Penistone, who was there earlier this year, that they such as Poland and Hungary and Czechoslovakia are great European countries, and I hope that one day in my lifetime they will be part of the full community of Europe. In the meantime, for Heaven's sake let us find a way of reconciling the position of Spain over Gibraltar, and not get into these painful disputes.

Lastly, in all these three areas of which I have spoken there is both a Foreign Office and a Commonwealth or Colonial Office interest. For long I have believed, with some reason, that the polices in relation to such areas are often not adequately co-ordinated in Whitehall. We must therefore work faster towards creating a Ministry of External Affairs, with Commonwealth Ministers charged with the duty of protecting Commonwealth interests within that Ministry.

The three areas that I have mentioned—Vietnam and Malaysia; South Arabia and Aden with the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia, and Gibraltar and Spain—are examples of areas in respect of which we need closer departmental co-operation than has existed in the past. Some advance has been made in the last ten years, but much remains to be done if we are to prevent our friends overseas being harmed by a conflict of departmental policies in the United Kingdom, as in my opinion exists at the moment over Gibraltar.