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Thursday, 8 November 1956

Dr EVATT (Barton) (Leader of the Opposition) . - by leave - I think I can help the House, and the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in relation to a matter that he emphasized towards the end of his important speech - that is, the decision of the General Assembly which was reached last evening and was reported in the Australian wireless communications not so long ago. I refer to the decision of the General Assembly in a resolution introduced by the Afro-Asian group which consists, I think, of fifteen or twenty nations. I think it should give the key to the problem before us. It reads -

The General Assembly, reaffirming its resolutions adopted by overwhelming majorities on the 2nd. 3rd and 4th November, 1956.

Noting in particular that General Assembly, bv its resolution dated 4th November, 1956, established a United Nations command for an emergency international force to secure and supervise cessation of hostilities in acordance with all terms of its resolution of 2nd November, 1956 -

1.   Confirms determination of United Nations to implement its resolutions and provisions of charter.

2.   Calls upon Israel once again to withdraw immediately all its forces behind the armistice lines and to observe scrupulously the provisions of the Armistice Agreement of 24th February. 1949.

I interpolate that that is, of course, the original armistice agreement which was made under United Nations auspices in thai year between Israel and the Arab States, including Egypt. The resolution continues -

3.   Calls upon the United Kingdom and France to immediately withdraw all their forces from Egyptian territory.

4.   Urges the Secretary-General to communicate this resolution to the parties concerned and requests him to report to the General Assembly within 24 hours from time of adoption of this resolution.

That resolution was carried, I think, by a majority of 65 to one. That is to say, every person voting voted for it, with one exception, and that exception was the State of Israel; so that neither Great Britain nor France voted against the resolution. So, no matter how fervently the Prime Minister puts the case that has been made in the United Nations for the action taken by Great Britain and France, those are the facts. The General Assembly of the United Nations may be considered as representing the public opinion of all the world. The majority by which the vote on this matter was carried was not that of a small bloc of nations. It included practically all members of the United Nations except for seven or eight nations. That vote, of course, is morally binding on all members of the United Nations. The attitude adopted by the Prime Minister to-day is a repetition of the niggardly and disloyal attitude thai he adopted earlier to the United Nations, of which Australia is a member.

From the beginning of this dispute, that has been the issue between those on this side of the House and the Government or, at any rate, the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, it will be remembered by honorable members, brought this question up for general debate on 25th September, when he came back from the meetings in connexion with the Suez Canal crisis. In making a speech that evening, he advocated for the first time, I think, in this House that outside and above the United Nations Charter there was another law to which powers could appeal. If they were not satisfied with the position or if they lost their case in the United Nations, according to the Prime Minister, they could still appeal to force if they thought it in the interests of the world or in their own interest to do so. Do not honorable members remember the questions that he put as to the failure to agree - because that is all it was - on the future management of the canal? The first was to apply full-blooded sanctions against Egypt. The second was to use force which, of course, would mean war. The third concerned the method of negotiations which had closed the door in Egypt's face. In other words, if Egypt agreed to give up its claim, it could run the canal, carrying out the obligations of the treaty of 1888 concerning free access through the canal, and could give an account of its stewardship to the United Nations.

I cannot deal with the entire merits of the dispute. The case we made was that these disputes cannot be settled by taking the law into our own hands and using force. Surely that is elementary. It is elementary within the community and it is going to be elementary in the world before long. I agree with the Prime Minister that a similar situation, in some respects, came into existence in Hungary. That is to be dealt with by the Minister acting for the Minister for External Affairs (Sir Philip McBride) in a separate statement. But it is the same question - just as the threat of Russia to intervene in Egypt by force, and outside the jurisdiction and contrary to the decision of the United Nations, is completely wrong and completely unlawful. That is exactly the type of illegal action of which unfortunately the British - I mean the British Government for the time being, not the British people - assisted by the French have been guilty, in connexion with Egypt. 1 do not wish to be misunderstood foi a moment, and I shall repeat that in referring to Great Britain in this crisis,- one knows perfectly well that the Government does not, or at any rate it is by no means certain that it does, represent the majority of the people. The first principle observed by Great Britain in foreign affairs under Labour administrations was undeviating support for the United Nations. They did not like some of the decisions, but they accepted them. One cannot always win one's case before the United Nations, but it is no good adopting the attitude that the Prime Minister continually adopts. He cares so much for the United Nations that he is already looking at this resolution to see what is wrong with it. In his mind what is wrong is the unfortunate fact that 65 nations voted for it and only one against it and that was the unfortunate case of Israel, against which I do not wish to make any comment. No doubt this long struggle has, in some respects, driven the people of that country to desperation. They have often been attacked, and they saw an opportunity to make a deep advance into Egyptian territory.

The Prime Minister says that it is wrong to associate that deep penetration of Egyptian territory with the decision o( Great Britain and France to act by force against Egypt. I think that they are clearly associated and by that I am not saying - the Prime Minister mentioned this allegation - that it was a pre-arrangement; but it is perfectly clear from the statement of Sir Anthony Eden, which the Prime Minister read in this House last week, that the British Ambassador was instructed to go to the Israeli Government in Tel Aviv, and that he got from it the information that there was mobilization of a very special character. He got the assurance of the Government of Israel that there would be no attack on Jordan. That meant, obviously, that there would be an attack on Egypt and, from the very first, if one sees the messages published in the " Times " and the other British newspapers - unfortunately, all these details cannot be obtained in a press so far distant as ours is from the scene - it is perfectly clear that the British and French move was timed to coincide with that deen penetration of

Egyptian, territory by the forces of Israel. Is that not plain? One has only to look at it.

Honorable members who know much more of this aspect of the question than 1 do, will realize that the combined forces of two nations, France and Great Britain, operating from a base like Cyprus, must have had the operation planned weeks, and perhaps months, before. Split-second timing was necessary to carry that out with such efficiency. It was not suddenly arranged, lt was ready to go when the Prime Minister spoke to this House in September, because Sir Anthony Eden would not give an undertaking to the Labour party in the House of Commons that he would not use force.

Why the concentration of these forces? What was said about it by Lord McNair, a member of the House of Lords, and also a member of the International Court of Justice? This is the whole difference between us - and some one has to prevail in this. The views of the Australian people must prevail. Which is the right view? Do we go back to the old nineteenth century diplomacy and use force at your own discretion, or do we observe the supreme law - the international law of the Charter - and do our duty as a member of that organization - the world organization for peace? This is what Lord McNair said away back in September -

I have been puzzled by the massing and display of armed force in the Eastern Mediterranean that we have been witnessing during the past five or six weeks. Fifty years ago, yes. At that time armed force was the remedy of last resort which governments could use at their discretion in aid of the diplomacy in order to attain the ends which they regarded as essential.

Then Lord McNair referred to the Charter, and 1 remind the House that the Charter overrides every international agreement in conflict with any of its terms. It is the supreme law, in a sense the constitutional law, governing the relationship between nations. Then he went on to say, in effect -

To-day armed force is no longer a discretionary instrument of policy. Its use is regulated by law.

The Government is bound to come to this conclusion. He concluded -

I am unable to see the legal justification for the threat or the use of armed force by Great Britain against Egypt in order to impose a solution of this dispute.

That was the very dispute in respect of which the Prime Minister was engaged in putting a case for the nations concerned. The Prime Minister, however, comes back to Australia and puts a view which is diametrically opposed to the view of that authority, who based his argument upon the United Nations Charter.

From that source all these things have stemmed. The forces were ready. The question of self-government and other matters in Cyprus were of no moment at that time. The question was one of getting French and British forces ready to make their attack against Egypt, with particular reference to the Suez Canal. That was surely the original intention, but for some time Britain and France were dissuaded, and then darker forces and evil advisers got to work, and in the crisis affecting Israel some one said, "This is the time to make our attack ". Just imagine the position, the horror of it. There was Israel, making a deep penetration towards the canal, with the Egyptian forces completely unready for the attack. What happened among the three nations concerned? The Prime Minister can talk as much as he likes about the United States of America. Of course, it is vital to Australia, in particular, that relationships with the United States should be of the best, but consider the way in which the President of the United States was treated. This is the declaration of the governments- of the three countries, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, on 25th May, 1950 -

The three governments take this opportunity of declaring their deep interest in and their desire to promote the establishment and maintenance of peace and stability in the area-

That is the area, of course, containing the Arab States on the one hand and Israel on the other hand - and their unalterable opposition to the use of force or threat of force between any of the States in that area-

Unalterable opposition! What did they decide?

The three governments, should they find that any of these States was preparing to violate frontiers or armistice lines, would, consistently with their obligations as members of the United Nations, immediately take action, both within ami outside the United Nations, to prevent such violation.

Three nations were concerned - France, Great Britain and the United States. What did the French and the British do? They kept the facts away from President Eisenhower and his government, and deliberately concealed them. Sir Anthony Eden said in the House of Commons -

We are looking at the tripartite agreement.

They looked at it! They had two conferences with the American representatives but never said a word about the action they proposed to take. Why? Because they did not dare to tell them. If President Eisenhower had been warned, I believe that he would have taken steps to prevent what was really an operation of war against Egypt. So, instead of taking action to prevent a breach of the peace, Great Britain and "France added to the complications by making their own attack on Egypt. They did not take any steps in relation to Israel. They did not say to Israel, through their ambassadors, " You are not to attack any nation. We asked you not to attack Jordan and you have given an undertaking, but if you attack Egypt or any other Arab nation we shall take steps to act with the United States under this agreement." That was not done, and the fact that it was not done has never been explained by the Prime Minister of Great Britain, because it is inexplicable. Always, that question is evaded. There was no authority under this agreement for Great Britain or France to do anything but inform the United States, to see if a breach of the peace could be prevented. The agreement provided -

The three governments, should they fmd that any of these states was preparing to violate frontiers or armistice lines . . .

That is exactly what Israel was doing. Great Britain and France knew that Israel was doing that, but they did nothing about it; they did not bring that fact to the attention of the United Nations. I say that they did not bring their proposals to the attention of the United States, because President Eisenhower would have said, "What you are doing is outrageous. It is monstrous. You are doing the very reverse of trying to preserve peace. You are creating a situation of enormous danger to the whole of the Middle East and perhaps to the world, yet you are doing it on your own responsibility without consulting your partner under this agreement." Of course, if they acted in accordance with the doctrine of the Prime

Minister of Australia, that nations are not bound by the United Nations Charter, 1 suppose it could be said that they were not bound to tell their ally about what they were proposing to do.

Such is the way in which the situation developed. Let us look at the ultimatum itself. I shall not repeat the details of the ultimatum as honorable members know them very well. The ultimatum said to Egypt and to Israel, " You have to go back 10 miles ". As Israel was nearly J 00 miles inside Egyptian territory, that was a stern warning to Israel that it could still remain 90 miles within Egypt, breaking its agreement and interfering with the territorial integrity of Egypt, whereas Egypt would have to go back 10 miles from the canal. Great Britain and France said further, in the ultimatum, " We will come in. We will look after the canal and the 10 miles of territory on either side of the canal. We will occupy the whole zone ".

I do not think anybody could contradict that that was obviously a move so that British and French forces could obtain military possession of the canal zone. I should like to quote from a statement made by Mr. Gaitskell, the Labour leader in Great Britain, when referring to a speech by the British Foreign Secretary. First, he expressed astonishment at Britain's abstention from voting, and he criticized governmental insistence that the international forces should also secure a final settlement of the Suez Canal problem. He then said -

This only confirmed in the minds of the whole world that the Anglo-French intervention was noi to separate the combatants but to seize control of the canal.

I do not think that any other conclusion could be drawn. I say that that is the key to the war waged against Egypt, and Egypt alone, by the forces of Great Britain and France. They said it was a police operation. Is it? When a peace officer or police officer sees two persons brawling in the street, with one getting the worst of it and practically out, because of the greater skill or force of the other, is it his function to come in and kick to death, or almost to death, the one who has practically collapsed? That is exactly what happened in connexion with Egypt, and Great Britain and France treated the incident as an opportunity to wage war against Egypt. Just imagine the communique, at the end, saying, " We have eliminated 95 per cent, of the

Egyptian air force ". Was that the action of policemen trying to separate combatants, or was it the. action of powers who completely failed to realize their duty to the United Nations, and used force in order to bring the armed forces of Egypt to their knees?

That is the record. The more one looks al it, the worse it is. This action was followed in the United Nations, first, by the veto. Great Britain and France were, of course, perfectly entitled to use the veto. But that was followed by the General Assembly condemnation, four times over, of their taking this action. That is the situation in the Middle East to-day, and the consequences are serious. It is all very well for the Prime Minister to talk about questions of colour and groups of nations which happen to belong to Asia or Africa, but they are members of the United Nations. They are entitled to put their views. They have been joining in these resolutions. The nations which have only recently attained the status of nations are perfectly entitled 10 express their independent opinions on all these matters.

I want the Prime Minister to go back to a question which he answered the other day with regard to what used to be called the British Commonwealth but is now called the Commonwealth of Nations. We always think of it, correctly, as the British Commonwealth, because Great Britain is the centre of that Commonwealth. The Prime Minister said that Britain was perfectly justified in not consulting or even informing the other members of the British Commonwealth. Would anybody accept that? Nobody protests more against action of that kind than the Prime Minister on the eve of Commonwealth conferences. He wants a better organization when he goes there. He wants a scheme of consultation. Mr. Curtin wanted the same thing. Indeed, Mr. Curtin and I advocated it. If that does not happen very quickly to meet this emergency, the British Commonwealth will not be a commonwealth at all. That is one of the urgent problems that have to be grasped. " The Labour movement is taking action on its own in Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand, so that, as members of the British Commonwealth, we can meet together to try to work out a solution to these problems. The governments of the various nations should do the same thing. Lack of consultation is one great disaster that is threatening us to-day.

There are other aspects of this subject. 1 mention the constitution of the United Nations. One pleasing feature of this situation is the way in which the General Assembly, consisting of all the nations, has rallied to its responsibilities in a most critical situation. Faced with the exercise of the veto in the Security Council, not only on the question of Hungary but also on the question of Egypt, the General Assembly met immediately. On some occasions, ii sat until the early hours of the morning in an effort to reach speedy and just conclusions on these great questions. 1 answered the Prime Minister last week when he asked, during my speech, " What can the General Assembly do? With what will it deal? " It has dealt with this problem in the resolution I cited to-day. Will that resolution be disobeyed by the governments concerned? Apparently the Australian representative did not vote against it. The resolution was accepted by Britain. Australia, New Zealand and France, who were four of the five nations that voted against the first resolution in favour of a cease-fire and the withdrawal of the intervention by Great Britain and France. They are some of the great questions in connexion with this matter which have to be dealt with.

But I want to say here and now - and this is the time to say it - that I object again to the Prime Minister's niggardly treatment of the very courageous decision of the General Assembly to set up an international peace group. It does not matter whether the word is " police " or " peace "; it means the same thing. The object of this group is not to wage war but to separate the combatants and to see that the decisions of the United Nations are carried into effect. As we have declared so often in connexion with the Suez dispute and other matters, our firm policy is to give unwavering support to the United Nations. That being so. the Labour movement of Australia would think it right and proper that Australia should not wait upon the order of its going but should offer a contribution towards the peace force of the United Nations, which is designed to bring peace into that troubled area. Effective safeguards, in some respects, would be required. I do not want to deal with the details of that now, but if one believes in the United Nations, one should see that its decisions are supported. On the occasion of the Korean dispute, this Government, supported by the Opposition, made a contribution to what was a similar operation, in some respects, to the Suez operation. 1 feel that the position that has to be faced now is this: The events of the last few weeks cannot be recalled. They are not events that will be remembered with happiness by the democratic peoples of the world. For some reason both Great Britain and France took the wrong direction from the first and have continued in that direction with utter disaster. I do not, of course, mean a disaster of arms, but disaster to their leadership of the United Nations. The position is not irretrievable. These things have happened, but the cure is to be provided and can be provided.

I am not satisfied with the position with regard to the consultation by the United Kingdom with other members of the Commonwealth of Nations. In any event, the United Kingdom did not need to consult the Prime Minister of Australia or this Government. The Prime Minister laid down the law in favour of force as against the United Nations; in favour of force as against the law; and in favour of the legality of direct action by force in connexion with Egypt over the canal dispute. Therefore, Sir Anthony Eden would know that, whatever he did, he would be supported by the Australian Government.

Of course, the tragic figure of the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) during this situation needs only to be mentioned without being described. He is everywhere but at the point where decisions are being made. He should be at the General Assembly when the General Assembly is meeting. But he is not; he is in Great Britain or in Canada. Similarly, when decisions were being made here, he was away. When decisions were being made in Egypt or in England, he was here. 1 believe that he understands far better than the Prime Minister what the obligations of the United Nations are and that he would not have been - and he should not have been - a party to the great blunders that have been made.

I have now outlined the position. The obligation of membership of the United Nations is to accept the decisions. It is perfectly true that those decisions are not enforceable as are the decisions of a court within a country through the ordinary police force and the sheriff. But they bind members. They are obligations of a very powerful character and are morally binding. I ask the Government to review the action it has taken, to make a contribution to the international force in the Middle East and to support the United Nations. It is vitally important that Great Britain and France should observe and obey the further direction given by the United Nations. They say that they will leave the area as soon as the peace force arrives. Let the peace force arrive as quickly as possible! Those countries have done enough harm in the Middle East. They broke the obligations of the tripartite pact between the United States, Great Britain and France. No other agreement authorizes what they have done. Their action is plainly contrary to the Charter of the United Nations. Let them examine the situation to which they have come. I am expressing not merely an individual opinion; I believe it to be the opinion of the Vast majority of people in this country. I again emphasize that we are not opposing in any way the people of Great Britain. The people of Great Britain are our kinsmen and I believe that in this matter they take the same view as that expressed by the Labour party here.

I wish to mention one other point. It is clear from what the Prime Minister has said that he is uncertain about what should be done and about the meaning of the resolution of the United Nations. In other words, we cannot be sure before we adjourn this afternoon of what the Government proposes to do. I suggest that the House should not adjourn indefinitely. Some date to which the House could adjourn should be fixed so that we can return to debate these great matters.

I again put the proposition to the Prime Minister that our duty is not to see if some one might object to an Australian contribution to the peace force. Who would object? The suggestion that one nation might object can be left until that occasion arises. I am sure the United Nations would be very glad and relieved, in view of a recent voting in the Security Council and particularly in the

General Assembly, to learn that Australia, which was one of the great supporters of the United Nations, would be supporting it in this critical situation by making the contribution that I have suggested.

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