HC Deb 14 March 1912 vol 35 cc1243-4

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs how many lights there are in the Red Sea and how many are unlit owing to the Turco-Italian war, and, of those unlit, whether they are on barren rocks in the very centre of the Red Sea and not near the coast of Arabia; and, if so, whether a further investigation can be made as to the right of the Turkish Government to continued occupancy of such islands to the detriment of the shipping of Great Britain?


The total number of lights in the Red Sea is twenty-seven. The number of main navigational lights (excluding those in the Gulf of Suez, which are Egyptian) is six. Of these, two, which are Egyptian, have not been extinguished. The remaining four are Turkish, and were extinguished at the beginning of the war. They are at Mokha, Abu Ail, Zebayir and Jebel Teir. The Mokha light is on the Arabian coast. The others are on islands, Abu Ail being sixteen miles distant from the Arabian coast, and Jebel Teir, the furthest from that coast, being forty-seven miles distant. Abu Ail is forty-three and Jebel Teir sixty-eight miles from the African coast. These islands therefore are considerably closer to the Arabian than to the African coast. As the hon. Member was informed in reply to his question of March 7th, Turkish rights over these islands have never, so far as I am aware, been questioned; and the Turkish Government has a right to take, in regard to its own territory, such action as may be deemed advisable or necessary. These facts could not be altered by any investigation.


asked whether the shipping flying the British flag and passing through the Red Sea is three times greater than that of any other nation; and whether, as Turkey is still demanding dues in respect of the unlit lights, he can insist on their being relit?


About 61 per cent. of the vessels passing through the Suez Canal and Red Sea are British. Representations have recently been made by the representatives of all the foreign Powers at Constantinople in regard to the continued levy of light dues by the Porte in spite of the extinction of the lights, and I shall press this point, but His Majesty's Government have no power to insist upon the lights being relit as they have been extinguished for strategical reasons.


May I inquire whether the Government will approach the Italian and Turkish Governments with the view of neutralising the Red Sea during hostilities, and thus be in a position to restore the lighting?


That was done at the beginning of the war, and it was found impossible to come to any arrangement about neutralisation; but, of course, if any opportunity arises later on we shall be glad to do what we have already tried to do.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the collection of the light dues does not take place in Egypt and, if it does, whether it is not possible for the British Government to recommend the Egyptian Government to stop the collection until the lights are relit?


I am not sure of the facts. I shall be very glad, if my hon. Friend will repeat the question, to inquire into the matter.