HC Deb 20 July 1955 vol 544 cc353-5
10. Mr. E. Johnson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what further consideration has been given by the Security Council to the interference by Egypt with shipping in the Suez Canal; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Nutting

The Security Council has given no further consideration to this question. I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave to a similar Question from him on 6th April.

Mr. Johnson

While appreciating that it is difficult for us to act alone in a matter which is before the Security Council, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether we could not be a little bit more vigorous in making it known to Egypt that we will not continue to tolerate this continued infringement of an international convention?

Mr. Nutting

I think that what would be a much more useful contribution—and certainly the aim of Her Majesty's Government is to this effect—would be to try to help to bring about a general settlement of the dispute between the Arab States and Israel, for this situation in the Security Council arises out of that dispute, and out of nothing else.

Mr. Ernest Davies

Since the Security Council has failed in its efforts in this respect, would the Government consider placing this item on the agenda for the General Assembly when it meets in the autumn?

Mr. Nutting

I really do not think that that would help to bring about a solution. As the hon. Gentleman must himself remember from his own visitations to the United Nations, the more this issue is discused in public forums in the United Nations and elsewhere, the less likely a solution is and the more difficult the situation becomes.

12. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware of danger arising from the fact that the failure of diplomatic efforts to secure a free passage for ships in the Gulf of Akaba and the Suez Canal is forcing the Israeli Government to be prepared to take military action to protect Israeli ships; and, in view of this danger to peace in the Middle East, what steps he proposes to take in this matter.

Mr. Nutting

I am aware of certain statements made recently by the Israeli Prime Minister and Defence Minister during election speeches. and of counter statements by Egyptian spokesmen. These seem to have been occasioned by the shelling of the British ship "Anshun," on which I have made clear Her Majesty's Government's position.

We deplore attempts to interfere with the right of ships of all flags to innocent passage in the Gulf of Akaba and the Suez Canal. It has been and remains our policy to work for a removal of the state of tension which gives rise to these incidents. But I do not think that the danger to peace is greater now than it has been in recent months.

Mr. Shinwell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a very inflamatory situation developing in this area, not only because of the shelling of the s.s. "Anshun," but because of sustained provocation over a long period? Does he realise that something rather more than what the Government propose is required? For example, would it not be desirable to agree a bilateral arrangement with the State of Israel, not unlike the bilateral arrangements with other countries? Would that not afford a greater measure of protection to Israel and prevent the danger to which I have referred?

Mr. Nutting

The position has been made clear by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary with regard to a bilateral arrangement with Israel. What we want to get is a settlement of the Israel-Arab dispute, and then we would be prepared to consider a guarantee of that settlement. What we want to guarantee in the Middle East is stability and not the present instability.

Mr. Philips Price

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what excuse the Egyptian Government have given for firing on the ship in the Gulf of Akaba?

Mr. Nutting

So far they have given no excuse for firing on the ship because they state that they did not aim at the ship, and they were very sorry if they hit the ship.

Mr. Nicholson

Will not my right hon. Friend endeavour to secure mitigation of the bitterness in this part of the world, remembering that the spirit of bellicosity is not the monopoly of one side only?

Mr. Nutting

I am only too well aware of that.

Mr. Strachey

Is there not one simple step which the Government could take—so long as these incidents go on they should refrain from selling arms to Egypt?

Mr. Nutting

I do not think that would be a great help. So far, our policy of selling arms to Israel and to the Arab States falls well within the terms of the Tripartite Declaration, and I do not think that constitutes any provocation or any encouragement to either side.