HC Deb 08 April 1957 vol 568 cc798-801
14. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will now make a statement on the consultations Her Majesty's Government have been having with other Governments about the recent memorandum of the Egyptian Government relating to the Suez Canal.

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

The Egyptian document in question was a draft, and it has not been published officially. We have expressed our views on this draft to the United States, French and other interested Governments. The United States Ambassador in Cairo is discussing it with the Egyptian Government, and until these discussions have reached a conclusion I am not in a position to make a statement.

Mr. Henderson

Do the Government agree with the view of the United Nations Secretary-General that there seems to be no serious conflict between the Egyptian Government's memorandum and the six principles? Can the Minister give any indication whether there is likely to be a conference with the Government of Egypt on the matter in the near future?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

Of course, by saying that there is nothing in conflict with the Resolution of the Security Council, it does not follow that this draft memorandum covered all the points in that Resolution. That is what discussions are now taking place about. I think it might be fair to say that the points in the memorandum do not run contrary, but they do not go far enough. As regards a conference with the Egyptians on the matter, I am afraid that I have no statement to make.

17. Mr. Benn

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what action Her Majesty's Government will take as a signatory of the 1888 Convention to ensure the passage of Israeli shipping through the Suez Canal.

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

The aim of Her Majesty's Government is that Egypt should fully honour the 1888 Convention and also the six principles of the Security Council Resolution of 13th October, the first of which provides for free and open transit for all without discrimination.

Mr. Benn

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the fact that the Answer he has given made no reference to the 1951 Resolution demanding that Israel had the right to send her ships through is extremely sinister? Is he prepared to take more action than the Government have done since 1951 to see that that Resolution is implemented?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

We certainly think that the Egyptians should abide also by the 1951 Resolution. I would point out that the Israeli Government have been particularly cautious in their remarks about the use of the Suez Canal, and it would be just as well at the present time if we were equally cautious.

Mr. P. Williams

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Israelis intend, probably in the very near future, to send a ship through as a test case? Is he also aware that it is reported in the Press that Cairo Radio is threatening to destroy any Israeli ship that tries to go through the Canal? In such circumstances, what action would Her Majesty's Government take?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

That is a completely hypothetical question which I cannot answer.

18. Mr. H. Hynd

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is yet in a position to state the terms under which British ships will pass through the Suez Canal.

32. Mr. Grimond

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he has any further statement to make on the future of the Suez Canal and the advice given to British ships over the payment of dues.

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

I have at present nothing to add to what the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend said during the debate on the Bermuda talks on 1st April.

Mr. Hynd

Is not the right hon. Gentleman very unhappy at having to give so many negative replies today? Is he aware that, according to the New York Herald Tribune, the number of shipowners who have asked to be transferred to the Liberian flag has increased by 200 per cent, since the Canal was reopened, including a large number of British shipowners? Shipowners, being good Conservatives, believe in private profit being paramount, but is there not a danger that more ships will be transferred from the Red Ensign to the flags of Liberia, Panama, Costa Rica and other countries?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

That sort of consideration is very much in our mind, and we are doing all we possibly can to get a reasonable settlement of the Suez Canal problem.

Mr. Grimond

Surely the Minister can give some direction in the near future to British shipping or it will be heavily handicapped. Are we to understand from the right hon. Gentleman's previous answer that the Government are prepared to have a settlement on the basis of the six principles that we could have had in October?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

As I have already said, we propose to negotiate on the six principles. There is no evidence that we could have got agreement with the Egyptian Government on those six principles If the hon. Gentleman will read the reply of Dr. Fawzi, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, he will see that he made certain conditional demands with regard to the six principles of the Resolution of 13th October.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

What responsibility, if any, have the signatories of the Constantinople Convention of 1888 for making effective the provision of the Convention that the ships of all nations would be free to go through the Suez Canal in peace or war?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

Any settlement has also to be on the basis of the 1888 Convention. That is one of the things that are being discussed with the Egyptian Government at the present time.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

Is it not a fact that a letter of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 24th October last set out a settlement virtually agreed with Egypt which would have safeguarded British interests, and that Egypt proposed a meeting in Geneva on 29th October?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

The right hon. Gentleman is incorrect. The Egyptian Government did not accept entirely the Secretary-General's letter of 24th October.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Was not the only reservation they made a small point about police action, which was very doubtful on its merits?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

It was a point on arbitration, which was of very great importance.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Have not the Egyptian Government, in their latest proposals, accepted full arbitration on all points, including reference to the International Court, of any dispute about the 1888 Convention?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

I am not prepared to discuss what is in the Egyptian memorandum, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that in many respects it is totally unacceptable.

Mr. Shinwell

Would the October position also have safeguarded the passage of Israeli ships?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

That is a hypothetical question.

Hon. Members