HC Deb 25 February 1957 vol 565 cc857-9
45. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Prime Minister what decision has been taken by Her Majesty's Government concerning the use of sanctions against Israel in the event of her refusal to withdraw forces from Gaza and Aqaba until definite guarantees for her security are assured.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

The position of Her Majesty's Government with regard to the problem of Gaza and Aqaba was made clear by the Foreign Secretary on 11th February and was repeated by a statement on behalf of the Foreign Office on Thursday afternoon, 21st February. This statement, as I think Members will realise on reflection, put forward a view which is generally accepted on all sides of the House.

We believe that the Gaza Strip should be evacuated by Israel. We equally believe that it should be made a United Nations responsibility and that United Nations Forces should be stationed there. We believe that the Israeli forces should retire from the west shore of the Gulf of Aqaba. We equally believe that coupled with that withdrawal it should be made clear beyond a peradventure both by the United Nations and by leading maritime countries that they regard access to these waters as free to the world.

Thus we should achieve a solution which would be fair to all and would contribute towards an ultimate settlement of the many problems of an area where peace and stability are of vital importance to the world.

We have throughout made this view clear to the American Government and others of our friends and Allies. I am not without hope that a solution will be found along these lines.

Mr. Shinwell

While naturally, in common with other hon. Members, I welcome the statement by the right hon. Gentleman, can we be assured that Her Majesty's Government will not consent, even under pressure from the United States or the United Nations, to any solution which does not provide the effective guarantees to which the right hon. Gentleman has just referred?

The Prime Minister

That is exactly what we are trying to do. We are trying to find a settlement that is fair to both sides. These negotiations are going on. We have, of course, quite a difficult task in conducting them at a distance, in continually changing situations, under procedures which sometimes are difficult to follow and difficult to operate. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, both privately and publicly, we shall do everything we can to achieve a solution. I believe that there has been some movement towards it in the last two or three days, and I would hope not to be pressed to say anything that could make that solution less likely to happen.

Mr. Nicholson

Will my right hon. Friend take particular care to ensure that nothing that has happened in the last few months alters the attitude of strict impartiality and fairness that we should hold as between the Arabs—I am not speaking for the Egyptians—and the Israelis? Is he aware that the arguments on both sides are evenly balanced and that if we are to do any good we must retain a reputation for impartiality?

The Prime Minister

These are very difficult questions, in which not only local but world interests are involved, and I am sure that we would make our best service if we try to see what is fair and put our influence behind what seems to us to be fair and, I believe, an increasing number of people in all these parts of the world will believe to be fair.

Mr. J. Dugdale

While welcoming the Prime Minister's statement, may I ask him if he realises that any proposal to use sanctions against Israel at this moment would be abhorrent to a large number of hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of this House?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir; for that reason I do not want to think in terms of sanctions but to think in terms of a settlement.

Mr. Gaitskell

While also welcoming, in general, what the Prime Minister has said, may I ask him whether he does not feel that it is also important that Egypt should renounce all thought of belligerency in this matter, and that, if that could be done at the same time as the withdrawal of Israeli forces, there would be a real advance towards a settlement in the Middle East?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. Of course, if there is to be a settlement, there must be a proper will on both sides, and I think the vital thing, as I have tried to say, is that this particular waterway should be regarded as a free waterway to the world.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

In view of the statement in the Prime Minister's original Answer, would it not be of advantage if a senior Minister could represent the Government in the Assembly?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I think we are extremely well represented by the Minister of State, who has made an increasing reputation since he has been there, and by perhaps one of the most distinguished and able civil servants whom we have in the service of Her Majesty today.

Mr. Patrick Maitland

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will come as a very great relief to the many people of all parties who are worried about this matter? May I ask him if he is aware that, on the question of whether enforcement action is arranged in the final settlement, and in order to ensure freedom of the seas in the Gulf of Aqaba, many people are very concerned and are looking hopefully towards the Canadian resolution now before the United Nations?

The Prime Minister

I take note of what my hon. Friend says. I think that in the present state of this negotiation or this situation, it would not be in the public interest to dot every "i" and cross every "t", but let us hope that the new attitude, which seems to me to be quite marked in the last few days, will result in a settlement which is greatly in our interests and greatly in the interests of the whole world.