§ 22 and 23. Captain Pilkington
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (1) to what extent clearance of the Suez Canal has been further delayed by Egyptian obstruction;
(2) how many salvage ships were assembled by the Admiralty in the Suez Canal area; and how many have been used under the United Nations in clearing the Canal.
§ 24. Mr. Biggs-Davison
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty if he will estimate the extent of the delay in clearing the Suez Canal of serious obstruction to navigation attributable to the failure of the United Nations Organisation to make the fullest use of the Anglo-French Salvage Fleet.
§ Mr. Soames
By mid-December, the Anglo-French Salvage Fleet at Port Said consisted of 19 ships, and another 21 were being held in readiness to go to Port Said or Suez. To the best of our knowledge, the United Nations have assembled 17 salvage ships. None of these figures includes tugs.
If the Anglo-French Salvage Fleet had been allowed to proceed with the clearance beyond El Cap from November onwards, the Canal would probably have been cleared for shipping by the middle of this month, certainly by the end of this week.
Our Salvage Fleet has, however, cleared two channels for the largest shipping at Port Said with remarkable speed and 977 efficiency in the face of considerable difficulties. I am sure that all hon. Members will wish to join me in paying a tribute to the magnificent efforts of our salvage forces.
§ Captain Pilkington
Would my hon. Friend agree that all these facts show how much better it would have been for the whole world if the United Nations and the United States had supported this country and France not only in stopping the war but also in securing a guaranteed settlement for the Canal? Can he say in present circumstances whether there are hopeful prospects of getting the Canal open soon?
§ Mr. Soames
As far as we know, there are no technical reasons why General Wheeler's timetable for getting a channel clear through the whole length of the Canal by the end of March should not be adhered to.
§ Mr. Bottomley
Whilst joining in the tributes to the men engaged in the salvage service and wishing them all well, may I ask whether the Minister is not aware that, due to the hostility created in the area, the probability is that British salvage ships could not have been used without hostilities bringing them to a stop ultimately and, therefore, his forecast would have been wrong?
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
Quite apart from the difference of opinion on our intervention in Egypt, does not a heavy responsibility rest on those at the United Nations who have refused to make the fullest use of this splendid fleet in the interests of international shipping?
§ Mr. Soames
Certainly it is a great pity that our ships have not been used, because the Canal would have been cleared earlier.