HC Deb 13 May 1957 vol 570 cc11-4
26. Mr. Pitman

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has considered the Memorandum circulated by the United Nations at the request of Saudi Arabia asking for the support of friendly Governments to the contention that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir and the Straits separating them are under the sovereignty and jurisdiction of Saudi Arabia and that the waters of the Gulf of Aqaba are Arab territorial waters; whether Arab territorial waters as such are recognised by Her Majesty's Government; and what steps he proposes to take in this connection.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

I have noted the contents of the Saudi Arabian Memorandum referred to by my hon. Friend. In the view of Her Majesty's Government, there is a stretch of water in the middle of the Gulf of Aqaba outside the territorial waters of the Arab Littoral States which constitutes international waters. Her Majesty's Government's view on freedom of passage through the Straits of Tiran remains as stated in the reply given by my right hon. Friend to the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) on 11th March.

Mr. Pitman

Would the Foreign Secretary kindly answer the Question in respect of the sovereignty of the two islands themselves as well as of the territorial waters?

Mr. Lloyd

I thought that was my hon. Friend's next Question.

Mr. Shinwell

Is it customary for the United Nations to circulate a memorandum on behalf of any Government before the facts have been established and accepted by the United Nations?

Mr. Lloyd

It is a practice about which we have frequently found cause to complain; but it is the practice.

27. Mr. Pitman

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will support in the United Nations the view of the Secretary General of the United Nations endorsed by the General Assembly on 2nd February that United Nations troops should take over in the area of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir; and whether he will further support the view that the area should become permanently under the sovereignty of the United Nations.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

We certainly supported the view of the Secretary-General contained in his report of 24th January and endorsed by the General Assembly in a resolution of 2nd February, for which we voted, that after the withdrawal of Israel from the Sharm al-Shaikh area the United Nations Emergency Force should move in with a view to assisting "in achieving situations conducive to the maintenance of peaceful conditions in the area." Elements of the Force have been in position there now for nearly two months.

It was further stated in the report. however, that the United Nations Emergency Force should not be used in such a way as to prejudge the solution of controversial questions involved. It was clearly not the intention of the Secretary-General, therefore, that United Nations forces should be used to bring about a permanent settlement of the status of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir. which would be a matter for agreement between the interested States. Their agreement would also be necessary for any long-term arrangement involving the United Nations.

Mr. Pitman

Would not this be a good opportunity of clearing up such controversial issues, and is it not really probable that all parties to it would welcome a solution which left with the United Nations a clear sovereignty in this particular area?

Mr. Lloyd

There are, of course, legal problems involved in the United Nations having sovereignty over any particular area, but I certainly would welcome a solution which would clear up the claims as between the respective parties.

Mr. Beswick

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the reply really means that he is doing nothing? The fact that there are legal problems is surely something of a challenge to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Why cannot he take a constructive lead in a matter of this kind and see if we cannot get a permanent settlement in this controversial area?

Mr. Lloyd

So far as the position of Her Majesty's Government is concerned. we have taken up a positive attitude. We believe that there should be the right of free passage through these straits. That is a reality, and as much as we can hope for, I think, at the present time.

37. Mr. Dugdale

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what intimation he has given to British shipowners regarding the passage of British merchant ships to Elath.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

None, Sir, beyond the statements which I have made in the House, for example, on 1st May.

Mr. Dugdale

Will not the right hon. and learned Gentleman inform British shipowners that he would welcome their exercising their undoubted right of free passage to Elath, in the same manner as the French, Dutch, Italian and American ships have already done? Are we to he behind them in this respect?

Mr. Lloyd

What I have said quite clearly is that British shipowners must exercise their judgment in deciding whether they have commercial reasons for going there. If they decide to go to that port. our view is quite clear that they are legally entitled to do so.

Mr. Elwyn Jones

Are not British ships using the Gulf of Aqaba at the moment? I seem to recollect seeing one British ship at the port of Elath a few weeks ago.

Mr. Lloyd

There are British ships going to the port of Aqaba, but none, so far as we know, have gone to Elath.

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