HC Deb 26 November 1958 vol 596 cc342-4
12. Mr. Philips Price

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what communication he has received from the Government of the Sudan about the Russian offer to assist in building the Aswan Dam; and whether he will enter into discussion with that Government on the subject, in view of the complications that will result between the upper Nile States and Egypt if the Aswan Dam is built without an amendment to the Nile Waters Agreement of 1929.

29. Mr. W. T. Williams

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to what extent the Nile Waters Agreement of 1929 is still in force; and which of the parties to the agreement still acknowledge obligations under it.

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

My right hon. and learned Friend has received no communication from the Sudan Government on this subject. The direct interest of Her Majesty's Government in the matter is the claim of the British East African territories to a share of the Nile waters. This claim is not safeguarded by the 1929 Agreement nor would it be affected by the construction of the Aswan High Dam. It remains Her Majesty's Government's intention to take part in a conference of all riparian States if this is called by the major users of the Nile waters or by some accepted international authority.

The 1929 Nile Waters Agreement was signed by two parties: Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and the Government of the Kingdom of Egypt. I understand that the Government of the United Arab Republic recognises its validity. For their part, Her Majesty's Government have continued to observe the Agreement in the territories for which they are responsible. The first Government of independent Sudan declared that they did not regard themselves as bound by the Agreement.

Mr. Price

While I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that very interesting Answer, might I ask him whether the time is not now propitious, in view of the recent developments which have taken place in Khartoum, for a move of the kind indicated in my Question?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

That may be so, but I do not think that a conference would be fruitful until it was certain that the attitudes of the Sudan and Egypt were considerably closer together than they have been in recent months.

Mr. Williams

In view of the interest which is taken in the matter by British territories in East Africa and of the importance of the Nile waters to those territories, ought not the Government themselves to make the first move in trying to bring about such a conference as is suggested? Is not this a matter of such importance that if changes are made in the Nile waters affecting British territories, the Government cannot and ought not to sit quietly by while such changes are taking place?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

I entirely agree with that. This is a very grave matter. Certainly, Her Majesty's Government would wish to attend such a conference, but I suggest that a unilateral British initiative would not be likely to achieve the desired results.

Mr. H. Fraser

As the 1949 and 1953 Agreements, following on in the spirit of the 1929 Agreement, make provision for compensation for people in East Africa owing to the proposed raising of the Owen Falls Dam by 3 metres, are negotiations being pursued with the Egyptian Government on this point? Is not it a point on which we can get together with the Egyptian Government, because at least 30,000 acres of land in British East Africa will be flooded, and, although part of the compensation proposed by the 1949 and 1953 Agreements has been met by the Egyptian Government, very large sums of money will be outstanding in the fairly immediate future? Surely it is appropriate that there should be negotiations?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

I will certainly look into what my hon. Friend has just suggested.

Mr. Bevan

As one of the proposals contained in the Arab resolution carried unanimously by the United Nations referred to the necessity for setting up a commission for the development of this area, are Her Majesty's Government taking any initiative through the United Nations to call a conference of this type?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

Precisely which would be the best medium for getting a conference under way is under discussion.

Mr. Bevan

But is there not a quite unreasonable amount of delay in the matter? Cannot we be assured that some definite action is now contemplated by the Government in order to get a move on?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

As I said, I think it is important that the two countries most concerned should have some identity of view before we try to get this conference going, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear that in mind. It may well be that this will happen before long.

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