HC Deb 10 February 1960 vol 617 cc446-8
22. Mr. Janner

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in view of the support given by Her Majesty's Government to the granting of a loan by the World Bank to Egypt for widening the Suez Canal, what progress has been made since then towards compliance by Egypt with her international obligations concerning the passage of vessels through the canal.

Mr. Profumo

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained the Government's attitude to this loan in the House on 26th January.

Her Majesty's Government have always maintained that there should be free transit through the Canal for the ships of all nations. They will continue to work through the United Nations for the application of this right.

Mr. Janner

In view of the fact that this is an international bank which has made a loan from international funds, is it not necessary to press that point home so that there shall not be the continuance of a flagrant breach of international law in respect of the use of the Suez Canal, which is being widened in consequence of the very money provided from international funds?

Mr. Profumo

My right hon. and learned Friend made abundantly clear in his remarks to the United Nations General Assembly—I think that was on 17th September—Her Majesty's Government's attitude on this grave matter.

35. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to what extent it was a condition of the agreement to resume diplomatic relations with the Egyptian Government that the Suez Canal should be free to international shipping.

Mr. Profumo

The two matters which the right hon. Member links in this Question are, I think, separate. The resumption of diplomatic relations with the United Arab Republic has been a matter for decision by the two Governments. The right of free transit through the Suez Canal concerns all maritime countries, and has been dealt with in the United Nations. In their declaration of 24th April, 1957, registered with the United Nations, the Egyptian Government said that it remained their firm purpose, and I quote, to respect the terms and spirit of the Constantinople Convention of 1888 and the rights and obligations arising therefrom".

Mr. Shinwell

When we resumed diplomatic relations with Egypt would not it have been natural to raise this question of interference with British ships in the Canal or with any type of shipping? Does he rely on the United Nations, as apparently he did in a reply to a previous question? What is likely to happen as a result of the efforts of the United Nations?

Mr. Profumo

I said that earlier because I thought I should remind the House that we have made our position in this matter perfectly clear. But the argument is a legal argument and not one for us. It is a legal argument between the Israelis and the Egyptians. I think that, unfortunately, this is one of those matters when the least said publicly, the fewer public positions taken up, the better the chance of achieving a workable agreement.

Mr. S. Silverman

Would the right hon. Gentleman invite his right hon. and learned Friend to look at those passages in the recently published memoirs of Sir Anthony Eden which show that, in the opinion of Sir Anthony, one of the main purposes of the intervention at Suez which led to the break in diplomatic relations was this question of the freedom of shipping in the Suez Canal? Will he bear in mind that all international shipping is affected, British shipping too—any shipping which comes into an Israeli—port and therefore, if this is to be regarded purely as a legal question, are any steps being taken to get a legal solution of it? Why was it not discussed at the time when the resumption of diplomatic relations was discussed, as was asked by my right hon. Friend?

Mr. Profumo

I think that what the hon. Member has quoted from Sir Anthony Eden's published extracts shows that Her Majesty's Government have made their position perfectly clear. What I was trying to say was that the argument is a legal one between the Israelis and the Egyptians which, I fear, we in the United Kingdom cannot ourselves solve. I should have thought that it was right to say that diplomatic relations are not a matter of conferring favours or, indeed, of bargaining, and I hope that our new relations with Egypt may help to solve these and other problems.

39. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, following the recent visit of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to Egypt, he will make a statement on the interference with Israeli ships seeking to pass through the Suez Canal.

Mr. Profumo

We have had no report on Mr. Hammarskjold's discussions in Cairo, and I can, therefore, add nothing to the previous statements made in the House.

Mr. Henderson

Have the Government any information about the intention of the Secretary-General to make a report to the Security Council about his recent visit to Egypt and other Middle East countries?

Mr. Profumo

I have no information beyond that which, I think, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has already, namely, the public Press announcement which Mr. Hammarskjold made when he arrived back in the United States. I saw him myself on his way through Tangier and at that time he told me that he had so many impressions that he wanted time to sort things out before making any statement.