HC Deb 29 June 1967 vol 749 cc745-7
Q4. Sir Richard Glyn

asked the Prime Minister to what extent it is still the Government's policy to assert the right of all British shipping to use the Straits of Tiran as an international waterway; and whether the same policy applies to the Suez Canal.

Q10. Viscount Lambton

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement outlining Her Majesty's Government's present policy towards the free- dom of passage through the Suez Canal and the Straits of Tiran.

The Prime Minister

Her Majesty's Government continue to affirm the rights of passage of shipping of all States in both the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aqaba.

Sir Richard Glyn

Will the Prime Minister say what plan he had to enforce these unquestioned rights which he announced as Britain's policy, as reported in the Press on 25th May, and can this same plan which he had in mind then be extended to apply to our right over the Suez Canal now?

The Prime Minister

The statement made on 24th May referred to a very dangerous situation which, it seemed to most of us in the House when we debated it, might lead to war in the Middle East. We said that it was important to assert freedom of passage through the Straits of Tiran as a way of avoiding that war. It was not avoided and it must obviously be one of the questions in the settlement.

With regard to the Suez Canal, I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend said two days ago. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the closure of the Canal, which we all deeply deplore, particularly the sinking of the ships in the Canal, is a matter which is awaiting some easement from the United Nations discussions. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be the first to agree that Britain cannot shoot her way to open up the Canal. The last time this was tried it closed it for six months.

Viscount Lambton

Would not the Prime Minister agree that the war broke out because the Prime Minister, having originally said that he would assert the freedom of the Canal—[Interruption.]freedom of the Gulf of Aqaba, then did nothing and made Israel go it alone?

The Prime Minister

This is completely wrong. It is a tremendous flight of fancy to suggest that the fighting began in the Middle East because of any action taken or not taken by Her Majesty's Government or by me personally. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we were in the process of discussing with the United States Government and with other Governments what could be done by the maritime Powers to assert the freedom of the Straits of Tiran. Both the United States Government and we ourselves urged the utmost restraint on all the parties in the Middle East until matters of this kind could be decided peacefully. Unfortunately, the fighting broke out.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Would Her Majesty's Government be prepared to guarantee the right of freedom through the Canal and the Straits of Tiran in concert with other Powers in the future?

The Prime Minister

This must be a matter for the ultimate peace settlement. I think practically everyone who has spoken on this matter has made it clear that the right of free passage through the Straits of Tiran must be part of an international settlement. It was understood that it was on the last occasion in 1957, and certain assurances were given to Israel at the time. All the maritime nations, without exception, fully endorsed freedom of passage through the Straits of Tiran; but, as we know, Sharm el Sheik was occupied and the matter was reopened. Everyone must agree that this must be settled as part of a peace settlement.

Lord Balniel

Would the Prime Minister take very seriously our suggestion last night that the Island of Perim, which dominates the other entrance to the Red Sea, should be placed under international trusteeship when we relinquish sovereignty, because is there not a real danger that the freedom of access to the Red Sea, which has been maintained for a hundred years by the British Government, could cease and that, in particular, Israeli shipping could be excluded from the Red Sea altogether?

The Prime Minister

As the noble Lord knows, my right hon. Friend, in winding up the debate on that part of the Bill, endorsed the noble Lord's proposal and said that we would do everything in our power to get it under international supervision.

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