HC Deb 06 April 1970 vol 799 cc18-9
12. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further steps he is now taking to secure release of the British ships incarcerated in the Suez Canal.

Mr. Luard

An indispensable preliminary to the release of the ships is the organisation of a survey and this remains impossible while the present military situation along the Canal continues. I do not therefore consider that any further initiative would serve a useful purpose at present.

Sir G. Nabarro

Is it not a fact that the ships are now only of scrap value as a result of the supine inactivity of Her Majesty's Government during a period of almost three years? Have the Government made any claims whatever in regard to these ships against Egypt or the Israelis or anybody, or are they just sitting there and taking it on the chin non-stop?

Mr. Luard

As usual, the hon. Gentleman has expressed himself in the extravagant language to which we in this House are accustomed. It is entirely untrue to suggest that Her Majesty's Government have been inactive on this question. As the hon. Gentleman must know, we have made constant representations about this subject over a considerable period. At present, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there is considerable military activity along the canal. Because a survey is urgently necessary before the ships can be withdrawn from the canal, it is impossible for us to take any effective action to get them withdrawn.

Mr. Will Griffiths

Is it not a fact that when the situation on the canal was quieter about 18 months ago a survey was carried out in the south and that when the Egyptians commenced to survey the northern exit firing took place and the survey came to an end? Will my hon. Friend tell the House whether, since that date, there have been any further consultations with the Government of the U.A.R. and with the Government of Israel to see whether, if the military situation becomes quieter, that survey in the north can be resumed to consider a possible exit in the Mediterranean?

Mr. Luard

If the military situation became quieter, we would resume discussions with the interested parties whose agreement would be required to bring about a withdrawal of the ships. The last time the matter was discussed was when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was in Cairo. Since then no further progress has been made in getting these ships withdrawn. I should tell the House that we are not the only Government involved in this question. A number of other Governments are in the same position.