HL Deb 10 March 1954 vol 186 cc229-30

2.48 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the appropriate Minister will make a plain statement and tell the House what are the terms Great Britain has offered to the Egyptian Government to solve the Suez Canal problem.]


My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will not ask me to discuss in public to-day the exact position that has been reached in our negotiations with Egypt. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said in another place, to discuss details of negotiations while they are in progress may well give the Power with whom one is negotiating both an advantage and a grievance. My right honourable friend has, however, given an assurance that an opportunity will be given to discuss not only the final settlement itself, if and when it is concluded, but also, before that, the heads of agreement on which any detailed settlement will be based. I hope that the noble Lord will he satisfied with this double safeguard.


My Lords, I thank the noble Marquess the Leader of the House for that statement. This is not a Party Question, and I should like to make this point. Do Her Majesty's Government realise the uneasiness felt in the country owing to the lack of information? It is almost as though there were a fresh Egyptian plague of darkness. I should further like to ask whether the noble Marquess has had brought to his notice the speech of the then Prime Minister of Egypt (he has now lost his job) in the course of which he said that if Her Britannic Majesty's Government wished to open negotiations Egypt would be agreeable—thereby letting the British public assume that they, the Egyptians, had been stopped and cut off; that was the suggestion. He suggested that if we asked to resume negotiations they would he pleased to meet us. That, or something like that, Was what he said, I should like to ask in coclusion—


Hear, hear!


I am entitled to ask my question in a good temper. It is this. Will Her Majesty's Government stick to the letter and the spirit of the Agreement made between ourselves and Egypt, that we are ready even to discontinue negotiations until 1956 and that we stay put and defend British interests and the International Zone, that is, the Suez Canal Zone?


My Lords, in the spirit of what I have already said, the House will not, I think, expect me to elaborate further on the details of the negotiations. I would only say to the noble Lord that the concern to which he has referred, a proper concern, that a suitable settlement should be reached in these difficulties, is common to us all, in whatever part of the House, or of the country, we are situated.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Marquess whether negotiations are still proceeding or whether they will be resumed at an early date?


My Lords, I would rather say nothing further at this stage. I would remind the noble Lord that he has a Motion on the Order Paper for March 24, and if there is anything further which can be told then, I will see that it is given to him and to the House.


My Lords, arising out of the answer of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House to the last question, may I ask whether he feels it would be night for him to tell us whether the recent events in the Sudan and Egypt have in any way affected our attitude towards the negotiations?


My Lords, I think the best way I can answer that question is to refer to the statement which has already 'been made by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. It is to the effect that if we were strictly to restrict our diplomatic activities to entirely stable Governments, we should make very little progress indeed in our foreign policy at the present time.