HL Deb 24 April 1968 vol 291 cc624-6

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

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what has been their response to the offer of the Government of the U.A.R. (Egypt) to clear the Suez Canal, if a guarantee is given that this will not be hampered by Israel.]


reply, may I ask whether he is aware that the Government of the United Arab Republic have offered to clear the Suez Canal if a guarantee is given that this will not be hampered by Israel. On April 10 the official spokesman of the United Arab Republic stated that the Canal would not be reopened as long as occupation forces remained on its East bank.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that reply, may I ask whether he is aware that informal proposals, with which I am familiar, have been made by the U.A.R., and that these modify the statement to which he has referred? And would it not be much simpler to try to solve this problem of the blockage of the Canal which now has only three obstacles, rather than await a complete solution of the problem between Israel and the U.A.R. and the Arab countries?


My Lords, I do not know to what informal offers my noble friend is referring. I can only say, so far as the original wording of his Question is concerned, that we are aware of no offer of that kind. I should be grateful to have any information which my noble friend has at his disposal. So far as the broader aspect of the Question is concerned, the opening of the Canal we believe to be a fundamental part of the settlement of the situation in the Middle East. The representative of the United Nations Secretary-General is there now, trying to find steps towards a settlement; and it would be foolish to say anything that might prejudice Mr. Jarring's Mission and the possibilities of its success.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether Her Majesty's Government have pointed out to the U.A.R. Government that the longer the Canal is closed the less important it will become, and consequently the less economically important and of benefit it will be to Egypt?


My Lords, I am entirely in agreement with what the noble Lord has said, and I can assure him that this aspect has been pointed out to the Government of the U.A.R. Of all the damage that has been done by the closure of the Canal. I suppose the greatest damage is being done to the economy of the Egyptian Government itself.


My Lords, would my noble friend not agree that the Canal could have been opened long ago in its entirety, if only the U.A.R. had adhered to the terms of the United Nations' resolution some 15 years ago to open the Canal to the passage of shipping of all countries, including Israel?


My Lords, I am in sympathy with what my noble friend has said, and the position of Her Majesty's Government is, of course, quite clear on this matter. We believe that the Canal should be open to unimpeded passage by ships of all nations.


My Lords, while endorsing everything that my noble friend has said in this matter, may I ask him whether he would be receptive of the information which I have, which indicates that irrespective of the wider issue, there is some solution of the Canal problem?


My Lords, as I have already said, I will study with great interest the information which I understand my noble friend will send me.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether there is any likelihood or possibility of the owners of British vessels locked up in the Suez Canal getting any compensation from the Government of the U.A.R. or anyone else?


My Lords, that is another question. So far as compensation is concerned, that will be a matter for the Government of the U.A.R. Certainly it is not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to offer any compensation in this particular case.