asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what steps have been or are being taken to make widely known at the United Nations organisation and throughout the world the extent of the delay in clearing the Suez Canal for world shipping caused by the failure to make the fullest use of the Anglo-French salvage fleet.
The facts are widely known. My right hon. and learned Friend has given them, and our views on the delays which have been caused, both in the House and outside it. The achievements of our salvage fleet, and the limitations placed on its use, have been given full publicity. Major user countries of the Canal have been kept fully informed. I do not think that further steps are needed to make these matters known.
I would refer to the reply which my hon. Friend gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper) on 31st January. I cannot answer for the Secretary-General, who is in frequent touch with the Egyptian Government on these matters. Mr. Hammarskjoeld has, however, communicated to Her Majesty's Government an assurance he obtained from the Egyptian Government that after clearance of the Canal British ships would be allowed to pass through the Canal in accordance with the 1888 Convention.
Whilst I realise fully the difficulties facing my right hon. and learned Friend, is he not aware of the growing disquiet and dismay in this country at the apparent inability of the United Nations to assert its authority effectively? Is he not also aware that there is a feeling that we cannot rely on the influence of the United Nations upon the Government of Egypt to secure the satisfactory management of this vital international waterway in the near future?
Certainly I am aware of these anxieties, but before I agreed to the withdrawal of British troops from Port Said the assurance to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred was obtained, that after clearance there would be no discrimination against British and French shipping.
Would it not be a much stronger position for this House to take the line that there could not be discrimination against British shipping going through the Canal? The promise has been made, we must assume it will be kept, and we must also assume that the United Nations will see that it is kept.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman be good enough, in order to clarify my mind on the matter and no doubt the minds of other hon. Members, to insert in the OFFICIAL REPORT the precise date and the terms in which the Egyptian Government gave an assurance to the Secretary-General that there would be no discrimination against British shipping?
Following is the text of a statement given to Sir Pierson Dixon by Mr. Hammarskjoeld on 1st December;There has been no official statement from the Egyptian Government that Egypt is in a state of war with France and the United Kingdom. Egypt has repeatedly reaffirmed its intention to implement freedom of passage as established in the 1888 Convention. There is, therefore, nothing that should cause us to believe that Egypt, after a withdrawal of the British and French forces, would interfere with British and French shipping through the Canal in violation of its undertakings under the convention. Certainly, there would be no justification for such interference. The Secretary General, who has had an opportunity to discuss these various matters in detail with the Government of Egypt, has assured me that this represents also his understanding of the situation.
Her Majesty's Government were alive to the possibility that the Egyptians might block the Canal and took such advance precautions as were open to them. In particular, as part of our reinforcement in the Mediterranean in consequence of the state of tension caused by Egypt's nationalisation of the Canal Company, existing naval salvage resources there were strengthened.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman seriously say that the Government anticipated that the Suez Canal would be blocked and went ahead with their activity in order to assist that happening? Is he aware that what we all want to know is why the Government did not anticipate the blocking of the Suez Canal? That was the question put by Lord Tedder, which has not yet been answered.
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has any idea of the damage that would have been caused to the Canal had there been fighting over its banks. If there had been substantial operations between the Israeli and Egyptian armies over the Canal, the damage might have taken years to repair.