Does the right hon. Gentleman recall the Foreign Secretary saying that we must wait until the political conditions are created before the Canal can be cleared? How long are we prepared to wait? Would the Prime Minister not consider trying at least to get the southern end below the Bitter Lakes clear so that the trapped ships can get out?
We all want it to be cleared as quickly as possible, but those on the spot are taking no action to clear it until there is certain political action in the shape, at any rate, of a partial withdrawal. While we are using all our influence at the United Nations and elsewhere with the countries concerned to get this, there is nothing else that can be done in these circumstances. Certainly physical action by Britain would be disastrous, as it was the last time.
Certainly not in the immediate future. The British shipping industry, other Western shipping industries and the oil industry have shown great flexibility and adaptibility in dealing with the situation. Nevertheless, all of us want to see the Canal opened as quickly as possible.
Is it not true that Britain, as a maritime nation, has the greatest interest in the flow of shipping through this international waterway? As the Prime Minister was so anxious to take a lead with the maritime nations in opening the Straits of Tiran, why is he not more robust in getting the Suez Canal open, which otherwise may remain closed for five years?
It is a fact that we have a very leading part in the use of the Canal. I think the actual figures show that Liberian tonnage is ahead of British tonnage, but a fair amount of that is probably on charter for the supply of oil and other things to Britain. I have said what the problem is. It is all very well talking about being robust. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends were robust 10 years ago. It did not get the Canal open.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that nobody in this House or outside it can expect that physical action will be taken by the Government? Nobody is asking for that, for a gunboat or anything else. But is my right hon. Friend aware that his right hon. Friend the other day said that he was trying? Could we have some indication whether any protest has been made by our representative at the United Nations about this?
We have had discussions with everyone concerned with this matter at the United Nations, including, of course, the Egyptians, who are very much involved, and the Israelis and other countries, too. It would not be helpful towards getting the objective that we all have in mind by publishing protests or making ringing declarations about this. The important thing is to try to get the situation settled so that the Canal can be opened.