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Suez Canal Zone Base (Anglo-Egyptian Agreement)

Volume 531: debated on Wednesday 28 July 1954

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With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement on Egypt in answer to Questions Nos. 5. 11 and 2.

I am glad to be able to tell the House that we have reached agreement in principle with the Egyptian Government on the future of the Suez Canal Zone Base. The full texts of the Heads of Agreement and of the Annex on the organisation of the Base will be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT and will also be made available as a White Paper this evening. Meanwhile, I should like to give a short summary of their provisions.

The Heads of Agreement provide that those parts of the Base which we require shall be kept in efficient working order and capable of immediate use in the event of an armed attack by an outside Power on Egypt, or on any member of the Arab League, or on Turkey. If such an attack takes place, Egypt will afford to the United Kingdom the necessary facilities to place the Base on a war footing and to operate it effectively.

In the event of the threat of an attack on any of the countries I have mentioned there will be immediate consultation between the United Kingdom and Egypt.

The installations we are retaining are required to assist in the supply and maintenance of Her Majesty's Forces in the Middle East in peace. They will also hold certain war reserves. They will be operated by civilian labour through firms, British or Egyptian, under contract to Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. These contractors will be afforded by the Egyptian Government all the facilities which they require for their work. Her Majesty's Government will also have the necessary facilities for the inspection of these installations.

The Heads of Agreement have been initialled by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, to whom Her Majesty's Government are much indebted for the decisive part he played in the final stages of these difficult discussions. [An HON. MEMBER: "The next resignation."] Negotiations for a formal Agreement will now begin.

Our forces will be withdrawn from the Canal Zone within a period of 20 months from the date of the signature of the formal Agreement.

That Agreement will last for seven years from the date of signature. There is provision for consultation between the parties during the last year of its duration as to what arrangements are necessary on its conclusion.

The Agreement will also include a clause recognising the economic, commercial and stategic importance of the Suez Canal, and will express the determination of both parties to uphold the 1888 Convention guaranteeing freedom of navigation.

There is also a clause providing for overflying, landing and servicing facilities for aircraft under R.A.F. control.

There will be many points of detail to be worked out in the drafting of the Agreement itself.

It is the conviction of Her Majesty's Government that this Agreement will preserve our essential requirements in this area in the light of modern conditions. We are convinced that in the Middle East as elsewhere our defence arrangements must be based on consent and co-operation with the peoples concerned. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Cyprus?"] I would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm the intention of Her Majesty's Government to abide by the terms of the Tripartite Declaration of 25th May, 1950, relating to peace and stability between the Arab States and Israel.

I have discussed this point with the French and the United States Governments and find them both equally determined to uphold that Declaration.

It is our hope that it will now be possible to establish our relations with Egypt on a new basis of friendship and understanding. Her Majesty's Government believe that this is also the intention of the Egyptian Government. The Agreement should thus contribute to a reduction of tension throughout the Middle East as a whole.

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