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Thursday, 2 May 1957

Mr CASEY - The story recently has been that Egypt, about a month ago I think, produced a draft statement on the way in which it proposed to run the canal in the future. This statement was circulated, not to all countries, but to selected countries and principal countries. It fell far short of the six principles that Egypt had agreed upon only a few months before. This was followed by negotiations and discussions in Cairo between the American Minister in Cairo and the Egyptian Government, and these went on for a number of weeks. Then the United States of America, I think at its own instance, took the matter to the Security Council by reporting to the Security Council on the result of the discussions. In the Security Council meeting which, I think, took place about a fortnight ago, several countries, including the United States of America, took the view that the Egyptian draft proposals should be given at least a trial. Another group of countries, including the United Kingdom and Australia, believed that that was not good enough - that it was too far from the six principles, and that there should be further discussion with Egypt in order to try to evolve a regime that would conform to the six principles, which were believed to be the minimum on which any fair system of running the canal could be based. Anyhow, the Security Council came to no conclusions and adopted no resolutions; it merely noted the various views expressed and the American report, and adjourned in order to meet again.

Any official information that I have is that the British recommendation to British merchant shipping is not to use the canal. I have no official information other than that, although I realize that other things have appeared in the press. As to the question of expediency and principle, I am not sure that these terms can really be used properly in this instance. I do not believe it is possible for the United Kingdom to adopt a unilateral policy in respect of the canal. The policy has to be one agreed upon by at least the principal users of the canal. In any event, this is a matter for Great Britain. Australia has not an oceangoing merchant fleet, so we are not concerned from the shipping point of view, although we are very much concerned from the trade point of view. However, I repeat, this is a matter for Great Britain. We are in consultation with the British Government on this subject, and such reports as we can make we are making to the British Govern ment. There was a meeting of the Canal Users Association in the last few days the result of which, I am afraid, I have not yet heard; but, no doubt, the principal users will make up their minds on the sort of question that is clearly exercising the mind of the honorable member for Angas.

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