HC Deb 04 February 1948 vol 446 cc1804-6
52. Sir Jocelyn Lucas

asked the Minister of Defence if the Auster aeroplanes sold in Palestine by His Majesty's Government are capable of military use; and if he will give a definite assurance that no arms, munition or material that can be used for warlike purposes will be sold by His Majesty's Government to either disputant in that area.

Mr. Alexander

The Auster aircraft recently sold to the Aviron Palestine Aviation Company were not only demilitarised before disposal, but were all in an unserviceable condition. Their sale by open tender was consequently not inconsistent with the policy of denying warlike material to both Arabs and Jews in Palestine. Since, however, it is possible to adapt civil aircraft for military use, steps have now been taken to ensure that no British planes will pass into Arab or Jewish hands in Palestine so long as there is danger of civil war in that country.

Disposal is at present proceeding of large quantities of surplus military supplies in Palestine which are of a non-warlike nature and which have a civilian use; it is not proposed to discontinue the sales of these stores. Every possible precaution is being taken to ensure that surplus warlike material does not pass into the hands of Jews or Arabs in that country.

There is at present an embargo on the entry into Palestine, both by sea and over the land frontiers, of all warlike material. The Government of Palestine will enforce this embargo to the best of their ability until the Mandate comes to an end on 15th May.

It is also the policy of His Majesty's Government to refuse permission for the export of military material from Great Britain to any part of the Middle East, except under existing contracts which have been undertaken as a result of our Treaty obligations to certain Arab Governments. His Majesty's Government have no reason to suppose that the material supplied by them under such contracts will be used in Palestine.

Mr. Keeling

Could the Minister say whether, when these 21 aircraft were sold to the Jewish Agency, any undertaking was given that they would not be repaired and put into use?

Mr. Alexander

I am not aware that, in a sale of non-military and unserviceable aircraft by open tender, any such undertaking could be asked for.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

What price did we get for these demilitarised aircraft?

Mr. Alexander

That question should be addressed to the Minister of Supply.

Mr. Niall Macpherson

Would the Minister say whether he himself, the Governor, and the Commander-in-Chief were aware of this transaction when it took place, and whether they approved?

Mr. Alexander

This transaction took place in the ordinary way of the disposal of non-military stores under an arrangement by which the Ministry of Supply Organisation deals with goods that are surplus.

Mr. George Porter

Is my right hon. Friend aware that arms and ammunition are being transferred to Arabs who are actively participating in hostilities in the Palestine area?

Mr. Alexander

I have no such information.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

Is there no co-ordination between the Ministry of Supply and the Governor?

Mr. Alexander

I should think there is a very great deal of co-ordination, and I think the supplementary answer which I have given covers that point.

Mr. Osborne

Could the right hon. Gentleman say whether there was only one tender, or were there others?

Mr. Alexander

Obviously, detailed Questions of that kind should be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply, who is responsible for the sales organisation.

Sir William Darling

What financial credit did the Minister get for his Department from the Ministry of Supply over this transaction?

Mr. Alexander

I do not think that question arises, because it is known to the House that the proceeds of sales of stores declared surplus by the Service Departments go into the general Exchequer account.

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