HC Deb 08 July 1948 vol 453 cc584-6
Mr. Wilson Harris

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations what steps he is taking to prevent British subjects from the United Kingdom, or United Kingdom aircraft, from taking part in illicit traffic in arms into Hyderabad.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

The Government of India have told us that they have reason to believe that arms are being smuggled Ly air over Indian Territory into Hyderabad. They believe that aircraft registered in the United Kingdom, manned by United Kingdom personnel and supplied by a United Kingdom company, are engaged in the traffic. Such traffic would be a violation of an Indian regulation. This regulation requires all aircraft which fly over Indian territory to land for customs examination at specified Indian airfields. Such traffic would also contravene provisions of the Chicago Convention, and of the United Kingdom Air Navigation (Consolidation) Order.

In response to the representations of the Indian Government I have caused urgent inquiries to be made. I need hardly say that the Government strongly disapprove of the smuggling of arms, and that they will take any action in their power against persons found to have engaged in it. They are satisfied that no such arms or ammunition have been carried by air from this country. They will continue to do everything they can to ensure that no illicit export of arms or ammunition shall occur.

Mr. Wilson Harris

Satisfactory as it is to know that His Majesty's Government deprecate this traffic very strongly, can the Minister say, at the same time, whether he is able to use his influence to persuade the Government of India to abolish the drastic boycott existing between the two territories?

Mr. Noel-Baker

The hon. Member will, of course, realise that the Government of India and the Nizam each say that the standstill agreement between them has been violated by the other in various ways; but I can answer for neither.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned some of the things which the United Kingdom felt. Did not the United Kingdom also say that the question of the accession of Hyderabad to India should be left to the free unfettered choice of the Nizam?

Mr. Noel-Baker

I have already referred the House quite recently to the full statement made by the Prime Minister on that subject, and I cannot usefully add anything now.

Mr. Gallacher

Is there any possibility that arms could be sent from this country to some more convenient place and picked up there? Is there any danger of that? Will the right hon. Gentleman see that nothing of that kind happens?

Mr. Noel-Baker

I think not. I think the licensing system of this country ensures that we know what the ultimate destination will be.

Mr. Gammans

Will the right hon. Gentleman sort this out a bit? What is illegal? Surely it is not illegal to sell arms to Hyderabad? What is illegal, if anything, is crossing Indian territory without landing, but surely it is not illegal to sell arms to Hyderabad?

Mr. Noel-Baker

What I am dealing with and what the Question is about is the carriage of arms by air over Indian territory in violation of Indian and international regulations. That was all I was speaking about.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Is not the crux of this matter the threat of military action by a much stronger Power against the much smaller State of Hyderabad? Will the right hon. Gentleman use his influence to get Pandit Nehru to realise that he should not do the things which he used to accuse us of doing?

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Will my right hon. Friend say whether his last answer meant that it was no offence to export arms from this country without a licence?

Mr. Noel-Baker

No, Sir. Certainly not. I have already said that no arms can be exported without a licence, and we do not give a licence unless we know what the final destination is to be.

Mr. Granville

In view of the fact that his statement will be read in India and Pakistan, will the right hon. Gentleman make it absolutely clear that it refers only to the carrying of arms and not to the carrying of food and other necessities of life, the shortage of which is a serious matter in Hyderabad?

Mr. Noel-Baker

That is a different question. The Question I answered was about the carriage of arms.