HC Deb 02 February 1953 vol 510 cc1465-9
39. Mr. Anthony Greenwood

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement about the sale of British aircraft to Egypt.

41. Mr. Foot

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs from what date it was decided to release for sale jet fighter planes to Middle Eastern countries; and whether he will make a statement on the policy which these sales are designed to serve.

42. Mr. Janner

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement on the supply of British aeroplanes to Middle East States.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

As a result of the changes in the United Kingdom defence programme announced by the Prime Minister in the House on 30th July, 1952, it has become possible for the aircraft industry to resume the export of jet aircraft to foreign countries, including those of the Middle East, some of whom had placed orders and made payments on account as far back as 1950.

As regards such exports to the Middle East, Her Majesty's Government's policy in such matters is governed by the joint statement made on 25th May, 1950, by the Governments of the United Kingdom, France and the United States of America, which recognised the need of the Arab States and Israel to maintain certain armed forces. Her Majesty's Government consider that the supply of limited numbers of jet fighters is perfectly compatible with their undertakings in the joint statement, by which they still stand.

The decision by Her Majesty's Government to resume these exports to Middle Eastern countries generally was made in August, 1952.

As regards the export of jet aircraft to Egypt, certain special considerations, of course, apply as well. The House will recall that a number of jet aircraft was supplied to Egypt with permission of the late Government some three years ago, but that, subsequently, it was decided to hold up further deliveries. After the advent to power of General Neguib last July, we decided in November, in response to Egyptian requests, to release a limited number of jet aircraft from among those still outstanding on the Egyptian order.

I think it right to emphasise that the fact that we have agreed to release these aircraft should not be taken to constitute a precedent for further releases of equipment to Egypt at the present time.

Mr. Greenwood

Is the Minister aware that the situation has changed very radically in the last three years, and that many people will be shocked by the complacency of his statement? Is it not absolutely crazy, in view of the present developments in Egypt, that we should be selling them aircraft which could be used against our own troops at a time when it is demanded that they should leave the Canal Zone? Is it not an utterly reprehensible thing that we should be supplying jet aircraft to a country which is at war with our friends in Israel?

Mr. Lloyd

It is a matter of opinion, and there are very difficult issues to be weighed up. My right hon. Friend has given very careful consideration to the points which the hon. Gentleman has put to the House, and, on balance, he has decided that it is right to continue to fulfill this contract.

Mr. Janner

Is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the fact that the Arab States insist that they are in a state of war with Israel, and that they refused and resisted very strongly any attempt—at the United Nations Assembly, at which, I believe, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was present—to try to get peace in the Middle East? Does he not regard this as a suicidal policy, or a homicidal policy, in view of the fact that there are five Arab States in comparison with Israel, and that the number of jet planes supplied to them is far in excess of anything Israel can possibly obtain?

Mr. Lloyd

No, Sir, I do not agree with the opinion the hon. Gentleman has just put forward. As he will be aware. no doubt, the terms of the joint statement which was entered into in May, 1950, involve a declaration against aggression by those who receive this military material. Anyhow, the numbers involved in this contract are so small that I think the risk is small.

Mr. Gaitskell

May I ask, first of all, how it is that, if the Government's decision was reached in August, 1952, the House was not informed earlier, and, secondly, whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman would not agree that a serious state of tension exists between the Arab States and Israel, and that the delivery of these aircraft may very well lead to an outbreak of fighting in which this country, under the three-power agreement, may have to intervene? Does he not agree that, in all the circumstances, it would be best for the Government to change their minds on this issue, and to hold up the delivery of these aircraft until a settlement has been reached between Israel and the Arab States?

Mr. Lloyd

I think that before a formal settlement is reached between Israel and the Arab States we shall have to wait a very long time. The aircraft which have been provided are primarily defensive weapons. Also, it is desired that these countries should play some part in the collective defence of that area, and that is a consideration which has to be borne in mind.

Mr. H. Morrison

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say what are the changes in circumstances? How do the Government justify this complete change of policy on the part of the Conservative Party? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not recall that there was more than one attempt to bring the Labour Government down over, for example, the minor supply of a tanker and something about sterling balances, in which my right hon. Friend was involved? How is it that the party opposite, who strongly condemned any of this kind of transaction with Egypt then, are now going clean the other way in these matters in which the Prime Minister was personally involved at the time?

Mr. Lloyd

So far as the situation in Egypt is concerned, there has been a change of situation in that General Neguib has come to power. That is a changed situation—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and a great many hon. Members on the other benches are suggesting that the present Egyptian Government is the best there has been for a long time and that we should make an agreement with them as quickly as possible. That is one of the factors which have to be taken into account.

Major Legge-Bourke

Before the decision was taken to send these aircraft to Israel did the Government request the Israeli Government to give an assurance that there would be no repetition of the infringements of the frontiers agreed to in the armistice, as there had been on the part of Israel?

Mr. Lloyd

The Israeli Government were a party to the assurances to which I referred as set out in the agreement of May, 1950.

Major Legge-Bourke

Are they still?

Mr. S. Silverman

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain to the House how he expects States which are at this moment in a state of war with one another, in which he has said that there is no prospect of a formal settlement for a long time, to combine together for the collective defence of the area? Is it not contrary to common sense and good morals for this country to go on supplying arms to both sides in a conflict in which it may itself be called upon to intervene?

Mr. Lloyd

I do not think that there is anything inconsistent in what I said. It is true that I said I thought it would be a long time before a formal settlement was reached. At the same time, although they may be technically in a state of war, it is not true to say that warlike operations are in progress. Also, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that those countries should combine in defence of the area.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood

In view of the thoroughly and disgracefully unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter again on the Adjournment.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have several times pointed out that the well used phrase is, and should be," in view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply."