§ 3.49 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence (Sir Walter Monckton)
The matter which I want to discuss on the Motion for the Adjournment is the White Paper on the Export of Surplus War Material, which was presented to Parliament last week.
At the outset, I wish to say a word about how this White Paper came to be prepared. Since November last, there has been considerable comment about the export of surplus war material by way of the Continent of Europe to countries in the Middle East. On 2nd January, this subject was discussed when the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, accompanied by the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) and, I think, the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger), called upon the Prime Minister, and I and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary were also present.
A statement was issued after that meeting which said:A number of questions were discussed regarding the export of surplus war stores during recent months, particularly the steps taken to check subsequent use and distribution, the amount involved and the number of tanks exported to Belgium and known to be subsequently re-exported to the Middle East. The Leader of the Opposition pressed for the issue of a White Paper at the earliest possible moment, disclosing the facts in full.It was to meet that request that the White Paper was presented to Parliament. It has necessarily taken a little time—just over a fortnight—to get the facts of all the cases reported, but what we have tried to do is to set them out fully and frankly in the Paper we are discussing. It is not normally the practice to disclose, in such detail as this, particulars of export licensing transactions, but in this case, in the Government's opinion, there was no other way of getting the transactions explained in a manner which was fair to all concerned. I am thinking of officials, exporters and others.
This export of surplus war material has to be looked at in proportion to the sales of war material and arms as a whole since the war. During the last ten years successive Governments have sold military equipment of different kinds to our friends in the Commonwealth, in 41 N.A.T.O., and elsewhere. If hon. Members have looked at paragraph 21 of the White Paper they will have seen that the total receipts from the sales of arms—leaving out naval vessels—from the United Kingdom to all countries during the last ten years have amounted to no less than £600 million. During the last few years such sales have been running at the rate of about £90 million a year.
Of these, quite a substantial proportion—about one quarter—of recent sales has been paid for in dollars, and some of them have been provided by offshore purchases by the United States Government of arms and equipment from British industry for the benefit of our N.A.T.O. allies. So it is perfectly clear that the sale of arms under Government authority is not only an important factor in strategic planning but also an economic asset of great value.
This £600 million of which I have been speaking represents authorised exports to foreign Governments. The material may or may not be new. It may come from the production line; from surplus stocks, or from stocks held by manufacturers or dealers; but during the ten years which I have been reviewing it has been the consistent policy of successive Governments not to disclose details of these authorised exports of military equipment to foreign Governments. The reasons for that are clear enough.
The White Paper, however, is concerned not with these sales to foreign Governments, but with exports of surplus war materials by commercial firms in this country to commercial firms abroad: and, in particular, with a few exceptional cases where the ultimate use of the material may have been different from what was understood when the export licences were granted.
An Appendix to the White Paper shows that the total value of surpluses disposed of since the war to private traders is no less than £800 million. It is quite impossible for me to say what proportion of these total sales to private traders went abroad, but what we do know from day to day experience is that, nowadays, the amount of surplus military stores being exported by firms in this country to private traders abroad is very small indeed, compared with the volume of Government-sponsored exports.
42 The type of transaction with which we are concerned—sales by private traders here to private traders abroad—is certainly a small element against the background of total exports of arms or total disposals of surplus war materials. When we examine the few cases of this kind which are investigated in the White Paper—where there have, or may have been, diversions of surplus war material to countries in the Middle East—it is impossible to think that they can have had any appreciable effect upon the relative strengths of the countries in that part of the world. Nor can it be fairly said that there is any evidence to suggest that, in general, the system of export control has not been working satisfactorily.
What do these cases amount to? First, there are the Shervicks. I do not think I need waste much time upon them. The way they came into existence is described in paragraph 14 of the White Paper. They were the result of dismantling several hundred Sherman tanks and adding certain components to build up out of them something like the American type heavy crawler tractors. There is no doubt that the Shervick, stripped of its upper armour, with its engine moved into what had been its fighting compartment, and with part of the back of the hull cut off, would have been of no more military value than an ordinary heavy farm tractor. No doubt some of its parts might have been used for military purposes, but Sherman tank spares can be obtained in many foreign countries.
The Shervick was designed for the Overseas Food Corporation for the purposes of the East African Groundnut Scheme. It was when that scheme was abandoned that some of them found their way to Israel, through the purchasers mentioned in the White Paper. I cannot see any reason to doubt that these Shervicks are being used in Israel in connection with agricultural projects. That is why I say no more about them.
I come next to the Sherman tanks which went to Israel. This type of tank had a long life in service. It was, indeed, produced by the United States and continued to be issued by them to their forces until the end of the war. So we want to see what the transactions affecting Sherman tanks come to. It looks as if between 50 and 100 old Shermans found their way from the United Kingdom, by way of Cherbourg, to Israel. The authorities here 43 heard rumours of it in March, 1955. Inquiries were then made, and in May the English exporter was advised that no more exports of Shermans to the French consignee would be permitted.
I do not want to weary the House by referring to cases which came before the licensing authorities, but in the light of the written information from the exporter and his consignee in France, furnished to the United Kingdom authorities when the licence was applied for, I cannot see any ground upon which the authorities could justly be blamed for permitting this export. I have read the dementi issued by the French Government on 20th January, in which it is stated that the import of Shermans into France was perfectly regular and under conditions which left no doubt about their ultimate destination.
I do not want to enter into any quarrel with the French authorities, but I must point out that one could not have deduced from the importation licences into France that the Shermans were going to Israel. In any case, as one looks at these import licences one sees that the tanks there are described as scrap from Shermans—ferraille de char, the literal translation of which, I understand, is almost "any old iron." It is true that the two French import licences, which were headed "import licences," had stamped in the corner the letters "IMEX." There was also what was to me a virtually indecipherable endorsement on one of them containing the word "transit," but, from first to last, there was no mention of Israel or, indeed, any other country.
It was not until 8th July, when we received an answer from the French Government to the inquiries which we had instituted in March, that they called our attention to the fact that these licences were no more than transit licences. It may be that we ought to have realised this much earlier, when copies of these documents were produced by the exporter, Rotinoff, in support of its applications for export licences. The fact is that it did not occur to anyone at that time to question the assurances—set out in the White Paper—which were given by the French clients of Rotinoff, to the effect that the Shermans would be broken up in France.
I must say, with too many years for my happiness of recollection of examining 44 documents of this kind and criticising people about them, that I should be very slow to criticise an official who did not observe that this was a transit licence. I could not criticise him if he said that he did not know that the vehicles were going to Israel. I do not feel that there is very much blameworthy matter for the officials to meet on that point.
I come to the third type of vehicle, the Valentine. These were not really tanks at all. They were self-propelled guns. The difference is important. Many of us here will remember that in the Middle East as long ago as 1942 we were hoping and praying for Shermans to come to us to take the place of these Valentine tanks which were already, in 1942, becoming obsolete. By the end of 1943 the British were converting Valentines into self-propelled guns.
The conversion of Valentines into self-propelled guns went on until the end of the War. The main use for self-propelled guns of this sort in combat is defence against tanks. The conversion involves removing the turrets and reducing the armoured protection so that they can take the weight of the guns which are to be carried. In the result, they are fought hull down. We bring them up to a ridge and they are fired over the ridge. There is not much room for manoeuvre. They are only armoured against splinter and the lightest anti-tank guns. When the conversion is completed the weapon has become essentially a defensive weapon.
It was old Valentine self-propelled guns of this kind, with the breech blocks out and the firing mechanism and the telescopic sights removed, that were involved in the two transactions described in the White Paper. What it all comes to is that, after a sale in the United Kingdom by the Ministry of Supply of 468 of these self-propelled gun mountings, two licences were issued authorising the export of a number of them to Belgium. The first of these was a specific licence for the export of 100 of these vehicles. The second was what I may call an omnibus licence for the export of scrap armoured vehicles and parts, and included in this second licence was a number of the Valentines to which I have just referred. Let me just say a word about each of these licences.
45 The first licence, the specific one, was issued in May, 1955, to a Mr. Dawson Ellis authorising the export of 100 of these vehicles, which were described as100 used Valentine self-propelled mountings for tractors,to a Belgian firm. The exporters had said that the machines were to be used for heavy haulage work and had stated—orally stated—that the vehicles were without guns and turrets, which did not turn out to be right. There were official Belgian import certificates to show that the goods were being imported into that country. There was, in fact, nothing to arouse the suspicion of the export control authorities at that time, or indeed until 21st July, when the Belgian Government informed Her Majesty's Government that they had issued licences for the export of these vehicles from Belgium to Egypt.
By 21st July, 85 of the 100 had already been shipped to Belgium, all but 15. The remaining 15, it is true, were not shipping until 27th August. At that time, as the White Paper explains in more detail than I will trouble the House with, Her Majesty's Government were considering a request from the Egyptian Government for 100 demilitarised Valentines for use as personnel carriers. It was decided, after the usual consultation, not to accede to the request for the 100, but at the same time not to stop the export of the residue of 15 under the existing licence. It is, of course, possible to criticise the decision to let that extra 15 go, after what we learned in July, but I do not think that anyone could contend that they added anything substantial to Egypt's military strength.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will look at paragraph 8 of the White Paper he will find an admission that before disposing of guns the breech blocks are removed and the breech rings are cut. In the paragraph which deals with the Valentines, namely, paragraph 16, it is stated, in sub-paragraph (b), that the breech blocks were removed, but it makes no mention of breech rings being cut. It makes all the difference in the world whether or not the breech rings are cut. Was this a deliberate omission, or did somebody overlook it?
§ Sir W. Monckton
Would the hon. Gentleman just remind me of the passage?
§ Mr. Wigg
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman would look at paragraph 8 (a) he will find that the Government say that they removed the breech blocks and the breech rings. In paragraph 16 (a), which deals with Valentines, there is no mention of breech rings being cut.
§ Sir W. Monckton
That is perfectly true. Paragraph 8 (a) deals with guns, in which that was done. Paragraph 8 (e) deals with tanks and self-propelled mountings. It states that the breech blocks were taken out of the heavy guns before the vehicles were sold and after all the light guns, wireless and periscopes had been removed. Up to now, there has been a distinction between dealing with guns by themselves and with tanks, self-propelled mountings and so forth.
§ Mr. Wigg
The right hon. and learned Gentleman's point is that these were not tanks at all, but were guns. Why were they not dealt with as guns?
§ Sir W. Monckton
These were described as "self-propelled mountings" and were dealt with in sub-paragraph (e), not (a). I am coming later to the question of whether they ought to have been demilitarised. As gun mountings they are correctly dealt with in the White Paper and there is no reason why we should have put in anything about breech rings.
I have said all I wish to say about the first licence and now I want to say something about the second, what I called the omnibus licence. The second licence was issued in March, 1955, to a Mr. Cockerill and, as hon. Members will see from the White Paper, it authorised the export to another Belgian firm of 4,000 tons ofscrap armoured vehicles and parts relevant theretoto use the description in the licence. Once again there was an official Belgian import certificate. The exporter, in a letter which accompanied the certificate, stated that the equipment was to be broken up on arrival in Belgium and scrap metal recovered from it. Among the vehicles covered by that licence were 259 Valentine self-propelled mountings. It is set out that some of them had engines and gear boxes; about half and half. The important thing is that all those Valentines 47 had been shipped to Belgium by 10th July.
I cannot see what there was at that stage to excite any doubt in the minds of the export control authorities, or indeed at any date until November. It was in November that information was received that Valentines exported from the United Kingdom under that licence might be re-exported to Egypt. We have since learned from the Belgian Government that fifty-one of these old, demilitarised Valentines which had been received in Belgium under the licence were subsequently re-exported. It is right to say that we have been also assured by the Belgian Government that there are no applications for licences to re-export any further vehicles under the licence and that we shall be consulted if any more applications should arise.
In the end, it would seem that these two transactions in Valentines involved the diversion to Egypt of 151 of these self-propelled gun mountings without breech blocks, essentially defence weapons of an old and obsolete type. Even if they were remilitarised, I do not believe that they would constitute a disturbing accretion to the strength of Egypt.
There is one other little class of case with which I must deal in order to complete the picture. In paragraph 17 of the White Paper there is a short passage which deals with a number of surplus Mosquito aircraft——
§ Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)
The Minister has mentioned three types of tanks, but I notice that in the White Paper there is no reference to the Centurion. May I ask whether the thirty-four Centurion tanks, fully equipped and in battle order, that have left Liverpool and Birkenhead within the last four to six months are legitimate stock going to Egypt on the "Star of Suez" and the "Star of Luxor"? The people of Liverpool are very concerned that nothing is said about those tanks in the White Paper, but think that they might be legitimate stock. What they are worrying about is how a balance of armaments can be kept in the Middle East when thirty-four completely up-to-date Centurion tanks have left Liverpool during the past six months.
§ Sir W. Monckton
What I desire to say about that is that the sale of 48 Government-to-Government war supplies is not the subject matter of this White Paper at all.
§ Mrs. Braddock
It could be the subject matter of a war.
§ Sir W. Monckton
What I am dealing with is the White Paper, which relates to something taking place between private trader and private trader. It really would be contrary to all practice if I were to disclose what has been sent from Government to Government, here or anywhere else. That would be wrong for a lot of reasons—and for one in particular; that when considering whether there is a balance here or there one can never expect exact parity in particular types of armaments or arms. Unless one can see the whole picture one cannot judge, and to see the whole picture would mean putting an end to any chance of further sales of arms here or anywhere else. I think that it would be undesirable in the public interest, as it has always been thought, to make such disclosures——
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)rose——
§ Sir W. Monckton
Perhaps I may be allowed to finish my sentence.
I am dealing with the White Paper, for which we were asked, and trying to explain what appears in it. It is not for me to extend the boundaries of the debate.
§ Mr. Janner
Would not the right hon. and learned Gentleman say that in a matter of this description it is essential to see what is being provided in addition to what is referred to in the White Paper? Is he not aware that the figures to which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) referred have been given publicly in authorised and authentic newspapers?
§ Sir W. Monckton
If they have been given publicly they certainly have not been given publicly by the Government. We have been asked to deal with the diversion of these export surpluses between private traders——
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Surely the right hon. and learned Gentleman appreciates that the only importance of asking for an account even of the matters strictly dealt with in the White Paper is to see what part they play 49 in what the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself calls "the whole picture," which he now says he does not intend to give us. Is it his case that, having regard to the up-to-date weapons which the Government of this country is giving to the Government of Egypt, we do not need to trouble ourselves about the "old iron"?
§ Sir W. Monckton
That is not at all my view, but I think that if one is dealing with a specific matter such as that covered by the White Paper one would go very far indeed if one started to deal with what other countries can supply; and people who try to maintain a balance in the Middle East may find their efforts somewhat hampered by what other nations are providing to those countries. It makes it very difficult to work out a balance.
§ Mr. Silverman
That applies to both sides.
§ Sir W. Monckton
As I say, I am trying to deal with the matter covered by the White Paper, which the Government were asked to present. If hon. Gentlemen want to go further they can.
I want now to say a word about the last compartment of the surplus stores—the Short Mosquitoes. I do not want to delay long over them. It was an old sale of about 73—as long ago as 1953—and was the first transaction in disposals dealt with by the Admiralty on taking over from the Ministry of Supply. Although the ordinary practice of the Ministry of Supply—and indeed of the Admiralty in such cases since then, has been to require a contractual undertaking to reduce the aircraft to scrap or spares, that was not asked for in this case. The result was that there they were, bereft, indeed, of armament and all the ordinary accoutrements but, for what they were worth, 73 aircraft which were sold.
In 1954 a licence was issued to export about 20 of those aircraft to Israel. That was a licence issued in the ordinary way after consultation between the Departments. We can account for a good many of the rest. I do not want to trouble the House with details, but certain engines were taken out and again exported—quite properly—to Israel under licence, and a number are on Admiralty airfields now, as aircraft—for what they are worth. But really, it is a very small matter, and the 50 mistake was a single mistake, which I have explained.
I have sought to explain the transactions dealt with in the White Paper, and it remains to consider what, if anything, has gone wrong in these transactions and what ought to be done to control this sort of traffic more effectively in future. Here, again, I do not want to take all the detailed points, but two particular questions I would ask. The first is about the degree of demilitarisation which the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) had in mind, and the second relates to the promptitude and adequacy of the steps taken after suspicions were aroused—and I have dealt with the period during which, I suggest, no suspicion would reasonably arise.
First, then, as to demilitarisation. It would, of course, be possible to destroy all the material—to crush it or mutilate it—but it has never been thought that that is a right course. It is wasteful and, we think, wholly and unnecessarily drastic. To crush or destroy it would no doubt ensure that none of the material was ever used in operations, civil or military, but at no time since the war has that been the policy. If it is not destroyed then, of course, one cannot guarantee that no material exported from this country ostensibly for civil purposes will be put to warlike use. Old armoured vehicles can no doubt, with the limitations which I have already described, be of some use on some occasion in some war; but quite apart from the limitations on their usefulness there would be grave difficulties of maintenance—and we know what were the difficulties in maintaining tanks in the desert—in the provision of ammunition, and so forth.
It is quite true, as the hon. Member for Dudley pointed out, that when guns are disposed of to private traders, in addition to the breech block being removed, and the firing mechanism with it, and then cut by oxy-acetylene flame, the breech ring is also cut. In the case of tanks and self-propelled mountings, however, the practice has been to take the breech block out of the heavy guns—the others being removed—before the vehicles are sold, and to cut them with oxy-acetylene burners so that they are made completely unserviceable, but it has not been the practice to cut the breech ring as well.
51 The question perhaps arises as to whether we ought to have insisted on a new practice of cutting the breech ring. What happened when all this came to light in July was that we decided to take a different step—I say "we," I mean the Government of which I was a member, although not in my present capacity—and to say, "We will not permit the export of demilitarised vehicles or weapons except when the Government of the country of destination is prepared to give a guarantee that surplus war material intended for civilian uses will not be allowed to be re-exported in a condition fit for use as weapons of war." That is a new provision, never before required in the last ten years, but we thought it right to introduce it. 3 am told that I gave the wrong month, but I will check it, if I may. I thought that the date when the new practice was introduced was July.
I want to say this on the subject of demilitarisation. Of course, we do not shut our eyes to the possibility of considering further demilitarisation in this country if it seems likely to help, but, for my part, I should have thought that there was not enough in all this to make it necessary.
§ Mr. Arthur Henderson (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
What is the objection to cutting the breech ring? It is done in the case of ordinary guns. A self-propelled gun is just as much a gun from the operational point of view as a gun which is drawn by traction. What is the objection to cutting the breech ring in the self-propelled gun?
§ Sir W. Monckton
A self-propelled gun is much less manoeuvrable than the other type of gun and is much less usable. It may be a work of supererogation to cut the breech ring in the case of the gun. It might be enough merely to take away the breech block and destroy the firing mechanism.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
It costs more than the Government get for them.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
Is it a fact that these weapons were sold for scrap prices, or not much more? If so, why not make scrap of them in this country?
§ Sir W. Monckton
There is a limit to all things. It depends on the usefulness of the operation when it has been done. The usefulness when the article has been crushed and absolutely mutilated is much less. It is much less likely to be sold. One has to balance against that the danger, such as it is, of its being useful as a warlike weapon. It is a matter of degree.
The second matter about which I want to speak is whether the machinery of control in this case was effective and prompt enough when the information about the diversion of these vehicles reached the Government. It will be seen from the White Paper what the machinery of control is. It has gone along since 1948 in the condition in which it now is, and is, I think, doing a very good job.
How did it function when the information reached us of the diversion of these vehicles? The first that we heard any information of the despatch of Shermans to Israel from France was in March, 1955. It was in that same month that, on investigation, we found that some 50 had passed in transit through Cherbourg from the United Kingdom. We asked the French to make inquiries and to ensure that the tanks were not being reconditioned in France for export. As a result of those inquiries, we were informed by the French Government in July that the tanks had not been reconditioned in France but that some of them had gone on to Israel. Meantime, in May, we had told the exporter not to apply for a further export licence. I cannot see that any charge of dilatoriness or inefficiency lies in respect of that case.
Now for the Valentines. The first information of the diversion there reached us on 21st July, and by that time all the Valentine mountings except 15 had already been shipped. I have already said what is necessary to say about the 15. They cannot, on any view, be regarded as substantial items. When we did learn from the Belgian Governmnt in July that Valentines would be shipped to Egypt, there were four applications from other firms, which were either in the end withdrawn or rejected, after we had sought assurances from the Belgian Government that the material would not be re-exported. They felt that they could not give the assurances, and in the result we did not grant the licences. One sees 53 from paragraph 18 of the White Paper how trivial have been the exports to private traders since July. I cannot think that anything that has happened since July reflects discredit upon the officials who have been concerned in this matter.
It was between 28th November and the first two days in December that the first articles on this subject appeared in, I think, the Daily Mail regarding the Sherman and the Valentine diversions. By that time the action which I have been describing had already been taken. As soon as attention was drawn in this way to the matter, a further review of all outstanding licences was undertaken, and the licence to Mr. Cockerill was revoked.
I have tried to present the facts in this Paper and the conclusions to be drawn from them. I have said that I am not proposing today to depart from the policy that was adopted hitherto of declining to disclose details of authorised exports of military equipment to foreign Governments whether in the Middle East or elsewhere. But I do think it is worth observing that the total value of the Shermans and Valentines exported under the four licences which are examined in the White Paper was no more than £200,000. In fact, it was a little less.
I have made clear the limitations upon their military value. It would be most unrealistic to suggest that transactions involving these dimensions of vehicles of this degree of military utility are likely to disturb the level of the armed forces in any part of the world. We are not the only country that supplies arms. Some countries may not be so anxious as we and our co-signatories to the Tripartite Declaration to prevent an arms race in the Middle East. We know now that any balance we might be seeking to keep might well be disturbed by the incursion into this field of the Czechoslovak Government. Some part of the supplies which they have been offering is already there. We hear and read of MiG squadrons flying over Cairo. There is no doubt that this does involve a disturbing thought.
All I would say is that tonight my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are setting off for Washington. Undoubtedly, one of the subjects which they will have to discuss there will be the problem of maintaining peace in the Middle East. In those circumstances I have no intention of 54 trespassing outside the problem dealt with in the White Paper—the sale of these military vehicles to private traders in Continental countries and their subsequent diversion to Egypt or Israel. If I were to embark on a wider course, I should inevitably embarrass my right hon. Friends in the difficult task in which, I am sure, the whole House wishes them well.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
This debate and the White Paper with which the Minister of Defence dealt so thoroughly are the direct consequence of the visit which my colleagues and I paid to the Prime Minister on 2nd January. Perhaps I might remind the House that the occasion for that visit was not solely the exports of surplus war materials. What I asked the Prime Minister to see me about was the question of arms deliveries to the Middle East and the danger of war between the Arab States and Israel. As he will recall, we spent, I should think, at least half the time discussing not the question of arms deliveries but the general issues of the Middle East, and that was made perfectly plain in the communiqué which was issued afterwards. For that reason, we are pleased that this debate is taking place on the Adjournment and not on the narrow issue of the White Paper.
It is perfectly true that we asked for the White Paper, and I would point out that if we had not asked for it, even now we would not know the facts of the situation, and I think that it is the duty—in fact, one of the major duties—of the Opposition to see that full information is provided to the public.
I said at Question Time that we had pointed out to the Prime Minister that we might wish to have a wider debate. Perhaps I should refresh his memory. He said, I think, that we had only recently debated the Middle East, a perfectly fair point, and I said that it would be over three weeks before the House met again and by that time we might well nevertheless wish to have a further discussion. We have always, therefore, wished the debate to be wider than the subject of surplus arms, and I made that plain again to the Prime Minister before the White Paper was published. Although, therefore, I shall deal with the White Paper to start with, I intend to say something about Middle East policy later on, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), who 55 will speak later in the debate and who has recently returned from the Middle East, has some further observations which he wishes to make on the policy to be adopted in the Middle East.
Whatever views we may hold about the content of the White Paper, I do not think anybody will deny that its publication has been a most desirable thing. It is desirable not because the content differs very much from the newspaper reports—as a matter of fact it largely corroborates those newspaper reports—but because its publication has put an end to the uncertainty and the confusion on this subject which hitherto reigned. This, at least, we can claim has resulted from our intervention.
The first question which occurs to me is this: why on earth did the Government not say all this much earlier? Why were they so very coy about releasing information about the disposal of surplus arms? After all, day by day the Press, throughout the month of December and even for the first week or so of January, were publishing one story after another about these tanks and other stores which were passing through Belgium, and, in one or two cases, other countries.
I do not wish to weary the House with a long list of quotations, but I feel that we must remind ourselves of what was being said at that time. I think the story began not with the Daily Mail, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggested, but with the Empire News which, on 27th November, published the first reference to this subject about a Mr. Frank Craddock. This is what they said:Mr. Frank Craddock admitted he is quite legally selling huge quantities of war goods to the danger areas of the Middle East. At Chertsey he was completing a £500,000 order to one Arab country alone. His main sources of supply have been the surplus sales organised by the Ministry of Supply and the United States Third Air Force.They went on to quote him as saying:All my sales are known to the Board of Trade. They know what I sell to the Middle East. When the news broke about Czechoslovakia supplying arms to Egypt I thought it would be affected, but that fuss seems to have died down.Two days later the Daily Mail picked up the story which must, I think, have been related to the Rotinoff deal—the Sherman tanks deal. They quoted Mr. Rotinoff as saying: 56We sold scrap Shermans to a United States firm here in London. Thirty Shermans were involved. The Americans arranged the shipping and everything. …The reporter went on to say:I mentioned the Shermans and Israel again … Mr. Rotinoff said, 'We are not free agents in this. The Government knows what we do. Ask the Ministry.'Of course the Government have told us since that they did not know what he was doing.
On 1st December, the Daily Mail said,'All the arms scrap which British dealers are busily shipping to the troubled Middle East is being sent with Government blessing,' the Defence Ministry said last night.They are not saying that now. In the same issue the Daily Mail said:… to export their Sherman, Churchill and Stuart tanks piece by piece. First goes the shipload of hulls. Then the shipload of engines; to be followed by turrets, tracks, components. They are assembled in Europe and equipped with Continentally purchased surplus guns.The story went on, and I will not go through it all—it would take far too long. I will pick out one or two further quotations from the Press at that time. First, the Daily Mail again, to whom goes, I think, the main credit for unearthing this story.
§ Mr. Wigg
Before my right hon. Friend gives too much publicity to the Daily Mail, would he bear in mind that the first story of all appeared in the Daily Herald of 22nd October?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I am delighted to hear that. In fact, the Daily Herald told me it was the Empire News. Let us not be too particular, however, as to who gets the credit; let us give it to the Press as a whole for being extremely vigilant in this matter.
On 13th December, the Daily Mail said:… American and British tanks which saw service before the cease-fire in 1945. But much more never saw the war and is shiny new. It is scrap in name only. The high level of arms production in this country has forced it into the surplus market. Thousands of fighting vehicles have been classed redundant almost as soon as they have been delivered to military units.On 20th December the Daily Herald took up the question of the breech blocks, which was being discussed in the Press long before the White Paper appeared. It referred to these Valentine 57 tanks as needing only breech blocks to make them fully operational.A stevedore.says the reporter,told me those breech blocks were among the spares loaded on board the 'Al Kahira' in crates which carried the markings of the F.N. armament factories at Herstal, near Liége.Finally, I would quote the Daily Telegraph. I know that the paper has not been very friendly to the Prime Minister recently, but I am sure he will not hold that against them in this instance. On 28th December, the Daily Telegraph made this rather remarkable statement:Through this port, Antwerp, since September there has been shipped in the holds and on the decks of three Egyptian ships enough reconditioned British Army material to equip several Egyptian armoured divisions.[Laughter.] The queer thing was this: why on earth did the Government not deny this? The Government laugh, but why was no adequate statement made at all throughout the whole of this period?
In fact, as far as I can discover the only Ministry comment made was that made by the hon. Member who was then Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and is now Minister of Health. In reply to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas), in a written answer the hon. Gentleman said, as reported on 12th December, that the Foreign Secretary hadreceived reports that certain equipment, for which export licences were granted on the understanding that it would be used for civilian purposes, has been reconditioned and re-exported as war material. Her Majesty's Government are taking measures to prevent this evasion of our export licensing control."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th December. 1955; Vol. 547, c. 134–5.]That was 12th December, but now the Government come along and say they had taken this action long before. Why on earth did not they say so? Either the Joint Under-Secretary had not the faintest idea what was happening or his idea of good public relations was extremely bad. In view of the importance of public relations to the Foreign Office I can only say that it is a good thing that he has left that particular post.
The decision about getting a guarantee from other Governments, to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred, according to the White Paper was taken in July. Why was it not announced? Why was not a statement 58 made when day after day the Press were going on with this story? Is it surprising that public opinion in the Middle East was roused when nothing was done to calm it down?
If this decision to ban exports, except against the guarantee of the importing country not to re-export it, had been taken, why did the Prime Minister first of all on 1st January announce the banning of all exports of surplus war material and then, 24 hours later, reverse the decision and announced something which, now according to the Government, had been decided several months before? It is a most extraordinary picture of confusion and incompetence.
In the light of all this, it is hardly surprising that on 30th December the Daily Mail said:The Government can blame themselves for the trouble that will erupt in Parliament. Since the Daily Mail first exposed the arms traffic a month ago, they have been evasive, misleading and grudging with their facts.There is no doubt about that.
I turn to the substance of the problem. I want to make it plain that none of us has ever criticised the disposal of surplus stores as such nor given the slightest impression that we were making any such criticism. As everybody knew, the Labour Government disposed of very large quantities very carefully and without any scandal or trouble of any kind. All I can say is that it was done after the Second World War a great deal better than it was done after the First World War. If any hon. Member has any doubt on this matter, I suggest that he should read the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates, published in 1949, which in fact gives the Government of the day a completely clean bill in the whole matter.
Our complaint, of course, is not against the dispersal of war stores, which has to take place after a war. It is that, contrary to Government policy and through lax administration or for other reasons, surplus arms went to the Middle East at a time which was extremely dangerous. The facts in the White Paper, as I have said, do not in any way contradict, but largely confirm, the newspaper reports. Indeed, the figure of 151 tanks for Egypt is exactly the figure which the Press have given. The White Paper, it is true, does add the sales of Sherman tanks through 59 France to Israel, which I do not think, except for that brief reference in the Daily Mail, had been picked up by the Press before.
The Government defence to this is to admit that evasions took place, but to say that, in fact, these deliveries were of little military value and that action was taken as soon as possible to prevent their continuance. As to this defence, of course nobody in his senses would claim that these armaments were comparable in importance with new weapons. But, after all, what is obsolescent to us in this country is not necessarily so obsolescent in some other countries, and if hon. Members opposite wish for corroboration on this, they cannot do better than refer to the speech of the Foreign Secretary made as recently as 12th December. When speaking on Soviet deliveries, he said:As a result,"—he was referring to Russia—with new weapons in the air, on the land and by sea, continually taking the place of the old, they have a large number of arms of all kinds which are obsolescent, or even obsolete, in terms of global war, and yet of the greatest importance and value in the balance of power in the Middle East …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th December, 1955; Vol. 547, c. 833.]Therefore, I think that one must be a little cautious before dismissing these things as of no value at all.
The second comment that I would make is that of course it is clear—and indeed it has been admitted by the Minister of Defence—that the demilitarisation of these weapons which had hitherto been carried out has simply not been adequate. There was a very interesting interchange between the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) just now, as a result of which it became plain that, of course, the breach blocks had been removed in the case of the Valentines but nothing else had been done. I repeat what I said just now, that in the Press at this time there was a great deal of talk about new breach blocks being manufactured, and I should have expected the White Paper to make some reference to this. I should hardly suppose that either Israel or Egypt purchased these weapons without intending to use them at all or if they thought that they could not be used in any way. Indeed that is. I think, the final answer to the right hon. 60 Gentleman. If, indeed, they are of so little value, it is awfully hard to see why Israel and Egypt went to so much trouble to procure them.
As to the administrative weakness and blunders, a number of questions remain to be asked. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will make a note of these and give us an answer to them when he comes to reply. It is noticeable in the White Paper that both in the case of the Rotinoff deal and in the case of the Cockerill deal the reason given for the export licence by those who applied for it was that the tanks or other armaments would be broken down for scrap. The first question I ask is why, at a time when British industry is desparately short of scrap, and when very large imports—and dollar imports, I think, in some instances—are having to be brought into the country, were export licences ever granted at all?
It is a fact that since the war very few such licences have been issued, and I think that I am right in saying that the trade returns show virtually that no application for licences occurred at all in the years 1949 to 1951.
§ Mr. George Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)rose——
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to finish my sentence. It is true that small amounts, but very small amounts only, have been allowed since then, but one would have thought that perhaps in this case some suspicion might have been aroused before export was permitted.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
Is it not a fact that the materials in these tanks are of no use whatsoever as scrap to the steel industry of this country?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
If they were of no use for scrap at all, what was the need for export licences? We cannot have it both ways. Either the materials were useful for scrap, in which case they should have been kept in this country, or, if they were not, why were they allowed to be exported at all? Unless the right hon. and learned Gentleman has some tremendously subtle argument whereby Belgian industry can use these things and we cannot, it is difficult to explain it away on these grounds.
The second comment which I should like to make is the extraordinary confusion which obviously developed between the French and British export 61 licensing departments. The Minister has defended the officials of the Board of Trade here, and I would not wish to offer comment on that. It may have been very difficult for them, but I am bound to say that when a country with whom we are so closely allied as France and a co-signatory of the Tripartite Agreement, I should have thought that better liaison could have been arranged, and I hope that it has been arranged since this business was exposed.
My third point is this. It is perfectly evident from the White Paper that lies have been told in this business and that applications were made stating that certain things were to be done with this equipment when it is perfectly obvious that those things were not done. I ask the Government whether proceedings are being taken against any of those concerned for making false declarations?
Fourthly, I feel, despite what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said, that the Board of Trade and other Departments concerned might have been at least slightly alerted when the first discovery of the Rotinoff deal was made as early as March, 1955, and I should like to ask: Was this case brought to the notice of the inter-Departmental committee which is supposed to exist, and if it was brought to their notice, did not it occur to them that if some one or other was trying to export tanks through France to the Middle East perhaps another party might come along to try to export some further war materials of this kind to the Middle East? Apparently nothing was done, or nothing was done at that time. There is nothing in the White Paper about the scrutiny of outstanding licences then. Why was no statement made? Had the Ministers themselves the slightest idea of what was going on at the time last spring?
I now turn to the Dawson-Ellis case. This is one of the most extraordinary cases, in which we are told that the officials who issued the export licences took the word of the applicant, given orally, that the vehicles were without guns and turrets. Really, these were our vehicles, our guns and turrets, and one would have supposed that there would have been an inquiry of the Ministry of Supply rather than taking the word of the exporters as to whether they had guns and turrets unless——
§ Mr. S. Silverman
They did not bother.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
—unless, as my hon. Friend says, they did not bother. I should like an answer to that, and whether the inter-Departmental committee was concerned? I understood that it discussed every single one of these transactions. Again I ask about proceedings. Evidently here—and very evidently here to judge by the White Paper—lies were told. Are proceedings being taken against Mr. Dawson-Ellis or anyone else concerned?
The Minister defended the fact that the Government allowed the remaining 15 Valentines to go on the ground that they had decided instead not to grant the application of the Egyptian Government for 100 de-militarised Valentines. I could understand if the Government said to themselves, "We were in any event going to allow Egypt to have those 100 Valentines. We will let them go this way rather than that," but, in the light of the way in which the Government had been tricked by the exporters, it seemed very odd to allow the exporters to get away with the remaining 15 tanks.
As to the Cockerill deal, I wish to ask whether the Belgian Government carried out the promises they made on 21st July to consult with us before approving further exports. If so, why was it necessary to repeat the assurance which is referred to in page 10, paragraph 16, of the White Paper that there will be consultations.
I cannot feel very happy about the explanation given of the 73 Mosquitoes sold to Mr. Short. Apparently, we are just told, "That is it; we did not bother to ask for the undertaking about scrap." If I may say so, that is an explanation but it is not an excuse.
I also wish to ask what 10 licences have subsequently been withdrawn? We are naturally glad that the Government, after they had been approached and warned, carried out this thorough investigation, but I think we are entitled to know how much was picked up, as it were, through that investigation. My conclusion on the affair of the surplus tanks is this. I think it shows the Government have been guilty of slipshod and lax administration, of failure to tighten up sufficiently when the first signs were observed and of extreme incompetence in public relations. The 63 Prime Minister knows very well that that is not the least important part of a Foreign Secretary's job.
I repeat that no one of course suggests that the export of surplus material in itself constitutes a major foreign policy problem. It is the fact that this took place in the general background of the Middle East which gives it this most serious aspect, and to that general background I now wish to turn.
Since we last debated the Middle East, I suppose the most significant event has been the very serious riots in Jordan. That is a matter on which I think we must express our opinion to the Government. Early in December, General Templer paid a visit to Jordan in connection with the possibility of Jordan joining the Baghdad Pact. At the time the impression got around—there can be no doubt about that—that this was done on the initiative of the British Government. It was since explained by the Government that it was the Jordan Government who first made the approach, but I think we are entitled to a much clearer statement of what exactly transpired.
Is it the case that the Jordan Government asked specifically that the Chief of the Imperial General Staff should go out there? After all, he is a very high-ranking officer and we would not have thought it necessary to send anyone whose visit would be bound to attract such enormous attention unless there was good reason for doing so. He had scarcely left the country when riots broke out on a serious scale. One Government after another fell. The Arab Legion had to be brought in and, finally, the Government which has now been formed—and which we must all hope will be a stable Government—as its first action, declared that under no circumstances will it join the Baghdad Pact.
§ The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden)
Or any pact.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Or any pact; but the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the purpose of the statement was that they would not join the Baghdad Pact. That was the intention, and, therefore, the visit of General Templer to secure the adherence of Jordan to the Baghdad Pact seems to have had precisely the opposite effect.
64 We have had one other even more serious development, the financial offer made by Egypt, Syria and Saudi-Arabia to Jordan, which the Jordan Government, to judge by reports, are considering seriously.
It seems therefore that the misguided efforts of the Government to bring Jordan into the Baghdad Pact might involve her switching her allegiance to the Egyptian group of countries. How was this mistake allowed? I do not think a single organ of the Press defended it, but there are rumours that the Prime Minister himself decided that General Templer should go. Was it the Prime Minister, or the Foreign Secretary, or was it one of those things which happened in the twilight period when the Prime Minister was still making up his mind about who should have what job?
I turn to the broader problem of the Middle East as a whole. I do not intend to traverse the whole subject. That was done in the previous debate. It was done by the Foreign Secretary quite well, in fact about the only thing he did in his speech was to describe the background. The facts are known, but I wish to address myself to the problems which face us. I admit straight away that they are extremely complex problems and not easy to solve. Secondly, it would be unreasonable to expect Great Britain to solve those problems on her own. None of us has suggested that. It is quite evident that the United States must play its part and, possibly, other countries also.
For six years since the end of the Arab-Israel conflict in that part of the world there has at least been no major outbreak. Of course there have been, alas, many frontier incidents, but there has been no war in the full sense of that word. Nor, however, has there been any settlement. The problem of the refugees has got worse as their numbers have multiplied. The ill-feeling between the Arab States and Israel has not diminished. The economic boycott continues. All these things are certainly depressing in themselves, but I repeat there has been no actual serious outbreak of hostilities.
I believe one reason for that is the Tripartite Agreement, to which the Labour Government were one of the parties. I shall not read it again, but simply describe it in the terms so happily used by 65 my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) in the last debate on this subject. It did three things. First, it made plain the diplomatic impartiality of the three signatory Powers. Secondly, it made it plain that they were prepared, and indeed determined, to go to the aid of any country or countries which were attacked—either Israel on one side, or the Arab States on the other. Thirdly, it did imply that the three signatories would attempt to maintain the balance of arms. I suggest that that is implied when we read that these States, the Arab States and Israel, shall have a certain level of armed forces for the purpose of ensuring their internal security and their legitimate self-defence. One can only interpret "legitimate self-defence" in terms which imply a balance of arms.
Having said that and underlined it, I would, of course, agree that there were certain weaknesses in the situation. The first, I believe, was that there has never been any clear idea as to how the Tripartite Declaration would operate in practice. Because there has been no clear idea of that it is quite inevitable that in that part of the world—as I found when I was there three years ago and as has been amply confirmed by other people in more recent months—there has been great doubt as to whether the signatory Powers meant what they said.
The second difficulty, or weakness, is that the secrecy about arms deliveries to the various States of the area has inevitably bred a great deal of suspicion. I am using very restrained language here because I do not want to speak in detail of a matter which, obviously, we on the Opposition benches cannot be thoroughly informed about. It is, however, a fact that the constant reports of deliveries to this side or to that breed suspicion, and it is a matter for consideration, at any rate, whether the rule which has hitherto been observed should in this particular instance be continued any longer.
Thirdly, the other weakness—I believe that it springs to some extent from the first two—is that the hope of revenge has undoubtedly continued among most of the Arab States. Again and again in this House, hon. and right hon. Members have described their experiences. They have said that they have talked with Arab leaders, who had privately expressed the view that perhaps a settlement 66 could be made but who had always added, "If I were to venture to say a word of this in public, my life would not be worth anything. I should be assassinated."
It is a terribly unfortunate fact that this bitterness and this desire for revenge does exist. We delude ourselves if we do not realise that, frankly, this is the main obstacle to a settlement today. It is the obstacle, undoubtedly, which has most hampered the resettlement of the refugees; it is sheer unwillingness on the part of the Arabs to accept the present frontiers, or, indeed, anything like the present frontiers, of Israel.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
Why should they?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
The hon. Member says, "Why should they?" The Arabs are entitled to their point of view, but we are signatories to the Tripartite Agreement, which guarantees those frontiers.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Oh, yes; there can be no doubt about that. Since the hon. Member seems in doubt, I must read the passage of the Declaration, which is supported by the Government. This is what they say in the last sentence:The three Governments, should they find that any of these States was preparing to violate frontiers or armistice lines would consistently with their obligations as members of the United Nations, immediately take action, both within and outside the United Nations, to prevent such violation.
§ Mr. Bell
Yes, but the right hon. Gentleman will realise that those were armistice lines and that at that time—and, one hopes, ever since—a peaceful settlement was what was wanted.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Of course; that is what I have read out, that is what we are talking about. Those are the existing frontiers.
I am not saying that the frontiers under no circumstances can be changed. The point is a simple one and I am glad to have the opportunity of making it. In fact, one can have an alteration of these frontiers provided it is made as part of a general agreement not signed under duress. That, however, is very different from saying that we are not guaranteeing those frontiers—we are. There is no possible shadow of doubt in those words. Does the Prime Minister wish to intervene?
§ The Prime Minister
I am not sure what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. One of the main arguments, used often in this matter—the right hon. Gentleman and I have discussed it frequently—has been whether some further document, more clearly basing oneself on the frontier, should not be in existence. I do not want to criticise the 1950 Agreement, because I have said many times that we will stand by it, but I am bound to say that the language in respect of the frontier is not as clear as the right hon. Gentleman seems to think.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
The language as far as it goes is perfectly clear. I hope that the Prime Minister will be very careful in saying anything that would weaken the repeated declarations which he has made in favour of the Tripartite Agreement.
I was speaking about the feeling of the Arabs, which, of course, we understand. When I was in Israel and the Arab States, which I visited three years ago, I felt that it would not be difficult to set out what I might call the technical conditions for a settlement; but the real obstacle was the psychology of the Arab people. I state these simply as facts. I am not passing judgment upon them, It was in this situation that the announcement of the Czech deliveries of arms to Egypt was made at the end of September. None of us should be in any doubt that it is this which has profoundly changed the situation in the Middle East.
I would say in passing that I find it extremely surprising that a Government whose previous holder of the office of Foreign Secretary made such bitter complaints against the Russian intervention, should nevertheless, by doubling the rate of release of sterling balances, have made it so much easier for the Egyptians to pay for these arms. It is not good enough to brush off these questions by a slick supplementary answer at Question Time. The Government have something to explain, particularly in the light of the criticisms that they made, in a situation which was certainly far less dangerous than the present one, when we negotiated the original Agreement with Egypt.
The significance of the Russian intervention is not that it is simply intervention, but that it is intervention on one side. It is that which has, or appears to 68 have, tilted the balance of power quite seriously in the Middle East. Many people believe that for the past two years Egypt and Iraq in particular have gained heavily from us in delivery of certain modern weapons. In particular, there are complaints—I cannot assess their validity—that Egypt and the other Arab States have, for instance, had from us in all about 140 jet fighters of one kind or another while Israel has had only 20. There seems to be no doubt whatever that something like 40 Centurion tanks have gone to Egypt and a further 12 to Iraq. There were reports—in the Manchester Guardian, I think—that there are to be further deliveries of additional Centurions. We all know perfectly well that Centurions are worth a great deal more than the obsolescent tanks which we were discussing earlier this afternoon. Perhaps my hon. and right hon. Friends will be able to say a little more on this subject.
All I am saying—I do not think the Government can question this—is that the supplies from Czechoslovakia tilt the balance very heavily in favour of the Arab States. They include substantial quantities of MiG fighters and some quantities, at any rate, of Stalin tanks. We now have a situation, therefore, that both on the ground and in the air, it seems that the Arab States will have superiority.
The result is that two grave dangers emerge. The first, which is the most obvious one, is that the Arabs, whose feelings on this matter we know, are bound now to be encouraged to hope that in the not very distant future they will have their revenge and will have their opportunity to eliminate Israel. The second danger is that the Israelis, realising that the balance is tilted against them and will be more and more tilted, will take the opportunity while things are not so bad from their point of view to go in for preventive action. Those are the two dangers, and we have to ask ourselves how in these circumstances the United Kingdom reacted.
We must remember that the United Kingdom was bound by the Tripartite Agreement. The first thing, I should have thought, that ought to have been done after the end of September was to summon a special meeting of the signatories of the Tripartite Agreement. Here was obviously a new factor in the situation which should have been discussed 69 with our Allies without any delay, but no such meeting was called.
The first reaction was the Prime Minister's Guildhall speech. Much has been said about that and I do not want to go over it again in detail. There is, however, no doubt that it gave the impression that we were putting pressure upon Israel by weakening our stand upon the Tripartite Declaration. That was the impression created in Israel.
§ The Prime Ministerindicated dissent.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
There is not the slightest doubt about it. It is no good the Prime Minister shaking his head.
I repeat what I said before in answer to an interjection. Territorial adjustments made voluntarily by Israel as part of a general agreement, a general settlement, and under conditions in which the Tripartite Declaration was being maintained to the full, is one thing, but territorial adjustments squeezed out of Israel under the threat that she will not have the arms to balance the Czech arms and will not have the security of defence from the three signatories of the Pact, is a totally different thing.
§ The Prime Minister
I have said no such thing at any time.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I wish the Prime Minister was to speak in this debate. If there have been misunderstandings he has had plenty of opportunities of correcting the misunderstandings, but he has never taken those opportunities. Perhaps he will put into the mouth of the Foreign Secretary tonight—because I am anxious to get this thing cleared up—a statement which will once for all deny the interpretation put all over the world upon his speech.
There are other reasons why the rest of the world take this view. What was said by the Government about the question of the balance of arms? The first statement on this was made by the then Foreign Secretary at Bagdad on 21st November, and he said "that Britain was not going to try to outbid the Russians in providing arms for Egypt; nor would she try to balance deliveries by increasing the supply of arms to Israel."
Curiously enough the day after that, the Prime Minister himself in the House of Commons, in reply to a supplementary question from my right hon. Friend the 70 Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) said exactly the opposite. He said:The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly right in saying that we should try to maintain a balance of arms."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd November, 1955; Vol. 546, c. 1264.]What is the world to make of this when the Foreign Secretary says one thing one day and the Prime Minister another thing the next day? [HON. MEMBERS: "That Foreign Secretary has gone now."] He has gone now. Well, that may be a good thing.
It would, perhaps, not have mattered so much if the then Foreign Secretary had not again on 12th December in the debate said, about the Tripartie Agreement:The Russian incursion has swept all this away"—a very dangerous phrase to use—and in these circumstances, and subjected to these temptations, one cannot altogether blame the Government of Egypt.He went on to say once more:In our view, this cannot be put right by the Western Powers themselves deciding to send a balancing supply of arms to Israel. To enter upon this arms race at this stage, against the very considerable resources which the Soviet command, would, in our view, be foolish."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th December, 1955; Vol. 547, c. 840.]I think we had better have a little more clarity about "arms race." It is a phrase which evokes emotions and can easily be confusing. Of course nobody likes an arms race, but when we say we do not like an arms race we really mean we want disarmament all round, that we want an agreement, we want a settlement. Nobody would dispute that, but that is not to say that we get rid of an arms race or that we prevent war by refusing to keep a balance. We do nothing of the kind, and, of course, in the case of our own defence, the Prime Minister would never have dreamed of using this argument. Or if, for instance, Afghanistan were to be stirred up by the Russians—let us hope it will not happen; but it could happen—that Afghanistan were to be provided with arms to attack Pakistan, with which Afghanistan is in some dispute, would the Government say, "It would be foolish to engage in an arms race to supply Pakistan"? I do not think they would So let us, please, have rather less talk about an arms race.
71 There is another reason for this. The logical consquence of saying that we are not going to engage in an arms race is to try to stop it properly. The only way of stopping it properly is by agreement with Soviet Russia. What have the Government done about that? They refused to take that action. It is true that the Prime Minister said that they had mentioned it to see how the Russians reacted, but that they were not in the least inclined to come into these talks.
We repeat what we said to him on 2nd January, that really the time has come formally and openly to ask the Russians whether they will join in discussions to safeguard peace between Israel and the Arab States. I do not think that this is a dangerous thing to do. I know the reservations that some people have. I do not think this is a dangerous thing to do because if the Russians agree to this, what is their position to be vis-à-vis the Arab States? It does mean that they have to give up this type of intervention which they have just engaged upon. If, on the other hand, they refuse, at least the Government cannot complain, and at least we shall know rather better where we stand in this matter.
Now the Government say, "No, we will not have an arms race, we will not have any balance, let us have a settlement." Admirable. Of course we all want a settlement. We have all wanted a settlement all along, but it is not much good taking that line unless they really think there is a chance of a settlement in this new situation. Is it really likely after all these years when there has been a balance of arms between the two sides—the Arab States certainly have had thoughts of revenge, but nobody, I think, was really worried about their capacity to put the thoughts into practice—is it really likely that at the moment when they have additional forces, when the balance of power is, on the Prime Minister's own admission, tilted in their favour, they are going suddenly to drop all their thoughts of revenge and agree to a settlement?
I think it is extremely unlikely. We must face the grave difficulty of the situation, that there is no possibility that we see of getting a settlement in the near future; indeed, I am afraid, for a long time; perhaps, not at all, if the Tripartite guarantee is in any way weakened. I fear that in the light of the quotations that I 72 have given of what has been said by Government spokesmen, the impression is created in the Arab world first that the balance is not to be maintained, and secondly that the Tripartite Agreement does not mean, perhaps, as much as was originally contemplated.
I want to say this too. There is a close link between the guarantee and the balance of arms. Suppose we take the guarantee as it now is—and it is perfectly clear—and we do not supply Israel with arms; and suppose Israel, knowing that she is going to be out-numbered, outgunned in the air, on the ground, and feeling, as I am afraid is the case, some doubt about our capacity and willingness to go to her aid, decides because of that, because she cannot get the arms, to take aggressive action. Under the Agreement we are bound to go to the assistance of the Arab States against her.
That is a fairly serious prospect, and it is a fairly serious prospect, if she is driven to it precisely because we have not given her the balance of arms. Really, that is a most unfortunate situation to get into, therefore, in my submission, if the Tripartite Declaration means anything, it means carrying out the balance of arms policy in the Middle East, too.
I am sorry, genuinely sorry, that on the eve of the Prime Minister's departure for Washington we should have to offer these criticisms, and, although hon. Members may mock this, I do assure the right hon. Gentleman that we do so in no party spirit. We view the situation far too seriously for that. We do believe, however, that up to now the policy of the Government in these last weeks has been weak and dangerous.
The Prime Minister may properly ask us what we should do. I should say, first of all that I am not pro-Arab or pro-Israel; but I am pro-peace, and I am against aggression from whatever side it comes, just as much against Israel's attacking Syria, as it did the other day and should not have done. But, in all the circumstances, and in the light of the latest development which we have been discussing, I repeat that I am sure that the Guarantee to go to the aid of those who are attacked, the guarantee against aggression, must be strengthened or else the Tripartite Agreement ought in fairness to be torn up.
None of us would want to do that, I am sure, and yet that is the only 73 alternative. If we dismiss it, then surely, we must clarify the position. We must say we are really prepared to go to the help of those who are attacked. There should, therefore, be talks between the signatories immediately as to how the Guarantee could and would be implemented. The Prime Minister may have seen The Times leader today on this subject, a very helpful leader, in which it is suggested that American and British aircraft alone would be sufficient for this purpose. I have no further comment to make on that except that it seems quite probable, because one of the hopeful features of the situation is that the Western Powers have far more up to date weapons and equipment than the Arab States or Israel.
I would say, secondly, that we must uphold the balance of arms theory in qualitative terms. I am not asking that precisely similar amounts should go to each side, but I do not think that we should allow one side or the ather to be in a position in which it cannot at least buy equally modern equipment. From what I have heard—and I do not think that this is disputed—from now onwards the Israelis are placed in that position.
Thirdly, we should invite Russian co-operation in preserving peace, and for the reasons I have given.
Fourthly, I would suggest—a point which I know my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth wishes to develop—that General Burns should be asked whether it would assist him in maintaining the peace on the frontier, because that, after all, is the danger spot, to have small international forces at two or three points on that frontier. We cannot, I think, police the whole 400 miles of frontier. It is impracticable to talk in those terms. I hold the belief myself, and my right hon. Friend will tell the House what he heard from General Burns on the spot, that quite small forces might be of great value. [An HON. MEMBER: "For observation?"] A little more than observation.
Fifthly, a long-run settlement must be worked out, covering the settlement of refugees, rectification of the frontier, compensation, the ending of the boycott, plus—which is obviously essential—economic aid for the development of the whole area. I throw out the suggestion 74 that this economic aid should be made available and that it should be said that it would be made available for those who were ready to co-operate in such a policy.
I do not presume to tell the Government exactly how a plan of this kind can best be worked out. It may be better to do it by secret discussions between the parties and find out what each thinks about it. I know that such discussions will not be any good at all until the guarantee is reaffirmed and the path to aggression is blocked. When that is done, we may get, probably not quickly but in time, the possibility of some settlement, particularly if we are prepared, as I think the Western Powers must be, to put a good deal of money into the area.
Those are the lines which we believe the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary should take in Washington. We hope that later in the debate the Foreign Secretary will be able to give us some hope that this is the way they too are thinking. If so, and the Washington talks result in action of this kind we shall certainly support it. But I warn the right hon. Gentlemen that if this does not happen and the Government continue to display the same weakness, confusion and, in certain respects, incompetence as they did before Christmas they will search in vain, when they return, for any backing from us in their Middle East policy. They will instead encounter the most vigorous and determined attack.
The Prime Minister has a well-deserved reputation as a brilliant negotiator. No doubt there is room for negotiation in this situation, but I believe that that is not enough on its own at present unless it is backed by courage and firmness. It is these qualities—courage and firmness and, I would add, imagination—which are needed at present more than anything else. Let those who represent Britain display them.
§ Mr. R. Brooman-White (Rutherglen)
I was waiting during the conclusion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech to hear whether he would make any reference to the recent dispatch by Her Majesty's Government of very considerable forces to Cyprus. Does he not think that action of that kind, which would put us in a position in which we might support any action needed under the Tripartite Declaration, is a far more effective way of 75 stabilising that area than making a move to launch an arms race, with Britain backing Israel and Russia backing the Arabs?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I have made no criticism of that movement of troops, and it would have prolonged my speech far too long if I had gone into that matter.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)
On one occasion I went to a cinema and I discovered half-way through the proceedings that the film I had come to see had been taken off a week before.
§ Mr. Norman Dodds (Erith and Crayford)
Was the hon. Member sober?
§ Mr. Harvey
After listening to the speech of the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) this afternoon I have exactly the same impression as I had on my visit to the cinema. Those of us who read the newspapers during the Recess were given a romantic, exciting picture of the Leader of the Opposition, accompanied by his "shadow" Foreign Secretary, rushing to Downing Street with a sense of tremendous urgency and there demanding of the Prime Minister that Parliament should be recalled instantly.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I am awfully sorry to interrupt what is obviously a very carefully prepared speech. What I did was to ask for a debate on this subject before the Prime Minister went to Washington and, if necessary, the recall of Parliament for that purpose.
§ Mr. Harvey
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has now denied the rumours, but he was not at all anxious to deny them at the time. So far as carefully prepared speeches are concerned, I am making a speech which I had originally prepared, but I have a suspicion that the right hon. Gentleman had to alter a great deal of his speech after he had read the White Paper.
In the right hon. Gentleman's speech there was a notable absence of reference to the visits which he paid to Downing Street and to an atmosphere to the creation of which he undoubtedly made a great contribution. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of rumours and of public relations, but if anybody had a great part in creating rumours and 76 making the operation of the public relations of the Foreign Office difficult, the right hon. Gentleman certainly should have great credit in that respect. But we have to remember that all this was during the pantomime season and that the new principal boy had to go on the boards.
The right hon. Gentleman has said today that the question of the provision of arms was not a major item of foreign policy and, of course, he is perfectly right. Therefore, it is surprising that during the Recess the right hon. Gentleman put so much emphasis upon an aspect of the situation with which, this afternoon, he has been particularly careful to avoid dealing in detail. It is significant that at the beginning of our proceedings the right hon. Gentleman should have talked about the reticence of the Foreign Secretary in speaking on these matters. I think that reticence was a particular feature of the right hon. Gentleman's own speech. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Hon. Members will have time to measure the matter in HANSARD, but I suggest that far the larger part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech dealt with the foreign situation, which he craved the indulgence of the House to bring into the debate, whereas up to then we had been under the impression that the debate was to be on the specific question of supplying arms.
Let us deal with one or two points and with the attack which the right hon. Gentleman made on the Prime Minister. I do not think that anyone who listened to the Mansion House speech——
§ Mr. Ian Mikardo (Reading)
The Guildhall speech. The hon. Member is at the wrong ceremony now.
§ Mr. Harvey
I have sat opposite some better productions than the one I now see. No one who listened to the Guildhall speech and read the Prime Minister's last speech in the House on the subject could read into those speeches any form of weakening of resolve behind the Tripartite Declaration. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Brooman-White) should have intervened at the end of the right hon. Gentleman's speech to draw attention to the significant movement of troops which can have no other underlying meaning than the strengthening of the resolve of this country to stand by that agreement.
77 While on the question of the balance of power in the Middle East and of armaments, I doubt whether the possession of arms in itself alters the balance originally outlined. Some important arguments were adduced which we must all consider, but I submit with the greatest respect that the mere possession of arms does not imply military effectiveness. I submit that Israel is stronger per man in armaments than the agglomeration of Arab States set up against it.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
May I ask the hon. Gentleman one question? I appreciate that argument as applied to land forces, but does he suggest that the possession of, say, Ilyushin bombers by the Egyptians, which can fly far above the range of Israeli anti-aircraft or fighters, does not in any way shift the balance of military power?
§ Mr. Harvey
I admit that the possession of modern arms, if they can be used effectively, shifts the balance but I question whether the training or reputation of performance of those using them would justify that assumption of disparity in the balance of arms which has been made out during the debate.
§ Mr. Wigg
Training is of paramount importance in military affairs and surely the hon. Gentleman knows that ex-German officers have been serving with the Egyptian forces for a considerable time? Also it is common knowledge now that there are teams of Czech technicians in Egypt, and possibly even Czech pilots flying MiGs there, and for a time this must make a profound difference to the strength of the Egyptians.
§ Mr. Harvey
I question whether at this juncture the disparity is so great as is made out. As the Government have said so clearly, we are anxious to avoid an arms race in this respect.
The right hon. Gentleman made one important point which I hope my right hon. Friend will deal with when he replies, namely, that of talks with the Soviet Union. No one in their senses would wish to achieve anything other than a state of co-existence with the Soviet Union because we all know what would be the conclusion otherwise. However, I query the constructive value of the proposal for talks because of the reason the Soviet Union is now intervening in the 78 Middle East. It is clear that the Soviet Union is intervening intentionally there not in order to solve the grave problems which exist, but to perpetuate them. Therefore, although I am sure the proposal was made sincerely, it is not one likely to produce any constructive solution.
Whatever arguments may be put forward by the Opposition, this debate deals primarily with the White Paper which was called for by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. That White Paper was produced and has been presented by my right hon. and learned Friend with clarity and honesty to the House this afternoon. The Minister of Defence reiterated that it is the aim of the Government to avoid an arms race, and this is of the greatest importance. At the same time the possession of arms does not jeopardise peace, whereas a lack of balance could do so. I do not think that sufficiently strong arguments have been produced to justify the policy outlined by the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon.
Now I come to the more detailed question of the measures for the demilitarisation of this equipment. I do not think that any serious charge can be made against the Government that effective demilitarisation of most of this equipment has not been carried out. Some reasonable charges have been made about a small proportion of the equipment but we must keep this matter in perspective. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was careful to change the perspective by changing the scene and we realise the reason for doing so. Indeed, we congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon the agility with which he changed his position, but then agility is one quality which any right hon. Gentleman in his position will always have to possess. Incidentally I see that the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) is wearing a Tank Corps tie in an excess of zeal for this debate——
§ Mr. Harvey
Being a member of the party opposite, I hope the hon. Gentleman is also wearing a belt. The list shown at paragraph 8 is not inefficient but shows the satisfactory demilitarisation of this equipment, and to suggest that we should destroy all the vehicles and equipment 79 would be to propose an act of great economic folly. In an intervention the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition questioned the export of this material for scrap. In passing, I would say to him that his comparison of exporting this equipment for scrap when it was needed here for the same purpose was similar to the export of coal by his Government when coal was needed here. As an economic expert he knows the answer better than anybody else, and I was surprised that he should even ask the question.
Again the vehicle aspect is satisfactory. The Valentine tank is used primarily for agricultural purposes——
§ Mr. Wigg
Would the hon. Gentleman tell us where he got that information? What evidence has he for saying with such confidence that the Valentines are used for agricultural purposes? Is not he getting confused with Sherman tanks?
§ Mr. Harvey
No, the Valentine tanks can be used satisfactorily.
§ Mr. Harvey
§ Mr. Harvey
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) has been on a fact-finding tour in the Middle East. If he had looked in the fields he would have seen Valentine tanks at work.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
§ Mr. Harvey
I would commend right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to go and see for themselves. These tanks have been exported for agricultural purposes and it is clear that they are being used for those purposes.
§ Mr. Mikardo
The hon. Gentleman does not know.
§ Mr. Harvey
The debate on surplus arms comes down to the discussion of a small amount of equipment some of which has been misused or exported without the precautions agreed originally.
I do not think this constitutes a major criticism of the Government's policy or of those who have carried out the instructions laid down by the Government. In 80 that respect the debate has proved that only minor discrepancies have occurred. If that is a subject which the Opposition feel that Parliament should be specially summoned to discuss in such detail, I think that shows their sense of perspective to be very much at fault.
The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that fully this afternoon by his performance at the Box. He has shown his initial activities to have been impulsive, very ill-judged and very ill-founded upon facts. There is every evidence of that in his speech.
What has been of more importance has been his survey of the general situation in the Middle East, and for that we have rather more respect. But it was not for that that the debate was initiated, as I think he will agree if he studies the correspondence and the general discussion in the Press; there is every evidence that the subject was to be the disposal of arms.
If the right hon. Gentleman is so keen to disown that, it would have been more honest for a statement to that effect to have been made clearly by him and his right hon. Friends at an earlier date.
§ Mr. Robens
Would it not have been more honest for the Prime Minister to have given the full facts of the conversation which took place between himself and my right hon. Friend? The hon. Gentleman is talking without the book.
§ Mr. Harvey
I have not the right hon. Gentleman's advantage of being a shadow Cabinet Minister. We all hope he will continue to be a shadow Cabinet Minister for many years to come. It is not normal, however, to disclose private discussions between leaders of the Government and leaders of the Opposition, and I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have been only too pleased that too much of the discussion has not been disclosed.
Clearly, we have been brought here very largely on false pretences and the right hon. Member for Leeds, South has hastily turned the occasion to one of greater importance.
§ Mr. Robens
That is absolute nonsense.
§ Mr. Harvey
The right hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity of summing up at the end of the debate and we shall all listen to him with the greatest respect. 81 He has already intervened considerably during my speech and thereby deprived us of hearing other speeches, but if he wishes to pursue that policy he is at liberty to do so.
It is clear that the Opposition have launched a completely false attack. It has shown them in their true colours and has shown to those who study these affairs outside that their leadership is not fitted to replace that which I am glad to think will be at the head of this country for many years to come.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
Let me say at once that the feeble attempt by the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) to discredit my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition does not do even the hon. Member himself credit. He has overlooked the fact that there is a Tripartite Declaration. If he will look at it he will see by its very terms that the question of the supply of arms—and we are dealing with the supply of arms; and even the hon. Gentleman has been unable to suggest that what has been sent from this country has not been used as arms—lies at the very root of the agreement.
I should like to refer him to some of the terms of that Declaration:During the recent London meeting of the Foreign Ministers" (they had the opportunity) "to review certain questions affecting the peace and stability of the Arab States and the State of Israel and particularly that of the supply of arms and war materials to these States …In consequence of that, the subsequent statement was made. The effect of it is that every supply of articles which can be used, and as we know in this case has been used, for arms, has to be very carefully scrutinised and dealt with within the terms of the Declaration so that the balance shall not be upset. That is axiomatic to this debate.
That is why my right hon. Friend and other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House insisted upon knowing what was happening to the so-called obsolete and obsolescent materials which, instead of being used as scrap by the persons to whom they were sent, were being used for armaments.
We cannot deal with a debate of this kind as if it were in a vacuum. Is not the basic fact today that amongst the various nations of the Middle East there is only 82 one which has not direct agreements or pacts with some Western Power? That is Israel. Israel is surrounded by neighbours who have declared their animosity to her, and who have stated time after time, through their leaders, even very recently, that they are determined to destroy Israel.
Whatever the merits or demerits of the State of Israel—and I shall say a word on that in a few moments—that is the position. The Tripartite Declaration was made with a view to preventing those neighbours from destroying what I consider—I do not think wrongly—to be one of the most important States, not in size but in significance, which has been established for many years. It is one which was brought into existance in consequence of the desire of the United Nations.
The hon. Member for Harrow, East said that Israel has forces large enough to fend for herself. He does not give facts to support his contention, and I ask him in a genuine spirit of reasonableness to examine the facts. It may well be that at one time the Israel Army, defending a national population of about 1¾ million, might have withstood once again the attack of Arab armies from nations containing 40 million people.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey
They did withstand it. When the Arab armies had to deal with Israel they did very badly.
§ Mr. Janner
If the hon. Gentleman reads HANSARD he will see that I used the word "again." I was very careful about that. The hon. Gentleman will realise that his intervention was not correct in the circumstances.
I contend that the balance of power has changed considerably. Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that very large supplies of Czechoslovakian arms are being made to Egypt? It has been estimated that already more than 100 million dollars worth of arms are being sent into Egypt.
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
§ Mr. Janner
It is an estimate which has been given in various journals.
§ Mr. Patrick Maitland (Lanark)
§ Mr. Janner
I will give quotations. The arms are being supplied quickly and efficiently with the aid of Communist 83 technicians. Mr. Hanson Baldwin of the New York Times, a military expert of great renown——
§ Mr. Maitland
The New York Times.
§ Mr. Janner
If the hon. Member is prepared to give me different figures, or if he will consult the Prime Minister and get him to give different figures, he will have a reason for intervening in that way. This is what Mr. Baldwin said, on 4th January this year:The Communist contract with Egypt is believed to provide for the delivery of about 200 MiG 15 jet fighters, thirty IL-28 jet light bombers, about 150 to 200 Stalin III and T-34 tanks and six to ten submarines.I am not quoting from a person who is not accepted as an authority, but from a statement made in a journal, which is very well known, by a person who is a military expert.
§ Mr. Maitland
I am not trying to be fractious, but I am sure the hon. Member will realise that the strength of his case is weakened when he puts forward a pro-Israeli point of view and sustains it by quoting a paper owned by the Sulzburger family.
§ Mr. Janner
If the hon. Member knew what he was talking about, he would realise that the owner of the paper was at a meeting in this House and himself said that he was not a Zionist and that his views were different; so, on the contrary, this quotation comes from a newspaper with an approach possibly the same as that of the hon. Member.
§ The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Anthony Nutting)
A moment ago the hon. Member said that 100 million dollars worth of arms had gone into Egypt. By that statement did he mean that all those arms were Communist, Czech or Russian, under the recent deal, or was he taking the total arms supplied from all sources which have reached Egypt over, say, the last 10 years?
§ Mr. Janner
I think from the Communist suppliers alone. The right hon. Member will have an opportunity of denying that. I hope that he can deny it, and that we shall have some information about these matters from authentic sources. However, that is the informa- 84 tion which I have been able to glean from fairly reliable sources.
In all probability—it is, indeed, almost a certainty—by this time Egypt has air superiority. That is very serious for open towns. We have known what that means and can realise what it will mean for a town like Tel Aviv or Haifa to be attacked if the attackers have air superiority. From the statements made by the leaders of the Arab countries—which can be given verbatim—we know that they will have no hesitation in attacking once they feel that they have the strength so to do.
The White Paper was therefore long overdue. The Government still have to explain why they are continuing to supply Centurions and other weapons to Egypt, as well as having allowed to go the type of weapons which have gone to Egypt under this procedure, with the result of creating a different balance of arms. It is all very well talking about the superiority of Israel's manpower. Man for man the Israelis are a match for the Arabs for certain reasons. The reasons are that the Israeli fights for a cause and knows for what he is fighting. They would fight for their very existence as they fought for their very existence at the time when the Arabs attacked Israel originally.
§ Mr. W. Yates
Did they fight for their existence and to defend their homes in the recent attack on Syria?
§ Mr. Janner
That is not for me or the hon. Gentleman to judge. I will deal with that question in a moment.
The Prime Minister of Israel recently put the position very clearly. He said:War is brutal and devotion cannot match fire. Intelligence cannot crush steel. Cities can be destroyed with impunity, if the fighter planes of the assaulted nation cannot match the attitude of the aggressor's air force.That sums up the position about manpower in Israel.
The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) asked about the attack in Syria. That is a "red herring" in this debate. It is true that many of us thought that that was not a wise or sensible thing to do; but who are we to judge? Does the hon. Member realise that near the borders of the small country of Israel about 800 Israelis have been murdered; that night after night marauders come over the 85 border, killing a mother or father or brother of those who are working near the border?
I do not know what I would do and I do not know what the hon. Gentleman would do if his mother or brother were killed and if he felt that the following night he or some other person of his kin would be killed in a similar manner. More than eight hundred have been murdered in that way and if an attack is made which is retaliatory—I do not say that I agree with it—but I do not know and I do not think any hon. Member knows what he would have done faced with similar circumstances. We have not been remiss, nor have the Government, in making retaliatory attacks in certain directions, and we should be very careful in dealing with matters of that description, because we may be living in glass houses.
What should we be doing? The Foreign Secretary, who is now leaving for the United States, should bear these things in mind. Those of us who know anything of the situation out there have asked him to realise that no one can suggest that Israel desires to be aggressive towards her neighbours. The State of Israel has fully justified her existence. She has shown how a democracy, based on very similar lines to our own, can work. She has put her men and women to work of recovery for the benefit of mankind. She has a Parliament similar to our own, and she gives equal rights to both Arab and Jew within her borders. Apart from Turkey, Israel is the only country in the Middle East which gives the right of the vote to an Arab woman.
All the Israeli inhabitants live in a neighbourly and peaceful way with each other. All that Israel asks is to be allowed to live a peaceful existence, to strive for peace and not for war. In heaven's name, what is the hope for civilisation if we cannot realise that that is the very type of life which men of good will are trying to bring to the world as a whole so that peace and harmony may prevail?
I do not propose to go back to the terms of Mandate and all the rest of it, except to say that we have an obligation——
§ Mr. R. Bell
§ Mr. Janner
It is no use the hon. Gentleman saying "Oh" in that way. The late Lord Balfour would not have 86 said, "Oh" in that way, nor would the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), nor, indeed, would anybody who understands the facts attempt to deal with it in that way.
The fact is that the State of Israel has been created not only in consequence of the decision of the United Nations, which the Arabs immediately attacked—and I propose to deal with the question of frontiers, I know what some hon. Gentlemen opposite have in mind—and because the Arabs were driven back they ultimately had to agree to an armistice which defined definite armistice lines.
Today we are told that the Tripartite Declaration which was made possibly does not bear the meaning which so obviously it does bear—one which has so often been emphasised. I say to the Prime Minister that if he will read that Declaration which was made possibly is no ambiguity at all about this question. On the contrary it talks of frontiers or armistice lines quite categorically. There is no doubt whatever that the Tripartite Declaration intended that the armistice lines should not be violated in any sense. That is the position today.
If arms are sent to people who state deliberately and openly that they are going to attack, obviously it is encouraging them to attack. If no agreement is signed with Israel when agreements have been signed with other nations, obviously the inference is that the Western Powers at least would not be so concerned were Israel attacked; and how many hours would it take before extreme damage was done to Israel? Where is the security, either expressed or implied, at the present time, in view of the type of action we are taking?
§ Mr. Ian Harvey
As the right hon. Gentleman has asked the question, may I say that the answer is in Cyprus?
§ Mr. Janner
Why not have a security pact with Israel? That would immediately bring to the notice of the neighbours of Israel that they cannot attack with impunity. That has been asked for and refused. Why? It has not been refused to other nations. It has not been refused to those who are parties to the recent Bagdad Pact. Why do we make these pacts? I know that there are a lot of people, and many hon. Members of this House, who feel that that method of promoting security should be 87 continued, but the kind of action we are taking by refusing such a pact to Israel makes the enemies of Israel feel that they are in a safer position to attack.
I ask the Foreign Secretary to consider these things. There exists grave anxiety that this new State will be attacked. There is grave anxiety about the question of the balance of arms and that we, who helped so much towards the ideal of the establishment of a Jewish national home, are not prepared to do what we should do in order to protect Israel. I believe that if this debate has achieved anything at all, it has given an opportunity to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, before they leave for America, to state categorically that it is the intention of the Government to see to it that what we have pledged in the Declaration shall be put into proper effect; and to take such steps, together with America, France and others, that will enable the world as a whole, and in particular those who wish to destroy that small State of Israel, to see clearly that such intentions will not be permitted to be put into effect.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Maitland (Lanark)
No one will challenge the passionate sincerity with which the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) has put what I am sure he will allow me to call a Jewish case. Not one of us would deny the sincerity with which he has stated his case, and if it has a weakness, it lies in over-statement. Indeed, in the speech we have just heard there are passages of value.
When, as others have done, the hon. Gentleman stresses the desirability, from the Israeli point of view, of obtaining some kind of definite agreement with this country, he is advancing an argument with which many would agree in principle. But, alas, the hon. Gentleman weakened his case by overlooking the fact that we can hardly be expected to tie ourselves to the defence of a State whose frontiers are not yet universally agreed.
§ Mr. Crossman
The hon. Gentleman says that we cannot be expected to tie ourselves to the defence of a State whose frontiers are not yet universally agreed. 88 Does he now repudiate the Tripartite Declaration, which does so?
§ Mr. Maitland
I should have thought that an intervention by the hon. Gentleman would have been more fundamental. He is aware that these are armistice frontiers. I am sure that he will have an opportunity to speak in this debate—he seldom misses an opportunity when he can get one.
I was hoping that the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West would have gone a little further and put the case, which can be put with moderation, that one day there would be an intimate tie between the State of Israel and the Commonwealth of Nations.
I wish to turn for a moment to the wider——
§ Mr. Janner
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will give way for a moment.
§ Mr. Maitland
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in due course. If he will allow me to proceed he will see the context in which I made that remark just now.
I wish to turn for a moment to the context in which the last speech was made. It followed one from the Leader of the Opposition whose first impulsive, even intemperate, intervention as Leader of the Opposition will not have won him all the credit for which he hoped. He delivered a speech lasting the best part of an hour which was a farrago of platitudes and clichés. He said that we must get a settlement, that we must bring Russia in, that we must maintain the balance of power and enforce the Tripartite Declaration. He only omitted to say "Keep off the grass." The tanks scandal has been very nearly buried altogether. The right hon. Gentleman wound up by saying that he was neither pro-Arab nor pro-Jew, but pro-peace. I am sure that, had he been reminded of it in time, he would have said that he was pro-British.
The Leader of the Opposition was mainly concerned—and I think in the wider context rightly so—with the whole problem of the balance of power. It might, I think, be recalled for the benefit of Members of the Opposition that the very unbalance of power which causes such anxiety just now has followed the conclusion of a Treaty between Britain 89 and Egypt which was the subject of intense controversy but on which, when it came to the vote, the other side abstained. I think that has to be said for the record.
As we now look at the situation, with the approach of this visit to Washington, we are surely agreed—and this was stated truly by the Leader of the Opposition—that within the Middle East we must find a common and satisfactory basis for our policy, with a common overall aim, satisfactory to the United States as well as to ourselves. I believe, even more, that our overall aim should be to face our problems in the Middle East in the context of the suspicion which menaces the balance of power, and to search for a remedy for that suspicion.
It is easy enough to suggest that the remedy would be to make this or that political treaty. I am not sure that political treaties are necessarily the answer to suspicions. On the other hand, I think that, as we approach the talks in Washington, we are bound to say, if we are honest and look back over recent years, that British policy has too often been the passive victim of mercurial changes in the policy of the United States.
If we look back at the Palestine story, we are bound to recall the words of Ernest Bevin who said, not once but many times, that the cup had been dashed from our hands, as he put it, by the American Government under Zionist pressure just when it seemed that we were within reach of accord. In Abadan we saw the influence of rival commercial interests. In Suez, in the whole Egyptian negotiations, we saw the State Department's antiquated liberalism at work. In the Buraimi Oasis affair, more recently, we have seen a conflict between two recognisable and distinct States but in that conflict we have discerned the working of profits earned, in effect, by the Standard Oil Company.
In the Bagdad Pact context we have seen—only a few months ago—the United States apparently eager to come in; but now, if we are to judge from the general trend of news reports, the State Department is eager to keep the United States out.
Indeed over recent years there has been a succession of British retreats of one kind or another in the Middle East—retreats which at every stage have at least been facilitated, if not, indeed, made necessary, 90 by chops and changes in American policy. They have been the consequence of Britain and America having no clearly defined long-term overall aim in that part of the world.
Perhaps we have been too concerned with the immediate need alternately to conciliate Arab and Jew. If, on the contrary, we were concerned to build up positive positions of strength, if we were looking primarily to the safety of Commonwealth interests in the Middle East rather than to the appeasement or conciliation of this or that local interest, if above all we had in mind the extension of the Commonwealth's own circle of associates, we might find ourselves gripping the Middle East with an idea which, in the end, could resolve the tension.
§ Mr. Janner
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has gone a little beyond where I wished to interrupt him. I should like him to understand that the statement which he originally made is quite baseless. Is he aware that the Zionist movement in this country—for some years headed by myself—was for many years anxious to have Palestine joined to Britain as a seventh Dominion? The very arguments which the hon. Gentleman is now using will surely clearly show him that we made a very great mistake in not accepting that idea at the time.
§ Mr. Maitland
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman, and if by giving way I have thereby enabled him to crown a speech which already had merit, I am glad that that has come about.
To revert to the theme which I was developing, I have described a number of reverses which we have suffered, and which were accompanied in every case by some chop or change in United States policy. I think that everybody who puts the Commonwealth interest first is bound to ask whether the retreat has now come to an end and whether it is now being reversed.
First of all, we must hold our breath with regard to Cyprus. I was encouraged by Sir John Harding's broadcast last night. But we do not know what will come out of these discussions, and I, personally, am still holding my breath. We are at least back in Persia, thanks to the present Prime Minister; we have the Bagdad Pact, thanks to the present Prime 91 Minister; and we have taken a firm stand in the Buraimi Oasis affair, thanks to the present Prime Minister.
I believe that for any policy of building up positions of strength the present Government, and the present Prime Minister, deserve not only credit but support. What I ask, however, is whether these successive endeavours to build up positions of strength do really form a related policy and, if so, whither do they tend? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
With regard to the Bagdad Pact, it is fair to ask—while it is certainly irrelevant to jeer—whether we want Jordan in or out. At one stage, it appeared from the hand-outs that emerged from the Foreign Office News Department and the little tip-off stories to diplomatic correspondents that Jordan was wanted in. Now, of course, we are told that Jordan was only given explanations at her own request.
Do we want the United States in the Bagdad Pact? At one stage, to judge from the material that circulated through the Press in London, it seemed that we wanted the U.S.A. in. It even seemed at one stage that the State Department was saying that the United States was eager to consider coming in. Now, of course, we read a different story.
We are bound to ask whether, in seeking to build up positions of strength, we have been playing our hand properly or, indeed, have been playing a hand at all. Our problem is not to side with this or that party; it is not even to smooth down both sides. It is to create an ideal so much greater than the suspicions which bedevil the situation that the peoples concerned will grasp it and work towards it.
We sometimes make the mistake of supposing that a particular country, rather poor, perhaps, or where wealth is not very widely distributed, will be eager to defend itself against a powerful aggressor. It may be that we have assumed, in South-East Asia and in the Middle East—in the case of countries like Iraq and Jordan—that the, people concerned are in fact eager to defend themselves against a great Power. Indeed such a thought has been the basis, for example, of the Bagdad Pact. But in making any such assumption, we have been wrong. If, instead, we were to tell these people that they should have their 92 place in the sun; if we were to recognise that they have national aspirations and want their country to have a real voice in world affairs, we could approach them with an idea to which they could naturally, and would freely, respond.
I wonder whether we have not been doing two things at the same time, namely, trying to force premature ideas of self-defence upon peoples who are not very eager for them and, in the case of the Turks, who are eager for self-defence, trying to talk them down with regard to Cyprus. We cannot do the two things simultaneously. In our eagerness to conciliate the Greeks—and nobody will deny that I am a philhellene—have we possibly gone too far and taken the heart out of the Turks?
Is it true, as reported recently, that Turkey has given us some very frank warnings about what she would feel bound to do if self-determination came about in Cyprus—possibly to the extent of her leaving N.A.T.O.? I believe that we have been trying to force concepts of self-defence upon peoples who are not yet ready for them and, at the same time, we have been ready to take the stuffing out of those who are ready to fight for themselves.
If we approach the Middle East with a positive policy, and with a picture of what it could become in association with ourselves and the Commonwealth—a picture of what might be the consequences of some kind of access to an outer ring of Commonwealth associates—we should be laying before the peoples of the Middle East the prospect of achieving a genuine national self-determination which would appeal to their most liberal aspirations. Something of that sort, less military than political, is the idea that we should take to Washington for discussion with the United States.
In our previous debate upon the Middle East I was specially heartened by the final words of the then Foreign Secretary, who said:The time is now one for partnership and partnership is, after all, what the British people are offering to the world. Just as the old British colonial and imperial system is passing to the concept of Commonwealth,"—this is the critical passage—so the Commonwealth idea is extending beyond those countries who owe it, formal allegiance and it may well be that it is the main rôle of the British people, with the active 93 help and sympathy of our American friends, to be leaders in this concept."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th December, 1955; Vol. 547. c. 846.]In that idea, unfolded by the previous Foreign Secretary, there is something which can be offered to the Middle East—something which can be worked out with the Middle Eastern countries, something which is far superior to any project for this or that little pact with this or that particular State to equalise the balance of power.
Here we have something new. When the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary go to Washington they will in any event carry with them the good wishes of the House. But if they confirm that the idea put forward by the previous Foreign Secretary is the one in which they heartily believe, they will also arouse this House, inspire this nation, encourage the Commonwealth and illumine the world outside.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not follow the hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland) into the stratosphere of questioning platitudes with which he has regaled us. I want to get back to the subject of arms shipments. I am intrigued to notice that the delicacy of the Conservative Party, which first said that we should concern ourselves only with arms shipments, now seems to have slipped away. But I want to return to that subject, and address my remarks to the Foreign Secretary.
I have observed an interesting thing about this Government. In the case of the shipment of black market arms their White Paper gave us every possible detail, but on the question of the official shipment of Centurion tanks and other arms, they say that there must be complete secrecy. In other countries the facts are given. One has only to read American newspapers to find out fairly accurately what has been sent from this country. Only the British House of Commons and people are denied the facts about the British shipment of arms.
I believe it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) who pointed out that the number of Centurion tanks sent in this consignment to Egypt—because there was a previous one in 1949—was probably 94 thirty-four, with twelve to come. Under the Tripartite Declaration we are committed to maintaining a balance of arms between Israel and her neighbours. Is it really conceivable that we can maintain peace and build confidence in the Middle East if we maintain that balance of arms by secreting from one side what we are sending to the other?
I am told that under normal conditions we do not tell people what arms we are sending to Governments abroad. But we do so in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. There is no disguising what arms we send to Switzerland, Sweden or France. In N.A.T.O. there is a full discussion of the quality and types of British arms sent to our allies. Only in the Middle East is this continuous obscurity insisted upon by the Government. As one of those people who have been to the Middle East this winter, I would say that one of the chief causes of confusion and suspicion—and of the danger of war—is this deliberate policy of concealing from one side the facts about arms which are being sent to the other.
The Government are right when they say that the black market arms were relatively unimportant. They were not only obsolescent; most of them were useless. In fact, they were a small addition to what was being officially sold and consigned to the Middle East. Mention has been made of Centurion tanks for Egypt, but Egypt is not the only country which has been receiving British arms in large quantities. I went to Jordan. It is a secret, but I may as well state it, that part of the deal by which we tried to persuade the Jordanian Government to join the Bagdad Pact was an offer enormously to enlarge the Arab Legion.
It is difficult to talk about this, because it is still a secret in this country, and when I asked the Second or First Secretary in Amman to tell me about this secret he said, "Not even off the record." I said, "I have talked to one of the four members of the Jordanian Government who resigned. It is not difficult to discover what the offer is because every member of the Jordanian Government will tell you. I have been told the terms of the offer, and I just want to check it up with you to see if your version agrees." Broadly, the Jordanian version of the bribe which they have been offered is a 95 50 per cent. increase in subsidy to the Arab Legion; an increase of one armoured division—which would almost double their armoured strength—more heavy artillery, and a rapid build-up of the air force. This is in addition to the Centurion tanks for Egypt.
I shall be told, "Oh, but this is quite different. Jordan is our ally. These are arms to defend the Middle East against Communism." All I say in reply to that is, "Tell them that in Jordan." No one in Jordan could conceive it possible that Jordan would ever fight Russia. There is only one enemy that Jordan intends to fight and that is Israel, and if anyone tries to lead the Arab Legion against Communism there will be a revolution. And if anyone tries to stop the Arab Legion joining in the war against Israel there will be a revolution. The Arab Legion is popular for one reason: it is pledged in its heart to a war of revenge. Therefore, when we offer to increase the armed strength of the Jordanians we tip the balance of power against Israel.
I turn to Iraq. There is no disguise about the fact that under the Bagdad Pact we vastly increase the Iraqi army. We are building up four divisions there. "Ah," I shall be told," they are pledged to defend us against Communism." Are they? I took the trouble to discover what Nuri Said had to say about the use of these arms. This is not malignant Leftwing propaganda. Let me tell the Foreign Secretary Nuri Said's views. He said, speaking of the purpose to which these arms are to be put:Every gun, every plane and every tank received by Iraq will contribute to solving the Palestine problem in the interests of the Arabs. Therefore we are arming ourselves not only to defend ourselves but also the rest of the Arab world. We lost the Palestine war not because we were morally unable to win but because we did not possess sufficient arms. This we intend to avoid now and in the future.Nuri Said is not just a wild opposition leader but one of the most astute of politicians. He persuaded the predecessor of the present Foreign Secretary that he really wanted peace with Israel. He is the one who said to our present Chancellor of the Exchequer, "I am prepared to consider negotiation." This man now tells us perfectly openly that the use to which the arms will be put is the winning of a war of revenge.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
Did he say that to the ex-Foreign Secretary?
§ Mr. Crossman
He did not tell it to the ex-Foreign Secretary. He said it on 9th January to his own people. He tells his own people what he means. He does not say what he means to our Foreign Secretary.
§ Mr. Osborne
Does the hon. Gentleman allege that Nuri Said was not telling the truth and that he completely hoodwinked our Foreign Secretary?
§ Mr. Crossman
The hon. Gentleman must not try to put evil thoughts into my mind. I am not as critical of the late Foreign Secretary as all that. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman knew exactly Nuri Said's intentions in the use of these arms, and the intention of Jordan too. I believe he knew that the Centurions sent to Egypt are there for one purpose, which is to change the balance of power in the Middle East over to the side of the Arabs. I have tried to understand both sides, and I do not blame the Arabs for trying to do this. I am only blaming the British Government, who say they are keeping the balance, although, while they see Russian arms going to Egypt, they add 60 Centurion tanks to the Stalin tanks, and then say, "We are keeping the balance of power."
We have heard amazingly complacent statements from the Government side of the House about the arms that the Israelis are getting. I say frankly that there is no danger whatever of the Israeli Army being overwhelmed in the immediate future or even of being attacked. I saw what I could of both the Egyptian and the Israeli armies and there is no doubt whatever, before the new arms are brought into force and used, where the balance of power lies. Under the Tripartite Declaration the Israelis have sufficient defensive power to take on all the six Arab States. The fact remains that the Russians arms, which include the latest type of bomb, fighter, submarine and Stalin tank, will over a period of time, shift the balance of power to the other side. I am not an expert, and I do not know how long it will take.
Surely the job of the British Government, who believe in the Tripartite Declaration, is not to deceive themselves but to try to keep the balance of power, instead of assisting the Russians—actually 97 assisting the Russians—to tip that balance of power to one side. The reason why this is so dangerous is not the fear that Israel will be overwhelmed in the near future but that it forces the Israelis to contemplate the possibility of war now.
Let us bring the matter right down to reality. They can defend themselves now. But they must watch the surrounding Arabs increase their strength under Western connivance. So the Israelis say, "If we do not go to war now we shall be doomed to certain destruction; either we must fight now or fight in more unfavourable circumstances in a year or two, or, even worse, we may have to face unconditional surrender and have our country dismembered under a treaty imposed on us by the overwhelming force of the Arabs and the great Powers."
It is no use hon. Gentlemen saying that this is absurd. I remind them that in 1947 and 1948 the Israelis were left absolutely defenceless against six Arab States. We had given pledges, but they were broken in the White Paper of 1939, again under Mr. Bevin, and now they are broken for the third time under the Tripartite Declaration, the real meaning of which is being systematically destroyed by British action.
§ Mr. Patrick Maitland
What were the pledges that were allegedly given to the Israeli State and subsequently broken?
§ Mr. Crossman
If we are to go back over the whole history of the matter——
§ Mr. Maitland
Give us one instance?
§ Mr. Crossman
First, the British Government accepted the Peel Commission's Report and then went back on their word in the White Paper of 1939, a fact which the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) did not find altogether satisfactory. Then the Labour Party was deeply pledged to sustain the State of Israel, but I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, Northwest (Mr. Janner) has great confidence in those pledges from the Israeli point of view.
The Israelis did not ask for anything of that sort, but for something much simpler. They said "If you give the Egyptians the offensive arms—if you join with the Russians in giving them these arms—at least give us the defensive arms of the quality required. Give us at least 98 a fighter which can fight an Ilyushin. Give us at least an anti-tank gun which can hit a Stalin or Centurion tank. Put us in the same scale of equipment, and then we know that we can look after ourselves." I do not think that we really disagree. My impression is that Israel makes only this simple demand: "If you want peace and if you want to mediate, the balance of power between us and our neighbours must be at least relatively even. You must look as though you are tipping the balance of power."
If I may, I want to turn from that Israel-Arab problem, because it is only a secondary problem. The major problem of the Middle East is as to who is to run the Middle East. The major problem—let us be crude about it—is who is to have the oil in the Middle East. That is the major problem, and this other is a secondary one which has been rendered impossible of solution by the great Power conflict now taking place.
I was fascinated by the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Lanark to the present Prime Minister and to the success of the present Government in reversing the policy of surrender during the last twelve months and beginning to have a strong imperial policy in the Middle East. I should have thought that 1955 was the most disastrous year for British policy in the Middle East in the history of our relations with that area, and perhaps we had better remind ourselves of what has happened under this Tory Government in the last twelve months.
Let us start with this Bagdad Pact. We all remember the debate we had last April. The present Prime Minister was then Foreign Secretary. Down he came and said that the Bagdad Pact was the mainspring of British strategy in the Middle East, that it was making for the unity of strength in the Arab world and building collective security against Communism. What has it actually achieved? Instead of keeping the Communists out it gave them an unrivalled opportunity to come in. Instead of uniting the Arab world it split it from top to bottom. Instead of creating collective security it destroyed the possibility of it. That is the first great Tory achievement—the Bagdad Pact.
The hon. Member then mentioned the Buraimi expedition and said that it was 99 a successful military campaign. In fact it was a successful military campaign which has put us at complete loggerheads with our American allies. There is a campaign between one group of oil companies and another; one backing a sheikh and the other backing a corrupt Government to see who is to have the exploration rights of a certain area. I would say to the hon. Gentleman that we shall not do very much in keeping Russia out of the Middle East as long as we and the Americans each regard the other as enemy No. 1.
Everyone in the Middle East knows that the struggle between Britain and America, with each trying to edge the other out, is the dominant factor in the Middle East and has been ever since the ill-fated mission of Mr. McGhee, the Oklahoma millionaire who ran Middle East affairs in the State Department in 1950. It was he who told the Persians that they would get a 50–50 deal from the Americans and incited them to start the trouble which finished with the loss of the Abadan refinery. He then went to Cairo and told the Egyptians that it was a great pity that the British had the Suez base and so made a lot of trouble.
Everyone out there knows about these intrigues. Here we do not read about them. Perhaps it is that The Times and the Manchester Guardian are too refined to publish the crude, sensational truth which is published in the cheaper papers. The cheaper papers are sometimes right, because sometimes the news is sensational, crude and vulgar. The news of Anglo-American relations in the Middle East is extremely crude and vulgar. Let us, therefore, not talk about that Buraimi expedition as a completely successful campaign.
Turn to Jordan. Is this another great demonstration of strength? I was very surprised by my right hon. Friend's reticence in dealing with Jordan. Again, I do not think there is very much that is "great" about it. We now know that General Templer was due to go out on a purely technical mission to the Arab Legion. At the last moment someone in London had a bright idea and thought very hard about renegotiating our Treaty with Jordan. It is very difficult to renegotiate a treaty, because the Jordanians do not want us there and are not prepared to negotiate any further treaties. 100 The politicians know that if they do negotiate they will be bumped off.
We did not want to renegotiate the Treaty directly, and just as we thought we could get what we wanted by getting on the Bagdad bandwagon someone in the Foreign Office had this bright idea: "We can avoid renegotiating the Treaty with Jordan by getting Jordan to sign the Bagdad Pact, and that will enable us to have the Treaty relations indirectly. "General Templer, therefore, was sent out with the doucement, the sweetener, the bribe—the enlargement of the Arab Legion. I am told—and perhaps the Foreign Secretary will tell us the truth—that General Templer was prepared to concede Jordanian control of the Legion and that the sixty British officers should be only an advisory military mission.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
And about time too.
§ Mr. Crossman
My hon. Friend says "And about time too," but if the Jordan army is made into an independent army we had better give up talking about its contribution to the Bagdad Pact and so on, because without British control the Jordan army is anti-Israeli and nothing else at all. It may be that the time has come when Jordan should have its own army. If so, we should stop paying £15 million a year. Since the war half of Jordan's population are starving refugees, and £10 million a year is used for creating a privileged elite in the Arab Legion. The Legion is a magnificent force, but it makes nonsense of the economy of the country and does nothing for the refugees.
The Foreign Secretary, therefore, should not have been too surprised when General Templer flew out, called the Jordan Cabinet together and told it abruptly—in his usual military language, which is probably fine in Malaya but does not go down too well in Jordan—to get off the fence of neutrality. When the Jordan Cabinet asked for 14 days in which to consider getting off that fence he said: "You cannot have 14 days. I want a Cabinet which will get off the fence." He got such a Cabinet—and the people of Jordan rose in demonstration, and rioted for five days against what they felt to be the imposition of a British stooging policy on the Jordan Government.
§ Mr. Percy Daines (East Ham, North)
My hon. Friend will agree that there is a bit more to it than that. Surely the Jordanians thought that it was consolidating the position as between themselves and Israel.
§ Mr. Crossman
I quite agree that the Jordanians thought that the Bagdad Pact would somehow deny them the war of vengeance against Israel. The revolt was anti-Jewish, and inspired by the belief that the Bagdad Pact would somehow deny them the right to get back the lands which they had formerly occupied.
The hon. Member for Lanark has told us about the tremendous success of the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary this year. Was the Templer mission a great success? When it comes to a choice between Colonel Nasser's policy and that of our Foreign Office the Arabs choose Nasser's policy and force the British Government to eat their words. Whatever may be said in this country, the outcome of this Jordan business makes the British a complete laughing stock in the Arab world. I do not blame Colonel Nasser for what he has done. We challenged him with the Bagdad Pact and said that we were going to make Bagdad the centre of the Arab world.
We were going to make Nuri Said our big man and group the Arabs round him. The Egyptians were upset and said, "O.K. boys, you try, and we will organise the Arab world round Cairo." Colonel Nasser has been a good deal more successful in organising the Arab world round Cairo than the Prime Minister has been in organising the Arab world round Bagdad. The Government have not got one Arab State to join the Bagdad Pact, not even little Jordan. All the other Arab States said, "We prefer Egypt." In our great demonstration of strength we permitted Colonel Nasser to demonstrate his strength against us, and we gave the Russians the opportunity, as a result of the Bagdad Pact, to outflank us by a diplomatic offensive and to capture a foothold in the Middle East.
Did not the Government expect the Russians to do something of the sort? What did the Government think the Russians would do—let us organise bomber bases in Persia and do nothing in reply? I always think that it is as well to assume that the people one does 102 not like are roughly as sensible and as courageous as those whom one does like. We like the Americans. Let us imagine that the situation was the other way round. Let us imagine that the Russians had decided to organise a southern tier in Central America. Let us imagine that they had already got Communist Governments in Panama, Guatemala and Mexico, and that they had all linked in a strictly defensive league to protect Russia and decided to build a string of bomber bases along the Mexican-Texan frontier.
Does the Foreign Secretary imagine that the American Government in Washington would remain absolutely immobile? Would they regard this as a wholly friendly act? Would they think that it exuded the Geneva spirit? Would they say, "How splendid for world peace," or would they regard it as an effort to undermine the American Government? We know the answer. One poor little Central American State, Guatemala, got a couple of "pinks" in the Government; a revolution was organised in the State Department to throw out even a quarter-Communist Government in Guatemala.
I would say to the Foreign Secretary: did he not last April expect Russian reaction? I did, and some of us said so. We have got no troops to defend Persia, and we do not mean to defend Persia. We merely feel better by giving Persia a promise that she is part of the Western world. We have not the soldiers to send out to that area. We have merely looked at the map and said, "We will not organise an Arab league; we will organise a northern tier." It came unstuck. The Russians took the diplomatic initiative in Egypt, and this has been a magnificent success both for them and for the Egyptians.
§ Mr. Wigg
Surely my hon. Friend has missed one point. The difference between Colonel Nasser and the present Government is this. Colonel Nasser was told nothing about the pact and he reacted. Our Government were told nothing about it and did not react.
§ Mr. Crossman
I am sure my hon. Friend is right. It is true that the British Government, which lauds itself about the Bagdad Pact, had not even heard of the Turkish-Iraq Pact when the Turks and Iraqis, under Mr. Dulles' initiative, 103 launched the idea. We got on the American bandwagon, and we have had the consequences which I have described.
Let us look at the consequences, because this is supposed to be a great year of victory; this is the strong man's year, the year when Britain is supposed to be building herself up in the Middle East. Let us come to Cyprus, the fourth position of strength. Does anybody on the opposite benches think that as a result of the Government's actions in Cyprus, we are building there a position of military or political or moral strength? Those of us who had the misfortune to visit that island this year and compare it with what it was 12 months ago found a lamentable picture.
One of the most revealing passages in the Field Marshal's television programme yesterday was when he, as Governor, said that the casual visitor—that included myself—would notice nothing wrong. Let me assure the Field Marshal that the casual Member of Parliament noticed a good deal wrong in an island which is developing all the evils of Palestine in 1946, with the British soldiers—18,000 of them, mostly young National Service men—given a very dirty job and doing it as well as anybody can be expected to do it.
But do not let us disguise from ourselves that very often they act roughly. It is not an accident that the Highland Light Infantry has been sent to Cyprus with the "Red Devils." We know the record of the paratroopers in Palestine in 1946 and 1947. They may have been doing their duty, but they did not make any friends. I gather that the people in Salisbury have some idea of the way the Highland Light Infantry behaves even at home. Send them to Cyprus where British soldiers are being murdered and left to bleed on the streets while the Greeks pass by and do nothing to help, and we must not be surprised if there is a good deal of rough——
§ Mr. Patrick Maitland
As a Scot, I must remind the hon. Gentleman that the Highland Light Infantry is an honourable regiment with a great record. But will the hon. Gentleman deny that when he was in Cyprus he encouraged violence?
Of course, I deny it. I said something much worse. I said that the policy of the British Government 104 was one of incitement to violence and that violence would come within 12 months as a result of that policy. It came. Anybody who was not a blind fool could see that—anybody except the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Maitlandrose——
§ Mr. Crossman
Those hon. Members opposite who said, "This is a wonderful year; look at us building strength," had better go and see what is happening in Cyprus. In Cyprus a decent population which was really friendly to the British is taking to assassination, just as the Jews and the Irish took to it, and just as all small peoples do when they are rendered desperate. Our British National Service men, with their Turkish armed auxiliary policemen, are behaving more and more roughly under the provocation of murder and bombing. That has been going on week after week, month after month, and why?—because the Government in London have not the courage to discipline their people and give self-determination without which there is no peace, no military base and no political honour in Cyprus. There is no strength for Britain unless we concede this principle.
We have been met by Makarios who has gone so far in concessions to us that he is in danger of losing the support of his own people. First he gave up the demand for immediate Enosis. Then he gave up the demand for immediate self-determination. Now all he says is, "Grant us self-determination and let the details be decided in consultation between the Cypriot Assembly and the House of Commons." He has gone all that way. I only pray that the instructions given to the Field Marshal are that he should settle with Makarios. We can lock up all the Ethnarchy, we can shoot all the people and hold the island with our 18,000 men—nearly all our strategic reserve——
§ Mr. Maitland
Will the hon. Member give way?
§ Mr. Crossman
I am sorry, no.
On this issue, I would give only one small illustration of the failure of the Government. In Cyprus, I talked to an American who had come back from Crete. I said, "Why have you come back from Crete?" He said, "I went there to see the two big American bases." I asked 105 whether there were big American bases in Crete, and he replied, "Yes, we got them by lend-lease. That is why we have no trouble. In the eyes of the Greeks, with lend-lease bases there, they have complete safety and security and the collaboration of the population." But because there are people on the other side of this House who talk about "showing the flag" and who say that they must keep Cyprus as part of the Empire, those people will finally go out of the Empire because they will hate us for holding them, whereas we can keep them in as friends if only the principle is granted."
I have spoken of the four areas: the Bagdad Pact, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Cyprus. What a gorgeous record of a policy of strength. Added to that, there has been the tipping of the balance to one side deliberately in the Arab-Israel conflict. [Interruption.] If it is not deliberate, the folly is equal to the knavery. I cannot believe that the Government do not know what Centurion tanks are, do not know what Russian tanks are, and cannot add up.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Nicholson (Farnham)
There has been no tipping of the balance. It is a well-known fact that there is a balance in favour of Israel. Would the hon. Member not like to withdraw what he said about a British regiment? Surely, he has British blood in his veins and he must realise that it is unworthy of any Member of Parliament to speak like that.
§ Mr. Crossman
I will reply seriously to the hon. Member. It is the job of the British representative to warn our people about the strain that we impose upon these young men. It is not right to send a boy of 18 out to a place where he has to go about with a Sten gun under his arm, where he can search anybody he likes, and where he can break into houses. It is asking for trouble to give him this horrible job and to make him take part in the sort of odious policy which—let us be blunt—corrupted certain elements of the Army in those last terrible days in Palestine.
If the hon. Member does not want the Highland Light Infantry and the paratroops to be rough, it is high time for him to create conditions in which there is no need to send them to Cyprus and in which we have the country as a friendly base. I made no criticism except 106 to record the fact that under the provocation of murder, these troops are getting rough. We all know that that is true.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I think that the hon. Member was misled by his own eloquence and enthusiasm and, I am sure, deep and genuine feeling into saying something utterly unworthy of a British Member of Parliament to abuse a British regiment by name. It may well be that he is right about the unsavoury nature of the tasks imposed upon the troops, but to single out a regiment with an honourable history for treatment in that way is unworthy of the hon. Member and of any Member of the House.
§ Mr. Crossman
If the hon. Member reads HANSARD, he will find that I said no words of abuse. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, you did."] In that case, I will repeat it to get what I said quite clear. I said that those two military units have a reputation for roughness. Anybody who denies that does not know much about it. I spoke about the people in Salisbury because I read that in the local Salisbury Press. We had much better face the fact that if the hon. Member really cares about stopping what goes on in Cyprus, he had better get his Government——
§ Mr. Nicholson
I care about the reputation of a British regiment.
§ Mr. Crossman
That reputation will be sullied——
§ Mr. Nicholson
The hon. Member is sullying it.
§ Mr. Crossman
—if the situation continues. Month after month, there will be trouble in Cyprus and the Government will not be able to keep proper discipline in the troops.
§ Mr. Nicholson
Does the hon. Member think that he is helping?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. However hon. Members feel in these matters, these interventions only prolong a speech which is already one of some length.
§ Mr. Crossman
A great deal of it, Mr. Speaker, has been due to interventions.
I wind up by saying three constructive things, with which even the hon. Member might agree. I am sure he will agree 107 with the first. He came into the Chamber after the beginning of my speech. The basis of peace in the Middle East is to restore the balance of power. The first task is to make sure that defensive equipment is provided to Israel which matches the latest exports of modern British and Russian equipment to Egypt, Iraq and Jordan. That is my first point to the hon. Member, and I am sure that, being a reasonable man, he will agree.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I do not.
§ Mr. Crossman
Very well. I suggest to the House that we should give up the idea of a peace settlement being negotiated in the near future between Jews and Arabs. It seems to me to be completely out of the question. There is no sign of any basis of agreement. Some of us have tried very hard to get it from both sides.
What would be possible is the enforcement of the armistice terms and the policing of the frontiers between the two sides. If that could be achieved, we might within five years be able to talk of a peace settlement, but without the enforcement of the armistice terms it is completely a waste of time to do it.
My last point to the hon. Member is that as long as the British believe that it is part of the British raj to have British troops about the Middle East, the Government will continue to fall from debacle into disaster and from disaster into debacle. Once we had made the decision to take British troops from Suez, it was inevitable that Jordan, Iraq and the rest of the Arab world would say, "If they have got rid of the British troops, it is time for us to do so." The greatest strengthening of the military position of this country and of collective security in the Middle East would be the winding-up of the idea of keeping land forces in the area and supplying them from Cyprus.
We can offer the area economic assistance, we can offer the countries assistance in the air and we can offer them guarantees, but the ground defence of the area must be left to the peoples themselves, for they have been under our rule for so long that they resent our presence. When I asked Colonel Nasser about this, he said a very good thing to me. He said, "Supposing you did have a Middle East command and you made 108 me commander-in-chief and there was one British lieutenant. Every Arab would be convinced that it was run by the British lieutenant and not by me. That is why we cannot do it. We must grow up. We must get rid of the feeling of your suzerainty and you as bosses."
Of course, it will be a risk to do this and to let them grow up, but it is an even greater risk to humiliate ourselves by hanging on to a façade of military strength which is no genuine military strength and merely antagonises the Arabs, makes the Jews distrustful and increases the contempt which is felt out there when the British name is mentioned. It is a terrible thing to admit. I beg the Government to do the same thing as we did in India. Then they will get the same results.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Preston, North)
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) can draw, but his speech convinces me that if he has that talent he might be the ablest caricaturist in the country. But caricaturing is not the same as statesmanship, and on this extremely complicated subject of the Middle East we need a little balance.
Let me give just one example of the hon. Member's lack of balance. He spoke of the lasting bitterness which the British parachute troops had left in Palestine. Is it not rather interesting that the Israeli paratroop regiment has adopted the British uniform and beret? Is this perhaps not a sign that the bitterness has not been all that lasting, after all?
May I also suggest to the hon. Member that he should make one withdrawal? I understood him to say early in his speech that General Nuri Said wanted weapons from us with which to attack Israel and that the British Foreign Secretary, who had agreed to supply him with the weapons, knew that this was his intention. The implication of that statement is that the British Foreign Secretary was, therefore, deliberately abetting a second round of the Israeli war.
§ Mr. Crossman
I quoted a statement from 9th January. These statements from Iraq have been consistently made throughout the last year. The Foreign Secretary was completely aware that, in defending the acceptance of British arms, 109 Nuri Said dare not say that they would be used against Russia and had to tell his people that they would be used against Israel. That is something that the Foreign Secretary should bear in mind. It means that he is conniving in the preparations for a second round.
§ Mr. Amery
That is not quite what the hon. Gentleman said earlier. But the implication is the same, namely, that the British Foreign Secretary is conniving at this second round. I think that is absolutely monstrous.
§ Mr. Wigg
These statements were made in the presence of the British Chargé d'Affaires and also to the Iraq Deputies. That is well known.
§ Mr. Amery
I have given the hon. Member an opportunity to withdraw, and he is not prepared to take it.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee West)
Will the hon. Member explain why this is not conniving at a second round against Israel? Is seems to me plainly that it is.
§ Mr. Amery
I have not seen the full text of the speech. We have had one small extract from it. I find it very hard to believe that my right hon. Friend, in conducting our foreign policy, would be deliberately conniving at a second round.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I wonder if the hon. Gentleman will explain what he really thinks about this. Is he saying that Nuri Said did not say it; is he saying that Nuri Said did say it but the Foreign Secretary did not know he was saying it or had said it, or is he saying that the Foreign Secretary did not understand what was meant?
§ Mr. Amery
I will answer the hon. Gentleman with a question. Does he think that the Foreign Secretary is really planning a second round of the Israel-Arab war? That was the implication of what the hon. Member for Coventry, East said a few moments ago. The hon. Gentleman thinks that the Foreign Secretary was conniving at a second round. Does the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne believe that or not?
§ Mr. Silverman
I asked the hon. Member a question. When he answers my question I shall be glad to answer his.
§ Mr. Speaker
This is becoming an argument. It was intended to be a debate.
§ Mr. Amery
The hon. Gentleman admitted what, I think, is generally accepted in all parts of the House, that the charges made, not so much in this debate as when the news of the arms shipments first came out, have been disposed of. I will leave it to the House as a whole and to the Press to make up its mind whether the decision to call for this debate showed impetuosity or leadership. All the same, I welcome the debate, because I think that the situation in the Middle East is one which continues to cause us great anxiety—indeed, rather more anxiety than when the House rose before Christmas. Of course, we cannot expect the Ministers who are leaving for Washington tonight to say very much on the eve of their departure, but I think that it is a good thing that they should have the opportunity of hearing what the House thinks in all seriousness on this question.
It is quite clear that this question of the Middle East will form the centre-piece of the conversations which are to take place in Washington. It is my belief that all our efforts to produce some element of stability in the Middle East will be fruitless unless we can arrange effective co-operation with the United States. Whether we like it or not, the United States are in the Middle East to stay. Their influence is already greater than ours in that part of the world, where, until quite recently, we were paramount. Without co-operation with them, I see nothing but disaster ahead of us. Consultation is no substitute for co-operation. We have had plenty of consultation during the last ten years, but there has been very little co-operation. At every stage, over Palestine, over Abadan, over the Sudan, over the Suez Canal, and even over some of the difficulties that have arisen since, there has been very little co-operation. There has been no complete alignment in policy or diplomacy.
As a result of these differences—between the Americans and ourselves—British power and influence in the Middle East has been undermined, and not, I think, to the real advantage to the United States. The Soviets have been the only gainers. The way in which we have conducted the business of our alliance so far has tended to confirm the Marxist thesis that the capitalist Powers are unable to 111 get on one with another. Only cooperation between us can disprove that thesis.
Of course, co-operation calls for a good deal of give and take on both sides. But let us face it, over the last ten years most of the give has been on our side. I hope that the decision of the Government to be firm over the Buraimi Oasis means that we are not going to give in any more. We have also to secure from our American friends greater readiness to accept the responsibility which goes with the position which they are building up in the Middle East. I think that it may be profitable for the Prime Minister when in Washington to draw a contrast, as I hope he will, between the stabilising influence which we have exercised both in Iraq and on the Persian Gulf, and the total lack of stabilising influence which the United States have had in Saudi Arabia. They have a position in Saudi Arabia comparable to what we have had in the Gulf, and they have not used it to restrain and stabilise the position as perhaps they might have done.
There has been in this debate, as there was in the debate before the Recess, a tendency to take sides between contending parties among the different Middle Eastern countries. In the old days when we were paramount and our interests were safeguarded, the main concern of the House of Commons was to see that justice and order were done as much as possible. If hon. Gentlemen will look at the debates in the old HANSARDS, they will see that because our interests were completely safeguarded in those days and there was no real challenge to our position in the Middle East, the main concern of the House of Commons was to see that justice and order were maintained.
§ Mr. Amery
The period between the wars. That was the main concern of our debates, and if the hon. Gentleman will look up the old HANSARDS he will see that. Since then we have had a decade of withdrawals. Both sides are in this. There is no party point about it. We are no longer paramount. Others have stepped into the place which we had left, and it is no longer in our powers to assure justice or order. The plight of the Arab refugees is evidence of that. So is the fact that the principle of the freedom of 112 the seas is no longer respected in the Suez Canal, and the entrance to the Gulf of Akaba is another. Yet another is the hideous revolt and repression that took place in the Southern Sudan a few months ago.
I suggest to the House that in the world in which we are living we have to lower our sights a little and concentrate on the defence of our interests—to do, in fact, what the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) implied we had been doing all the time. We have to concentrate on our interests and be clear what those interests are.
§ Mr. Wigg
The hon. Member is talking of the old days and perhaps while I am relying on my memory he is reading, but I lived in those days and I had to read about them because my life depended on it. We were taking sides then. At one moment we were on the side of the Turks and at the next on the side of the Greeks; we did not know where we were.
§ Mr. Amery
Far be it from me to start an argument with the hon. Gentleman's recollections, but I think he will find, particularly if he looks at the OFFICIAL REPORT of those days, that on the question of the Middle East and Palestine before the war the great preoccupation of both sides of the House was seeing that justice was done to the different claims that were made. As a result, there was a tendency to take sides. Under present circumstances we cannot do that, even if we wanted to do so. The most we can hope to do is to defend the interests we still have there. I suggest we have two main interests. The first main interest is communications. That is the most permanent, although perhaps not the most urgent. Sea communications are no longer under our control. I have referred to the breaches which have been made in the principle of the freedom of the seas. I see that in Cairo some pressure is being put on the board of the Suez Canal Company to alter its articles of association.
Our air communications, however, are still under our control and they are protected from British bases in Cyprus and Libya, in Jordan and the Persian Gulf and Aden. These bases also have vital strategic implications. The Government have decided, I think absolutely rightly, that Britain should have the hydrogen bomb and should have a hydrogen bomb 113 strategy of her own. But it is no use having hydrogen weapons unless we have the bases from which the deterrent can be exercised. It is essential for any Commonwealth hydrogen strategy that those bases should be maintained.
Of greater immediate importance is the flow of oil. The whole House knows that the future of British production, our ability to overcome the balance of payments crisis and to pay our way in the world, is going to depend on the free flow of oil from the Middle East. It is just as important as the full production of coal. But we are not the only country interested in that oil; the Americans, the Soviets and Western Europe are all interested. Here we have to face a harsh truth which too often is neglected. Economists tell us, and Chancellors of the Exchequer and Presidents of the Board of Trade repeat it, that the prizes in the economic battle go to those who are most competitive and most efficient, but in the world of reality that is not always so. For all I know, our oil experts may be the best in the world, the most efficient in the world, but we would be out of Buraimi and someone else would be in if we had not been militarily in a position to uphold the rights of the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi. I wish to congratulate the Government on the line they have been pursuing in the Persian Gulf region. It may make all the difference between the ability of this country to pay its way in the next 20 years and bankruptcy.
The conclusion I would draw from all that is that if we are to protect our interests in the Middle East and discharge our obligations, we have to maintain the network of bases without which we cannot ensure the safety of our communications and the flow of oil. I do not think that general conclusion is in dispute, at any rate on this side of the House. We had a sharp difference a year ago over the question of Suez—I have not changed my view on that—but I have never thought that our difference over that issue was one of principle. It was not a question of whether we should stay in the Middle East or not; it was not a question of staying or withdrawing all our forces from the Middle East, but of where we should stand. The Government decided, rightly or wrongly, to disperse the bases on which British Power rested—re-deploy, 114 I think the word was—and it now rests on positions in Cyprus, Libya, Aden and the Persian Gulf. It seems to me that our main task must be to consolidate those positions and those bases.
What are the main dangers threatening what remains of British influence in the Middle East—threatening our interests and ability to discharge our obligations? There has been a tendency in this debate to concentrate on the problem of Israel, but I agree with the hon. Member for Coventry, East that the Israeli question is not the central problem of the Middle East. I believe that in many ways it is a symptom rather than a cause. The underlying tension in that part of the world—the main danger as I see it—arises from the rise of Arab nationalism and the threat that it may come into alliance with the Soviet Union. Here Egypt is the key. There is a tendency, which perhaps is natural after the Palestine War, to under-rate the strength and fighting ability of the Egyptians, yet history shows that Egypt has probably been the most dynamic element in the Middle East for thousands of years. One could write volumes to support this view but to quote one example in the last century, the main struggle for power, until the British came to Egypt, was between Egypt and Turkey for the control of the rest of the Middle East.
Hon. Members who know Egypt will realise the appalling social and economic problems by which that country is beset. A very large population presses on very scarce means of subsistence. There is no indigenous element in the country which has sufficient power or is sufficiently strongly established to be able to carry into practice the reforms which would be necessary to relieve the prevailing social and economic tensions. The monarchy could not do it, the Wafd could not do it, and I do not believe the military Government can do it. So long as we were there those tensions continued, but at any rate they were prevented from exploding by our presence. But from the moment we withdrew from Cairo, even before we left the Suez Canal zone, each Egyptian régime has adopted an imperialist and xenophobe policy in order to divert attention from social problems and get a measure of calm at home. It is like the natural problem which existed in the Nile Valley before the dams were established; every seven years there were widespread 115 floods. So periodically all through history Egypt has developed expansionist policies.
What are the effects of this new Egyptian expansion which is developing? Egypt is trying to secure the leadership of the Arab world, and in the process she is attempting to undermine those elements in Libya which are working with us. She has sought to gain control of the Sudan. With Saudi-Arabia she is attempting to undermine our position in Jordan and Iraq and there are reports that she is even feeling her way into the Persian Gulf area. What are we to do in the face of that problem? We are taking away from the Suez Canal the forces which could have made Egyptian expansion harmless. If we oppose Egypt all-out we shall get, as we have already seen, a growing connection between Egypt and the Soviet Union.
How are we to settle this key problem of the Middle East? There is no sure way out of this problem. The best way is to try to help secure a solution of Egypt's internal problems, and although I have felt a great deal of anxiety about the Aswan Dam project, considering how many other and more friendly countries have a stronger claim on our resources, I think probably that decision was right. The other step we can take is to strengthen our other friends in the area so as to build a true balance in the region. The nearest geographically to Egypt is Israel.
Here I should like to ask the Foreign Secretary when he winds up tonight to clarify a little the intervention of the Prime Minister on the subject of the Tripartite Declaration. I had understood that the Tripartite Declaration bound us to resist aggression against the existing armistice frontiers in all circumstances. I should be worried, and I think public opinion would be worried, if that were not the case. I am not one of those who are critical of the Prime Minister's Guildhall speech. After all, Egypt and Israel are successor States of what used to be the British Empire in the Middle East and it must be our task, in so far as we try to exercise influence there, to bring them together. The old saying, "Agree with thine adversary quickly" has some relevance to Israel at present.
But I, want to make two points in this connection. First, I believe that in the long run it would make for stability if 116 there were a British base in Israel matching the position we have in Jordan. It would make a balance and have an influence in restraining forces on both sides of the border. Secondly, I hope very much that, whatever concessions Israel may be asked to make to her neighbours, we shall not ask her to make any concessions which would weaken her ability to defend herself or make her economically more vulnerable. In particular, I hope we shall not try to establish a common frontier between Jordan and Egypt.
We have all been worried by what we have seen in the papers during the Recess about the way in which events have unfolded in Jordan. No doubt the Foreign Secretary will be able to say how far the account of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Coventry, East concurs with what has happened. I am glad that we have sent reinforcements to Cyprus, not to suppress sedition there but to be able to protect our interests in Jordan in case of need. I understood from the newspapers that this was the object of sending out those reinforcements. It looks as if they have had a calming effect.
It also seems to me to point to a fundamental reason why it is important that we should retain the possession of Cyprus as well as a position in Cyprus. No doubt bases in Cyprus could be leased to us similar to the American bases in Crete. If they were leased from Greece, presumably it would be in connection with N.A.T.O. or some other agreement. Now we have sent troops to Cyprus to support the policy we are pursuing in Jordan, a policy not directly connected with N.A.T.O. Let us not forget that Greece is a country with many economic links with Egypt. Egypt is opposing our policy in Jordan. I do not know whether the United States of America is supporting it. In those circumstances it might not be easy to use bases on Greek soil for the support of a policy to which Greece may not be opposed.
All this seems to show that, whatever hon. Members may think of the policy we are pursuing in Jordan—and I hope we shall get clarification of it tonight—it is important that we should have a base in the Middle East where we can station reinforcements to be used in support of the defence of our interests and our ability to discharge our obligations.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
Could the hon. Gentleman make it clear against whom the parachutists are to fight when they get to Jordan?
§ Mr. Amery
I trust sincerely that their presence in the area will have a sufficiently stabilising influence to make that unnecessary. The main element in building up a true balance of power in the Middle East will be the Bagdad Pact, in spite of the harsh things said about it. This will rest upon an alliance between Iraq, which is one of the greatest oil-producing countries in the world, and Turkey. Turkey is the country in the area which has the most stable Government and the strongest sense of its own national interest and international responsibilities. One of the things at stake in Cyprus today is the confidence of Turkey in this country. Indeed, the attempt to implement the Bagdad Pact and to create a true balance of power in the Middle East would be wrecked if the confidence of Turkey were lost. Therefore, I support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland) about the importance of not disappointing the Turks.
I am sorry that I have kept the House so long, but I have been subject to a certain amount of interruption. Besides, the problems of the Middle East have never been so baffling as they are today. Most of us, I think, will feel that speeches made in the past and articles written previously will have to be torn up and the problem thought out afresh. The Middle East has become what the Balkans used to be, the Tom Tiddlers' ground of the great Powers. We now have a much harder hand to play than we have had to play out there before, but we still have many assets and, if we play the hand aright, a great deal can be saved.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Amery) made one point in which I was particularly interested. When the hon. Gentleman referred to the awakening of nationalism in the Middle East he spoke of one of the basic factors which many of us have tended to ignore in this debate. This year at Cairo there will take place the equivalent conference of Afro-Asian Powers to that which took place at 118 Bangdoeng last year when the representatives of 29 Asian and African Powers, not one of whom was white, joined together to discuss their problems and mutual interests. I am convinced that in the Middle East there are nations conscious that by terrorism they have been able to get rid of an imperialist yoke in various parts of the area but who now, unfortunately, see their main trouble in Israel.
My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), in a powerful and eloquent speech, was right in putting his main emphasis on the fear of those nations about Israel. As I see it, the Arab nations are not fearful of Russia. They do not see a threat to their security coming from the East. They are too busily occupied with their prejudice and passion concerning the smaller State of Israel. Their national pride has been affronted by the existence of that little country. Therefore, for us to pursue a policy of seeking pacts, such as the Bagdad Pact, aimed at the combating of Communist advance, is to seek an uprising of the people in those countries.
I feel strongly that the people of Jordan do not feel the slightest fear as they look towards the East but are bitter and frustrated as they look towards Israel. Further, I believe that it is wrong for us to overlook the suggestion made by the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon when my right hon. Friend asked the Government to invite Russia to share in responsibility for the safety of the Middle East. My right hon. Friend reminded us that the Prime Minister has indicated to the House that Russia has not given any indications that she would support, or respond easily to, such a proposal. As I see the situation, however, no one will resolve the fears and suspicions of the Middle East in the future without Russia being at the conference table.
The old days when the imperial or Western Powers were able, in the nostalgic language of the hon. Member for Preston, North, to make their own decisions and have the luxury of supporting one side or the other, knowing that their interests were secure, will never return, and, therefore, we had better adjust ourselves to the knowledge that the third world Power cannot be ignored in the Middle East.
119 During the past year we nave seen a succession of diplomatic defeats for this country. I believe that the dithering of the Foreign Office has never previously been exceeded, and we have had some poor Foreign Secretaries in our time. During the past twelve months we have had to put up with political and diplomatic setbacks all over the Middle East, and in this we can to a great extent, look even beyond the near Middle East. I believe that the confusion which exists in Jordan is reflected by the confusion which we have found in the issue of the "tanks scandal," as the Press called it. If it were not for the Press, we should have known nothing at all about the issue which aroused such deep anxiety in the country at the beginning of this month.
My right hon. Friends the Leader of the Opposition and the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) made it perfectly clear to the nation that when they went to Downing Street it was on not only the narrow issue of the Valentine and Sherman tanks but the broader question of the dangers flaring up in the Middle East. Before Christmas, I addressed a number of Questions to various Ministers on the subject of the disposal of the tanks. I do not propose to detain the House long on the subject now because I feel that the general interest is that we should look at the broader issue, but there are some things that I want to say.
On 14th December, I was told by the Under-Secretary of State for Air that last year 343 redundant aircraft were sold by the Royal Air Force, 231 being training aircraft, 72 bomber and general reconnaissance aircraft, 18 fighter aircraft and 22 transport aircraft. The Under-Secretary added:it is normally a condition of the sale of combat aircraft that they should be used only for the recovery of scrap."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1955; Vol. 547, c. 189.]I do not know whether the normal practice was followed in each of these cases, and I think we might well be told tonight whether that was so.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will know that it was the Foreign Office which assured us on 12th December that it was aware of the leakages of these tanks. I knew, and it was common knowledge a week before the 150 tanks sailed from the Continent to 120 Egypt, that they were about to go. The Government knew, and the Minister of Defence told us this afternoon that the Government had been warned in July that this leakage was taking place.
I am prepared to concede that the amount of war material which has found its way through private dealers to the Middle East is not a decisive factor, but the amount of damage that it has done the good name of this country cannot be measured by the arithmetic of the surplus stores. I believe that the Government, by giving an impression of dithering on this question, have damaged the good name of this country. It is on record that, despite the number of Questions I was asking before the Recess, no indication came from the Treasury Bench that the Government were aware of a serious leakage through these private channels.
On 19th December, I asked the Minister of Supply what assurances his Department requires concerning the bona fides of dealers in surplus military equipment, and I was informed by the Minister in a Written Reply:The commercial and financial standing of buyers of surplus military equipment is invest-gated, except where goods are sold by public auction. Warlike stores and munitions are not ordinarily sold in this manner."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1955; Vol. 547, c. 259.]Whenever a reply is given it is hedged about with qualifications which, I suppose, provide for any loopholes which there may be in the scheme.
I wonder whether the Government will tell us what inquiries they make into the records of the people with whom they deal. It is obvious from the White Paper that they have grounds for disquiet about the records of some of the folk who are private dealers in arms. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will have received a document from the Daily Mail in which charges were made. I am deeply grateful to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Supply for the very thorough inquiries which I know have been made following the receipt of that document.
I am not accustomed to dealing in this field, and I do not like it very much. However, a list of charges is made by a man who in a letter to me today maintains that he has numerous letters from the Colonial Office thanking him for services to the Malayan Government for the 121 reconditioning and delivery to them of armoured cars and that he secured the contracts for the reconditioning of the whole of the equipment for the Canadian Army which was done at Grantham—this was some time ago—and kept 11,000 people in employment for eighteen months, and, therefore, I had obvious reason for believing that he is not a man of straw.
Indeed, it is through his solicitors, Messrs. Sinclair, Roche & Temperley, Broad Street House, 54–62, Old Broad Street, London, E.C.2, that I am invited to reply to him. I have no desire to do so. It seems to me that he holds the Opposition side of the House in about the same low regard as that in which he holds the Government side. I rather suspect his views when he goes on to say:It is a pity that there are not a few more high-minded Britishers in the ranks of the Conservative Party like yourself. …That rather detracts from the rest of the letter. I do not know whether he is quite sure Where I sit in the House.
I was more glad than words can say to receive the assurance from the Prime Minister and the Minister of Supply that, having made thorough investigations into the document about which I wrote to the Prime Minister, they were completely satisfied that there was no truth in the allegations made therein. So far as I am concerned, the matter rests there.
However, we owe a debt of gratitude to those people who have worked hard on this question. This afternoon my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition referred to the Daily Mail, and got into trouble with one of my hon. Friends who apparently is a supporter of the Daily Herald. We owe a debt of gratitude to Stanley Bonnet of the Daily Mail for the work he did. The House has cause to be grateful. I intervened in this debate mainly to make that comment.
Since the broad issue has been raised, I suggest to the Government that Israel has a right to look to the West for support in her time of difficulty. The Israelis would not be normal if they did not know excessive fear at the present time. To know that modern Centurion tanks are going from this country at the same time as some of the most modern aircraft are reaching Egypt from the Communist side is bound to lead to great anxiety.
122 I agree with the hon. Member for Preston, North that we must seek to give courage to Israel, not so much through treaties as through the supply of necessary equipment. Further, when the Prime Minister goes to Washington with the Foreign Secretary he should take with him from the House an earnest feeling that the Western Powers must pocket their pride in this matter and make an approach to the Soviet Union, realising that in foreign affairs of this sort realism sometimes demands an apparent step down in order that later we shall step up.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
I shall not exactly follow the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) by now bringing Soviet Russia into any discussion of the Middle East. However, I appreciated his comments concerning his friends in Old Broad Street. I hope they are not dealing too much in profits and other things of that nature. In my maiden speech early in June I was unfortunate enough to refer to Her Majesty's foreign policy towards the Middle East and to wonder whether it was not being conducted rather like the life of Madame la Marquise—everything would be all right.
The situation in the Middle East has deteriorated at a most alarming pace. Therefore, at the Conservative Party conference I thought it would be wise to point out that if this country is to double its standard of living in the next twenty-five years, it must rely on Middle East oil. The oil problem was, therefore, one of the main matters that exercised my mind when I visited the three Heads of the Irab States, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. I also visited Iraq. The former Foreign Secretary, in reply to my speech at the party conference, said something about the time when he was young.
I quite appreciated his remarks at the time, and I therefore thought that I had better get along to Iraq and see how the senior generation had been getting on with the Bagdad Pact. If the senior people in this country attempt to make any remarks about the younger generation in this country, especially in this party, we shall not have the same future as we have had in the past. Certainly for this party it is a very important factor indeed. I was very glad after that pleasant exchange with the Foreign 123 Secretary to have been asked to go to his division and speak to some people from his younger party organisation. I declined so to do.
I went to the Middle East to try to find out about three things. They were, first, how much damage the Bagdad Pact had done to Anglo-Arab relations; secondly, what chances there were of any peace between Israel and her Arab neighbours; thirdly, how Russia would, in the long-term future, interfere with our oil supplies, or with the Governments of those countries? On those three matters I addressed the Heads of the three States I mentioned.
I regret to say that the feeling was that about a year ago Israel was reasonably calm and there might have been an opportunity to open some form of negotiation, secretly, and not, of course, with the two parties being at the table. However, the arrival in power of Mr. Ben Gurion rapidly altered the situation, and we saw three very serious attacks, one in Jordan at Kibya, one in the south on the Egyptian borders, and the most recent in Syria. It is very difficult for the Arab people to believe that Israel really wants to live at peace with her neighbours——
§ Mr. Daines
Can the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) tell us whether there were any attacks by the Arab States into Israel during or preceding that period?
§ Mr. Yates
During the period I mentioned there were no deliberate, organised attacks of such a standing and nature by any of the Arab States.
§ Mr. Daines
There were continual attacks all the time, and the hon. Member knows it.
§ Mr. Yates
I will not dispute the point with the hon. Member, but if he refers to the Mixed Armistice Commission Report he can read for himself of the number of attacks and also find out how many people Israel has illegally expelled—166 since November, 1954.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Can the hon. Member for The Wrekin say whether, in the course of his researches, he discovered whether any of the people he describes as Heads of these States were prepared 124 to make a peace treaty recognising Israel on any terms at all?
§ Mr. Silverman
What is the hon. Member complaining about?
§ Mr. Yates
I was not complaining. I was trying to answer the hon. Gentleman's question.
What was suggested was that it might be possible for Israel to disclose the strength of her army to the United Nations and to give an undertaking of non-aggression against the frontiers, and that the Arab States, in return, would do the same; and that the Arab States and Israel might agree to a small international police force at three frontier areas. Colonel Nasser felt that this could not be arranged at the moment, because of the most unfortunate attack which had taken place in Syria, and which had increased rather than reduced tension. The Arab statesmen feel that a period of reasonable calm must come before any negotiations on a large scale can even begin.
Judging the situation as impartially as possible, I suggest that Israel at present possesses the strongest army and, as the right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), who has just come back from the Middle East——
§ Mr. S. Silverman
My hon. Friend is only "honourable."
§ Mr. Yates
Well, he may soon be right hon.—one can never tell.
The hon. Member for Coventry, East has quite rightly confirmed the position that Israel's army is quite the most powerful in the Middle East. I am prepared to put it at least at two armoured divisions and the elements of a third, heavy artillery and a reasonable air force; though I agree that the supply of extra bombers to Egypt might reverse the position. I should be grateful if some hon. Gentlemen opposite could confirm the figures of the Israeli army, because no one has yet, I think, been able to discover where the balance lies. I believe that in 1946–47 Israel started with the scales well in her favour, and that at the present moment she still has a balance of armed power.
125 The reason why we cannot get agreement or any support in the form of negotiations is because of these recent attacks by Israel on her neighbours. This forced Colonel Nasser to turn to other people for the supply of arms necessary to defend himself. All three Arab statesmen, that is to say, the President of the Lebanon, the President of Syria and the President of Egypt, have said that in no circumstances will the arms they get ever be used for aggression, and they would give such an undertaking. That is at least a help.
But why did Egypt and the other countries turn to Russia, or Czechoslovakia, in order to get their arms? The answer is simply this: we refused to supply the amounts they wanted and America put certain restrictions on the sale of arms. Therefore, in ordinary self-defence, Egypt took delivery of arms from Czechoslovakia; and even yet I do not believe that the Egyptian army could honestly be considered a serious menace to Israel. However, the Arab Legion, if it were doubled, with two armoured divisions and artillery, would be quite a serious factor, because the impassioned feeling against Israel is, I found, stronger in Jordan than elsewhere.
Then there is the question of what is behind Russian intervention. I have come to the conclusion that Russia has been looking for an area in which to create differences of feeling between Britain and America, and she has hit the "jackpot"—there is no doubt about it. We have already heard two or three able speeches concerning oil and the wrangling between the oil interests, and all I can say is that we have now got ourselves into an extremely difficult position. I hope that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister will be able to get themselves out of some of these difficulties when they are in New York. Unfortunately, they will have a terrible difficulty to begin with, as this is the American Presidential year. Therefore, if any solution were found for the Israel problem, it would be one of the greatest wonders of the world. But let us be hopeful. Perhaps even American home politics will not intervene or interfere with the present negotiations which will take place, and we wish them well.
The Bagdad Pact, or the Pact put on top of the American idea of the top tier— 126 or, as the Arabs call it, the cordon sanitaire—over the northern area cannot have been the result of advice from the most able people in the Foreign Office. I am convinced of that. No person with any real knowledge of the Middle East would have produced this wonder, and I cannot think from where it has come. It is a mystery, and I believe that the best thing to do is to put it "on ice" and forget about it.
The one thing that makes sense in that part of the world is the original national political feeling of the "Fertile Crescent," but all those people are in prison or lost, because we did not support them three years ago. One can forget about that now. What one seeks is some form of economic unity between Syria, the Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan. I do not understand talk about economic arrangements in the Bagdad Pact without Syria, through which passes our oil and through which the communications run, and the Jordanians did not understand it either. The whole thing must be thought out all over again.
I have come to the conclusion—and I saw a similar conclusion in an article in the Observer on Sunday—that it is probably time to reconsider our attitude towards Egypt as the head of the Arab Powers. I think that our policy in the distant future—that is, our schooling arrangements with the Victoria College, Maadi, in Egypt and the Victoria College, Alexandria, and the new college to be built in the Lebanon—is probably all right. But the intermediate planning must be thought out.
I suggest, despite the Nationalist Chinese mission to Arabia and the Russian agreements, with the commercial pact in Yemen, or the commercial treaty in Syria, where seventy-five Russian delegates are still in Damascus with Mr. Vaganov, the Commercial Attaché; despite all those difficulties, I think that now and for the future Britain should make the most revolutionary change in policy and come at once to the two keys, Egypt and Syria, and orientate our future policy round Egypt. With that spirit, and following some of the remarks I have heard from Arab statesmen, I hope that Britain will have a better future in the Middle East than the conditions which she has experienced during the last four years.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I hope that the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) will pardon me if I do not immediately follow him, but I will come back later to some of the points upon which he touched. I wish to deal first with the White Paper.
During his speech my right hon. Friend was inclined to credit the start of these inquiries to an article in the Empire News and subsequently to the Daily Mail. I did not interrupt him in any fractious spirit, but if we are to get this story into focus, it is important to know how it started and came to be blown up. It started, not in an article in the Empire News, but, as I mentioned, in an article which appeared in the Daily Herald on 22nd October. It was a weekend feature article entitled, "The lid off the arms racket." In brackets there was a little story written by Mr. Ewer:Another cat has been let out of the Foreign Office bag. It is now admitted that at least 55 Sherman tanks have been recently exported from Britain to France with all the necessary licences on the understanding that they were going to be broken up for scrap. In fact, they were reconditioned and sold to Israel.It is true that there were one or two odd references in several papers after the Daily Herald got on to this story, but nothing very much happened until 20th December when the Daily Mail ran the story in a half-hearted sort of way. Christmas was coming, the Loch Ness Monster was at the bottom of the loch, there was not much doing, and it was as good a story as any other.
The story did not really get going until after Christmas when the Daily Telegraph came out with its lead story based on the fact, so it said, that several armoured divisions had got their equipment through Belgium. The next day, the Daily Herald came back again, reported the same story, and wrote a leading article. Then, on 31st December, a story appeared in the Daily Mirror. I think that reference must be made to this, particularly in view of the Prime Minister's departure tomorrow for America. This article was irresponsible, illiterate and used language about the Prime Minister which was a disgrace. It was something which I have never before seen in the British Press. Indeed, if the Prime Minister were present, I would express my regrets to him that he as the 128 political head of this country could have been so spoken about. The article said:Britain is up to its neck in one of the murkiest scandals in the murky history of armaments.Then, later on in the article, it said:This is diplomatic and political pimping on an astonishing scale.That is not the language of democracy. It is disgusting language. If anyone is a pimp, it is the man who wrote that article or the editor of the Daily Mirror. That may be strong language, but I mean every word of it.
Subsequently, we got the White Paper, and I sat down to find out what I could from it in order to produce my own white paper. It is true that I did not get on to all that happened, but I got on to the story of Mr. J. Dawson-Ellis. He now has a double-barrelled name, but in actual fact that was not the name that he was born with.
§ Mr. C. R. Hobson (Keighley)
What is his real name?
§ Mr. Wigg
His real name was Jacobs, and to his shame as one of the Jewish race, he offered these stinking old Valentines to his own compatriots, and when they would not buy them he then went to Colonel Nasser. In view of the delicate position which exists in the Middle East, it seems to me to be pretty low indeed for a Jewish business man in this country to offer this war equipment to Colonel Nasser.
One of my hon. Friends below the Gangway and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) went on to pay credit to the Daily Mail; so the story as I know it is worth telling. Packets of letters—how many of which were genuine I do not know—were hawked round London. I understand that Mr. Williams, who gave evidence before the Lynskey tribunal, was associated with Mr. Jacobs in this matter. Mr. Williams, I am informed, sold his story to the Daily Mail, for £500. If I am not telling the truth, I have no doubt that the Daily Mail will tell us tomorrow what it paid for the story.
I want the Minister of Supply to give the House an assurance that the Director of Public Prosecutions will be invited to inquire into this matter, because, if my information is right, the original bid was of the order of £500,000. Then, it is said, 129 somebody really thought up a bright one. They went along to the Americans and said, "Here are these Limeys selling Lease-Lend stuff behind the Iron Curtain." I understand that the Americans made representations to the Government, as a result of which the original bid of £500,000 was called off. I am told that, subsequently, Mr. Jacobs and his friends gave only £90,000 for something of which they had been thinking in terms of half a million pounds. No wonder they ride round in Rolls-Royces.
I am told that the reason Mr. Williams turned on his pal and sold the story to the Daily Mail, as well as offering it to other people, was because Mr. Jacobs had originally promised him £38,000, and after the deal gave him only £3,000. Naturally, being a bit upset about it, Mr. Williams tried to earn an honest penny by selling the story. The sequel is that never was so much nonsense written or talked about such an unimportant matter as this. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend when in Israel—if correctly reported—said that the British public was enormously stirred up about it, because this statement is untrue and it detracts attention from the real charge against the Government—the release of sterling balances to Egypt at a moment of tension and the supply of Centurian tanks to Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.
If hon. Members get tired of the over-humorous Punch and want some interesting but, nevertheless, amusing reading, they should read the debate of 20th March, 1951, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, was attacked by the present Prime Minister. Then there is the supply of the twelve Centurian tanks to Iraq. They are very formidable weapons, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would tell us whether it is 32, 40 or 50 Centurians which have gone to Egypt?
I now turn to an even more serious matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), in a very powerful speech, talked about the situation in Jordan vis-à-vis this country and Israel. My information is that when General Templer went to Jordan his offer, of course, was conducted in such a secret fashion that the details of it were known in every coffee bar in Amman. The basis of discussion was that Jordan should have one infantry division, one armoured 130 division, heavy infantry, a paratroop regiment, a commando group and air force elements. In addition, the Arab Legion was to be increased in size and brought under the control of Jordan officers and British control was to be abandoned.
That would alter the balance of power in the Middle East with a vengeance, because, of course, if Glubb Pasha and those associated with him, the 60 officers in the Arab Legion, are brought back to this country and arms on that scale are supplied to Jordan, then the last possible restraint will have gone and we shall certainly be in serious trouble in the Middle East.
To turn for a moment to the question of the supply of arms to Colonel Nasser. I went to Israel, not for the first time, in 1952. I served there for a while many years ago in a humble capacity, and I have been there many times since. I saw the Israeli army which I admire as I admire and honour the men who built it. I have a great admiration for General Yadin and also for Ygal Alon. I believe Ygal Alon to be a natural soldier, and the courage and devotion to duty which he showed has a great deal to do with the fact of Israel's survival.
I went down to Sarafand where I served as a sergeant many years ago and where I saw the Israeli Army being drilled. I went to a passing-out parade very similar to those held in this country. The only difference was that they had their young women on parade. We are more cautious in this country. We keep our A.T.S. apart. I had the opportunity of seeing their mobilisation plan. I think that it is the best in the world. After all, at Nathania Israel is only five miles wide. One has to have a pretty speedy plan if one has only five miles to go before finding oneself in the sea.
I came back and made a speech in this House in 1952—in which I said that the strongest military Power in the Middle East was Israel, and that in my judgment it would remain so for a period of five years, not because of the quality of its equipment but because of the quality of its training and because it had applied brains and courage to its problem. After five years I thought that the balance might move elsewhere. I have not been to Egypt for a considerable time, but I did serve there for a few years, and, as I once said, I have been more bugbitten by 131 Egyptian bugs than anyone else in this House. Egyptian bugs are without equal anywhere else in the world. I have been in all the barracks in Cairo, Abbassia, Kasr-el-Nil, and Helmieh. I have been in the hospital in the Citadel, and the bugs even followed me there.
I am convinced that the Egyptian Army must suffer from a tremendous sense of inferiority. Like all the Arab countries, there is no responsible middle class with a tradition of Parliamentary democracy. They lack a trained bureaucracy and when, at some stage, things get bad—after a military defeat, or because of corruption, or the fact that the régime becomes stifled by its own ineptitude in country after country—the Army steps in and takes on a cleansing rôle. Colonel Nasser seems to be doing that job. I am not sure whether he will end as another Kemal or wither away like Enver Pasha, but time will tell.
I can appreciate what he feels like, with his General Headquarters at El'Arish and with the smarting knowledge of the Israeli raid on 28th February last year. The repercussion must have been devastating and must have brought the security of the régime into question. Colonel Nasser must have wondered what would happen next, and if he was to retain the support of the army he had to have arms. Personally I would much sooner he had old Valentines than Stalin T's.
The crowd in Cairo want something on a parade. Do not let us be superior about this. Even hon. Members opposite, with their great militarist tradition, like a parade. I was at the Coronation parade myself. We saw 39,000 troops go by and, being a little cynical, I wondered how many fellows were left in the cookhouse. I do not think there were many. Every year we have the ceremony of Trooping the Colour. It is wonderful, but it is nothing to do with modern warfare. Every great crowd in every capital city likes this sort of thing—even the Americans. They love it. It is part of the apparatus of power. In a democracy there are enough people who are superior to it, and know it for what it is worth; but it is characteristic of the Middle Eastern crowds—of the mob, illiterate, living in appalling housing conditions, with nothing to do with their time—that 132 if some unfortunate event occurs it must be kept quiet, and the only way of doing that is by cutting the other fellow's throat, or giving the appearance of being able to do so. If the rulers cannot do that, they are turned out.
I was very much struck by the speech of the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) who is the son of a great and able father who had a great understanding of Middle Eastern problems. I do not think that he would have been very proud to hear the nonsense which the hon. Member talked this afternoon, when he said that between the two world wars everything was calm and lovely, and that this House took a detached view of the Middle East. I served there during some of that beautiful detachment. I served in Turkey during the Chanak crisis and in Iraq at the time of the Arab revolt. Life in those parts was not very detached.
We have now reached the point where these countries are beginning to emerge with national consciences. When things go on all right all is well, but as soon as things go wrong they riot. We have heard tributes paid to the Turkish Government, but it was not so long ago that the Turks burnt Istanbul and the mob burnt Cairo in 1952. To my mind the great danger is not of a war between Israel and Egypt but the creation of riots and chaos, which may spread to Damascus, Beirut and Bagdad as well as occur in Amman and Istanbul. The great menace overshadowing the Middle East now is political chaos, and we have made our contribution to it.
I greatly enjoyed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East, although he took part of my speech away—because I wanted to deal with the policy of British greatness in 1955. Never in our history, since the days of Ethelred the Unready, have we been as weak and helpless; never have we occupied so ignominous a position as we do today. We have heard the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) and some of his hon. Friends speak with great pride of our reinforcement of Cyprus. What are the regiments involved? There is the First Battalion the H.L.I.; the First and Third Battalions the Parachute Regiment; the First Battalion the Wiltshires, and the First Battalion the Warwickshires.
The latter came in as a normal trooping relief from the Canal Zone and the Wiltshires came out by sea. I have put 133 down a Question on the Order Paper asking how many of these battalions are up to strength, and what drafts went to them just before they were posted. A considerable proportion of the number of lads going out by sea have only done their basic training. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not even that."] I do not believe that any responsible officer would allow them to be sent out before they had done their basic training. We get odd ideas about a parachute regiment. We tend to think that the whole regiment may be dropped—but what is the proportion of lads of the 1st and 3rd Parachute Regiment who have jumped? I should be very surprised if it were 50 per cent.
Having spent £1,350 million last year, and having averaged that over many years past, we still have to scrape the barrel to find four battalions.
How were they conveyed to Cyprus? I do not ask hon. Members to listen to me. Let them read a respectable right-wing publication—Flight—which has a leading article this week about the way these lads were taken out. We are supposed to have five squadrons to convey troops on transport duties and nothing else. In the end, Hastings aircraft had to take the equipment, and these lads went out in Shackletons. Some say that they were dangerously overcrowded. What conditions would be like on a very long flight I do not know, but it is wrong that a great imperial Power should try to demonstrate its power at the nerve centre by flying out battalions in this way and under these conditions.
I want to refer to the article which appeared in the Daily Herald yesterday morning, stating that we have even taken three companies of the Royal Air Force Regiment from Iraq into Jordan. I presume that the fact of using the Air Transport Service for bringing in troops from Iraq overstrained our resources to such an extent that we were short of air transport?
We have to face the fact, as a Government supporter has already said from the other side of the House, that we live in times when the British raj and power has been almost entirely liquidated. Certainly, since the end of the war we have adopted a contrary policy to that of the United States. The United States have refrained at all costs from sending troops to the Middle East. They have refused, never 134 mind what pressures were brought on them, as by the late Mr. Ernest Bevin, to commit troops in that way. The answer was always "No." They did not believe in the long run that keeping troops there would do any good.
The time has now come when that argument has been settled. One of the reasons why we have stayed in Cyprus is that we must take our place among the nations by making the hydrogen bomb and we must have an air base from which to deliver it. Personally I do not believe that this country has the economic strength to deliver the bomb even if we are able to build it. It does not matter how much money we spend, we are, I believe, incapable of building a strategic Air Force. Moreover, I do not believe we have the strength to maintain land bases in the Middle East. Look at the last three or four years, and at the differing policies of this country and of the United States.
Like the hon. Member for Preston, North I spent some time during the past week-end in looking over old debates. I remember the very interesting debate of 21st June, 1951, when the Labour Government were heavily attacked by the present Prime Minister for their handling of the Persian situation. Times have changed a lot, and I am sure he wishes that he had not said the things he then said. I am not concerned with that aspect of the matter. In the course of the debate I dealt in great detail with the wanderings of a Mr. McGhee. At that time he was a very important figure in American diplomatic circles and was in charge of the Near East Section of the State Department. He had gone on a series of wanderings and seen many leading personalities in the Near East.
He come from Louisiana and boasted that he would become a millionaire before he was 30 years of age. He did. He then became a great figure in the State Department because he voiced American oil policy. The result of Mr. McGhee's policy framed in the interests of the United States oil companies was that we came out of Persia and we had difficulties with Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, the policies of Mr. McGhee have succeeded. After leaving the State Department Mr. McGhee became Ambassador in Turkey. Now he is back again in the U.S.A. as a great figure in oil politics.
135 When the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary get to America tomorrow, the policies they will discuss will be Mr. McGhee's policies although he will not be there. To demonstrate the power of American oil interests, I make this prediction: if the Iranian oil dispute goes to the Security Council, America will back Saudi Arabia against us. There seems the most violent clash with British interests. What we have to do is to take the British point of view. We have not been doing it. We did not take the British point of view over the Bagdad Pact, which was planted on us in the same way as it was planted on Colonel Nasser. He, being the head of a revolutionary régime, reacted violently, while we, with a Conservative régime, were terribly polite, with plenty of good form, lots of good manners, and all the rest of it. So we did nothing. And in consequence we got landed with the results of American political folly.
Now we must make up our minds what we are going to do. My right hon. Friend mentioned a U.N. force at points of tension. Anybody who thinks for a moment that a U.N. force could be sent to the Middle East is living in a dream world. In the Presidential year, or in any other year, the United States would not send one single soldier for that purpose. If any policing has to be done, we shall have to do it—if we are mad enough. But I do not think we have the strength to do it. We have to find other methods. I agree with my right hon. Friends that we have to be realists and must be careful of what we rush into because, if we try to keep Russia hemmed in as a result of a northern tier strategy, it will be a little odd to ask her to talk with us, at the same time to ask the United Nations to send forces there, and then have the Russians volunteer to go with us. In that way we let them in at the back door.
In the Middle East there are two sedimentary oil basins, one to the north and the other to the south. That to the south is vital to our economy—and vital too, perhaps, to the economy of the United States, because in 1947 and 1948 there was the revolutionary fact that America had reached the limit of its oil resources and then became an oil importer. Her national survival, therefore, is tied up with getting out the oil just as is ours. We 136 have to live and let live. The oil in the northern sedimentary oil basin is vital to Russia, and when we subscribe to the Bagdad Pact and commit ourselves to the biggest piece of military romanticism in history, by guaranteeing the northern frontier of Persia, we invite the Russians to become worried and to react accordingly.
This is not the first time that the Americans have acted as they have done now. They did it between the wars. They founded the Sinclair Oil Company to try to get the oil out of Northern Persia. They failed—I think because of the difficulties of the terrain; the southern oil can only come out to the south and the northern oil to the north. Nevertheless, we have to accept that in the Middle East our policy must be foursquare with British interests. The British interest is to keep this oil supply going, because without it our economy—and perhaps that of Western Europe—cannot function. Once we interfere irresponsibly and without due regard to the exercise of power—as we did in the Bagdad Pact—then, inevitably, we find ourselves in trouble. I do not think that one need be a Marxist to know that in the present state of development in the Middle East trouble is there without very much seeking.
A debate of this kind and the publication of this White Paper is wholly worth while. For when the Prime Minister goes to Washington and talks to President Eisenhower and his associates he can say that he has the united support of the whole House in standing up to the kind of nonsense which started with Mr. McGhee and of which Buraimi is only the latest and the worst example.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Major Patrick Wall (Hull, Haltemprice)
I hope that the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) will forgive me if I do not follow his remarks too closely. The truth is that I did not really follow him at all. As far as I could gather, he was advocating bringing Russia into the front line in the Middle East instead of remaining in the back seats. It seems to me that Russia's policy is to disrupt the Western world as far as possible——
§ Mr. Wigg
I can save the hon. and gallant Member's time at once. This country has neither the power, nor should it try, to interfere in that way.
§ Major Wall
I also gathered that the hon. Member advocated the American method of economic aid rather than our own. I have just come back after spending six weeks in the Middle East, and throughout the Arab countries I found America's stock to be far lower than ours. American economic aid is not appreciated by the people there, and I think that we can draw a parallel from our own case. There are very few people in this country who are really thankful for the aid we had from the Americans after the war—or very few who would admit to it.
The main trouble in the Middle East is that there is very little fear of Communism in the Arab States. There is, however, a great fear of Israel. There is also a nocent nationalism throughout those small Arab countries, and it is undoubtedly a fact that Colonel Nasser's arms deal with Czechoslovakia, though looked at askance by certain Arab countries, is generally regarded as a clever move, having succeeded in twisting the tail of the West, and as such has certainly reduced our prestige in that part of the world.
I do not believe, however, that Colonel Nasser and the majority of his Government are pro-Communist. I think they feel that they are clever enough to play off the West against the East and to get the best of both worlds. Therein lies the danger, because not many people have succeeded in playing off the Communists against other Powers and getting the best of both worlds at the same time.
There is, however, a further danger. Egypt sees herself as taking the British place in the Middle East. She feels that the British are weak and she wishes to occupy the vacuum that now exists. Anti-British propaganda is spread by Egypt not only throughout Jordan but throughout the States in the Persian Gulf.
There is, however, another country in that part of the world which is remarkably pro-British, and I refer to Iraq. When deciding which of these two countries should get our support, I submit that Egypt has a defect which will be extremely difficult, if at all possible, for her to get over, and that is the terrific increase in population and the limitation to fertility of the Nile Valley which can never catch up with the increase in population.
Iraq has no such problem. She is now getting a vast sum in oil royalties, and 138 she is spending that money to the benefit of all her people, in irrigation schemes, schools, improved communications and so on. Gradually that money is filtering through to the peasants. It will undoubtedly in the next two or three years have a very great effect in consolidating the existing Government in Iraq and improving the standard of that country which will then be able to support a far higher population than it can at the moment. I therefore suggest that the leader of the Arab world, although undoubtedly Egypt at the moment, may in the future be Iraq.
§ Mr. H. Hynd
Was the hon. and gallant Gentleman in the course of his tour able to visit what is known as the liberation province in Egypt, where great efforts are being made successfully to cultivate what was desert soil?
§ Major Wall
Yes, I agree that Egypt is doing all she can. The high dam will also increase her fertility, but I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that the increase in the fertility of that country as a result of the high dam will only just keep pace with the increase in her population between now and the time when that dam is completed. In other words, when it is completed her position will not be any better than it is now. The picture in Iraq is entirely different. I therefore suggest that we should do everything we can to increase the links of friendship which bind us with Iraq.
May I now turn to Jordan? I believe there is still considerable friendship for this country in Jordan. I also believe that the majority of educated and uneducated opinion is definitely against the Bagdad Pact. The propaganda of the Jordan Government and the timing of the announcement of that Pact was appallingly bad, and it seems strange that Her Majesty's advisers in that country were unable to advise the Jordan Government as to the probable results of their policy. I was, however, appalled at the article in yesterday's Daily Herald attacking the Arab Legion. The Arab Legion is the only stabilising force left in that country at the moment and, as such, should be supported by all Englishmen.
The problem of the refugees must be tackled much more firmly by the United Nations. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary will 139 do all he can to persuade the united Nations to allocate a greater amount of money to the problem of the refugees, so that instead of being kept on starvation rations and doing no work they may be paid to do constructive work; for a man with idle hands is a dangerous man. The half million refugees, situated, as they are, adjacent to the major cities in Jordan, are tinder in the hands of agitators.
I suggest further that if the United Nations really intends to solve the problem, this could be done by each of the member countries taking a number of refugees and the edict then being issued that the existing camps and relief schemes will close down in say eighteen months' time. The people, therefore, would be left with the definite alternative of accepting either a new life in a new country or nothing. Firm action of this kind might have some effect. I am convinced that until this problem is solved, there will never be stability in Jordan.
In all the Arab States I visited, I found that two things had greatly increased British prestige. First, there was the action over Buraimi, which was the first firm action we had taken for some time, and secondly, there was the Prime Minister's speech at the Guildhall. It has been said in the House before, but I venture to repeat, that Arab leaders appeared to be only too willing to enter into discussions with the Jews provided that they were conducted through a third party and were begun on the basis of the 1947 United Nations proposals. In private conversation, I was assured that the Arabs would go a long way further than the 1947 proposals. I suggest that it would be to the advantage of the Israeli Government to enter into some kind of negotiation as soon as possible, for in the long run, as this debate has shown, the dice is loaded against Israel.
Even if Israel gets modern arms, how will she be able to afford them? Would this not completely finish her already rocky economy? The Arabs believe, probably rightly, that in five or six years' time they will have everything they want and from the economic point of view Israel will be finished. I suggest, therefore, that both from the Arab and Israeli viewpoint, not only their two peoples but the whole of the Middle East, would benefit by early negotiations.
140 My belief is that the key lies in coordinating our own policy with that of the United States. I hope that that is what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will do during the next few weeks, and that they will come back to this House with definite proposals which will at least begin to unlock the door to the impossible situation which has developed in the Middle East. I support the remarks which have been made about putting teeth into the Tripartite Declaration. It was rather strange to hear these suggestions from hon. and right hon. Members opposite when it has appeared to be their policy to give up the Island of Cyprus. Surely, it is from that base that the teeth will operate when the time comes.
To summarise, I feel that we should co-ordinate our policy with the United States and then exert a firm policy for the solution for the Arab-Israeli dispute. We should do all we can to settle the refugee problem and to remove this danger to the stability of Jordan. As far as possible, we should help our allies in the Middle East. To use schooboy language, we should tell Egypt and Saudi-Arabia where they get off. In other words, we should make it quite plain that our friends will be helped but that those who at present oppose us will receive none of our help. Above all, we must be firm over the future of Cyprus, which, as a base in the Eastern Mediterranean, is vital to British prestige throughout the Middle East.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Daines (East Ham, North)
I think there is nothing more chastening to the ego than to sit throughout the whole of a debate in the hope that there will be a few minutes available for one to speak. I have had that experience, and I suffered a due amount of torture when my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) was speaking in his lurid type of headlines and absorbed 44 minutes and when my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) enlightened us on defence for 30 minutes. I have to pack what I have to say into about ten minutes, and that is an almost impossible task.
At the outset, may I wish the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary everything that an Englishman would wish 141 them in the great task they are undertaking in America. Whatever doubts I may express about the policy in the Middle East, I would say quite emphatically that only upon a basis of real understanding between America and ourselves can the peace of the world be preserved. I approach this problem from that angle.
What worries me when I reflect back to 1945 is how time after time we are caught in a position where, because of the initiative of the Russians, we have had to rush round and try to stop up gaps. First there was the move in Central Europe, then came the move through their collaborators in the Far East, and now we face the Middle East.
This is not an isolated problem, but one which takes in the main struggle for power, the centre of which is Europe, and the aim of which, so far as the Russians are concerned, is the removal of the Americans from the Continent of Europe and the subversion of the great German economy to the Russian scheme. I believe that is the major objective of the Russians, and I view this problem in that context.
May I come a little closer to the actual debate today? I do not think that the defence of the Minister of Defence was exactly up to standard. I was afraid that he would fall into the same position as a previous occupant of the Home Secretary's office, now Viscount Kilmuir, and become a permanent apologist for the Government. I would warn him that he is embarking on dangerous ground. His predecessor whom I have mentioned was a man who had a great reservoir of sincerity, but by the time he had finished in this House the supply had run dry, and I suspect that his fate may be the same.
There are two main problems with which I want to deal affecting the immediate situation. One is the question of the refugees. It was the policy of Mapai, the chief Government party of Israel, that both the Palestine Arabs and the Jews could live together, but I beg of the House to see that we cannot treat this problem in isolation. That was seven years ago. Israel has changed fundamentally since those days.
One has only to look at Israel—and I have had the pleasure and privilege of being there during the last three or four 142 weeks—to realise how the position has changed. With the exception of Nazareth and a few of the main villages, the Arab villages no longer exist. To my colleagues who are sympathetic to the Arab cause, may I say this: there is just nowhere for the Arabs to go back. It is an entirely new spirit which is spreading right across Israel. Today we find the Kibbutz and Moshav arising everywhere where water can be brought. It is a new and quite different development from the old Arab villages.
If Israel is forced into the position that she has to take back the Palestinian Arabs, what then is going to be the position of this vast intake of migrants since the war of independence? The bulk of the Israelis are people who came from the Arab countries themselves. The problem now is quite different, and there can be no possible going back. I am quite satisfied that on this question of refugees the Israelis have made up their minds as to how far they are prepared to go. As an official spokesman said, they will go to the extent of having the existing relations of Arab-Palestinians back, but they are not prepared to go any further.
When we come to the question of territory, what is really behind the proposal which the Prime Minister put up at the Guildhall? What does he mean by the alteration of boundaries? Is he proposing that the Southern Negev should go to Egypt? Is it to be argued by anyone in this House that Egypt is short of deserts and that the future of the Negev would not be fundamentally different under the Israelis than under the Arabs?
We have to try to understand what is involved in the spirit in Israel. I talked to these people and they talked to me—which is just as important. I do not want to recite the whole list of important people I spoke to and who spoke to me, but the most important to me were young boys and girls living on the frontier under the Egyptian guns. Some nights younger children went down into the shelters while their elders were out on patrol, and these were men and women of all types, African, West European and so on. Not only have they made the desert flower and built their farms, but they have fought for their farms and guard them every night with their lives.
I cannot make a speech in these few minutes, but I feel I shall do a service 143 to the House if I can convey to hon. Members what I believe is the spirit of the Israeli. I say this without any desire to give offence. We should realise that these people are not a minority people, not Jews apologising for their existence, as often they do in Western society, but men and women who fought for their freedom—some fought against us, others with us, in Hitler's war. Almost without exception they have known what the death of their closest relatives meant under the horror of Hitlerism. These men and women have lived with death, and it is because they have lived so close to death that today they are without fear.
I am deeply convinced that the Government and the Americans must take these facts into consideration if we are not to make a fatal mistake. If there is any attempt at imposing a settlement on Israel which fundamentally alters her boundaries or seriously affects them, or if we attempt a solution which means that the Palestinian Arabs are sent back, the Israeli Government which accepts that cannot possibly last because the masses will revolt.
I remember one young man whom I thought was typical. He was one of the leaders of the revolt in Beer-Sheba. He was not a primitive African, but a European who for three years was at the London School of Economics and was chairman of its union. He said, "There is one message I ask you to take back to your people. The Americans can do what they like; the English can do what they like, and even my Government can do what they like, but we have made this thing with our hands. We have fought for it and, if need be, we shall die for it." I believe that to be true of the whole spirit of Israel, and we shall make a fatal mistake unless in our considerations and consultations we take that vital fact into consideration.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
No one could have listened to my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) without realising that his personal contact with the people of Israel and the work they are doing has made a very profound impression on his mind. I do not believe anyone can go to the State of Israel and see what is happening there without feeling what tre- 144 mendous energy those people are putting into the job of wresting life from the desert.
I think the conclusion to be drawn is that they will defend every inch of that land, if necessary, with their lives. Therefore the solution to the problems facing us in the Middle East is not easy and it will not be reached speedily. No one can go to the Middle East without coming back feeling dazed and a little sick at heart at the prospects awaiting us there at present. It is no use our mincing matters. The truth is that the danger of conflict is there. All the ingredients for war are there.
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said in opening this debate, war could come for two reasons. One would be that the fear on the part of the Israelis that the Arabs will be so strong militarily—and of course they are already so much stronger numerically—might be such that, in the absence of some firm guarantees and real confidence in help from the outside world, they might even be tempted to consider preventive action before the Arabs are in a situation in which they can successfully attack the Israelis. The other, of course, is that when the Arabs are fully armed, and armed with modern weapons, there is not much doubt that there would be attempts to regain territory which they still feel humiliated about losing in 1948.
So the dangers are there, and, in view of the deterioration of the situation in the Middle East, the Government ought to be glad of the opportunity of this debate before the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary go to the United States, because they will have heard today the concern expressed in all parts of this House about the situation. Hon. Members who have been to the Middle East recently, and there have been many who have spoken today, have all indicated what is happening to British influence in that part of the world. It is declining steadily.
A week or two ago the hon. Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary of State answered a Question from me about the Bagdad Pact and the people of Jordan. I am sure he would think twice about the Answer he gave me when he said that he did not think the people of Jordan objected very much to the Bagdad Pact.
145 Events have overtaken the hon. Gentleman a little, and it is a tragedy that there is the possibility of British influence over the Arab Legion being lost: because, make no mistake about it, Colonel Nasser is a determined individual. He is determined, so far as he is able, to remove ail foreign influence from the Arab States.
It was not a meaningless gesture when he made an offer, presumably with Saudi-Arabian money, to give the Jordanians the amount which we provide in order to maintain their economy and the Arab Legion. Indeed, I think that Colonel Nasser and his friends would regard it as very cheap if they could get rid of British influence in Jordan at a cost of £9 million or £12 million a year. It must be remembered also that the Jordanian people themselves are so worked up at this stage, largely because of the Israeli position, that they would be glad to rid themselves of what they call this "foreign influence."
Therefore, if the restraining influence which we now exercise—though it is weaker than it was—were to disappear entirely, a new danger would face the State of Israel. It must be remembered that this new State, surrounded by hostile Arab States, is in constant fear of its very existence.
Some hon. Members have said in the House today that Arab leaders have told them that any Arab leader who proposed that there should be recognition of the State of Israel would be shot, and therefore they would not say that publicly, although they believed in it privately. The truth is that no Arab leader believes that the State of Israel should exist at all. It is nonsense when an Arab leader says to one in private "I would recognise the State of Israel, but I dare not do so for fear of reprisals." He does not believe that. It is a good piece of diplomacy to talk to visiting American and Britishers along those lines to give the impression that the Arabs would accept a State of Israel, but the fact is that they would not do so. I do not say that that will last for all time, but, certainly at this stage, what they desire to do is to liquidate the State of Israel entirely.
The Israelis know that perfectly well. One has only to read the transcripts of the broadcasts of the Arab radio stations and the Arab newspapers to learn with what glee every marauding attack upon the 146 borders of Israel is greeted, and the way in which the commando raids of the Egyptian army inside Israel are praised to the skies by the Egyptian Press and Cairo radio.
I am certain that the feeling between the Arabs and the Jews could not be worse. Therefore, it is a pity that British influence is declining so rapidly in that part of this world. The Bagdad Pact has undoubtedly added to the problem without gaining us anything. The situation in Cyprus makes it an even greater difficulty for us because there we are trying to operate from a base amid a hostile population.
The hon. and gallant Member for Haltemprice (Major Wall) said he thought the Opposition was suggesting that we should give up the island of Cyprus. He is very far from the truth. What we say is that the people of Cyprus have a right to independence and self-determination, that they themselves have been ready at all times to ensure a British base in Cyprus, and that a British base in Cyprus, given voluntarily and by a friendly nation, is a much more secure base than one which has to be held by thousands of troops.
The feeling between the Arabs and the Jews is now so bad that I do not believe that there is the slightest possibility at all of settling all the problems that lie between those two groups of people. Apropos the bad feeling, I remember reading something in an Egyptian newspaper when I was in Cairo, as a result of which I suggest that the Prime Minister might talk to whoever is running the British Council. The House may be interested to know that, despite all the trouble, the possibility of war and the necessity to teach some democracy in that part of the world, the British Council calmly announced that on a Wednesday at 7 o'clock there would be a gramophone recital entitled "Instruments of the orchestra; No. 3, the harpsichord," by a Mr. Tidmarsh.
I should have thought that if we wanted to do something about British prestige in that area of the world the people would want to know a little more about what we were thinking in terms of economic aid relating to their lives and their well-being rather than learning our views about the harpsichord in an orchestra. The British Council might be advised to 147 produce something for those parts of the world which could be of value to the Government and enhance the reputation of our nation.
I have said that I feel that at the moment the Arabs are concerned only about the liquidation of Israel. They are unable to take that step because they are not militarily strong enough to do so and they are not sure whether or not the Tripartite Declaration would come into operation and whether or not the British, the Americans and the French would come in against them. The truth is that they have the problem of the settlement of the borders, the problem of the settlement of the refugees and the problem of the boycott by Arab States of the State of Israel. This is an extremely serious matter which does not very often come into prominence in our discussions.
I do not think that there is any chance whatever of getting Arabs and Jews together and putting all these items on the agenda and getting any sort of settlement. To that extent I still think that the Prime Minister's speech at the Guildhall was not the best speech to have made at that time. Certainly the Arabs feel that it was a very good speech, and wherever the right hon. Gentleman goes in the Arab world he will be congratuated on that speech, because they believe, although he may not have meant it, that he is thinking in terms of going back to the 1947 boundaries. The Israelis were tremendously disheartened, because they felt that this country was deserting them.
It is therefore very important that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, when they talk to General Eisenhower, should have a clear understanding about the Tripartite Declaration. This afternoon the Prime Minister said, when my right hon. Friend was talking about putting teeth into the Tripartite Declaration, that the words were not as clear as all that. I am surprised he should have said that, because on 2nd November, 1954, the right hon. Gentleman said this:If I may say so, I think that both right hon. Gentlemen rather underestimated the extent of the commitment in the 1950 Declaration. It is extremely far-reaching. … This is the strong sentence—'The three Governments, should they find that any of these States was preparing to violate frontiers or armistice lines, would, consistently with their obligations 148 as Members of the United Nations … immediately take action, both within and outside the United Nations, to prevent such violation.'That is preventive action, and I know very few international instruments, if any, which carry as strong a commitment as that one does … I would be very hesitant——and this is important in view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman said it was not very plain—I would be very hesitant myself to touch that Declaration unless I had a clear view where exactly we were going. … I repeat my doubt as to whether it would be possible to find a better definition than is to be found in the 1950 Declaration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November, 1954; Vol. 532, c. 325–7.]I do not understand why, after the right hon. Gentleman has made that statement in the House of Commons, he should then challenge my right hon. Friend with the suggestion that the Tripartite Declaration did not mean exactly what my right hon. Friend said it meant, and that there was some dubiety.
If I were to offer advice to the right hon. Gentleman it would be that it is absolutely necessary that the signatories to the Tripartite Declaration should make it abundantly clear—and I must say that, although we have asked him many times, we have not had it made abundantly clear—that if there is violation of the armistice frontiers, we should go to the aid of those who were aggressed. It should be unmistakable and clear. We should go with our armies of course.
§ Mr. Mikardo
§ Mr. Robens
I do not understand the point of my hon. Friend's interjection.
I repeat that if we want to prevent aggression, then the people whom we are guaranteeing should know exactly where we stand, and know that we stand by the word we have given. I am asking the right hon. Gentleman to make that absolutely clear. Provided both the Arab States and Israel are absolutely certain that we go in if there is aggression, then there is a real chance that we might prevent aggression from taking place.
One of the problems facing the right hon. Gentleman in his talks with President Eisenhower is that of the balance of arms. It is a very tricky problem, because it can bring in its train a great many difficulties and could bring disaster. The position at the moment is that in the 149 opinion of the military people the Israelis are in a slightly superior position. I think that is their view. The Israelis would not accept that, of course, but I think that is the view of the military people.
It is clear, however, that the recent arms deal with the Czechs has changed that situation absolutely and completely. The Centurion tanks that we have sent in are superior in every way to the Sherman tank, and the Israelis have no Centurion tanks. Their most densely populated area from Tel Aviv to the Jordan border extends for twelve miles, and a well-equipped army could cut that country into two in a matter of hours.
I believe that after the experience of the Arab States in the last war they will not commit the same military errors in another war. So here are the Israelis at once at a disadvantage on the ground; having to face tanks with a range of 3,000 yards, with their own tanks having a range of from 1,200 to 1,500 yards; having to face tanks which can fire on the run as against their own tanks, which, because they have no stabilisers, must stop in order to fire and thus present themselves as sitting targets.
They have to face the MiG, which is already flying above Cairo. The only thing that the Israelis have to meet that is the Meteor. The MiG has a maximum speed of 670 miles an hour. The Meteor's maximum speed is 575 miles an hour. The MiG has a ceiling of about 50,000 feet, the Meteor has a ceiling of 44,000 feet. The bravest man in the world cannot possibly fight against odds like that. The Aleutian bomber being delivered by the Russians has a good range and a high ceiling and, because of the terrain, can come in over the sea and bomb Tel Aviv every twenty minutes. The Israelis have nothing with which to reply.
In point of fact, when these Czech arms are delivered to the Egyptians, and when their people have been trained, the State of Israel, if there is a war, will be fighting with one arm tied behind her back. In addition there are likely to be two or even three submarines, and the economic boycott will be decisive. At least some ships now get to Tel Aviv and some to Haifa and to the Port of Elath on the Red Sea. But with submarines operating, what hope is there of ships getting through to those ports? Very little. I say that the Government should 150 take immediate action, because they could not be accused of supplying offensive weapons if they supplied submarine chasers and devices for dealing with submarines.
The Government should make the position quite clear—that if, in fact, submarines are delivered it is not a question of delivering equal quantities of submarines to the Israelis, but of providing them with the defences they would need against submarines in their waters. This Czech arms deal, when the Egyptians are trained, will be the most serious thing with which the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend and the United States will be faced, and I hope that they will be forced to supply quality arms to Israel if they are to maintain a balance. With all the risks that that involves, I believe it should be done.
I say that, knowing the risk which is involved; that it is quite on the cards that the Russians may do even more and that then we should be asked to add more to the Israeli arms, and so on, until in the end we should not be having a race in arms between Jews and Arabs, but between the Western Powers and the Eastern Powers, with the great Middle East as a cockpit and an ideal place for trying out new nuclear weapons. Of course there is that danger. But because there is that danger we should not shrink from carrying out our obligations.
One of the things which we must make absolutely clear to the Arab States is that the State of Israel is there and must remain, and will remain with the support of the Western Powers. What its future borders will be, is a matter for negotiation, but it must be made clear that the State of Israel must remain viable, and that the Arab dream of liquidating it is only a dream and cannot in any circumstances now take place. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that while there may be dangers in this question of arms to the Middle East, there will be greater dangers, and much greater dangers for us in Britain, if we do not face up to this question in a forceful way.
One of my hon. Friends spoke about the necessity of oil as a British interest. No one denies the British interest in that part of the world or the necessity for oil. We must keep oil flowing to the Western world. But if there was a conflict, and if the State of Israel was beaten to its knees, does anyone really think that the Arabs, 151 having got hold of the oil and there being no balancing State in that part of the world, would not try playing off the Russians against the Western Powers? The oil would be in their possession, and if they were aided on a larger scale by the Russians, then we should have to face the Russians about the position regarding the oil.
It seems to me that we cannot afford a conflict in that area. I believe that if we were prepared to take forcible action, were determined, and were to state the things for which we stand, and to do something about them, then we could avoid conflict.
I have said that I do not think that one can settle all the problems that face the Jews and the Arabs at one fell swoop. For instance, we cannot in that way settle the problem of the refugees for the reason given by my hon. Friend for East Ham, North, which is that the villages and the land no longer exist as they were when the Arabs left them. Other people are there. The land has been tilled and cultivated, and it would be a physical impossibility for all the Arab refugees, with their increased families over the last seven years, to go back exactly to the places from which they came.
The only way in which the Arabs will be settled will be by a tremendous amount of economic aid in those areas, thus creating employment. We cannot expect the Egyptians to take 200,000 refugees from the Ghaza strip and to put them in Cairo or elsewhere, thus merely adding them to their own very large number of unemployed. If we in this country refuse to take Italian miners into our pits—and we have not that sort of unemployment problem—we cannot expect the Arabs to take refugees, thereby adding to their unemployment problem.
If, by the provision of economic aid on a big enough scale, with water schemes, irrigation, land reclamation, and so on, we were able to create a vast amount of employment, then I have no doubt that the refugee problem could be solved. On the basis of creating work for them and on the basis of compensation and of as many as possible of the refugees being returned to Israel, we should help to solve the problem.
The real truth is that the most important thing at the moment is the pacifica- 152 tion of the frontier. Unless we have that, there is no hope at all of getting agreement on anything because there will be no chance of the two sides even discussing it. Therefore, I say that the No. 1 priority is the pacification of the frontier, and that could be brought about. Colonel Nasser told me that he would be willing to withdraw the whole of his armies a kilometre from the frontier, which would be clearly marked, if the Israelis would do the same, and that he would not object if in that area General Burns had more observers to look after these strategic areas.
If the Israeli and Egyptian patrols could be kept away from one another, there is a real chance that the odd sniping would fizzle out, or, at least, that very little annoyance would be created. The right hon. Gentleman ought to talk to Colonel Nasser and the Israelis about that.
If we could have peace round the border for one or two years we could create a climate in which it would be possible to move slowly towards the solution of other problems. I believe that there is a real chance to achieve pacification of the border, although I have no illusions about the difficulty which will be faced by the individual who acts as mediator or negotiator to bring it about. I do not think that General Burns would be averse to having a larger group of observers occupying, not the whole 400 miles of frontier, but the strategic points which create most of the difficulties. If we can achieve pacification of the border we shall find it very much easier to move on to the other problems which face the Arabs and the Jews in that area.
This has been a useful debate for two reasons. There was undoubtedly public anxiety about the surplus arms. The quality and quantity of those arms, in the global view, amount to very little, but because the thought existed in the public mind that this private enterprise existed in the field of death and war it was a good thing that this White Paper was published, so that all the facts could be known and public anxiety allayed. I am glad that the Prime Minister accepted the view of my right hon. Friend in this matter.
The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are going to embark upon what will not be an easy mission. There are differences of view between the United 153 States and ourselves upon a number of matters, not the least of which concern the Middle East. Therefore, the Prime Minister will go from the House with all our good wishes. We shall be glad if he can arrive at some decisions to which there can be joint agreement; something on the lines that have been suggested today. We are all desperately anxious to see a peaceful settlement in the Middle East, because what might happen if it is not achieved is too dreadful to contemplate.
Therefore, we do not propose to vote against the Government upon the occasion of this Adjournment debate. We think it would be the wrong atmosphere in which to send him upon his journey. All that we have said from these benches has been meant as an honest contribution towards the solution of the problems as we see them. It is our responsibility and our duty to offer advice to the Government. That we have done. We do not wish to embarrass the Prime Minister and his colleagues, and we shall not take this matter to a vote this evening. We wish the Prime Minister well, and hope that when he comes back we may be able once again to debate these problems, and also the matters which he has been able to arrange with General Eisenhower in the United States.
I hope that when he comes back with his colleague the situation will be brighter; that there will be a unified policy towards the Middle East; and that the State of Israel will feel that it is safe to get on with the tremendously good job which it is doing.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)
It very soon became clear in the course of the debate that matters affecting the export of certain war materials had been very fully covered in the White Paper. After the speech of my right hon. Friend, there really is very little more to say. However, the Leader of the Opposition did painstakingly scrape together a number of questions which he put to me, and I will do him the courtesy of trying to answer them.
The export of scrap vehicles is not in the same category as that of scrap metal. Scrap vehicles can be broken down and parts can be recovered, such as the engines. They have a greater commercial value than mere scrap metal. The 154 criterion in the issue of licences is the export price. If the export price is above the current price of scrap metal, the export is allowed.
With regard to the confusion, or the suggested confusion, between the British and French licensing authorities, it took some time to get at the facts about the Shermans. It was not until 8th July that we learned what the French licence really meant. I am satisfied now that there will be no further misunderstandings of this sort. We are, of course, in close touch with the French Government about the export of arms to the Middle East.
On the question of proceedings to be taken; first of all, on the Sherman tank transactions, no proceedings are contemplated. I have no grounds to suppose that the British firm, Rotinoff Limited, acted in any other way but in perfect good faith. It consulted Government Departments about each step. In regard to the Valentines, on the other hand, the question of proceedings is under consideration. I do not think it would be proper for me to say more than that at this moment.
The Leader of the Opposition asked whether the Departments concerned should not have been put on the alert in March, 1955. Departments were informed as soon as suspicions were aroused and, as indicated in paragraph 20 of the White Paper, action was taken and no further shipments to France took place. The fact that the firm of French importers was under suspicion at that time was not thought sufficient to justify a general review of the exports to all countries. That decision might have been right or wrong. It was thought that the error had been corrected, and that is the fact.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked whether the statement that the Valentines were without gun turrets was accepted without question. I am told that it is not the practice of the licensing department to inspect goods to see that they correspond with the export licence declaration. That is done by the Customs when the goods leave the country. In this case, because the guns were without breech blocks and therefore conformed with the current procedure about demilitarisation, the export was permitted. The right hon. Gentleman asked about Mr. Dawson-Ellis, but that point is covered by the answer I have given.
155 The right hon. Gentleman also asked about 73 Mosquito aircraft which were sold without the usual undertaking. That, quite frankly, as appears in the White Paper, was a mistake. The Minister of Defence has already explained in his speech that that was the first case of the disposal of combat aircraft after the Admiralty had taken over from the Ministry of Supply. The omission was discovered and steps were taken to see that the aircraft did not leave the country without Government authority. Those that went to Israel were exported with Government authority.
The Leader of the Opposition asked about the ten licences that were revoked. They covered spares for armoured fighting vehicles, wheels for carriers, bren carriers and diesel engines from tanks. The countries involved were Belgium, Holland, Italy and the Argentine. The total value of the licences was about £180,000. The revocation of these licences was done as a precaution. The holders were advised to re-apply, and if they make further applications these will be again very carefully scrutinised. There is one final point. There is no trace of there having been any private trade in breech blocks.
In the course of the debate there has been sufficient comment on the White Paper. The hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) said, I think, that these deals were insignificant. This burning issue has rather fizzled out. Reference has been made in a number of speeches to wider aspects of Middle East problems, and a large number of very controversial statements have been made. First of all, let me say a word about the Bagdad Pact.
The idea is being put about that the Bagdad Pact is a purely negative affair. That is not so. It is a constructive effort to create stability and to ensure development in a part of the world of great importance from every point of view. It is an association between States, some of which are rich in resources and some of which are not. For many years various Governments have tried to bring closer together the States in that area of the world, and this pact provides a new opportunity.
It is a pact based on the principle of equal partnership of sovereign nations, 156 and an association of countries with common interests. It does not, in fact, impose any concrete obligations or commitments. It simply provides a mechanism for consultation on joint defence and economic action. We attach very great importance to the work of the Economic Committee, which made a good beginning last week. I think that very much can be done in the sharing of technical skills and knowledge, the pooling of resources and economic aid. Whatever may be said, we intend to cooperate wholeheartedly in this work.
Certain criticisms have been made of the actions of the Government in relation to Jordan. It is quite untrue that pressure was brought to bear by this country upon Jordan to join the Pact or, indeed, that the initiative in this matter came from Her Majesty's Government. We had no desire to exercise any sort of compulsion upon any Arab State to join the Bagdad Pact. We have no desire to be thought to be doing anything which could affect unity between Arab countries. We believe in that unity, and we really have done a great deal in the past thirty years to make Arab freedom and unity possible. Memories are very short, and there is nothing incompatible in our view between the northern tier conception and there existing along side it a wider association of Arab States—but in these matters each State must freely make up its own mind.
There have been references to some of the influences which were at work to see, perhaps, that a free decision was not come to. Just because some Arab countries have decided not to join a pact of which we are members, that does not mean that we have cast away all our influence and friendships in the Middle East. We have many friends there, and we mean to stand by them. An hon. Member opposite said that the business at Buraimi was merely a question of oil, but that is not true. We have treaty relations and special relationships with a number of independent rulers in those parts, and we intend to be loyal to those treaties and treaty relationships.
Attacks have been made in pretty broadcast manner upon the Government's Middle East policies. I do not want to be unduly polemic in reply, but hon. and right hon. Members opposite really have rather short memories. They 157 should just think of the situation which they bequeathed to us in 1951. The attempt to bring the countries of the Middle East into a defence arrangement has just been turned down; the situation over Suez was as bad as it ever had been—[Interruption.] One of the last acts of the previous Administration had been to send a further division, I think it was, of troops to that area. Everyone knows what the situation was in Iran. And, after all, this conflict between Israel and the Arab States was also bequeathed to us.
With regard to the base, to Iran, and to the organisation of a defensive arrangement, very considerable progress has been made, but I quite agree that the overriding problem is still the conflict between Israel and the Arab States. That, really, has been the underlying theme of this debate. I certainly realise the gravity of the situation and the anxieties which are rightly held. I think it will be agreed that it is about the most puzzling and perplexing problem with which we have ever had to deal. As has been said, the problem is not just juridical or economic or strategic. Many hon. and right hon. Members have visited the countries of the Middle East, as has the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), and know something of the situation.
On the one side there are the Israelis, grimly and tenaciously seeking to build a country and a state—their dream throughout the centuries; many with individual backgrounds in which hatred and oppression have been their lot. They have now come against the new hatred of their Arab neighbours, and feel hemmed in and acutely anxious about their future. On the other side there are the Arabs, with their almost mystical feeling of Arab brotherhood and unity, with a deep sense of injustice, a feeling that the State of Israel has been torn out of their midst and that hundreds and thousands of their brother Arabs have been driven out to make room for Jewish immigrants.
They fear Israeli expansion, military, economic and political—and particularly economic and political. They fear a Jewish attack. In spite of their yearning for Arab unity there is a great deal to disunite them—the unequal distribution of wealth and resources between individuals and territories—yet, in their very hostility 158 to the State of Israel they find a common bond. Therefore, on both sides, the problem is a human and a psychological one.
Tidy solutions which take no account of the factors which I have mentioned have no chance of being accepted. At the same time, the continuance of the situation, we all agree, is in the interests of neither side. The constant danger of war is not the right accompaniment for improvement of the condition of the peoples of the area, with its great wealth abounding alongside the direst poverty in many cases, and with the terrible problem of the refugees in the middle of it all.
What must we do to tackle the problem? I will start with what the right hon. Member for Blyth referred to towards the end of his speech, and that is the question of trying to keep the peace on the frontiers. Some people say that we shall not get peace on the frontiers until everything else is solved. On the other hand, how can we solve everything else whilst there are still bloody reprisals and counter-raids taking place on the frontiers? Therefore, I think that keeping peace on the frontiers is a practical task to which we must direct ourselves energetically.
I have myself for a long time wondered whether all has been done that could be done under the United Nations auspices. There have been occasions in the past when international forces or bodies of observers have been of great practical use—for example, since the last war in supervising peace in the Balkans—and it is true that at present there are some 40 United Nations observers doing the very best they can on the frontiers of Israel and the Arab States. But their function really is only to observe after incidents have occurred and to try to establish responsibility. They have no preventive function, although General Burns himself does his best to negotiate between the parties in an effort to prevent further incidents happening.
In my view, it might be a very good thing if, with the approval of both sides, there could be established in demilitarised zones some bodies of United Nations derivation to keep the peace. I put forward this idea in New York privately to the Secretary-General about 18 months or two years ago when I was Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, and the practical difficulties were then thought to be very great. I did however take advantage of 159 the visit of the Secretary-General to London about 10 days ago on his way to the Middle East, to put forward this idea again and I had a lengthy conversation with him about it. I thought that in view of his tour of the Middle East, it was appropriate to raise the matter again so that he could see for himself in the course of his visit whether it was practicable.
I know there are all sorts of practical difficulties, such as recruitment, payment, supply, whether or not they should be armed, discipline, the attitude of the parties and so on. The project bristles with difficulties; but every aspect of this problem bristles with difficulties and I feel that where there is a will there is a way, and this might be a practical method of preventing incidents and reprisals and very well worth consideration by all concerned. Of course, it would not solve the problem but it would contribute to the lessening of tension.
So much for the keeping of peace on the frontiers. Then we come to the procurement of a settlement. The difficulty with regard to the procurement of a settlement always has been that the more one goes into detail publicly as to exactly what the terms should be, the more difficult it seems to be to get towards a settlement. Therefore, the Government stand completely by the statement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that a settlement must consist of a compromise between two extreme positions. That is what my right hon. Friend said at the Guildhall, but I think it would be unwise to try to define that further.
I know that the judgment of some hon. Members does not agree with mine upon this point, but I think there is a growing realisation on both sides of the need for settlement. The increasing dangers of the situation are becoming better known to both parties. It is, clearly, unlikely that we can get them together round a table in the immediate future. Therefore, it has been our objective to bring them to the point of discussion in some other way.
It must be pointed out that the Soviet interferences and recent intervention in the Middle East have not helped towards a rational approach to the question, but we must persevere. I still believe, for example, that it might be possible for agreement to be reached over the Jordan Waters Development Plan, which has 160 been accepted on technical grounds by both sides. This certainly would help the relaxation of political tension. We must continue to work for indirect negotiations between the parties. I do not think that the House would expect me to say more on that subject on this occasion.
The third matter which has been raised is the authorised supply of arms to Middle Eastern countries. I acknowledge at once that this is also a difficult problem. We have tried to carry out the terms of the Tripartite Declaration. The House will remember what they are:The three Governments recognise that the Arab States and Israel all need to maintain a certain level of armed forces for the purposes of assuring their internal security and their legitimate self defence and to permit them to play their part in the defence of the area as a whole. All applications for arms or war material for these countries will be considered in the light of these principles. In this connection the three Governments wish to recall and reaffirm the terms of the statements made by their representatives on the Security Council on 4th August, 1949, in which they declared their opposition to the development of an arms race between the Arab States and Israel.Our critics sometimes seem to believe that it lies within the power of this country to control and prevent the traffic in arms. That is not so, because many other countries are willing, and, indeed, anxious, to supply arms to the countries of the Middle East. But by supplying a certain quantity of arms, we maintain a measure of control, because armed forces cannot switch all the time from one type of weapon to another.
It is frequently contended that Israel has been left in a position of inferiority. That is not so. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in winding-up the debate on 12th December,Israel is not, in my belief, at a military disadvantage today in relation to any Arab State, or, indeed, to any combination of Arab States who are on her frontier."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th December, 1955; Vol. 547, c. 968.]That received striking confirmation from the speech today by the hon. Member for Coventry, East, a speech, incidentally, which every enemy of this country throughout the world will rejoice to read. The hon. Member strikingly confirmed that and said that he thought Israel today was able to take on all the six Arab States together.
We are constantly criticised, and we have been constantly criticised in the past, 161 by the Arab States for not supplying more arms to them and I have no doubt that that sort of remark will at once increase the applications by the Arab States. It was because Egypt could not get what she wanted from the West that she did the deal for Russian arms. I think that everything which has been said in this debate, contrary to what has been said before, shows that on the whole we have kept a very good balance in the past.
I recognise at once that the Russian arms deal has changed the situation and that in course of time it will tilt the balance. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said: "Why did not we at once call a meeting of the signatories to the Tripartite Declaration?" In fact, when it happened they were together in the United Nations in New York and immediately discussed the matter. They met again very shortly after that at Geneva, and they had repeated conversations about the matter then.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us what was the outcome of these discussions and why nothing was said about them earlier?
§ Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the fact that it is detrimental, when the whole situation is difficult, to supply legitimately 1,000 tons of spare parts—new tank gun barrels worth £500,000—and that this raises very grave suspicions in the minds of ordinary people that, at a time when things are difficult, the Government are helping to make them even more difficult?
§ Mrs. Braddock
This was to one side. These were direct to Egypt.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I referred earlier to the reason why a restricted supply of arms was a means of keeping some sort of control, but the spares to which the hon. Lady has referred were, of course, delivered pursuant to contract made many years ago.
The point made by the right hon. Gentleman was: "Why did not we immediately discuss the matter?" I have indicated that the matter was discussed 162 by the signatories. [Interruption.] Perhaps hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will have a little patience. Two propositions are put forward. The first is that we should agree with the Soviet to control the supply of arms. An approach to the Soviet was, of course, the obvious way to attempt to try to stop this dangerous situation growing and the balance being tilted, so an approach was made at more than one level to the Soviet Union. That was the action which took place. I do not want to quote at great length to the House, but if hon. Members will look at what was said on 12th December, both by the Prime Minister and by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, they will see in detail exactly what was the result of those observations.
§ Mr. Robens
No detail at all.
§ Mr. Lloyd
The right hon. Gentleman says, "No detail." These are the length of the passages dealing with the matter and the answer which came was an uncompromising one. It was quite clear that the Russians were not prepared to stop the tilting of the balance in this way in the Middle East.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether the three signatories considered making a formal and public approach to the Russians, and, if not, why they did not do so?
§ Mr. Lloyd
The object was to get results, and the matter was handled in the way which was thought most likely to have some effect upon the Russians. My right hon. Friend's approach to the Russians has had no effect at all. They have usually decided a pretty long time ahead what they intend to do and then they stick to the plan which they have made.
The second point put forward with regard to the control of this situation is that there should be quadripartite control, but I think that anyone with experience of associating with Communist countries in that sort of exercise—controlling the supply of arms, or supervising the supply of arms—knows how exceedingly difficult that situation can be, even if it is agreed to. Experience in Korea is a very good example of how such a control does not work in practice.
The second proposition is that we should supply to Israel quantities of arms 163 equivalent to those supplied by the Soviet to the Arab States. I thought the right hon. Gentleman very fairly indicated what would be the consequences of that. The Soviet would at once supply more to the Arab States. The net result would be that Israel would be ranged round by Arab States armed to the teeth with Soviet arms, very likely with Soviet technicians and military personnel as well, and there would be really no security for Israel in such a situation. It would be highly dangerous to world peace. That is the sort of arms race we must avoid.
We believe the better course is to try to persuade the Arab States of the grave dangers they incur by becoming dependent upon Soviet arms and to point out to them the risks they run by further deals of this sort. We have to try to keep the peace on the frontiers and continue to try to get negotiations going, but at the same time we shall watch the situation carefully bearing in mind that quality as well as quantity is what matters. On the eve of our discussions in Washington I shall say no more than that on that point, but I would say in conclusion on this aspect of the matter that one of our difficulties lies in the action of the Israelis themselves because they have deliberately adopted the policy of reprisals.
I have a considerable list, but take three of them—the Qibya incident in October, 1953, the Gaza incident in February, 1955, and the Tiberias incident in December, 1955. For those three actions they have been condemned by the Security Council. The vote on the Tiberias incident, in which more than 50 Syrians were killed, was unanimous The putting of arms, particularly those suitable for that sort of reprisal, into the hands of people condemned for such behaviour, who had behaved in that way—whatever the motives and pressures upon them may be—is something which requires very careful consideration. The problem is being made very much more difficult by those calculated reprisals on the part of Israel.
164 It was suggested that by an intervention of the Prime Minister some uncertainty has been cast upon the Tripartite Declaration. The point which was made was that the Tripartite Declaration constitutes a permanent guarantee of the present frontiers of Israel. That is not so; it does not constitute a permanent guarantee of the frontiers of Israel. What it does is to say that any attempt to change the present armistice lines by force must be dealt with in the way set out in the Tripartite Declaration. I hope that is absolutely clear.
§ Mr. Robens
What is the difference?
§ Mr. Lloyd
The difference is that frontiers may be changed by negotiation. Therefore, the Declaration does not guarantee those frontiers in perpetuity. It is perfectly clear that the action to be taken is that which was read by the right hon. Gentleman from the last sentence of the Declaration. We intend to fulfil our obligations under the Declaration. It has been said again and again, but we say it once more so that there need be no misunderstanding about it at all. We intend to honour our obligations under that Declaration in the spirit and in the letter. The fact that we should have to reiterate our determination every time the matter is raised is quite absurd. We have stated the position and we mean to adhere to it.
I appreciated very much the references made by hon. Members to the pending Washington visit, particularly the way in which the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) spoke of it. We all agree—or most of us—that it is of supreme importance that our policies should be in alignment with those of the United States. Periodic meetings of this sort are essential to that purpose. I think the peace of the world depends upon that fact. We shall bear in mind all that has been said. We are grateful for the good wishes of hon. Members and we understand and share their earnest hope that this visit will serve the cause of peace.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.