HC Deb 08 April 1964 vol 692 cc1013-20

3.48 p.m.

Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)

I beg to move. That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit trading in armaments surplus to the requirements of the services by private persons or companies. The purpose of my proposed Bill is simply to prevent any person or persons from selling surplus military weapons for private profit and to ensure that the sale of such weapons is vested entirely in the hands of Government, as distinct from private companies. My reason for asking leave to present it to the House arises out of a series of issues that I have raised over a period of months. A couple of months ago a number of documents came into my possession suggesting that about 20,000 Lee Enfield rifles had found their way into the hands of the Royalist forces in the Yemen by way of Saudi Arabia.

Because a British firm of arms dealers had been involved in the matter, I asked the Board of Trade for details of the exports of surplus military weapons to various foreign countries. I then received a very short answer from the Board of Trade, refusing any information whatsoever on the private export of military weapons overseas. [Interruption.] This is almost impossible—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is very difficult to hear what weapons were selling. We must be able to hear.

Mr. Marsh

This is the point that I want to make. We—Parliament—are not selling them. They are being sold by private commercial interests. The point is that when inquiries were made I discovered that all information is refused to Members of Parliament on the export of these weapons.

I then raised the question with the Prime Minister who, first of all, refused to do anything. I asked him to prohibit the sale for export of such weapons by private companies. This he refused and he asked me to send him any evidence that I might have. I sent the evidence that I have on the matter to the Prime Minister and I should like to quote a small part of it, which is a signed state- ment made by a newspaper reporter who interviewed Major Turp, a director of Intor Limited.

The reporter said: Turp produced a bottle of Bell's Scotch. He insisted that a People photographer who was with me and myself should join him…in drinks. He poured out extremely liberal measures. He told me: 'There is no object in making any secret of this. There is no doubt that these rifles ended up in the Yemen and I now believe that that was their intended destination all the time.' If Her Majesty's Government are allowing private interests to export large quantities of weapons to prop up vicious and reactionary régimes in the Middle East this is something for which they should stand responsible in the House of Commons.

I also gave the Prime Minister a signed statement by Mr. Eric Boon, who was well-known some years ago as a boxing champion. He was involved in seeing these weapons loaded on to the aircraft just outside Liège. He asked a Mr. Dawson Ellis, another gentleman involved in this, what it all meant. Mr. Boon said: He told me that I was going to Saudi Arabia with the rifles which were then being loaded on the plane. He said that he would give me £2,000 for going on the trip and told me that he wanted me to go because he wanted me to bring back a receipt to indicate that the rifles had reached Saudi Arabia. He said that he was anxious that Saudi a receipt should be obtained by someone travelling with the rifles because almost as soon as they were off-loaded from the plane when it reached Saudi Arabia they would be sent off to the Yemen. I gave all this evidence to the Prime Minister. He then said that although he was still unconvinced that any weapons from this country had found their way into the Yemen he would ask the Minister of Defence for the Army to inquire into the matter. The Minister has made inquiries and has written me a letter. I will not go into all the details, but he apparently also feels satisfied.

In one case I was told that the deal was not carried out by Intor Limited, because the Board of Trade refused a licence for this British company. The transaction was carried out by a Belgian company, Transma, which is another arms company operating in Belgium. I have news for the Minister. This Belgian company is controlled by the directors who control the British company and, therefore, there is here an obvious way out.

As a result of all this, I began to make further inquiries to find out how large was this private traffic in military weapons overseas from this country. Yesterday, the Minister of Defence for the Army gave figures, for which I had asked him, of the sale of surplus rifles and small arms during the last three years. Virtually all these were exported eventually from this country. The total in the last three years, according to the Minister's figures, was 271,400 rifles. If we have a situation where over a quarter of a million Lee Enfield rifles, which are military weapons, are sold by the Government in this country to private sources who, in turn, sell them overseas, and British Members of Parliament are then refused any details whatsoever about where the rifles have gone, this is a very serious matter.

Where do these rifles go? Who buys a quarter-of-a-million rifles? I once shot a rabbit with a Lee Enfield rifle and there was very little left of it at the end to eat. Quite obviously, a large number, though not all, of these rifles are bought by people who want them for use in the trouble spots of the world. These are often trouble spots where British troops are risking their lives daily. There is evidence that some of these weapons find their way to these places.

A B.B.C. correspondent in Cyprus said on 19th February that British Bren guns were being bought by Cypriots for £200 apiece and that bullets for these guns were being sold in Cyprus at 5s. each. Other B.B.C. correspondents have produced evidence that British military weapons found their way into Katanga by way of Rhodesia. Wherever these weapons have found their way into these areas the British Government should take responsibility for their sale. If they decide to sell weapons on this scale they should be prepared to let people know where they are going. Members of Parliament are entitled to knowledge of what is happening.

The purpose of my Bill is simple. One accepts that from time to time a Government will wish to sell surplus weapons. One also accepts that any Government will sometimes want to help their friends in this world of power politics. All that the Bill seeks to do is to make it illegal for any private company to handle sales such as these and to give the Government a monopoly of such transactions.

I believe, and I think that all of us would accept, that men do serious and dreadful things in support of ideologies in which they passionately believe and for causes about which they feel strongly, but a man who makes a living from exporting weapons of war purely for private profit is engaged in a squalid and sordid business. This is a widescale activity. This is not a case of just one company.

The biggest company in the world in this business, Interarmco, an American company in Monte Carlo with permanent London offices, buys most of its small arms from Britain. It does not only buy rifles and Bren guns. It guarantees to be able to sell tanks, flame-throwers, and even jet aircraft. But these transactions are no more despicable and the people concerned no more blameworthy than a Parliament prepared to sit passive and quiet and to allow this to go on without asking questions about what is happening.

In these circumstances I ask leave to bring in my Bill. It will make the sale of such weapons a monopoly of the Government and which will make this Government, for the limited period during which they will be in office, face the responsibility for some of the shady dealings that they are carrying out.

3.50 p.m.

Sir Peter Agnew (Worcestershire, South)

I do not consider that this is a Motion on which the House ought to grant leave to introduce a Bill. According to perfectly respectable practice, which is of very long standing, commercial firms in this country meet the proper requirements of foreign Governments with whom Her Majesty's Government are in friendly relations.

I should join the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) if the scope of his proposed Bill were restricted to irregular transactions by private individuals for speculative gain in the selling of surplus arms howsoever acquired, but, as he has adumbrated the Bill—none of us has yet seen it in print, and I hope that we shall not—it appears that what the hon. Gentleman proposes would extend to firms such as the great manufacturing firms upon which Her Majesty's Government themselves depend for the supply of arms, and such firms would be refused leave to sell to foreign Governments the arms which those Governments needed either for their own self-defensive requirements or for the requirements of bodies such as N.A.T.O., to which they contributed.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned, in particular, sales of arms to the Yemen. He suggested that there was something improper in sales of arms taking place to the body to which he referred as supposedly receiving them. That body is the Government of the Yemen, recognised by Her Majesty's Government, namely, the Government of His Majesty the Imam of the Yemen Kingdom. If arms are sold to that Government, this

in itself would not furnish a proper occasion for the House to consider legislation for the prohibition of sales such as the hon. Gentleman suggests.

In general, the forbidding of the supply of arms except by sale through a Government monopoly would not in itself make any greater contribution to the preservation of peace than we have already through our adherence to such bodies as the United Nations or N.A.T.O. I believe, therefore, that this is a Bill far the introduction of which we should not give leave, and I oppose the Motion.

Question put pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 174, Noes 205.

Division No. 59.] AYES [3.53 p.m.
Abse, Leo Fitch, Alan McCann, J.
Ainsley, William Foot, Dingle (Ipswich) MacColl, James
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) McInnes, James
Awbery, Stan (Bristol, Central) Forman, J. C. Mackie, John (Enfield, East)
Bacon, Miss Alice Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) McLeavy, Frank
Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.) Galpern, Sir Myer Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Beaney, Alan George, Lady Megan Lloyd (Crmrthn) Manuel, Archie
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J. Ginsburg, David Mapp, Charles
Bence, Cyril Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. Marsh, Richard
Benn, Anthony Wedgwood Grey, Charles Mason, Roy
Benson, Sir George Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Mendelson, J. J.
Blackburn, F. Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanely) Milne, Edward
Blyton, William Grimond, Rt. Hon. J. Mitchison, G. R.
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.) Monslow, Walter
Bowles, Frank Hannan, William Moody, A. S.
Boyden, James Harper, Joseph Moyle, Arthur
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Hart, Mrs. Judith Neal, Harold
Bradley, Tom Hayman, F. H. Oliver, G. H.
Brockway, A. Fenner Healey, Denis O'Malley, B. K,
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Rwly Regis) Oram, A. E.
Callaghan, James Herbison, Miss Margaret Owen, Will
Carmichael, Neil Hill, J. (Midlothian) Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)
Castle, Mrs. Barbara Holman, Percy Parker, John
Chapman, Donald Holt, Arthur Paton, John
Cliffe, Michael Howell, Charles A. (Perry Barr) Pavitt, Laurence
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Howie, W. Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Hoy, James H. Peart, Frederick
Crosland, Anthony Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Pentland, Norman
Crossman, R. H. S. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Prentice, R. E.
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Dalyell, Tam Hunter, A. E. Probert, Arthur
Darling, George Hynd, H. (Accrington) Randall, Harry
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Irvine, A. J.(Edge Hill) Rankin, John
Delargy, Hugh Irving, Sydney (Dartford) Redhead, E. C.
Dempsey, James Janner, Sir Barnett Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Dodds, Norman Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas Reid, William
Doig, Peter Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Rhodes, H.
Donnelly, Desmond Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Driberg, Tom Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Robertson, John (Paisley)
Duffy, A. E. P. (Colne Valley) Kelley, Richard Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Ede, Rt. Hon. C. Kenyon, Clifford Rodgers, W. T. (Stockion)
Edelman, Maurice Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Lever, L. M. (Ardwick) Short, Edward
Edwards, Walter (Stepney) Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.) Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Evans, Albert Lipton, Marcus Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)
Fernyhough, E. Lubbock, Eric Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)
Finch, Harold McBride, N. Small, William
Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.) Swingler, Stephen Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Snow, Julian Symonds, J. B. White, Mrs. Eirene
Sorensen, R. W. Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield) Whitlock, William
Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.) Wilkins, W. A.
Spriggs, Leslie Thompson, Dr. Alan (Dunfermline) Willey, Frederick
Stewart, Michael (Fulham) Thornton, Ernest Woof, Robert
Sonehouse, John Wade, Donald Yates, Victor (Ladywood)
Stones, William Wainwright, Edwin Zilliacus, K.
Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall) Warbey, William
Stross, Sir Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent, C.) Watkins, Tudor TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Swain, Thomas Weitzman, David Mr. Loughlin and
Mr. Charles Morris.
Allason, James Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough) Oakshott, Sir Hendrie
Arbuthnot, Sir John Harris, Reader (Heston) Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Hendon, North)
Awdry, Daniel (Chippenham) Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Page, John (Harrow, West)
Balniel, Lord[...] Harvey, Sir Arthur vere (Macciesf'd) Page, Graham (Crosby)
Barber, Rt. Hon. Anthony Harvie Anderson, Miss Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)
Barlow, Sir John Hastings, Stephen Peel, John
Barter, John Hay, John Percival, Ian
Batsford, Brian Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Peyton, John
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Heath, Rt. Hon. Edward Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth
Bevins, Rt. Hon. Reginald Hendry, Forbes Pounder, Rabton
Biffen, John Hiley, Joseph Price, David (Eastleigh)
Bishop, Sir Patrick Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe) Prior, J. M. L.
Black, Sir Cyril Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk) Proudfoot, Wilfred
Bourne-Arton, A. Hirst, Geoffrey Pym, Francis
Box, Donald Hobson, Rt. Hon. Sir John Quenneil, Miss J. M.
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John Hogg, Rt. Hon. Quintin Ramsden, Rt. Hon. James
Boyle, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward Holland, Philip Rawlinson, Sir Peter
Braine, Bernard Hopkins, Alan Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin
Brewis, John Hornby, R. P. Rees, Hugh (Swansea, W.)
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives) Ridley, Hon. Nicholas
Brown, Alan (Tottenham) Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John Rippon, Rt. Hon. Geoffrey
Bryan, Paul Hughes-Young, Michael Robson Brown, Sir William
Buck, Antony Hulbert, Sir Norman Roots, William
Bullus, Wing Commander Eric Hurd, Sir Anthony Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Burden, F. A. Hutchison, Michael Clark Scott-Hopkins, James
Butcher, Sir Herbert Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Seymour, Leslie
Campbell, Gordon James, David Sharples, Richard
Cary, Sir Robert Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Shaw, M.
Chichester-Clark, R. Johnson, Eric (Bliaokley) Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)
Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.) Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Smyth, Rt. Hon. Brig. Sir John
Clark, William (Nottingham, S.) Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Soames, Rt. Hon. Christopher
Cleaver, Leonard Joseph, Rt. Hon. Sir Keith Spearman, Sir Alexander
Cooke, Robert Kerby, Capt. Henry Stainton, Keith
Cooper, A. E. Kerr, Sir Hamilton Stodart, J. A.
Corfield, F. V. Kershaw, Anthony Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm
Costain, A. P. Kitson, Timothy Studholme, Sir Henry
Coulson, Michael Lancaster, Col. C. G. Summers, Sir Spencer
Craddock, Sir Benesford (Spelthorne) Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Talbot, John E.
Critchley, Julian Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Cunningham, Sir Knox Lindsay, Sir Martin Teeling, Sir William
Dance, James Linstead, Sir Hugh Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Digby, Simon Wingfield Litchfield, Capt. John Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. M. Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral) Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Doughty, Charles Longbottom, Charles Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. Peter
Drayson, G. B. Longden, Gilbert Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)
du Cann, Edward Lovers, Walter H. Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Duncan, Sir James Lucas, Sir Jocelyn Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Turner, Colin
Elliott, R.W.(Newc-tle-upon-Tyne, N.) McAdden, Sir Stephen Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Emery, Peter MacArthur, Ian Tweedsmuir, Lady
Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn McLaren, Martin van Straubenzee, W. R.
Erroll, Rt. Hon. F. J. Maclean, Sir Fitzroy (Bute & N. Ayrs) Vickers, Miss Joan
Farey-Jones, F. W. McLean, Neil (Inverness) Walker, Peter
Farr, John Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax) Ward, Dame Irene
Finlay, Graeme Maginnis, John E. Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold
Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton) Maitland, Sir John Webster, David
Freeth, Denzil Marples, Rt. Hon. Ernest Whitelaw, William
Galbraith, Hon, T. G. D. Marten, Neil Williams, Dudley (Exeter)
Gammans, Lady Mathew, Robert (Honiton) Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Gibson-Watt, David Matthews, Gordon (Meriden) Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, Central) Maude, Angus (Stratford-on-Avon) Wise, A. R.
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Mawby, Ray Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Glover, Sir Douglas Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Wood, Rt. Hon. Richard
Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham) Montgomery, Fergus Woodhouse, C. M.
Godber, Rt. Hon. J. B. More, Jasper (Ludlow) Worsley, Marcus
Goodhart, Philip Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles
Goodhew, Victor Neave, Airey TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Gower, Raymond Nicholls, Sir Harmar Sir Peter Agnew and
Green, Alan Noble, Rt. Hon. Michael Sir John Eden.
Gurden, Harold Nugent, Rt. Hon. Sir Richard