§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call on the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), I would point out to the House that many hon. Members wish to speak today. If we are to have a fair representation of the widely differing views in the House, it is important that those hon. Members whom I call speak briefly.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I bed to move, That this House do now adjourn.
I should like to express my gratitude to you, Mr. Speaker, for having given me the opportunity, I hope briefly, to raise this grave question. I do so with a sense of profound inadequacy, for I stand here to raise my voice in this great cause where Winston Churchill and Sydney Silverman were wont to stand before me.
The facts are these. We have, since the creation of the State of Israel, been the principle supplier of her armour. We supplied a great part of the arms which won the Six Days' War and, about two and a half years ago, we approached her to buy the Chieftain tank which we were developing. We sent her two tanks to evaluate, which took a considerable time. Many modifications had to be put into them. The Chieftain is a heavy "antitank" tank, not very manœuvrable, not so much an attacking tank as a defending tank, and Israel wanted it to meet the T.55s, the new Russian tanks which have been supplied to Egypt in great numbers since the Six Days' War. It is a tank which outclasses any other at present in the area.
Of course, a human factor is involved. It may be that, sometimes, a bicycle can beat a tank if there is an Israeli on the bicycle, but that is not the way in which chiefs of staff can evaluate a situation. They had to decide what was needed for their defence. They picked this tank, the contract was ready, it was to extend into 1972, and then, in May, without advance warning, it was stopped by the Foreign Office.
The Foreign Office then decided to supply this tank instead to Libya. Libya is a member of the Arab League, and is at war with Israel, and has not even got 259 a cease-fire. That tank was supplied unconditionally, that is to say, it can be passed on to Egypt, but, perhaps more important still, it may be taken over by Egypt—
§ Mr. Mayhew
I am putting a simple point. What evidence has my hon. and learned Friend for saying that the contract is unconditional? It would be most unusual for a contract like this not to be conditional on the arms being used for the national purposes of Libya.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Michael Stewart)
I want to reserve what I have to say until later, when I have heard more of what hon. Members wish, but I would like to help the House by clearing up this point at once. It is part of our general practice in the sale of arms that they should be used solely for the defence of the country to which they are sold. This is our general practice and it was explicitly provided for in this contract, as in others.
§ Mr. Paget
Of course I will withdraw.
This point was raised on Thursday last by the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser). My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was then asked to come to the House and make a statement. It is a pity that he did not do so.
260 None the less, whether this restraint exists or does not, in these kinds of circumstances it makes very little difference. The tenure of these tanks in Libya is much too doubtful. It is the sort of régime of which King Idris is the last instance in this part of the world. Why have we suddenly taken sides—or, indeed, changed sides? To stop these negotiations with Israel and to say suddenly that she is not to have the tanks, and, at the same time, that a country with whom she is at war shall have the tanks, is to change sides. It is this changing of sides which seems to be the most important matter.
Is it a case of morality? Of course, the Arab case against Israel is that Israel exists. That is a case which it is difficult for us to accept, because we created Israel. Two years ago, Israel was the intended victim of a war of plain aggression. Egyptian troops were massed on the Sinai frontier. We have no less an authority than Napoleon for describing that as an inevitable act of war. But, of course, this applies to Israel far more than anywhere else. Israel has a waist 10 miles long, she has not a single city out of artillery range of her enemies' guns, she has not the room to manoeuvre.
§ Mr. Paget
I have said, "No".
The Gulf of Akaba was closed. Above all, what kind of war was threatened? A war of naked genocide, a war in which it was publicly proclaimed that the Jews were to be utterly destroyed, massacred, driven into the sea—and these are a people with experience of genocide. No one—or practically no one—here had any doubts as to where the rights and wrongs lay, until Israel committed the offence of winning.
It was only at that point that new thoughts began to come. Why? Israel stopped on the strategic lines, she returned the prisoners which she had taken 261 —thousands of them—unconditionally, she did not use them to bargain with, she agreed to negotiations immediately—open negotiations in which everything save Jerusalem was negotiable and at any table to which the other belligerents chose to come. Even on Jerusalem, the holy places could go, she said, to Jordan. But the Arabs have refused peace. They refused even to consider it. The only Arabs who have even consented to a cease-fire are those who are within range of Israeli guns.
The proposition that a belligerent Power should surrender positions to an enemy who refuses peace is so preposterous that it could only be advanced in a United Nations world which condemns Britain for refusing to cede Gibraltar to a Fascist State without regard to the opinion of the Gibraltarians. It is a grotesque proposition.
If morality is not in it, why have we changed sides? Is it because we want to try to win the Arab favour? Here again, my right hon. Friend lacks the cynicism to compete successfully with the Russians in rewarding the iniquitous and exploiting the vanities of Arab Governments. These are Governments living in a dream world in which they are obsessed with an Israel who, they say, does not exist and indifferent to the welfare of their own people. In old times, the incompetence and tyranny of Governments was limited by the necessity to hold their frontiers. Governments which began to be intolerable could not exist because of outside pressures, but in this world we have provided a means by which interested outside nations, and perhaps the United Nations, can preserve this kind of Government from the nemesis which should overtake them. They are Governments which are living in a state of artificially protected schizophrenia, and we shall not have a happy or viable Middle East while this state of affairs continues.
Are we selling these tanks simply because we need the money? I will not go into the question whether Israeli money is not as good, but I came into this party when idealism counted. In those days, we minded about the merchants of death, the sale of arms for profit and exploitation, and the efforts of men like Sir Basil Zaharoff, who went to one country to build up fears of a neighbour so 262 that he might supply the arms to meet that threat he had invented, and then went to the neighbour for the same purpose.
This was a process which we knew and denounced, and what we denounced most about it was the evil of the secrecy of this armaments trade and the building up of armaments. This is why I felt a nostalgic shock when my right hon. Friend yesterday sent to the House a message to the effect that he was not making a statement because armaments deals were traditionally not disclosed. It is so totally contrary to everything that we have ever stood for that the excuse seemed to me to be worse than the offence.
§ Mr. Paget
No, I am sorry, I am not giving way; so many hon. Members wish to speak.
We have now found an even worse system than the old system of private and competitive armament industries. At least in those days armaments were limited by the capacity to pay for them, but that limitation has now gone. Armaments in enormous quantities are supplied without any need to pay for them. They are not being supplied for money; they are being supplied for mischief. Arms for mischief have been poured into the Middle East.
No one seriously imagines that any Middle Eastern country is being threatened by Israel or by anybody else. The supply of armaments is a method of building up vanities. There is internal corruption. A military type régime is flattered and built by the continual flow of arms which nobody proposes that it should pay for but which are yet seen as competitive bids for favour. So armaments go to the Middle East and to Biafra not for money, but for mischief.
The contract has been made with Libya and, doubtless, we have to perform it, but what is the situation of Israel? Do we imagine that by threatening to cut off her armaments we will persuade Israel to put her head on the block and surrender defensive frontiers to people who will not make peace with her? Of course we do not. All we are doing is encouraging the total intransigence of the Arabs by persuading them that 263 Israel's friends are turning on them. Yet it is on the strength of Israel that peace depends. Does anyone in the House seriously doubt that any Arab neighbour of Israel would not attack Israel but for the reason that to do so would mean defeat?
The one factor which restrains war on Israel is the knowledge that Israel can defend herself. By stopping that knowledge we build for war in this area. I beg my right hon. and hon. Friends to allow Israel to maintain that strength, that protection and that deterrent which secure Middle Eastern peace, albeit precariously. Without that deterrent and without the power known to be held by Israel, she would be attacked and set upon.
We all know that. Why, then, do we, her traditional friend, seek to deny her the means of defence by this anti-tank weapon and to raise the Arabs' hope that they can solve their problems by a renewal of war?
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home (Kinross and West Perthshire)
I rise to make a short intervention following the serious speech of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). Yesterday, Questions were early on the Order Paper and the House was anticipating that the Foreign Secretary might make a statement on the supply of tanks to Libya. Had the right hon. Gentleman been in his place yesterday, this emergency and somewhat ragged debate could have been held in better circumstances. We could, for example, have discussed the Government's policy on the export of arms and might perhaps have heard from the Foreign Secretary a wide survey of his policy.
The Foreign Secretary was gallantly defended yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State for his decision not to come to the House. He perhaps made a slip of the tongue when he said that it was the Foreign Secretary's intention not to come to the House and be there for Questions and to make a statement.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Goronwy Roberts)
I assure the right hon. Gentle- 264 man that if he consults HANSARD he will find that is not the phrase which I used.
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home
If the right hon. Gentleman consults HANSARD he will find that he is mistaken in what he said. I do not want to pursue this matter; I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will put this right.
If the decision to sell tanks to Libya is judged in isolation, this is not a matter with which one can quarrel. The hon. and learned Gentleman will understand that there is a treaty of alliance with Libya, the wording of which is that the British Government will use her good offices to facilitate the supply of arms to the Libyan forces. This is, therefore, a perfectly normal transaction between the British Government and an ally with whom they have a treaty.
Libya is not a country which one normally includes in the context of Middle East confrontation. If Libya has been in danger, let us say, it has been in danger from the direction of Egypt and because of Egypt's expansionist ambitions. Libya, therefore, can surely not be blamed for trying to buy, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said, a tank with a slow mobility but with a very effective fire power against other tanks to improve her own security. If Libya acquires these tanks, the security which she will acquire will be better than it was before.
I suppose that there is a conceivable case that Egypt might take over Libya, but this would be very much less likely if Libya acquires the tanks which she has ordered. But this deal, as the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, raises the question of others that may be pending with Arab countries or with Israel—countries which are in a permanent state of hostility and have lately been at war.
The policy—and this is a much more sensitive and difficult matter—previously followed by successive Governments in this country has been to sell to both Arabs and Jews, seeking to maintain a quantity and quality of weapons at reasonable levels and, overall, to achieve a rough balance, so that no country in that area would be at a disadvantage against another in its ability to defend itself. It was a rough and ready policy and not very satisfactory, but, nevertheless, an uneasy peace was held.
265 For example, in the past we have supplied arms to Jordan and fighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia. We had a defence agreement with Kuwait, and we actually came to her aid. We have also sold Centurion tanks to Israel.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it would have been far better for the peace of the Middle East and of the whole world if we had not supplied arms to either side?
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home
The hon. Gentleman is anticipating a point to which I shall probably be coming in a minute or two. In fact, I will come to it now.
We have always been anxious for an international agreement to limit the importation of arms into the Middle East; but this must include the United States and the Soviet Union—and the Soviet Union has not so far agreed. In the absence of such collective self-denial, I see little alternative to pursuing the old policies.
For example, it would be legitimate to sell arms to the new Federation that is being built in the area of the Gulf or to Saudi Arabia or to Jordan or, indeed, to Israel, provided that the Government always take the responsible position that the quality of the weapons sold is defensive in character and that no country in this area is given an excessive quantity of arms.
It is impossible for an Opposition to express an opinion on timing. We have no idea what may be in the Government's mind about deals with different countries in this area, and we are not in a position to know the possibilities. But there is one aspect of the matter of which the Foreign Secretary will be well aware and which the hon. and learned Member for Northampton mentioned. Egypt and Syria, for example, are being rearmed by the Soviet Union. They boast of the quantity and quality of the equipment which they get from the Soviet Union, and continually say that they can acquire more at need.
In certain circumstances, I think that the House would be bound to feel, therefore, that to deny Israel the ability to buy could amount to discrimination against her. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will be able to enlighten us a 266 little about the deal that was proposed with Israel. For example, is it true that the Israeli Government was given the go-ahead for the buildings and preparations necessary to service the tanks which it had reason to anticipate would fairly shortly be delivered?
I think, too, that the Foreign Secretary ought to be cautious in pleading in aid the four-Power talks in Washington. The Russians have only to stall those talks and to play them long to serve their own clients in this area and again to put Israel at a disadvantage.
In response to the hon. and learned Gentleman, there is no satisfactory solution, except international control of the armaments going into this area. But we are not there yet. Until we are there—and this point ran through the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech—surely every country in this area has the right of self-defence and, therefore, the right, if they wish, to order the arms.
The Government in this country and the Governments in other countries which supply arms have to decide the quantity and quality of arms. On the whole, I think that successive British Governments have limited the quantities of arms and tried to make certain that they are defensive in character.
§ Mr. John Lee (Reading)
Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that one other relevant factor in the export market is the character of the Government or the régime of the country to which the arms are being sent?
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home
I never liked dealing with the character of Governments. It is much safer to plan foreign policy and armaments policy in the longer term, looking at the historic position of the countries concerned and the prospect of how they may act in their national interests under any Government.
The House should be grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton for raising this matter, because it gives the Foreign Secretary the opportunity to explain more of the Government's arms policy. In particular, will he say, concerning this area, that until there is international agreement every country has the right of self-defence and that the Government will try their best to limit the quantity and quality of arms 267 so that self-defence is served and aggression is in no circumstances promoted?
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
In his opening remarks the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas Home) expressed what I believe is the general opinion of all right hon. and hon. Members in this House, namely, that if the Foreign Secretary had come to the House yesterday and occupied his usual seat on the Government Front Bench and made a statement—a statement which might have been unsatisfactory to many right hon. and hon. Members, but, nevertheless, a statement justifying his existence, if I may put it that way—it would have avoided an emergency debate. Indeed, as the right hon. Gentleman has just said, it might have provided us with another opportunity for a full-scale debate on the Middle East situation.
This is obviously not the occasion for such a debate. Although references have been made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and, indeed, by the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire, about the general situation, however tempting, I propose not to allow myself to be assailed by such a temptation but deal in a pragmatic way with what I regard as the main issue, which is the cause of this emergency debate.
It is remarkable—and I hope that right hon. and hon. Members notice it—that when my hon. and learned Friend was speaking about the provision of the Chieftain tanks to Libya, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who, apparently, was so reluctant to come to the House yesterday to speak on this matter and who, according to all the information in our possession, is always reticent about any statement relating to the provision of arms, immediately interrupted my hon. and learned Friend to inform the House about a point which hitherto was unknown to us—certainly it was unknown to me—namely, that the tanks provided for Libya were conditional.
That was opening the debate a little wider. I was not expecting that at the outset. But it indicates that when it comes to the crunch, under the pressure 268 of back bench opinion and with the consent of Mr. Speaker, the Foreign Secretary is forced to come to the House; and this, if I may say so, is not a bull point for the Government in the present situation—and that is putting it very mildly.
My hon. and learned Friend dealt with part of the background. He omitted one or two points. According to my information, in 1966 the Israeli Government, or at least the Ministry of Defence in Israel, conceived the notion that this Chieftain tank was the kind of weapon which it would like to examine. Arrangements were, therefore, made to despatch two Chieftain tanks to Israel on trial. The defence technicians in Israel, who undertook a very close examination of the tanks and discovered certain defects from their point of view, and, therefore, suggested modifications.
The tanks were returned to this country. That was a very generous action on the part of the Israelis. In view of all the criticism with which they are assailed, I should have thought that when they got the tanks they would have kept them. But they returned them, and entered into a period of protracted technical discussions with the Ministry of Defence in this country.
I say here almost in parenthesis—the Secretary of State for Defence is not present; he is on a tour of Australia, New Zealand, and the Far East, and I wish him well—that I should have liked to have seen him sitting beside my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, because it is my understanding that the Secretary of State for Defence, who knows all about the technical discussions, was very anxious that Israel should obtain a large number of these tanks. That was the assumption underlying the protracted technical discussions.
I offer my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary the opportunity of saying that there is no division in the Cabinet about this. My right hon. Friend always speaks the truth. At one time he was my Under-Secretary of State at the War Office, and I know him to be a man of integrity. I am sure that he will tell us the truth. If there is no division in the Cabinet, tell us so. We would like to know occasionally that there is no division in the Cabinet.
Let me present in simple form the issue before us. The issue is not the general 269 position in the Middle East, but why the Government of Libya, who are in a state of having declared war against Israel, should be furnished with tanks by an agreement between the Libyan Government and the United Kingdom Government, while, at the same time, the Israeli Government, who, in view of the technical discussions which lasted for two and a half years were labouring under the assumption that they were to be provided with tanks, have been discriminated against. Why is Israel denied the tanks which she expected to receive? In May of this year, when the Israeli Government expected to sign an agreement providing for the supply of a large number of Chieftain tanks, they were informed by the Foreign Office—my right hon. Friend can deny this if he cares to do so—that it was undesirable to give that firm undertaking because of a very delicate situation.
What was meant by a delicate situation? The answer was that the four-Power talks are in operation. One of my hon. Friends says "Very important", but let it be noted that the Soviet Union, although a member of the four-Power talks, is engaged all the while in providing an abundance of arms to the Arab States.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Hon. Members can shout their heads off and ask, "Why not?". The answer is that I shall proceed with my speech.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I beg hon. Members not to provoke me. They know that I am a person of uncertain temper, but at any rate I have some experience of this House, which is more than applies to some hon. Members.
§ Mr. Hooley
On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. Is it the custom of the House to regard a normal request to intervene in another Member's speech as a provocation?
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that any hon. Member can regard any other hon. Member's intervention in the way that he chooses. It is for the right hon. or hon. Member to decide whether to give way. I should point out to the House that interventions and noise prolong speeches. I have appealed for brief speeches. If we are to have a fair debate, the debate must include every shade of opinion.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. We were asked to make short speeches, and I am endeavouring to condense my remarks into the smallest possible compass. Moreover, I am anxious to avoid a full-scale debate on the Middle East situation. I want to keep to the matter at issue.
I repeat what I ventured to say before, that while the four-Power talks are proceeding our Government use them as an alibi for not providing Israel with the tanks she expected to receive, whereas, at the same time, the Soviet Union, also a member of the four-Power talks, is providing the declared enemies of Israel—nobody can deny that—with all the weapons they want, including some special kind of weapons. I would rather not mention the weapons by name, but no doubt my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs knows something about the arms being provided to the Arab States.
Let me put my case as simply and as clearly as possible. I have no objection to Libya's receiving Chieftain tanks. Why should I? If we were discussing not providing arms to anybody, it would be a different matter. I subscribe to the genuine conviction of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun). If we could work along the lines suggested many years ago by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker)—and it is still his opinion—who has been insistent about preventing arms being provided for other countries, I should accept that. It is a fine principle. It is a sacred principle, and I accept it wholeheartedly, but we are not living in a dream world. We have to be realistic.
Israel is faced with enemies. Never mind about the pros and cons, the refugee question, and so on. There are two sides to this issue, and I understand 271 them thoroughly. I do not object to Libya's receiving tanks. All I ask is that if she is to receive them, why should Israel be prevented from receiving tanks? That is a very simple question. We are told that it is because of the four-Power talks, but there may be another reason. Perhaps I know what I am talking about. When I ask whether there is a division in the Cabinet, it may be that some fear an Arab trade boycott, which would be very undesirable in the present economic situation.
I fully appreciate and understand the tradition governing these matters. I have used it myself as Minister of Defence and Secretary of State for War, when I have been asked similar questions. I understand the tradition about not furnishing details regarding arms supplied—how many tanks, guns, aircraft, and so on—but the Foreign Secretary cannot say, as his junior Minister said yesterday, that he cannot provide any information about the provision of arms.
What about our relations with South Africa? We refused to provide her with arms, because, it was said, they might be used against the natives. We gave a reason for our action or inaction. That is all I ask the Foreign Secretary to do, to give us a reason why Israel is being prevented from receiving privileges which are being conferred on Libya.
It is a simple point and I expect an answer. Of course, it may be an unsatisfactory answer. I hope not; but I make no bones about this. Anxious as I am to see the Government succeed—and perhaps I have helped as much as anybody, behind the scenes and in public—if it came to a vote tonight after an unsatisfactory answer or an answer which is uncertain and leaves the whole subject in the air, I would have no hesitation in voting against the Government—none whatever, whatever the consequences.
The consequences—I mean the personal consequences—no longer matter to me. Nevertheless, I would act with conviction, not that I subscribe to everything the Government of Israel does except that they do want peace. They must have peace.
As Mrs. Golda Meir said yesterday at the International Socialist Conference at Eastbourne—and how right she was!— 272 if there is another war in which Israel is involved against the might of the Arab States and the Soviet Union it may be the end of Israel, the last chapter. I do not want to see that happen. Whatever may be the criticisms hurled against Israel, here is a democratic State that can promote development in the Middle East as well as for itself. Israel is a friend of this country and right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench who I see before me have declared their friendship for Israel. Let them prove it here and now.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
I am sure that the whole House, and, I imagine, now the Government Front Bench, will agree that it would have been far wiser had the Foreign Secretary made a statement to the House on this matter earlier. I am also sure that we are very grateful to the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), who seems to have been acting as a Government spokesman on T.V. on the question of the strings being attached to this agreement. For this information, the whole House and the whole country will be grateful.
No two men have adopted a more holier-than-thou attitude to arms deals than the right hon. Gentlemen the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary in relation to arms for Spain, South Africa, or Portugal. Now they seem amazed that anyone should dare to question the probity or wisdom of their action in pouring arms unilaterally into a known belligerent Power in the powder keg in the Middle East, or into Nigeria for the massacre of Africans by Africans. They are horrified and say how unpatriotic people are to question that. Nigeria is a subject of bloody failure of policy which I will raise again in the House.
I want to turn now to what has been done in this deal. Everyone in the House believes that normally it is perfectly proper to carry out an alliance especially with an oil-rich State and especially with a State which is friendly to ourselves, like the State of Libya. But my first criticism of this deal is against the world background. With the situation in the Middle East as we know it, it seems very peculiar. Is there not another way or have not other ways been considered, of supporting King Idris against his possible overthrow by predatory powers? 273 It is no secret that when the last Conservative Government were in office we had an alliance with King Idris which this country still has; and it was thought more prudent to provide tanks, armoured cars, and so forth, which would be there available to be manned by expert technicians. Quite frankly, I believe that that would be the best way a defending King Idris and Libya against attack.
I believe that attention should be drawn to the White Paper, where it is stated that V-bombers are to be stationed in Cyprus. I would have thought that to send tanks to Libya at this stage unless we are able to redress the balance by equally transmitting tanks to Israel, is far from being prudent. This tank, which some hon. Gentlemen may have driven—I have—is one of the most complicated in the Western world. Incidentally, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) may know, the two tanks which were loaned to the Israeli Government, as I am sure the Deputy Minister for Defence will know, had considerable troubles with their oil filters. This was put right by Israeli technicians. It was valuable work which I am sure will be rewarded in the deliberations when the Foreign Secretary comes to weigh up these matters.
But I would have thought it was strange that at this period, precisely when we are landing some of the most complicated weapons in the Western world into Libya, we are withdrawing from Libya the technical school for tank training which we established there several years ago. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Defence will agree with me on this matter. It seems a peculiar way of helping our friends.
On broader grounds, I believe that this is a bad way to maintain an alliance. Of course, we want to maintain the alliance with Libya, but what we seem to be substituting is a willingness to fight with an urge to make money in our arms emporium. I do not believe that that will impress anyone, least of all the Libyan Government, although it may succeed with the present Government there. We are replacing soldiers with salesmen and that does not always work. In the sum of things, Her Majesty's Government are making the balance of pay- 274 ments more important than national policy and world peace. It is for that reason that I criticise what they have done.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington has raised other points. The main one was this blow to our friendship with Israel. The other point raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton was the question of the disposal of these arms elsewhere. Whatever the price, and the strings attached, we saw such strings attached to the American arms that were given to Jordan. They were not to cross west of the Jordan river. We saw what happened there. For a predatory Power, oil plus a very large number of vehicles which the inhabitants cannot drive, and which are of great military value, makes that a more attractive target than ever before.
There is another important point which must be answered by the Minister tonight. That is the question whether we are now in great danger of running down by sales the stocks of arms behind the British Army to a dangerous level. This needs to be looked at with the greatest circumspection by all concerned. Only one figure is published in the White Paper and this refers to purchases totalling about £26 million this year for the replenishment of stocks.
I am not sure what that figure means. It may mean everything, it may mean nothing. But we know the weight of ammunition which is being blown into the air by the Federal Government in Nigeria today. We know what is happening and what will happen when this deal goes through. Would the Minister give the levels? What are the stocks of armoured cars in this country for our reserve? How many Abbot self-propelled guns, 105 mm shells or 81 mm mortars are there?
The situation concerning the latest type of tank is even more extraordinary. Only a few months ago, as the Government well know, the production of this tank was held up because the Government's policy at that time was to make savings in defence. There was a hold-up in orders. Perhaps the Minister will tell us the supply of Chieftain tanks to the British Army of the Rhine. Perhaps he will say why there were no manœuvres with this new tank at brigade or divisional 275 level last year. What tanks are in reserve for our armoured divisions? These are important considerations.
The Government, not knowing what their left hand or right hand is doing, are taking risks not merely with our good name, but with our national security. In the Middle East and in Africa the angels of death are abroad. I cannot, like the great John Bright, hear the beating of British wings. That part of the deal is being done, as arms traders, by "our good friend" the Soviet Union. But, plucked and featherless as any moulting vultures, there are other angels of death abroad. There is one of them present—the most pharisaical Foreign Secretary in British history.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) spoke with great conviction. But I think that he spoke with greater conviction when arguing that we should send tanks to Israel than when arguing that we should not send tanks to Libya.
The tenor of the debate suggests that there is no strong feeling in the House against the proposition that we should send tanks to Libya. A number of the reasons were given by the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home). We are Libya's ally. Not only are we committed by our treaty of alliance to sending arms to her and helping her with her armaments, but she faces the prospect of the withdrawal of the American and British military presence in a few years' time. Therefore, we have a special obligation—and it is a routine procedure when we leave a country in these circumstances—to help her with her armaments. We are doing it for Singapore and Malaysia, and the Americans are doing it for South Vietnam.
Libya accepts the United Nations Security Council resolution. She is in favour of a peaceful settlement in the Middle East. She is a peace-loving country and a good customer. I see no reason why we should decline to go ahead with the supply of arms.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
On a point of order. Is it not a long-standing rule in the House that hon. Members are not allowed to read newspapers?
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
Further to that point of order. Somebody has just handed me this newspaper. The headline is:Total alert from Cairo to the Suez. Russian mission at Nassers Canal Zone H.Q.".It is an established rule that anything which might be used later in the debate can be looked at.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)
The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) is right. The reading of newspapers is deprecated other than in the circumstances mentioned.
§ Mr. Mayhew
The part of the notice on today's Order Paper, referring to the arms deal with Libya, is not widely supported in the debate. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton should not have referred to an unconditional arms deal without making inquiries. It is not for the Foreign Secretary to say that this arms deal is conditional. This is now a normal feature of arms deals. To be able to say that it is unconditional special knowledge is required. I am surprised that the hon. and learned Gentleman did not make inquiries before submitting his Motion.
The issue on which some of us are still divided is whether we should send these tanks to Israel. I should like to say a few words on that, beginning with a proposition which, I hope, will unite most people on both both sides of the argument. Israel is entitled to the fullest possible security on her frontiers. I hope that everyone agrees with that. It is embodied in the Security Council resolution. It will certainly form part of the proposals of the four Powers, whatever they may be. It is certainly agreed and conceded by the Arab States most closely concerned—Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon—that Israel is entitled to maximum security on her frontiers, The Arabs say that it is not necessary, but they do not object to it.
If Israel were prepared to accept them, new and formidable security measures could be generally agreed to protect her frontiers. They could include, for example, minor frontier rectifications for tactical reasons. They could include a demilitarised zone on both sides of the frontier to a depth of, say, 15 kilometres, which would cover the Golam Heights, and lead 277 to Syrian troops being banned from the Golam Heights, and within the demilitarised zone a uniquely powerful United Nations force which could, though it is not yet decided, include contingents from France and Britain.
All this is within the realm of practicability and it is available to Israel if she chooses to accept it. If it were done, who could then fairly object to sending arms to Israel? I do not think that even the Arabs would have any right to object if, in those circumstances, Britain sent tanks to Israel.
Therefore, the difference in this debate is not between those who are willing to send tanks to Israel and those who are not, but between those, among whom I include myself, who would be willing to sell arms to Israel to defend her frontiers in support of the United Nations, in support of a settlement, and those who would be willing to send arms to Israel in defence of her conquests, in defiance of the United Nations and of a settlement. That is the issue and that is the point on which the Government have taken a clear stand in principle—a stand which, in my view, is unshakable in moral or political terms.
Israel has made clear that she rejects in advance any proposals for a settlement put forward by the four Powers. We do not know what they are yet, they have not been decided, but Mrs. Golda Meir has made clear that she rejects them in advance. The Israelis also reject the Security Council resolution of 1967 proposed by the British Government and passed unanimously.
§ Mr. Mayhew
She certainly rejects it. What is more, she has made it clear that there can be no question of her going back to her frontiers and that the subject of her exclusive control of Jerusalem is not for negotiation. These are facts.
Surely it was, therefore, no surprise to anyone who follows these matters closely to read Mrs. Golda Meir's statement a few days ago that Israel finds herself at odds not only with her enemies, but with her friends. The diplomatic and moral isolation which she experiences is not just the result of her current attitude of defiance of world opinion and of the four Powers and of the Security Council. 278 It is also a culmination of a record of defiance of United Nations resolutions unexampled by any other member State of the United Nations.
Yet what more could the British Government do to strengthen Israel's attitudes on these points, to make her more intransigent, more inclined to oppose the British Government's own proposals for a settlement, than, unconditionally or conditionally, to sell her Chieftain tanks at this moment? To do this would not only be the stamp of moral approval of Israel's defiance of the United Nations, but would give her the physical means to carry out that defiance by refusing to accept the Security Council's proposals.
On every count, therefore, this shows that the Government's attitude is right. But that is only one reason. There are others which are almost equally weighty to support the Government's line. For example, there are special problems of arms deals where the country concerned can use the arms not for self defence but for internal repression. This distinction has already been recognised and acted upon by the Government. In relation to arms suppiles for Portugal, for example, the distinction is clearly made.
Israel's refusal to withdraw from the conquered territories is facing her with a problem familiar to all countries which have had to rule over conquered or colonial peoples—that vicious circle by which resistance breeds repression, repression breeds tougher resistance and tougher resistance breeds more brutal repression. The hard fact is that the Israelis are having to rule more than 1 million Arab subiects in the occupied territories with an increasingly heavy hand. It must be something of a record in the history of police repression that a demonstration of school girls in Gaza, broken up by the police, should result in 40 school girls being detained in hospital.
This gives a special dimension to the problem of selling arms to a foreign country. The House remembers well the photographs of British arms being used at Sharpeville. None of us wishes to risk seeing photographs in our newspapers of similar use of British arms in Gaza or the West Bank or Jerusalem—
§ Mr. Mayhew
I do not want to get on to Nigeria at the moment.
That is the second major reason, which seems to me a reason of political principle, why we cannot sell arms to Israel at the moment. There are one or two more mundane reasons which are still important. There is the question mentioned by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), of the economic balance sheet of sending these arms. Israel is a good customer for us and our exports. We exported £86 million last year, although that figure comprised £47 million of British exports plus £39 million of industrial diamonds from South Africa. But it is a good customer and this arms deal, which was discussed by the Cabinet and rightly rejected -by them, would have involved £60 million.
But if one is considering this from a sordid and mundane point of view, then the amount of trade which we put at risk, the amount of our investments, the sterling holdings of the Arab countries, make it, as an economic proposition, wholly counter productive. This is a lesser but still important reason for supporting the Government's point of view.
I would ask my hon. Friends to support the Government on this issue. I have not always asked them to do so on other issues, but we do not want a Labour Government to sell arms to a country which is in breach of the United Nations resolutions, which is occupying tens of thousands of square miles of the territories of its neighbours, and ruling over 1 million subject foreigners with an increasingly heavy hand.
This seems to be an open-and-shut case. While Israel continues to defy the United Nations, and to reject in advance the four-Power settlement, while she is permitted to perpetuate, and is perpetuating, a monstrous injustice against the Palestinian Arabs, the arms deal with Israel would not help towards peace and would damage Britain's interest and reputation in the world.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
I am not impressed by the speeches of the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew). We have heard his pro-Arab views over so many years. He referred to the forty school girls who had to be 280 taken to hospital after a demonstration, but he has not referred to numerous cases on the other side of supermarkets being bombed and women and children killed. We always get one point of view from the hon. Member and that is why I discount it.
The hon. Member referred to the Israeli refusal to go back to their frontiers. How right they are. There would be little hope for them if they did. I am impressed with what the Prime Minister of Israel said, that she is prepared to go at one hour's notice to Cairo for peace negotiations. Surely that is the right thing to do.
This Government frequently hide under the cloak of the United Nations. I am not impressed with what is going on in the four-Power conference among Britain, France, the United States and Russia. In the United States, they have reversed the decision of President Johnson and will supply Phantom aircraft to Israel. I think that they recognise that there was a contract and that they will now supply them. In France, General de Gaulle refused to honour a contract although he had received money to supply aircraft. I learned from Paris a few days ago that Mirage spares are now reaching Israel; so perhaps there is a reversal there, and the new Government will honour that contract. As for the Rusians, they are supplying an abundance of equipment to the Arab States. How many technicians there are advising and helping them—
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)
The catalogue which the hon. Member has given of arms being supplied to the Arab States and Israel raises the question whether it is not time for a moratorium on arms in the Middle East so that the four-Power talks can succeed. Is that not the answer?
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
Of course, that would be an ideal situation, as I am sure the British Government would agree. We have the same situation in Nigeria: if other countries would cease sending arms, I am sure that this Government would do the same. I do not necessarily agree that the way that they are doing it is right, but it is no good Britain opting out and leaving the rest of the world to create trouble.
281 Unless this matter in Israel is dealt with tactfully and properly, and if the Arab States win the next war against Israel, the whole nation—President Nasser has said this—will be pushed into the sea and annihilated. Let us make no mistake about what faces this country, which brought Israel into being, if we neglect to supply them.
I am not averse to supplying these tanks to Libya, which is a friendly nation. We have an agreement with it, although that has been weakened by the British withdrawal from Malta. But the Government must come clean. Had the Foreign Secretary, or a senior Minister in his absence, yesterday given a prepared statement to the House on this situation, we should not have had this debate. That would probably have been a good thing. The Leader of the House led us to believe last Thursday that he would see the Foreign Secretary and that he was hopeful of the outcome. It was not good enough.
Since the words have been disputed, this is what the Under-Secretary of State said:—and it is not his intention to come down to the House this afternoon to make it. It is his considered judgment that he cannot make a statement on this matter, at least at this juncture."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th June, 1969; Vol. 785, c. 30.]As we have been told, he interrupted the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), and, of course, the House must be informed. The Government should not ride roughshod over private Members but should eat a bit of humble pie. It would have been good for them. Public opinion was too strong, and when back-benchers think that right must be done, the Government should act. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give us a frank statement today.
We have a grave responsibility today. We are not a great Power in the number of arms which we possess, but we still have considerable influence. I fail to understand this Government's attitude towards the supply of arms. We have heard all the reasons why arms are not supplied to South Africa, but we are a signatory of the Simonstown Agreement, and we do not give them the equipment to carry out that agreement. So often, the Government seem prepared to honour an agreement where trade is involved, but, if 282 trade is going to hurt Britain, they take the other view.
§ Mr. John Ellis (Bristol, North-West)
But has not this always been, historically, the main consideration of any Government where trade was involved and, therefore, the nation's well-being? Is it not a fair argument?
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
Then we should be supplying arms to South Africa, with which we have a favourable balance of £80 million a year. We had a great problem with Spain. The Prime Minister irritated General Franco before he came to power by saying that he should not take part in major exercises. If the Government had played their cards better with Spain, we might not be in this position now over Gibraltar. But the Government are very glad, over Gibraltar, to take no notice of the United Nations, and I take the same view in this problem.
We have supplied arms to Jordan since the 1967 war, and that is right. If Press reports are to be believed, we are supplying not only tanks to Libya but anti-aircraft artillery, half-track vehicles and automatic field artillery. I agree with that; but the Government must give Israel an equal break. I ask the Foreign Secretary to be absolutely honest about where Britain stands. We cannot opt out of this. The Government have led the Israelis to believe that a contract could be signed—otherwise they would not have sent demonstration models to Israel. I ask them to look at the matter carefully and see that Israel gets fair treatment.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)
I hope that the debate will have two results—that it will induce the Government to cancel their proposed sale of Chieftain tanks to Libya and that they will tell us why they thought it right to sell to Libya while repudiating an agreement which they had made, in effect, with Israel.
The Chieftain tank is the most modern and perhaps the most powerful offensive weapon of land warfare in the world. It is a sophisticated instrument for military attack. The Government's attitude, as I understand their statements, is that it is desirable that the sale to Libya should take place; that the Government have examined the matter with great care and are satisfied that the sale will not 283 upset the strategic balance in the Middle East; but that the judgment on that point should be left to them; that it is not for the House of Commons to pry into reasons about the export of arms to other countries.
This argument has come from almost every quarter of the House—that it has been the "traditional" attitude of our Governments not to give information about the sale of arms abroad. But that depends on what one means by "traditional", and I go back further on that point than some hon. Members.
I remember that in 1919 the coalition Government of Lloyd George and in 1925 the Conservative Government of Mr. Stanley Baldwin helped to negotiate international conventions under which no exports of arms were to be allowed by any signatory Power unless a licence had been issued by the Government of the exporting country, unless a licence had been issued by the Government of the importing country and unless those licences had been transmitted to the League of Nations and published by the League before the export took place.
There were difficulties about the ratification of those conventions, but the system, in effect, worked for most of the years between the wars through the Armaments Year Book and the Statistical Year Book on the Traffic in Arms which the League brought out for every year from 1924 to 1938.
If we are talking about tradition, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is right in saying that this country has thought of the arms trade as a dangerous and sometimes evil thing, and that we have sought to control its evils by the maximum publicity which can be obtained. I believe that those arguments apply today and I do not accept what the Government say about our "traditional" attitude in the matter.
I do not argue the question further now, because I want to come to a strange episode in the present Government's record which occurred not long ago, an episode which was strangely comparable to the sale of Chieftains to Libya which they propose today.
In December 1965 there were rumours that Her Majesty's Government proposed 284 to sell missiles and aircraft to Saudi Arabia. My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck) was gravely disturbed, and he tabled a Question to the Prime Minister asking him whether he would propose to President Johnson and Prime Minister Kosygin that there should be an international agreement not to sell arms to nations in the Middle East pending the preparation of wider measures for arresting the arms race. The Prime Minister replied that he would welcome an opportunity to discuss those matters, but he added:… but I am not convinced that the time is right for my hon. Friend's proposal".My hon. Friend then asked in a supplementary question:Would my right hon. Friend agree that … the arms would constitute a formidable addition to the striking force of that country and, therefore, create grave anxiety in places like Israel … and will inevitably start up a new phase of the arms race in the Middle East?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th Dec., 1965; Vol. 722, c. 241.]The Prime Minister replied that he did not dispute the broad principles of what my hon. Friend had said but that the difficulties at the time were so great that no effort should then be made to try to stop the sales of arms.
My hon. Friend tabled another Question a week later, on 13th December, this time to the Foreign Secretary. Unfortunately, he received only a Written Answer. My hon. Friend asked:… if he will make a statement on what Great Britain is supplying or proposing to supply to that country"—Saudi Arabia—in the way of arms.This was the singularly disingenuous reply:British firms have submitted proposals to the Saudi Arabian Government, but I regret that I am not in a position to give the details."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December, 1965; Vol. 722, c. 187.]In the light of subsequent events that was not a particularly candid answer, for eight days later, on 21st December—just as the House was about to adjourn for the Christmas Recess—the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation volunteered this statement to the House, and I urge the House to note the bearing of this on our alleged "traditional" attitude:I have to tell the House that the Government of Saudi Arabia have this morning 285 announced that a consortium of British firms has secured the major part of the order for their new complete air defence system. … The value of the British components in the order, including Lightning and Jet Provost aircraft, radar and data handling equipment, is over £100 million, from which over £75 million will accrue to this country as export earnings.Then the Parliamentary Secretary made the following comment:This is a great achievement for the three British firms concerned. … During the past twelve months the British firms have acted in close co-operation with my Department and have received our active support. The success of these negotiations has demonstrated conclusively the results which can be achieved with such co-operation. A number of other countries have already expressed interest in the Lightning. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st December, 1965; Vol. 722, c. 1873–4.]Was not that singularly like what Sir Basil Zaharoff said to Greece and Turkey when he sold them the first submarines? If Saudi Arabia was to get Lightnings, then its neighbours should have them too!
That episode was very like the one we are discussing today. Of course, I understand the arguments which were used then to defend the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. It was said that the aircraft and missiles were defensive; that if we did not get the gold, others would; that the sale would increase our influence for peace in the Arab world. I utterly rejected those arguments in December, 1965, and I reject them now.
The aircraft and missiles added greatly to the offensive power of Saudi Arabia. The sale—a massive one by any standards—started, as my hon. Friend predicted, a new escalation in the arms race in the Middle East. Russia immediately hastened to sell other arms to Egypt and the United States to sell them to Israel. The arms race grew in fury from that moment onwards, tension became intolerable to all concerned; and in June 1967 we had the war, just as we had had the arms race, which my hon. Friend the Member for Watford had predicted in 1965.
We got £75 million for our balance of payments from the sale. But what did we lose from the 1967 war? The closure of the Suez Canal; the rise in the price of our imported petrol; the loss of 286 normal trade with the Middle East; and, above all, another great rent in the Charter of the United Nations, which was fast becoming a scrap of paper—the Charter which enjoined that all disputes should be settled by peaceful means.
I do not try to quantify what the June war has cost us, any more than I impute full responsibility to us for its outbreak. I merely say that we played a very dangerous part in starting the accelerated arms race from which the war resulted. What, broadly, was the scale of the cost to Britain? The closure of the Suez Canal in the first year after the war cost us, according to official estimates, £200 million. This year it is still costing us at the rate of £60 million a year, a large item on our balance of payments.
The sale of those aircraft and missiles to Saudi Arabia was a gigantic and grisly mistake, for the June war was an arms race war, if ever there was one.
The plan to send £40 million worth of Chieftain tanks and Abbot guns to Libya may be a mistake of the same disastrous kind. After all, the Middle East is now virtually in a state of war, and there is the disturbing fact, which other hon. Members have mentioned, that we are one of the four Powers which are supposed to be considering in the United Nations how a settlement can be found.
I say without hesitation that, while we are in that consultation, we should stop all sales of arms to all the parties in the Middle East. We should invite Russia, America and the others to do the same, of course. But on this occasion I would stop the sales ourselves, even if the others did not. We should set an example to the rest. As a first step, I hope the Government will cancel this lamentable proposal to sell Chieftains and Abbot guns to Libya, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary will tell us that the Government will take that step today.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Dennis Walters (Westbury)
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) managed, when opening the debate, to speak without once referring to British interests. This attitude is typical of Zionist supporters, because they appear to be so much more concerned with the interests of Israel.
287 To me, Israel is another foreign country in the Middle East. Britain has an important responsibility for its creation and, therefore, also has an important responsibility to see that it is not swept into the sea. However, Britain has an equally significant responsibility towards the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine whose future and existence we guaranteed under Part II of the Balfour Declaration and who have been progressively thrown into the desert while the Israelis have not been thrown into the sea.
My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) took up certain points made by the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) and, in particular, referred again to statements which are alleged to have been made about the annihilation of Israel and the destruction of that State. Those statements have not been made. It has been categorically said not only by King Hussein and President Nasser, but also by the leader of E1 Fatah, the Palestinian resistance movement, that the obliteration of Israel is not their aim. The aim of even the most extreme Palestinian groups is the creation of a bi-national State in Palestine in which Jews and Arabs can live together. This may be an impractical objective, but it is important that the facts should be presented as they are.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton apparently failed to see that the supplies to Libya are not unconditional. The Foreign Secretary intervened to clarify this point, which was already clear to anybody who wished to take the trouble to study what the Treaty of Alliance and Defence, which was signed by Britain and Libya in 1953, actually said. It is a treaty of alliance and mutual aid. With this treaty there is also a defence commitment which is quite clear and which envisages co-operation in training and in the supply of military equipment. A quid pro quo from Britain's point of view is that we have training facilities for British troops in Libya which are important and we have over-flying rights over Libya which are also important to Britain.
King Idris has been an old friend of this country. He was thrown out of Libya in 1940 by the Italians and has always been a friend of Britain.
288 I am glad that one of the things which has emerged is that what the supporters of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton are concerned about is not stopping the supply of tanks to Libya, but the failure to supply tanks to Israel. The hon. Member for Woolwich, East made a number of very good points on why it is undesirable at present to supply tanks to Israel. The uproar which has arisen, both in the public and in the Press, is all part of a vast operation which has coincided with the visit of the Israeli Prime Minister to this country.
If one looks at the statements made by the Israeli Prime Minister while she is here it is significant to note that although she puts herself forward as the apostle of peace she also clearly rejects in advance any international advice and recommendation and implies very crude and violent threats against Arab countries. This is an unattractive combination of the sob story and threats, and we so frequently hear both.
This morning, in The Times, there was a report about nine Arab houses having been blown up in Jerusalem. This has frequently happened before and these are facts which follow a systematic policy that has been going on for the last two years.
As the hon. Member for Woolwich, East rightly said, inevitably there is an escalation of brutality when one country continues to occupy the territory of another. One act of violence breeds another and violence grows. What we want is a settlement which Israel could have obtained and, I believe, still can obtain, with adequate safeguards protecting her frontiers. But, on the other hand, it is not possible to start a negotiation by saying that it will exclude Jerusalem.
We cannot exclude Jerusalem, because while it may be true that no Israeli Government can give away Jerusalem and stand it is equally true that no Arab Government can give away Jerusalem and stand. A compromise solution must be found whether it is a corpus separatum or some other form of international status. It is this towards which we should be looking. It is dishonest to present an impossible condition in advance of a negotiation and then say that you are willing to have a settlement.
289 I hope that we shall stand by our agreement, our perfectly firm commitment to Libya that we shall supply her with arms, and that it is clear there is no parallel between the supplying of tanks to Libya at this moment of time and the supplying of tanks to Israel, at this moment. Israel's military superiority, which has been clearly affirmed in two wars, is constantly boasted about by Israeli leaders. They cannot have it both ways. Either they are so strong that at any time they can reach Damascus or Cairo and are not doing so only because they are immensely kind and considerate, or they are weak and need protection. The presentation of both cases at the same time makes it intrinsically unlikely that they are telling the truth.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Test)
It is very important to separate the two issues in this debate. I do not think there is any connection between the sale of tanks to Libya and the decision not to sell tanks to Israel. These should be taken as separate issues and we should discuss them separately just as we discuss separately whether to send arms to South Africa, Portugal or any other country. These things should be judged on their merits.
A few months ago I asked a supplementary question of the Secretary of State for Defence. I asked who our friends and allies in the Middle East are. That caused a little amusement in the House, and I did not get an answer from the Secretary of State. Perhaps I may try to answer my own question. I should say that undoubtedly, when we think of the nations in the Middle East, the one which has been most consistently friendly to Britain, certainly since the last war, is Libya. Under the rule of King Idris and successive Governments, it has been a consistent friend of Britain for 25 years.
Libya is a large country territorially with a very small population. Anybody who believes that Libya has aggressive intentions against anyone is living in a different world. Thirty-five years ago Libya was probably the poorest country in Africa. Today, if we take national income per head of the population, she is probably the richest. This has come about largely through the discovery of large quantities of oil there. It is quite 290 natural that any country which has developed its oil supplies should want to defend that wealth against any would-be aggressor. It is therefore quite natural because of our friendship with Libya that she should look to Britain for supply of arms which she needs for her defence.
The Libyan Navy has been largely built in British shipyards. A year or so ago Libya concluded a £100 million deal with B.A.C. to provide an air defence system. I happened to be in Libya when that agreement was made. There were four Members of Parliament there, and we held a Press conference at the end of our visit. We were asked by Libyan correspondents against whom we thought they were buying expensive equipment to defend themselves. I said that it was a question not for us but for the Libyan Government. It is obvious that Libya wants to defend herself, not necessarily against Israel but against any of her neighbours who would look enviously at her oil wells and think that they can be taken. To imagine that tanks from Libya would find their way into Egyptian hands is to imagine something which is very far from reality. There is a case for continuing to supply arms to Libya as we have done over a long period.
The second and much more difficult question is whether we were right to refuse to supply Chieftain tanks to Israel. I do not want to get involved in the rights and wrongs of the Arab-Israeli conflict. I believe there have been and are great faults on both sides. However, one cannot help admiring—purely as a military operation—the Israeli performance during the six days' war even without Chieftain tanks. I believe the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) said that there would be a case for supplying arms to Israel if by not doing so we were creating an imbalance in the supplies of arms in that area. It is true that Egypt is getting large arms supplies from the Soviet Union, and equally true that Israel in the past has received and will in future receive quite substantial supplies of arms from the United States of America.
We should be placed in a very difficult position if we agreed to sell arms of this nature to Israel and then received a request from Egypt for a similar supply of arms and refused to sell them there. Therefore, because these are 291 nations which are still in a state of armed conflict, with regular firing still taking place across the canal, on balance it is better to take the view that we should not sell arms to either Egypt or Israel. That is entirely different from the sale of arms to Libya, which is not involved in the conflict.
§ Mr. Mitchell
Yes, I am sure that this is so. Before this group of Members went to Libya, we went to Cairo and were fortunate enough to have a one and a half hour talk with Colonel Nasser, during which it became obvious that the reason why Egypt was buying large quantities of arms from Russia was that it could not get arms from us. Most Arab countries would rather buy arms from us than from the Soviet Union.
In conclusion, it was on balance correct for the Government to decide not to sell these tanks to Israel but to continue to sell tanks to Libya under our long-term agreements.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
I agree with the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) that Libya has been a long-standing friend of ours in the Middle East. I have no quarrel with the suggestion that we should sell arms to Libya. It is, unfortunately, a fact of life in the Middle East today that we have a very substantial arms trade. We have sold arms worth hundreds of millions of £s to Saudi Arabia and to Kuwait, to the benefit of our balance of payments. We shall also profit substantially from the Libyan arms deal. Naturally, we are not anxious to see the sale of arms become a major factor in our balance of payments anywhere in the world. However, it is reasonable that our friends in the Arab world should have a source of supply for their weapons outside the Soviet Union.
Our trade with Israel is important to us, too. Last year our favourable balance of trade with Israel was £42 million. The Israeli arms market is substantial. During the past 14 years the Israelis have bought arms worth more than £300 million from the French alone. It is plain that the 292 Israeli need for weapons will not disappear in the near future. The Israeli contract for Chieftains would probably have brought Britain trade worth from between £40 million and £50 million.
The Arab countries do not want our trade with Israel to prosper. They would like it sharply to diminish. The Foreign Office made a tactical mistake when some time ago it made inquiries of our missions in the Arab States as to what the reaction would be to the sale of Chieftains to Israel. This was inviting the Arabs to blackmail us—and blackmail us they most certainly did. Whether it is right or wrong, the Arab countries believe that they have squashed this deal because of the threat of economic reprisals against Britain. If we once embark upon this path of giving into economic blackmail, as we regrettably have, we shall be tried all the more harshly in future.
Apart from the factor of trade, important as that is, Britain has a substantial interest in maintaining good diplomatic relations with Israel. The four-Power talks are now taking place. It may be that when those talks end Britain will be urging on Israel a course of action that not many people in the Israeli Government think will be right for the interests of Israel. Can the Foreign Office at that moment then claim to be the friend of Israel, putting forward advice that it would be in Israel's best interests to take? It would be difficult to argue this after the story of the Chieftain tank contract.
As a number of hon. Members have said, the story began many years ago with the sending of two Chieftain tanks out to Israel for evaluation. Clearly, the Israelis recognised that the Chieftain was an excellent tank, but it was by no means a unanimous view. There was a view within the Israeli General Staff that the Chieftain was not the right tank for Israel.
In the course of the 12 months following the six-day war the arms salesmen of Britain encouraged the Israelis to put in an order for this tank. It was the pressure of the arms salesmen and the information that they could give to the Israelis that in the long run swung the tide in Israel in favour of buying Chieftains. It was the British who were encouraging the Israelis to put in an 293 order for this tank. Long technical negotiations ensued and a substantial number of modifications to the Chieftain were agreed upon between the British and the Israelis. After months of negotiation and pressure from Britain to Israel to get the Chieftain, the Foreign Office then said that the Chieftain tank should not be supplied.
If the Foreign Secretary then turns to the Israeli Foreign Minister and the Cabinet and says "We have your interests at heart. You should withdraw. Despite the fact that you are anxious about this, we will look after you", will he then be believed? One of the dangerous things about the events of the last few weeks is that the conduct of the Foreign Office has gravely discredited British diplomacy in Israel.
There is an over-riding British interest in peace in the Middle East. It is essential to the maintenance of our trading and diplomatic position that peace should continue.
What are the main dangers to peace? To my mind, the immediate danger to peace in the Middle East is that Arab hawks who are anxious for another round of fighting with Israel should gain the upper hand. There is a possibility that this could happen. The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) was reproved for bringing in a newspaper which had the headline: "Alert from Cairo to the Suez".
There is a danger that fighting will break out because Nasser has said in a speech that 60 per cent. of Israeli fortifications along the Suez Canal have been destroyed. That is totally false. However, an Egyptian intelligence officer has to base his appreciation of the situation on what the President of the country says, and it will hardly be surprising if he says "Yes, by all means let us have a foray across the Canal".
The immediate danger to peace in the Middle East comes from an Arab miscalculation of the strength or relative weakness of Israel. Anything that makes the Arab hawks think that Israel is weak and getting weaker will encourage them to launch yet another attack, even if it is on a more limited scale than in the past.
The long-term threat comes from an Arab refusal to negotiate seriously with Israel. I believe that our refusal to sell 294 tanks to Israel will give Nasser an excuse to proscrastinate still further and not seriously negotiate with Israel about its future place in the Middle East. I am depressed by the hypocrisy that the Government have shown recently. The Foreign Secretary likes to say to visitors that it is the principle objective of British policy in the Middle East to see that the State of Israel is preserved. Yet at the same time, having encouraged the Israelis to order British weapons, we turn round and refuse to let them have them. I am shocked but not surprised, because the Government have an almost unique reputation for letting down their friends, at home and abroad.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Before calling the next speaker, I would remind succeeding speakers of Mr. Speaker's appeal for brief speeches.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Colin Jackson (Brighouse and Spenborough)
It seems that the arguments of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) can be divided into two parts, one to do with the sale of arms to Libya and the second part an attempt to link this with the sale of arms to Israel. The first link of the argument, the sale of arms to Libya, has suffered badly this afternoon. There was quickly destroyed the argument that the sale of arms to Libya was unconditional. We have not had mentioned in the House the question of Libya being in a state of war with Israel. I imagine that this is because it is one of the most patently weak arguments that can be produced.
Libya is a supporter of the United Nations resolution of 22nd November, 1967, which would agree to a state of non-beligerency between that country and Israel if Israel would withdraw from the territory she now occupies. The implications of a state of war prove to have no validity. We have heard from many speakers warm tributes to Libya as a friend of the United Kingdom. I am surprised that we did not have a more genuine tribute from my hon. and learned Friend, because Libya has been one of Britain's best friends over a long period of time and we have good reason to be proud of her as an ally. If we wish to maintain friends in the Arab world we should recognise this.
Then there is the question of the rule of arms to Israel. The United Kingdom 295 is in a particularly pivotal position with regard to success or failure in attempts to reach a Middle East settlement. The Soviet Union is largely committed on the side of the Arab nations. The United States, with its sale of Phantoms, is clearly very much an ally of Israel. France is more or less out; until the new President takes up a public stance we do not know what his policy will be. The United Kingdom, with our representative in the United Nations, Lord Caradon, has probably the most finely-balanced opportunity to secure a settlement.
Had we agreed in May, with the Big Four talks beginning, to supply arms to Israel, that could have vitiated all opportunities of the United Kingdom in achieving a break-through towards a settlement. Libya is in an entirely different position from Israel over the supply of Chieftains. Israel is involved in the occupation of the territory of three Arab nations: the United Arab Republic, Jordan and Syria. She is deeply involved in present-day conflicts. Had we supplied Chieftains to Israel, one of two things would have happened Either all opportunity of Britain being able to mediate in a settlement would have been lost or we should, logically, have had to supply Chieftains to Syria, U.A.R. and Jordan. This would have been wrong.
On a moral judgment, I do not believe that this country at this stage should supply arms to a nation which refuses to co-operate with the four Powers' permanent Security Council members of the United Nations. I do not believe that this kind of action should be rewarded. I do not believe that a fundamental devotion to the United Nations is biased: it is decent policy, and those who wish Israel to survive in peace would be well advised not to press the Prime Minister of Israel to follow a hard line. The friends of Israel would be well advised to require that country to meet the obligations of the United Nations; they would be well advised to say to Israel, "Stop blowing up buildings in Jerusalem, and obey the United Nations"—[Interruption.] Those who cannot listen in silence—
§ Mr. Shinwell
Not when I hear this sort of rubbish. No one can say that it is anything but rubbish.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has the floor. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene, perhaps he will do so in the normal manner.
§ Mr. Jackson
I have no desire to hear any more of the right hon. Member; ha has condemned himself out of his own mouth.
Britain has an equivocal opportunity to secure a settlement through the United Nations resolution of 22nd November. At this stage I do not believe that it would be right to supply arms—Chieftain tanks—to Israel.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. James Davidson (Aberdeenshire, West)
I hope that I am right in assuming that we are debating not the rights or wrongs of the Arab-Israeli situation but whether or not we should be sending Chieftain tanks to Libya. I want to touch on the background of arms exports and arms sales because the morals or principles of the export of arms have a very powerful bearing on this question. It cannot be considered in isolation but at the same time, at the risk of being slightly ambiguous, we must look at each case on its own merits.
I want to ask first whether we can justify exporting arms in any circumstances. The answer is pretty obvious: yes, we can, if we are exporting arms to allies, if we are exporting arms to democratic countries, to help them preserve their independence against advances by another power. I do not think that there is any real justification for a complete ban on arms sales unless this country cares to take up a pacifist stance. If we were to do that there would be no arms to sell.
We should not determine the policy of whether we export arms to a particular country, or Chieftain tanks to Libya, on financial grounds. This should not be a matter of financial reasoning; it should be done perhaps in spite of the export potential, but not because of it. If the sale of arms to a friendly country in a good cause at the same time assists our exports, so much the better, but this must not be a major consideration.
297 It must be quite obvious that we must limit the risks when we consider to whom we are selling arms. We do not want to sell arms to countries which will undermine British interests. Here the export licensing procedure is a sufficient safeguard. We do not want to export arms to areas where such arms will exacerbate regional instability. We do not want to export arms to dictatorships or to petty sheikdoms, to autocratic little kingdoms. We have heard much about the friendship of Libya. I do not know a great deal about Libya but I spent two years in the Middle East and it used to worry me quite a bit that the apparent friendship of some of these Arab countries seemed to be limited to a certain stratum of Arab society. It was not a friendship stemming from the people but a friendship stemming from those who ruled the remainder of the population with an autocratic kind of rule.
Certainly I do not think that we should be exporting arms to military juntas in any circumstances. In that context, although in this current year I understand that we are to sell about £170 million worth of arms overseas and if we were to cease doing so it might be a considerable loss to our exports, on the other side of the ledger we must consider that over the 10 years from 1967 to 1977 we are likely to import about £1,050 million worth of arms from the United States alone.
Obviously, we must be certain not to export arms to a country which might later use them against a third country in violation of our foreign policy aims, and I suggest that we should never in any circumstances export any type of nuclear, chemical or biological weapon, because we do not know what sort of trouble we may be laying up for the future if we do so.
To return briefly to the export of arms to Libya, it has been said that Libya is a member of the Arab League and yet that she is friendly to this country. It is true that a state of war exists between Libya and Israel. On the other hand, from what I know of Libya, she is more concerned at being over-run by Egypt or Algeria than at defending herself against or attacking Israel. That is as may be, but it seems to be all the 298 more reason to press, through the United Nations, for an international embargo on arms to the Middle East.
Arguments have been raised about the difference between defensive and offensive weapons. It is almost impossible to draw a line between the two. Perhaps a good argument could be made out for exporting aerial defence systems to Middle East countries, because they can hardly be used for offensive purposes. But where is one to draw the line? It is a very shaky and indefinite one.
As for the Chieftain tank, my facts are open to correction but I believe that it costs about £200 per hour to operate. It has a maximum range of about 200 miles without refuelling. At a speed of 25 m.p.h., it can go for about eight hours without having to stop and refuel. It is heavy. It weighs over 50 tons. It carries a very heavy gun which has a range of 3,000 yards with armour-piercing shells and about 7,000 yards with high explosives. It can carry only 64 shells, and it is very vulnerable to certain current types of anti-tank weapon. Does that make it a defensive weapon or an offensive one? I should not like to judge. If the Secretary of State for Defence were here, he might also be able to say whether those facts make it a cost-effective weapon. I think that that is questionable, too.
While a state of war exists in the Middle East, I believe strongly, and I am sure that most of my Liberal colleagues support me, that there should be a complete embargo on all arms supplies to the Middle East. I realise how difficult it is to obtain such agreement through the United Nations, but surely that should be the aim. In this instance, we could set an example. It might be wishful thinking to assume that others would follow the example, but I think that we should set it. Financial considerations must be of secondary importance.
If a state of peace existed in the Middle East, it might be argued that the supply of arms to either side would serve as a deterrent and thereby help preserve the peace. But there is not. There is a state of war. By supplying arms to either side when there is a state of war, we are adding fuel to the flames, even if that fuel is not to be ignited immediately.
299 On balance, I take the view that while there is a state of war in the Middle-East it should nullify any arms contracts that we have already made. We should not send arms to either side, until some conclusion is reached or an agreement comes out of the four-Power talks.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Sir Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
By this time, I hope that the House would be able to assess the kind of argument which is being advanced by some who are taking an evenly balanced view and by others, including hon. Members on this side of the House, who for years have attacked Israel and who use every possible opportunity of avoiding the issues which are before us.
While I agree with the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) that if all the parties decided not to supply anyone that would be an entirely different matter, no one would be more anxious about that than Israel, because she has everything to gain from peace. She does not want war, and she has never wanted war. Two vicious wars have been waged against her, quite apart from border attacks.
When those wars finished, the great Powers, including ourselves, urged a victorious Israel to accept certain terms. Those terms were accepted by both sides. In a matter of days, the other side again attacked Israel.
What did the Powers do? Nothing. What is the use of talking in unrealistic terms? Israel had to depend on herself, as she did in 1967. Let us be frank about the position. If the four Powers or anyone else attempt to get a settlement which Israel does not believe to be one that will secure her existence, she cannot afford to allow herself to surrender to the venom which is preached in order to attack her. Israel has to have weapons with which to defend herself. She asks for no men. She does not ask for a single person, other than the Israelis themselves to face her enemies—in spite of the enormous forces against her.
What happened when the 1967 war broke out? From where were the tanks and aeroplanes bought that were used against Israel? What is the use of hon. Members opposite saying that Israel should accept the terms of the Security 300 Council when they know that Israel is prepared to accept them and that those who are not prepared to accept them are the Arabs and the very people who are urging and instigating the Arabs to continue to attack Israel? Day by day, attacks are made in spite of the ceasefire. Day by day, venomous statements are made that Israeli is to be destroyed. They are made by the very people who know very well that they speak with their tongues in their cheeks when they say that they are prepared to accept the Security Council resolution.
The Security Council resolution recognises Israel as a sovereign State. There is no mention of Palestinian new States. There is not sufficient time to go into all the issues in this debate, but the fact is that the Arabs do not accept the Security Council resolution any more than do hon. Members of this House who support the Arabs. They say that Israel must disappear, with another kind of State created in its place. However, they will never fool the whole world about this, and therefore I appeal to the Government.
I am sure that the House will agree that, although Libya is at war with Israel, she wants arms for certain purposes. Some hon. Members know the purposes for which she needs them. But why deny Israel the possibility of defence? In Israel, some children have been living in shelters for two years, barely coming out to see the sun, in consequence of the attacks of those who will not recognise the State of Israel and who are still at war with Israel—and I include among them some hon. Members of this House who speak in favour of the Arab States.
The Government should realise that the very least that can be done is to let Israel have the necessary means of defending herself. If those hon. Members who have spoken against Israel had listened to her Prime Minister speaking, they would have realised that here is a human person who wants peace, who is anxious that there should be no war and who wants to live a normal life in a nation which is prepared to build and act in a civilised way. That is all that Israel wants.
§ Sir B. Janner
No, I will not give way. I did not interrupt any other hon. Member, and there were many occasions on which I was provoked to do so.
301 Israel needs the assurance that she will not again be let down as she was in the past. She does not require men from the armies of other countries. She wants the means to protect herself by herself against the vicious forces ranged against her. Why do some talk such nonsense? Do not they know that Russia supplies everything in the way of arms that Egypt wants? Hon. Members talk of the balance of arms; but what balance can there be? If we stop supplying arms to Israel, Russian will nevertheless continue to pour in whatever Egypt wants, and so will some other countries.
§ Mr. John Lee
I agree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend says, but is the nub of his proposition that if we were to resume arms supplies to Israel, for which there is a strong case, that would justify the continuance of the supply of arms to an undemocratic country like Libya?
§ Sir B. Janner
I could use arguments which would help my hon. Friend in the view that he holds, but I will leave that point on one side, because I am concerned with the protection of innocent, decent, civilised people who are our friends. The Prime Minister of Israel has said that it is bad enough that they have Russia against them in the four-Power talks and it is bad enough that they have France against them, because it is no good relying on what France may do, and she asks "Do not their own friends realise that what is necessary is the means to allow them not to be ground into the earth and destroyed?
No one can tell me that when Nasser says that he intends to destroy Israel he does not mean it. No one can tell me that he does not believe that orders were given to the Jordanians to kill every woman and child in the places which they attacked in Israel. In those circumstances, I ask the Government to reconsider their decision and provide these weapons to Israel. It will not be a question then of our having to mourn in sympathy over the destruction of men, women and children in Israel. On the contrary, we shall be helping innocent people to defend themselves.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)
May I take up the point made by the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr.
302 Mayhew), that the Israelis had rejected the British-sponsored resolution of the United Nations? With respect, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. The Israelis did not reject the resolution, but accepted it as a basis for negotiating a lasting peace in the Middle East, and they should be given credit for having done so.
Almost exactly a year ago, with three other hon. Members, I visited Cairo, Egypt, the Sudan and Libya. It was abundantly clear, both overtly and covertly, that Libya was the only one of those three countries which had not received or was not about to receive considerable supplies of arms from the U.S.S.R. I was led to believe, as I think those hon. Members who were with me would agree, that Libya had successfully brushed aside blandishments from the Russians for the supply of arms. I give them all credit for that. But the Libyans did so because they felt that they had with Britain a close and sympathetic friendship.
Several hon. Members have mentioned that there is a state of war between Israel and Libya. That may be so, but, in my view, that is a mere technicality. There is no evidence of Libyans having taken part in the six days' war two years ago, or having been involved in the previous engagements between Israel and the Arab States. Certainly, Libya is an Arab country, but we miss the point if we classify the Egyptians as Arabs. The Libyans have been on the side of the Arabs purely as a matter of Arab solidarity.
There is no doubt that predatory and avaricious eyes from both east and west of Libya are focused on Libya's supplies of oil and natural gas. Those supplies are being exploited internationally to the great benefit of the people of Libya. Ten years ago the whole budget in Libya was about £5 million; it is now about £500 million. That is a measure of what is going on in the country, of the geographical situation of Libya and of what these avaricious eyes are focused on.
I support the supply of Chieftain tanks to Libya for three main reasons. First, in terms of our defensive alliance with Libya, Libya is friendly to us, and I am convinced that she is not interested in aggression. It is, therefore, right and proper that we should honour our obligations under the terms of the alliance. 303 Secondly, we have with the Libyans both training rights and over-flying rights which are basically important to the security of the Middle East. Thirdly, the traditional friendship which exists between our two countries has been broadened lately by a closer relationship between Libya and Malta, which gives us an ever-increasing link with Libya.
Whether or not the Chieftain tank is an offensive or defensive weapon does not matter in the context of this debate or of the agreement, for I am convinced that the tanks will be used in Libya only for defensive purposes. Last year a defensive contract for air defence was concluded between Libya and firms in this country to the value of about £200 million. Those weapons were in no sense offensive, but defensive, and if they are split, as I believe them to be, with more than half on the western Libyan frontier and the remaining portion on the eastern Libyan frontier, this provides conclusive proof that Libya is seeking the defence of her own land and resources.
The Libyans are not anti-Semitic. When we were there we had conclusive evidence to show that they were anything but anti-Semitic. If they were, I would not be as much in favour, if at all in favour, of the supply of Chieftain tanks.
I add only one rider, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser). If our own reserves of tanks were to be depleted, or put at risk, I would be against the supply of the tanks; but unless and until we can get a four-Power agreement upon the supply of offensive and defensive weapons to the whole of the Middle East, I support the Government in what they are doing.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Monmouth)
It frequently happens that debates on the Middle East degenerate into a refighting of the whole Arab-Israeli conflict. At the emotional time of the June war I recall being asked by a colleague whether I was an Arab or an Israeli, to which I replied that I was British. I am more concerned with the paramountcy of British interests in this matter.
As can be seen from the debate, the Chieftain tank deal with Libya is 304 eminently in our own interest. What is much more arguable is whether the refusal to supply Chieftain tanks to Israel after allegedly leading Israel up the garden path, is in the British interest.
I support the British Government's attitude of looking at the total supply of arms in this area in the context of the power balance. In 1967, Britain ceased to supply arms to the Middle East in the hope that other countries would follow suit and that there would be a total arms embargo. Our confidence on this occasion was misplaced. Reluctantly during the past two years we have resumed the supply of arms to the Middle East, while maintaining on the whole a reasonable balance.
I think that most hon. Members accept that the leg of the Motion that this country should supply arms to Libya is not really in question, although it is worth while saying something about it since the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) made some rather unhelpful remarks about the Government of Libya.
As has been stressed, Libya is an old ally of this country. We have there a base and training facilities which provide unique opportunities for military training. Libya has rocketted from rags to riches and, in addition to all the attendant problems, there is a vast programme of modernisation. The United Kingdom has a considerable commercial stake in that country, particularly in regard to oil. We have also a considerable political stake in the area in ensuring that the southern side of the Mediterranean does not become entirely a Soviet-dominated lake.
Libya is sensibly concerned about her own defence and the protection of her new-found treasure. As has already been mentioned by the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker), Libya's first priority last year was to order from the United Kingdom an air defence system, which suggests that she is not in terms of priorities particularly concerned with foreign adventures. Now she is turning to the reorganisation of her army.
Libya is, of course, a member of the Arab League and is devoted to the Arab cause. Yet in Middle East politics she has pursued a moderate course and there is every indication that the arms supplied would be used in her own 305 defence. Both from the point of view of distance from the major source of conflict in the Middle East and in the light of past experience of Libya, I would suggest that there is every evidence that these arms will have no relation whatever to the Arab-Israeli conflict, but I welcome the assurance from my right hon. Friend that the tanks were not given unconditionally.
To turn briefly to the question of the possible supply of Chieftain tanks to Israel, Israel, on the whole, has had a good deal from this country. Friends of Israel will favourably compare the response of our own Government with the response of Gaullist France to Israel in February, in her time of difficulty, when our Government made it clear that they were not prepared to join in a unilateral embargo on arms sales to Israel. If, as the Israelis now claim, they need these arms for defensive purposes, we must recognise that, from the aspect of British interest, to many people, and not only in the Arab countries, this would be seen as giving material assistance to Israel in holding on to her occupied territory. Libya itself is not occupying any territory; Libya is not in breach of any United Nations resolution; and Libya is not adopting a negative attitude to the four-Power resolution.
The policy of Her Majesty's Government is clear. It is that they examine every arms application from the Middle East area very stringently and judge carefully the impact on the total balance in the area. Whether this balance is by the arms deal being put in question it is difficult for any back bencher to answer. This argues the need for greater expertise, perhaps by way of a specialist Committee of back benchers. Of one thing I am sure. We have received a request from a small country which has turned to us as its friends. They seek the tanks to assist them in organising their legitimate defence, and it surely is reasonable and proper that we should assist them to do so.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Michael Stewart)
I welcome this opportunity to say something about our arms policy in the Middle East and about the Middle East generally. I have been asked to make a statement about the sale of arms 306 to Libya. I do not think that the House will charge me with deliberate discourtesy in deciding that that was not the thing to do. I have always tried to show the respect which is the House's due, but if I made a statement about the deal with Libya I should only have been able to tell the House what was already public knowledge.
That there had been an arms transaction with Libya was a fact already known and reported in the British Press several weeks ago; that it was conditional on the weapons being used solely for the defence of Libya followed from a public document, our agreement with Libya. I could not include in such a statement full details as to the numbers and categories of weapons. That has never been policy. There was a statement to that effect some years ago in the House by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition.
§ Mr. John Lee
The right hon. Gentleman said that the deal was conditional on use for defence. Two matters arise on that. First, what retaliatory action, if any, could the Government take if any of the conditions were broken? Secondly, what would happen if these arms were used for the repression of an internal uprising?
§ Mr. Stewart
In the particular case of Libya, I do not believe either of those considerations arise, and I would not wish to give an answer that could be interpreted as any imputation of bad faith by the Libyan Government. But to give the answer generally it would be a matter of common sense. If any country to which we had supplied arms on a condition like this had flagrantly broken the condition, there would be action which we could take on ammunition and spares. But this is a hypothetical question and answer, and I do not believe it arises in the Libyan context.
I am sure that the view taken by successive Governments that we do not spell out the full details of every deal is a right one in the interests of the peace of the area. I am quite certain that if every time there were arms deals of this kind published to the whole world, setting out exactly how many weapons of what capacity were involved, this would be likely—perhaps more likely than anything else—unhealthily to inflame the appetite 307 of every possible consumer of arms in the area. If I had made a statement I could have told the House nothing that was not already public knowledge.
It has been further apparent from the speeches in this debate that no hon. Member has confined himself, or could have confined himself, to the subject of the transaction with Libya. What the House was concerned about was the whole nature of arms policy in the Middle East and the Middle East situation generally. Frankly, that would not have been helpfully dealt with by means of a statement and the short exchange of question and answer that follows a statement. It was most properly dealt with by a debate.
I could not, therefore, agree with those hon. Members who suggested that this debate was a kind of misfortune that had fallen on the House, or on me, as a penalty for my refusal to make a statement. I do not believe that a statement would have been appropriate. I am happy now to do the best I can to answer the debate.
There is one part of it that can be answered fairly speedily and with the agreement of nearly all hon. and right hon. Members, on the question: why make a sale to Libya in particular? Libya is in a particular category. We have with her a treaty of friendship and alliance. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who opened the debate, said that he was conscious of the fact that he was standing where Sydney Silverman and Winston Churchill had stood. It was when Sir Winston Churchill was Prime Minister that the agreement with Libya was concluded. The pledge given in the agreement accompanying that treaty was concluded by the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home).
When one adds to that the fact that Libya is at present the only major Middle East country which does not possess tanks, I believe that I can say that we were justified in carrying through this transaction with the Libyan Government. Most hon. Members have fully accepted that, but have based their criticism, or their concern, on other aspects of policy. It might therefore, be helpful if I now said something on the general policy which the 308 Government seek to operate in trading matters all over the world.
It is true that every export transaction, whether of commodities of peace or of war, is beneficial to our economy. That fact cannot be ignored when considering any transaction, although in many cases it is not the only factor to be considered.
We would be willing to conduct trade in the commodities of peace with everyone in the world, except in case of war, rebellion, or express resolutions of the Security Council of the United Nations. The House will remember that no resolution can go through the Security Council of the United Nations without our consent. The present Government have always held that if, by giving that consent, we let a resolution go through the Security Council, we are then bound to observe it.
I stress this point, because some hon. Members did not seem quite clear on the distinction between a resolution of the Security Council and a resolution of the General Assembly. We are not, either in law or in honour, bound by resolutions of the General Assembly to carry them out. We are, I suppose, bound to consider them sympathetically, to see whether there is anything that we can do to meet them, but we are not bound by them in the way that we are bound by resolutions of the Security Council.
That applies to peaceful trade with everyone, except in case of war, rebellion or resolutions of the Security Council to the contrary, as with Rhodesian sanctions.
Concerning trade in arms, it is at once clear that a large number of political considerations must be brought in and that each transaction has to be looked at in the light of all the surrounding circumstances. Sometimes there will be a factor that decides the case straight away. That is the case with South Africa where, again, there is a clear Security Council resolution to which this country agreed under the previous Conservative Administration. We therefore propose to carry it out. Although it was mentioned in the debate, this cannot really be urged as an example of inconsistency by the Government. At one point in the debate—
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Perhaps I may correct the right hon. Gentleman about the resolution on arms to South 309 Africa. We reserved the right to export arms despite that resolution of the Security Council.
§ Mr. Stewart
In the debate that we had about this matter some years ago I explained that this was a completely nonsensical reservation. We said, in effect, "We will not use our plain right to veto the resolution, but we tell you that we will not carry it out." That is not the way to conduct business. If we did not mean to carry it out, we should have vetoed it—unpleasant as that can be.
I was about to say that one voice opposite was raised almost to suggest that we were wrong not to supply arms to Spain. If anyone is really suggesting that we should supply arms to Spain at this juncture, I hope that we shall have an opportunity to debate that matter at greater length, because many hon. Members will have things to say about it.
Concerning Nigeria, we must take into account that when she became independent we gave her clearly to understand that we were one, and only one, of her suppliers. To go back on that undertaking subsequently, when she was faced with a rebellion, would be the same as saying that we thought the rebellion was right—and that we did not think.
In many cases, and in the Middle East particularly, it is not quite as simple as that. In the cases that I have just mentioned, it seemed to me that there was a plain, deciding factor that made it very easy to make up our mind. It is not so easy in the Middle East.
Much of the debate has been concerned with what our policy ought to be towards arms supplies generally to the Middle East.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
May I ask my right hon. Friend to clarify the Government's policy on the supply of arms to Greece?
§ Mr. Stewart
It does not seem that we have one of those absolutely clear factors here, as with South Africa. There is no Security Council resolution on Greece. My hon. Friend will be aware that we must take into account that Greece is allied to us in N.A.T.O. But, since the coming to power of the present régime in Greece, there have been no substantial supplies of arms to that Government.
310 In embarking on an account of what I believe are the right principles governing the Middle East, I must make one point clear straight away. I cannot undertake to disclose issues determining whether or at what time we should agree to make supplies of arms to particular countries. I am not saying that merely to make things easier for the Government, but for a reason which I developed earlier.
I believe that if, on any occasion when we made a supply of arms to a particular country in the Middle East, the full details were disclosed, this would not have a quietening effect on Middle Eastern politics. The strains and the pressures in every direction would be greatly increased. I thought that I ought to say that at the outset in talking about our arms policy in the Middle East.
We would certainly like to see either an all-round complete stoppage or at least an all-round limitation on arms supplies—indeed, this subject came up between Mr. Gromyko and myself a year ago—which could stem from a more general agreement about the Middle East. Failing that, we recognise that every country in the Middle East has a right to defend itself. Therefore, we do not impose against any country a general embargo or refusal at any time to supply it with arms.
We further recognise that perhaps the greatest danger would be to leave any country in the Middle East so disadvantaged as to tempt an aggressor.
I listened very carefully to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) said about arms limitation. Obviously, the world would be a better place if the level of armaments was much lower all round. But wars do not necessarily break out because both sides are fairly heavily armed. They are most likely to break out if one side is convinced that it has a substantial advantage and a real chance of victory.
That, above all, in the Middle East at this juncture, is what we must avoid. This is why it would not be right for us, failing all round international agreement on arms limitation, to say that we would set the example. If we completely stopped arms supplies and nobody else did anything, it would be much more likely to result in an unbalanced situation in 311 which one side would be tempted to attack.
Bearing these principles in mind, particularly the one that I mentioned last—the importance of not leaving any country so disadvantaged that it would be a standing temptation to an aggressor—we have in the past provided military supplies to Israel, including tanks. Decisions that have yet to be made will be made in accordance with the principles that I have just enunciated. I hope that the House will agree that that is the right way to approach the matter.
The right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) took up a rather different aspect of this matter. He feared that by a general handling of the sale of arms we were running down our own stocks, that we were putting our own defence in danger and weakening our influence in the world. The evidence the right hon. Gentleman supplied for that was not very convincing. He suggested that we were bringing to an end the tank training school in Libya. If he really means the tank training school in Libya, I must tell him that there has not been one for a great many years.
If the right hon. Gentleman means—and I accept that perhaps he did not choose the right words—the tank stockpile which is used for training exercises by the British Army, and the holding of tanks regularly used by units from the B.A.O.R. on training exercises, I must tell him that that is not only there, but is to remain there, and that there is no question of altering those arrangements.
The right hon. Gentleman also suggested that there might have been no Chieftain tanks used for manoeuvres last year at brigade level in the B.A.O.R. I am glad to say that the right hon. Gentleman is wrong about that, also. The right hon. Gentleman's speech showed that gift for violent language and unspeakable inaccuracy which has appeared in the Nigerian debates in which he has taken part. I cannot accept that.
The suggestion by another hon. Gentleman that it was a practice of ours to ask one group of countries in the Middle East almost for permission before making supplies to another has no foundation.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
Will the right hon. Gentleman say why the Israeli Govern- 312 ment were at one stage encouraged to buy Chieftain tanks—in fact, they had two on loan from this country for trials—and then the Government reversed their decision?
§ Mr. Stewart
It is at this point that we reach the territory which I made clear to the House I could not answer. I am not going to state in detail decisions which have yet to be made, but I think that I can clear up part of the hon. Gentleman's anxiety by making it clear that there have not been discussions with the Israelis which could be construed as a "go-ahead" for the construction of facilities in Israel. That suggestion was made during the debate, and it is incorrect.
I cannot undertake to go into the details and particulars of what supplies we may be able to make, or think it right to make, to any country in the Middle East. I can only do what I have done, namely, make clear to the House the principles which will guide our policy, and they are principles which I believe the House will accept.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us why these tanks were sent to Israel, for what purpose?
§ Mr. Stewart
No. I am sorry, but I must ask the House not to press me further on this matter. I have made it quite clear that it is not our intention to see any country in the Middle East at such a disadvantage as to tempt an aggressor.
Beyond this question there lie the hopes of all of us for a real settlement of the Middle Eastern question, and I by no means underrate the enormous difficulties of getting such a settlement. I hope that the House will also agree that the Government's approach to this matter has been right. I do not think anyone questions that the Government were right in the first place to sponsor the Security Council resolution which has been the basis of discussion ever since, and which is, at least in principle, accepted by all the parties to the dispute.
I thought that at one point my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton was not quite fair to the resolution, when he spoke as though it would require withdrawal by Israel without any firm guarantee of peace. It 313 would not. The resolution speaks not only of withdrawal, but of secure and recognised boundaries, and a just and lasting peace, and it has been part of the British Government's position all along that it is the whole resolution which has to be carried through, and not the particular parts which one side or the other might favour.
§ Mr. Paget
I am sorry if I was misunderstood on that. Of course, I agree with that, but it resides in an atmosphere in which the Arabs say quite emphatically, "We will not even consider peace. We will not meet. We will not negotiate. We will not recognise Israel". Therefore, to say that there is an acceptance somewhere of this resolution seems to be unrealistic.
§ Mr. Stewart
My hon. and learned Friend talked about United Nations circles, with the implication that they were unrealistic, and I felt that I must correct that.
After the passing of the resolution we felt that we must support the work of Dr. Jarring in trying to get the resolution turned from a set of principles on paper into a workable programme for action. I am sure that we were right to encourage Dr. Jarring in that work. To me, and to many, it was a great disappointment that, through no fault of his own, he proceeded so slowly. What decided us to support the idea of four-Power talks was that we felt that without this fresh impetus there was little chance of Dr. Jarring by himself being able to perform the task which the United Nations had imposed on him.
I know the anxieties about the four-Power talks. They have been expressed 314 in the House, and by the Israeli Government. I therefore make it quite clear that in those talks we should not agree to anything which jeopardised Israel's security. We are not prepared to accept the whole case that is advanced by partisans on either side. In this debate I have heard a great many things said by partisans on one side or the other which I could not accept. We should never agree to any settlement—and we should not be the only ones who would refuse to agree—which jeopardised Israel's security, any more than we would agree to any settlement which encouraged aggression by either side.
Surely we are right to proceed in that manner. I cannot give prophesy what the chances of success are. It will be a frightful lost opportunity in the world if a settlement is not reached, because my belief is that any really well-informed and well-intentioned person could easily draft a settlement which all parties would know in their hearts was better than a continuation of the present situation. Whether reason will prevail over emotion and passion enough to get that recognised, I do not know, but we must go on trying. If we can get such a settlement, I believe that an agreed policy about arms might well follow from it, and over that we should rejoice.
In the meantime, I believe that the Government are right to carry out their undertaking to the Libyan Government and to proceed on the lines of the general principles which I have described to the House.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.