HC Deb 20 February 1985 vol 73 cc1024-6
9. Mr. Tom Clarke

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he intends to hold discussions with European Economic Community partners on arms supplies to the middle east.

Mr. Luce

My right hon. and learned Friend has no plans to do so. It is for each member Government of the Community to decide on their own policy on arms supplies to other countries.

Mr. Clarke

Does the Minister accept that there are double standards on the part of certain European countries, as well as on the part of the United States, which are self-defeating? Does not the arms race in respect of the middle east worry him, and is not the imbalance, which has been deliberately created by the United States, causing difficulties for moderate Arab countries, which have been driven into the hands of the Soviet Union despite the fact that the United States says that that is not its intention?

Mr. Luce

I agree with the hon. Gentleman in the sense that everything must be done to strengthen the prospects of peace and stability in the middle east, and particularly at this time in respect of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Lebanon. All efforts must be seen in that light and the sale of arms—the subject that the hon. Gentleman has raised —must be judged against the background of whether it is likely to exacerbate the possibility of conflict. We have criteria in that connection.

Mr. Latham

If the Government agreed with the EEC arms embargo against Israel as a result of the Lebanon war will my hon. Friend confirm that when the Israelis withdraw finally from Lebanon there will be no possible basis for continuing such an arms embargo?

Mr. Luce

I should tell my hon. Friend that it was, of course, a British Government decision in the summer of 1982 to impose an arms embargo on Israel arising from its invasion of the Lebanon. Following a European Council meeting at the end of June that year the Belgian Prime Minister, who was President, stated that no member of the Community was supplying arms to Israel. We are watching with great interest—indeed, we welcome—the withdrawal of Israel from the Lebanon. The question of arms sales can be reviewed as withdrawal is completed.

Mr. Cartwright

Is not the Minister concerned about the continued supply of sophisticated arms to Israel by the United States, particularly when those weapons have so often been used not for self-defence but for offensive strikes against neighbouring states?

Mr. Luce

As I said earlier, our criterion is to judge each case on its merits and on whether the sale of arms is likely to exacerbate the possibility of conflict in that part of the world. However, each country obviously has a right to self-defence.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

Is it not high time that the European Community had a co-ordinated policy towards selling arms to the middle east? If the United States is unable to meet the shopping list recently supplied by Saudi Arabia, is that not a jolly good opening for the British arms industry and the prospects for employment in this country?

Mr. Luce

It is certainly the case that we have good relations with many Arab countries as well as with Israel. We hope that it will be possible to sell certain equipment to them. As to the European Community, there is no provision under the treaty for common policies on arms sales. Nevertheless, we exchange views with it on arms sales policy from time to time.

Mr. Mikardo

Is it not a fact that the arms with which Christians and Muslims in Lebanon are killing each other on a large scale all come from Europe, including the Soviet Union and Great Britain?

Mr. Luce

I cannot put my finger on the source of every firearm that is being used in the Lebanon. All I can say is that it is very much in the British Government's interest to see the sovereignty of the Lebanese Government displayed throughout the Lebanon. That means that we want to see all foreign troops withdraw from the Lebanon to give that country a chance to survive on its own.

Mr. Wilkinson

Will my hon. Friend examine the possibility of concerting European policy in this matter within the Council of the Western European Union? Will he further, as a priority, make sure that the needs of Kuwait and Jordan, which are in a particularly vulnerable position, are met from European sources?

Mr. Luce

I shall give thought to my hon Friend's suggestion about the WEU. As I said, within the European Community we exchange views from time to time on the question of arms sales.

Mr. Healey

Does the Minister agree that nothing would do more to improve the prospects for peace and prosperity throughout the middle east than a sharp reduction in the expenditure of all those countries on foreign arms? This matter concerns not only the European Community but countries in the Communist bloc and, above all, the United States. What representations has the Minister made to the American Government to ensure that this matter is discussed in the current talks on the middle east between the United States and the Soviet Union?

Mr. Luce

During the course of today and tomorrow my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be having discussions with the American President and Mr. Shultz, and the middle east will be a major topic of conversation. In the view of the British Government—and, I believe, of the United States—the highest prioirty must be given to working for an end to the Arab-Israeli dispute and the Iran-Iraq war, on both of which we follow policies which give priority to achieving an end to the conflicts rather than to exacerbating them.

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