§ 2.47 p.m.
§ LORD SHINWELL
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ he Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majestys Government when it is intended that spare parts and other items relating to Centurion tanks purchased by the State of Israel will be delivered.
My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are keeping their policy under constant study. I cannot predict in present circumstances when the supply of equipment to Israel and the Arab states will be resumed.
§ LORD SHINWELL
My Lords, are we to understand, through the Answer the noble Earl has just furnished to the House, that the Government will not fulfil their contractual obligations to Israel in the supply of spare parts for which the requisite finance has been received by Her Majesty's Government until peace is declared; and after peace is declared, what do Her Majesty's Government propose to do with these spare parts? If they are not delivered to Israel when peace is declared, then will the Government pay the State of Israel proper compensation?
My Lords, when hostilities broke out on October 6, Her Majesty's Government, as the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, knows, called for a ceasefire. It would have been inconsistent to do that, and to supply arms to either one 897 or the other of the parties involved. What Her Majesty's Government therefore did was to place an embargo. When this is lifted will depend entirely on the circumstances which then exist.
§ LORD SHINWELL
My Lords, why is it so difficult for the noble Earl to answer a simple question in a simple way? What I and many other people want to know is, what do Her Majesty's Government propose to do about these spare parts? When are they likely to be delivered? Will they be delivered before peace is declared, or will they be delivered after peace is declared? If they are no longer of use to Israel after peace is declared, which might be the case, will Her Majesty's Government provide the requisite compensation? This is a simple question, deserving of a simple answer.
My Lords, I should be delighted to answer a simple question, but I find the noble Lord's question not only difficult, but also hypothetical. In fact, the embargo has been put on while the present state of affairs exists. I cannot tell the noble Lord what the state of affairs will be in the future. The lifting of the embargo must clearly depend on the outcome of the state of affairs in that part of the world.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that while he may find my noble friend's question obscure, the meaning is perfectly apparent? Is he also aware that his own reply is an unquestionable evasion? Can he tell us, since the embargo was linked to a ceasefire, as he said, and there is now, as I understand it, a ceasefire, why the embargo cannot be lifted?
My Lords, my reply was not intended to be evasive. I can only tell the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that the releasing of the embargo must depend on the state of affairs existing in the Middle East, and at the moment Her Majesty's Government do not think it would be appropriate to release the embargo.
My Lords, would the noble Earl say why we are still supplying arms to other countries which participated in the fighting? What do we propose to do about that? I am talking about people who actually took part in 898 the fighting and sent troops, and who probably used our arms when they were fighting the Israelis. If the noble Earl is talking about a general embargo will he say why that is continuing? Will he also say why, now that there is a ceasefire, in the event of a further attack upon Israel, rather as a previous attack was made a few weeks ago, she should be prevented from defending herself by reason of having Centurions which are of not the slightest use to her unless the ammunition and spare parts are provided?
My Lords, I fully accept the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Janner. He knows full well that the embargo applied to countries which were in the battlefield area. Her Majesty's Government have been consistent in wishing for an immediate end to the hostilities and to an increasing amount of tranquillity in that area. Her Majesty's Government do not feel that the release of this embargo would contribute at this juncture to peaceful feelings in the Middle East.
§ BARONESS BACON
My Lords, would the noble Earl not agree that these Centurian tanks are hardly toys? And if the use of these tanks is either to wage war or for the defence of a country in time of war, how can the Government justify supplying the tanks and then not supplying the parts for them?
My Lords, I would go along with the noble Baroness entirely in saying that Centurian tanks are not toys. But any Government in any country has the right to purchase its defence equipment where it wishes. If at the time we in this country are able to meet some of those demands, so be it. But the noble Baroness will know very well that at a time when there is an outbreak of hostilities in the Middle East, and when Her Majesty's Government want to see these hostilities end it would be inconsistent for them to supply either one side or both sides with the equipment.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, would the noble Earl confirm that the Soviet Union are to-day flying large quantities of arms, ammunition and equipment into Cairo? What representations have Her Majesty's Government made to the Government of the Soviet Union in this respect?
My Lords, the Question refers to Centurion tanks and the embargo upon them and I really think that Lord Shepherd's question is very wide of that.
§ LORD BARNBY
My Lords, as this matter concerns merchandise already paid for, would the Minister say why we, as a great trading nation, conventionally regarded for our punctilious respect in trading practices, should withhold merchandise paid for, when the war has actually ceased? Secondly, is it to be understood—if Press reports are right, that Russia is also supplying merchandise—that we have taken steps to instruct our representative at the United Nations to take appropriate action?
My Lords, of course this country is concerned with fulfilling its contract. It is also concerned in trying to avoid conflicts in various parts of the world. I would only tell my noble friend that a standard condition of the issue of an export licence is that it may be revoked at any time. The licence is so endorsed.
§ LORD SHINWELL
My Lords, can the noble Earl say whether the decision by his right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary to withhold these spare parts was because of his desire, and the desire of Her Majesty's Government, to display friendliness to the Arab countries? And if so, can he say when these friendly relations are going to be reciprocated—for example, in the matter of oil supplies?
My Lords, the sole purpose of this embargo, as I have explained, was in order to defuse a potentially dangerous situation. Her Majesty's Government have always been of the view that all possible effort should be put towards procure peace in the Middle East. They did not see that they could possibly call for a ceasefire and at the same time continue to supply arms to both sides.
My Lords, would the noble Earl please answer the question that I put to him earlier? When he says that the others who are at present being supplied with arms were not fighting in the area, what does he mean? Are they not still in the area? Why are we supplying arms to those countries which have refused to accept the ceasefire? 900 Is this not a case of giving way to the vicious form of blackmail that is being used against the countries of the world by the Arab people, to which we unfortunately are succumbing?
My Lords, I do not think we are succumbing here. The embargo was on those countries in the battlefield area. One has to take cognisance of the fact of where the battlefield is situated.
§ LORD SEGAL
My Lords, can the noble Earl say why the existence of a ceasefire does not provide the Government with an excellent opportunity to follow an honourable course?
My Lords, because, although there may be a ceasefire, our desire is that there should be a peace treaty, and we do not believe that a lifting of the embargo would help towards that end.
§ LORD SEGAL
My Lords, apparently it takes at least a year to negotiate a peace treaty. Does that imply that the State of Israel will have to wait at least a year before it is able to receive these spare parts?
§ LORD BROCKWAY
My Lords, as one who differed from some of my colleagues on this question and who supported the embargo of arms to both sides, may I ask the Minister whether he will reconsider the military support which is being given to some of the Governments opposed to Israel on this issue, not only in the supply of arms, but in military training in this country, and follow, in principle, a policy that no military support should be given to either side?
My Lords, of course we are concerned with the point to which the noble Lord, Lord Brcckway, refers. When he relates it specifically to training, I think what he has in mind is the training of helicopter pilots. As I am sure the noble Lord knows full well, if we were to stop training these people, as they are fully qualified pilots they would merely go straight back to the battlefield.
§ LORD MAYBRAY-KING
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that those of us who have friends in Egypt and Israel and who admire both countries and want an understanding in the Middle East which will protect the security of Israel and will restore to Egypt the pride that she lost by the defeat in the previous war, would welcome everything that the Government do to bring understanding to the Middle East? —because if we do not get that it means the end of Israel or the end of Egypt.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, for what he has said. It is because we are so concerned to try to procure peace in the Middle East, which one realises is a matter full of the most complicated and difficult contrary thoughts, that we have tried to adopt the principle which we have, which is not to supply arms at this juncture to either side.
§ LORD PEDDIE
My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether or not the original contract for the supply of these tanks contained any reference to the supply of supporting spares?
My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lord the full details of the contract, but I can say that in order to supply such a contract it is necessary to get an export licence, one of the conditions of which is that it may be revoked at any time.
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, is not the true answer that a period of six months is involved, which is the period for which any ordinary citizen has to wait for spares from the British motor industry?
§ LORD PARGITER
My Lords, in order that we may fully understand the effects of the embargo, would the Government publish the figures relating to the effects of the embargo of supplies to Israel in terms of military goods and in terms also of goods not also supplied to Arab countries—both those which support the belligerents and those which do not?
My Lords, at a time when we are trying to promote calm in that area, I do not think the proposition put by the noble Lord would really contribute very much.
§ LORD PEDDIE
My Lords, I am sorry to have to revert to the question I asked a moment or two ago. I asked whether the original contract contained a clause with regard to the future supply of spares.
My Lords, I told the noble Lord, Lord Peddie, that I could not give him details of what the original contract included, but I insinuated that if in fact it had contained a clause for the supply of spare parts this would need a licence which would have to be, and has been, revoked.