§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to raise the question of the export of arms—in particular, Centurion tanks and jet aeroplanes—to Egypt. This is a point which seems to me to be both urgent and important. Indeed, at Question Time today I thought that the Opposition also considered it to be urgent and important. Their opinion as to its urgency seems to have since evaporated. Indeed, so little urgent do they consider it that their Member, the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Donner), who had this Adjournment and had the opportunity to raise this question in my place, did not, apparently, consider it worth while to do so.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
Perhaps the hon. and learned Member will allow me to make an explanation. I am given to understand—and I make the statement on my own authority because I have not seen the hon. Member—that the sole reason why he did not raise the question is because many of us have been pressing for some time for a full two days' debate on foreign affairs, in which the whole question of our relations with Egypt would be brought up. I am sure that the hon. and learned Member does not wish to be unfair and will accept from me that I believe these to be the true facts of the situation.
§ Mr. Paget
I am grateful to the noble Lord, but I put these questions to the Opposition: if a matter is urgent, should it be dealt with now, or next week, or the week after? Was their view at Question Time, when they wanted to move the Adjournment of the House, that it was a matter of urgency which should be dealt with today, or that it was a matter which could be left to a two-day debate next week or the week after? If it is their real wish to stop these tanks going to Egypt, do they believe that they will achieve that by raising the matter before the tanks are exported, or afterwards?
§ Mr. A. R. W. Low (Blackpool, North)
Have not the Ministry of Defence given an assurance to the House that these tanks will not be exported until this matter has been fully debated?
§ Mr. Paget
Not today. Do the Opposition really care in the least whether these tanks are exported, or is what they are really interested in the opportunity to get a vote which might bring down the Government? Is not the real reason that they are not interested in the security of their country, but are interested in the advantage of their party, and that when they are put to the test, this is what we get? I am interested in preventing these tanks going to Egypt, and I want to raise this matter now. It seems to me to raise two questions. First, can we afford to part with equipment which is urgently needed for our own defence? Second, can we afford to let war material of the most modern and powerful description pass into the hands of a potential aggressor?
Israel is a country which has been recognised by His Majesty's Government. It is a country which is a member of the United Nations. It is a country which the Egyptian Government have been quite openly and flagrantly threatening. They have refused to make a peace or to bring the present suspended armistice arrangement to an end. What is the position if these tanks and these jet aircraft are turned on to Israel? If Israel is the victim of aggression, are we to resist aggression in Israel as we did in Korea? I should like an answer to this. Do we resist aggression when members of the United Nations are attacked, or do we not?
If this aggression occurs and is directed to Israel and we intervene, are our troops to meet these tanks which we are sending to Egypt, and are our Air Force men to be shot down by the aircraft we are supplying to them? Is it safe to supply the Egyptians with these weapons? Is it safe for our men? Egypt was one of the countries which opposed in the United Nations the application of force against an aggressor in Korea. She was one of the very few countries who supported the Communist bloc—and she gave the reason. Palestine was that reason. Was this because she anticipated that she might be in that aggressor position? Is it not possible that we also might have to meet her as an aggressor and to meet these arms which we are supplying?
Apart from this general question which comes within the United Nations organisation, how has the matter been affected by the speech which was made at the opening of Parliament—the official speech of his Government—by King Farouk of 426 Egypt? I am quoting from "The Times," and this is what he said:My Government considers that the 1936 Treaty has lost its validity as a basis for Anglo-Egyptian relations, and it deems it inevitable that it should be abrogated. It is also necessary that future relations should be founded upon new principles which you should approve—immediate and complete evacuation and the unification of the Nile Valley under the Egyptian Crown.King Farouk went on later to say:Foremost among the measures to be taken will be the proclamation of the termination of the 1936 treaty in view of its incompatibility with the United Nations Charter and the fact of the change in the circumstances upon which it was concluded, with the further proclamation of the abrogation of the two agreements concluded on 16th January and 10th July, 1899, establishing a dual Government in Sudan.That is the statement which he made.
What is to be the position if the full measures to which the Government of King Farouk are pledged are directed against our troops in the Canal Zone? What is the position if, for instance, the fresh-water canal is cut? What action are we going to take in view of that flagrant abrogation of treaties, in view of these threats? Is it wise or safe to supply the Egyptians with these our latest arms?
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)
The hon. and learned Member has asked a considerable number of questions, not all of which are rhetorical questions, and he has said that he wants answers upon them. Has he arranged for a Cabinet Minister, or even a Departmental Minister, to be present to give him those answers? If not, it might possibly throw some light on his first question why one of the Members of this side of the House had not raised this same question.
§ Mr. Paget
If the hon. Member uses his eyes he will see that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is in his place tonight. This is a Foreign Office question, and it is usual for the Under-Secretary to deal with Adjournment questions. I do not want to be diverted upon this matter, because I am dealing with a rather serious topic.
I have raised two questions. One is whether we should part with arms necessary for our own defence; and secondly, whether we should part with them to people who may endanger ourselves. Fairly recently the Government made a pronouncement upon these questions. It was raised in this House on 18th September last when this Resolution was passed.
427That this House approves the policy of His Majesty's Government in stopping, in all appropriate cases, the export of equipment and materials likely to be required for the defence programme of this country, of the rest of the Commonwealth, and of North Atlantic Treaty powers. ….I would ask the Minister three questions on that. Is that still the policy of His Majesty's Government? Are Centurion tanks and jet fighters equipment and materials likely to be required for the defence of this country? Thirdly, are we proposing to export them?
Hon. Members will remember that the debate turned upon the export of some machine tools, and the question was raised whether retaining those machine tools would involve a breach of a treaty with Poland. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade said:The events of this summer have naturally caused the Government to review our control policy, to make sure that we do not export equipment required for our own defence programme or the programmes of our associates in the North Atlantic Treaty organisation and, of course, in the Commonwealth. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Minister of State for Economic Affairs have both made it clear that in all appropriate cases we shall not hesitate to take over equipment needed by ourselves or by our allies.Is this an appropirate case?I should inform the House that I am advised by my right hon. and learned Friends that we already have all the necessary powers for this purpose.Have we the necessary powers?There is a considerable volume of capital equipment on order, not only for Eastern European countries but also for other countries outside the Commonwealth and the North Atlantic Treaty organisation. …He said later:We shall not hesitate to requisition any that we need.Do we need Centurion tanks? I understood that we did.
Further in his speech my right hon. Friend discussed the question whether the cancellation of the particular machine tools referred to involves a breach of our treaty obligations with Poland, and this is what he said:In that agreement we undertook not to prohibit the export to Poland of capital equipment ordered on or before the date of signature of the agreement, namely, 14th January, 1949. A considerable proportion of the Polish orders were, in fact, placed before that agreement was signed.428 He added later that he referred in particular to these machine tools. There was our agreement with Poland not to prohibit the export of these machine tools.
Later on he said:I am sure the House will agree that certainly we ought not in present circumstances to be denied the use of such necessary equipment for our own defence programmes.I entirely agree. My right hon. Friend said further on:This process of exhaustive examination of the possible requirements of each machine tool by our partners in the Commonwealth and in the North Atlantic Treaty organisation will necessarily take some considerable time, and during that period it is intended that the goods concerned shall not be exported. In other words, each machine tool will he held back in order to see whether we require it for our own purpose.Is it too much to ask the Government that arms for Egypt shall be held back until the Ministry of Defence are consulted as to whether they can do with those arms for their own purposes?
§ Mr. Paget
I am still quoting from my right hon. Friend's speech.The first thing will be to see whether any of our partners require the tools.My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) made what appears to me a pertinent interjection when he said:Are we to understand that we shall exercise a right to withhold delivery of articles of which we undertook by treaty not to withhold delivery? In other words, are the Government now committing themselves to the view that obligations under a treaty can be abrogated or repudiated if there is a substantial change in circumstances?The answer to that substantially was, "Yes." Any international lawyer would have told my hon. Friend that every treaty is regarded as being subject to the provisions and the circumstances remaining the same. Then my right hon. Friend says this:Since this trade agreement was signed, there have been considerable changes in the relations between our two countries, which are bound to affect our trade relations as well as other matters, and, in particular, the shipment of goods which we may require for our own defence purposes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th September, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 1561–1577.]Have there been changes in our relations with Egypt as a result of the unilateral abrogation of our treaty with 429 them? Does that make an alteration in our circumstances? So far as Poland was concerned, the only alteration in our circumstances was the fact that the Korean war had raised the necessity for us to build up our defences. That applies to Egypt as it applied to Poland. Every word that can be said with regard to Poland applies with even greater force to the present circumstances.
§ Mr. Crossman (Coventry, East)
My hon. and learned Friend talked about the unilateral abrogation of the treaty. Surely he will agree that the Egyptians have not done that; they have only said that it is their intention to abrogate the treaty?
§ Mr. Paget
I think my hon. Friend may be right, but I can give him the King's actual words:My Government considers that the 1936 treaty has lost its validity as a basis for Anglo-Egyptian relations, and it deems it inevitable that it should be abrogated.Later he says:Foremost among the measures to be taken will be the proclamation of the termination of the 1936 treaty. …That may be a question of intention, but surely, coupled with the changing circumstances which justify our action in the Polish case, it amounts to a formidable change of circumstances in this case.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Is there not also this point, that whereas a change of circumstances in the Polish case was a change of circumstances which nobody ever said Poland was responsible for, in this case the change of circumstances is a change of circumstances deliberately brought about by Egypt herself?
§ Mr. Paget
That is an additional factor, but what I am saying is that everything that applied in the Polish case applies with more force in this case. We are not dealing merely with machine tools which might eventually make weapons; we are dealing with the most modern of weapons already made. We are not dealing only with our own defences resulting from the Korean action; we are dealing with new circumstances created by the action of the Egyptians themselves. All those circumstances make this a much stronger case. That is why I ask my hon. Friend if the Government's policy is still as it was on 18th September, and if it will be implemented 430 and these vital weapons kept back in this country.
The only declaration of policy which we have on this subject recently is the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on Monday last, when in answer to a supplementary question he said:I see that a number of Questions are down tomorrow to the Minister of Defence, and I will leave the answer to him. We entered into a contract for the tanks, and the Egyptians paid for them. I do not like breaking contracts too easily, and we decided to supply those that have been paid for."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1950; Vol. 481, c. 39.]That is a very vague statement, and as it is only a supplementary it cannot be taken as a pronouncement of Government policy. The Government must reconsider this matter. In particular, what does my right hon. Friend mean by paying for them? As I understand it, these weapons are paid for out of their sterling balances. In other words, they have been paid for by what I have always regarded as a quite bogus indebtedness, whereby we pay the Egyptians for saving their necks for five years during the war. Perhaps the Under-Secretary can tell us if that is right.
These are matters upon which I feel very profoundly. I feel that the safety of our country is involved. Let me make this perfectly plain—I think my hon. Friend knows me well enough to appreciate that if there is a question in which I feel the safety of my country is involved, in the matter of casting my vote I should not be affected by any party considerations whatever. I am not alone in feeling that way. I know full well that if this is brought to a vote, it will be brought to a vote by a singularly contemptible party manœuvre, which we have seen exposed today.
Let us see what has happened in regard to this. Never can a question of urgency have been expressed with greater force than was done by the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) at Question time this afternoon. I informed both of them that I was raising this matter tonight. Neither of them thinks it worth while to be here when this vital urgent question is raised in Parliament, even by somebody of as little consequence as myself. They pressed that this matter should be raised 431 as one of urgency tonight. They were interested in that urgency when they thought they could get a vote. They were not in the least interested in it when it was only a question of stopping tanks going to Egypt.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok) rose—
§ Mr. Paget
It is, once more, a perfectly plain instance of the attitude of the party which, between the wars and now again, prefer their party interest to the safety of the country. I sometimes regret the habit of understatement that inhibits my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health when he speaks of the party opposite. None the less, however contemptible may be the circumstances in which this question may be raised in the future, however insincere may be the people who propose that question, if the question arises whether at this time, Centurion tanks and jets leave this country for Egypt, I shall be bound to vote that they remain here.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
The House has just listened to what I am sure all hon. Members will agree was a remarkable speech, well informed as to the facts and inspired by deep sincerity of purpose. For that very reason I regret that the hon. and learned Member mixed it up with some very cheap party stuff. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Either this question is one in which the safety of our country is involved, or it is not.
§ Mr. Nicholson
Perhaps I may continue my speech. Either this is a question in which the safety of our country is involved or not. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) believes at the bottom of his heart that it is, and is prepared to back it by his vote. Why should he assume that he and a few of his friends feel more deeply about the safety of their country than we do? Is it not reasonable to assume that there are people on our side of the House who feel just as strongly and act from just as sincere a motive? I say to him that he has ruined a great deal of the effect of his speech by cheap party sneers.
§ Mr. Paget
If the hon. Member will permit me to interrupt, may I say of course I recognise that there are people in the party opposite who care profoundly for their country, but the party organisation today, instead of coming now when they can get this decision altered—[HON. MEMBERS: "What decision?"] The decision announced by the Foreign Secretary. They are interested in it only when they can get a vote on it.
§ Mr. Nicholson
The hon. and learned Gentleman betrays not only a profound ignorance of human nature but considerable ignorance of Parliamentary procedure. What decision of any government has ever been altered by a speech on the Adjournment? If the hon. and learned Gentleman is sincere, he is bound to admit that a vote, or the threat of a vote, is the only thing that alters the decision of a government. We are not going to vote on this Question—
§ Mr. Jennings (Sheffield, Hallam)
We will follow the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) into the Lobby against the Minister. Vote and get them out!
§ Mr. Nicholson
I think my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Jennings) is being hard on hon. Members opposite. They are trying, to the best of their ability and with some measure of success, to show moral courage, but in order to do that, while declaring their opposition to this policy of the Government, they feel bound at the same time to try to tell the Government that they are willing to wound but are afraid to strike, with the exception of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton. I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman seriously, does he think that a profoundly important alteration in Government policy will be announced tonight by the two hon. and charming Under-Secretaries sitting opposite?
§ Mr. Nicholson
Then does the hon. and learned Gentleman think that His Majesty's Government are in any doubt as to the attitude of the Opposition on this question? Is the absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford 433 (Mr. Churchill) likely to cast any doubt on his views on this question?
§ Sir Richard Acland (Gravesend) rose—
§ Mr. Nicholson
No, we have had enough. We have raised the issue. We have stated our position. We have stated our desire for a debate with a Division at the end of it. Then the hon. and learned Gentleman comes here and spoils—[Laughter.] Well, the hon. and learned Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He cannot in one sentence lay his hand on his heart and extol the purity of his motives and the height of his moral courage and, at the same time, deny any purity of motives or moral courage or good intentions to the other side of the House. Either this is a fair party wrangle or it is something above party because we believe our country is in danger. The hon. and learned Gentleman cannot have his head in the clouds and his feet in the slime at the same time, which is what he is trying to do.
I agree that this policy must be stopped. I do not say that as a party politician. Of course, we are all party politicians. Of course, we on this side of the House wish to defeat and turn out the Government, but is not this an occasion when we can rise above the cheapest form of party spirit and consider the matter from the point of view of the interests of our country?
I rose simply to repudiate utterly the strictures that the hon. and learned Member passed on my hon. and right hon. Friends. I assure him that they know more about Parliamentary procedure and about the way to get governments to alter policy than he does. We know that a vote in the Division Lobby is the only thing that does it. I do not question the sincerity of the hon. and learned Gentlemen when he said he would vote, but it does not make his vote any less offensive to his own Government by saying he will go into the Lobby with people he utterly detests and despises. We all have to do that when we vote against governments.
I remember when I voted against my own Government on 8th May, 1940, that I voted with Members of the party opposite who had spent the years before the war, up to the very minute of the outbreak of war, working against every 434 single proposal to rearm our country. I went into the Lobby with them and I did not like doing it. I helped to defeat the Government I was elected to support. I, for one, will welcome the hon. and learned Gentleman in the Lobby when it comes to a vote, but he is spoiling his case and not really salving his conscience when he interlards it with abuse of this side of the House
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
The hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) rather underestimates the effect of the conduct of the Opposition today. I do not think my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) would wish to cast any doubt upon the sincerity of hon. and right hon. Members opposite when they joined this afternoon in what was a common effort to persuade the Government to change their decision upon this matter. However, I do not think my hon. and learned Friend was going beyond the facts, or that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to feel super or hyper-sensitive about it if we say that it is quite clear from their manœeuvres that, in addition to their sincere desire to change the policy, they also wish to derive the maximum party advantage out of the difficulties of the Government. I do not blame them for that; it is their duty as the Opposition. What surprises me is that they should get so highly indignant when anybody accuses them of doing their duty to their constituents and to their policy.
§ Mr. Nicholson
The hon. Gentleman puts it very prettily, but he must recollect that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), accused us of the basest of motives. To do our duty to our constituents and to our policy is not the basest of motives. The hon. Gentleman is trying to mitigate the asperities in the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman but he cannot do it like that. The hon. and learned Member has accused us all of being the lowest form of insincere party manœuvrers. It is one thing or the other.
§ Mr. Silverman
I think that the hon. Member fails to see that he and his colleagues have laid themselves open to precisely that charge. They went to very considerable trouble this afternoon—and I confess at once that I thought they were 435 right—to persuade Mr. Speaker that this was a definite and urgent matter of public importance that must by all means be raised this evening. [HON. MEMBERS: "Immediately."] No, not immediately, because the procedure under Standing Orders did not provide for an immediate debate. But it did provide, if Mr. Speaker had seen fit to accept the Motion and if 40 hon. Members had stood in its support—and there would have been many times 40 hon. Members ready to do so—it did mean that all business would have been adjourned tonight at seven o'clock and we would have debated it. Does the hon. Member remember what his colleagues were doing at seven o'clock? I do. They were spinning out the Debate on Post Office telephones in order to prevent this Debate from coming on at all; and doing it by design. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] Oh, yes, by design. By arrangement. There is no secret about it. Some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House were in it too. There is no secret about it.
§ Commander Galbraith
May I say to the hon. Member that if he speaks of design, it must have been design on the part of the Government Whips. It certainly was not the design of the Opposition.
§ Mr. Silverman
So the right hon. and gallant Gentleman says. But perhaps he is not so well informed about the designs of hon. Members of this House as he thinks he is. It seemed to me as I sat in this House from about five o'clock until nearly eight that a great many people were speaking in the Post Office telephones Debate, not so much because they were interested in Post Office telephones, but because they were interested in preventing this debate from coming on.
Hon. Members are perfectly entitled to take that view, but if, at one time in the day, they are urging Mr. Speaker to deal with matters of such definite and urgent public importance as to justify the suspension of the Orders of the Day in order to deal with it there and then—or almost there and then—and then later on the same day are doing everything legitimately in their power to prevent the House of Commons from discussing that very matter today, then I think they are a little hypersensitive if they complain because other people may not understand 436 the purity of their motives or the sincerity of their actions. It really will not do.
§ Mr. Silverman
I will tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman at once what I am doing if he has any difficulty in following it. I know he is a man of outstanding intelligence and if he will make an effort for a minute or two I think he will be fully able to follow this argument without any difficulty. What I am saying to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite is that they must not be over sensitive—
§ Mr. Silverman
And I am going to say it until even the hon. Gentleman understands it—even if it takes a long time. I say this quite sincerely, that to request Mr. Speaker with all that urgency and heat to treat the matter as one of urgent public importance within the meaning of that Standing Order and then to explain as the noble Lord has done, that the reason why, when the opportunity of dealing with it tonight arose, they decided not to do it—and persuaded the hon. Member who would have had the right to do it not to give notice and not to do it—was because they wanted to raise the matter next week, or the week after, is to convict themselves of abusing the procedure of this House.
§ Mr. Nicholson
May I attempt to do a very difficult thing? May I attempt to get a simple idea into the head of the hon. Gentleman? It is that we want a vote on this because we believe that to be the only way to change the policy of the Government; and we want answers from Cabinet Ministers. If the hon. Gentleman will take a deep breath, perhaps he will grasp both those ideas.
§ Mr. Silverman
And if the hon. Gentleman will save his breath, he will see that his intervention was quite unnecessary. He himself referred to a very great and, if I may so describe it, an historic Parliamentary occasion when the Government was not defeated in the Lobbies because it won on the Division, but was morally defeated and had to resign. He has said he voted against the Government, and I remember that he did and one honours him for that act. He voted against his Government while taking part in a great Parliamentary trial. But that was on just such on occasion as this. It 437 was an ordinary Adjournment Debate such as we are now having. It was not a special one—[HON. MEMBERS: "It was."] It was not; hon. Gentlemen must try to remember. There is no rule that we cannot divide tonight—
§ Mr. Nicholson
May I recall to the hon. Gentleman exactly what happened? Everybody knew that morning that the debate was to take place. It was treated as a Vote of Censure by the Government of the day and was bound to be followed by a vote. All the "big guns" of both sides were there. They are not here tonight.
§ Mr. Silverman
I think that the hon. Gentleman is being a little unfair to me and to the House. A few minutes ago he was saying that the reason why the Opposition did not take action tonight was because tonight they could not vote. Then I reminded him that the occasion on which they did vote and brought the Government down—not by their votes but by moral pressure and by the figures in the Division Lobby—was precisely such an occasion. If, by this time, he does not see that the reason which he gave for the Opposition not pressing their objection tonight has been demonstrated to be an unsound reason, he is really hopeless and It is quite impossible to argue the point with him any more. Everybody else in the House sees it.
There was nothing whatever to prevent the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Donner), giving his notice in, and the Debate, which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has raised, being raised on those benches, with all the support which the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition could give to it. And have hon. Members opposite any doubt at all that if the Leader of the Opposition was going to speak in tonight's Debate, the Foreign Secretary would not have been here to answer it? There is no difficulty about it at all.
The reason is not the reason which the hon. Member for Farnham gave, but that which the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) gave—that they wanted to save it up for another occasion. They wanted to put down a Motion, they wanted a Vote of Censure, they wanted to make the maximum party capital out of a matter which was entailing no party division of opinion at all. 438 That is what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton had in mind when he accused them. I think he made out his charge, and every time the hon. Member for Farnham tries to repudiate it he only confirms the charge and brings additional evidence to support it. There is no reason at all why the thing should not have been done in that way.
On the point itself, we do really believe, what It is quite clear the Leader of the Opposition did not believe, though he said so to Mr. Speaker, that this is an important question, that it is an urgent question, and that it ought to be debated tonight so that the Government shall know what the real feeling and, I think, the non-party feeling of the House is about it. I think it is a very good thing that we should be doing it tonight, and not next week or the week after.
§ Brigadier Medlicott
The hon. Member claims to be amongst the well-informed Members of the House. Surely, he must know that there is a very special reason why the Leaders on both sides are otherwise engaged tonight. It is impossible to deal with this point fairly without taking that into consideration.
§ Mr. Silverman
If that is so—and I do not think it would be right to go into any further detail about it—the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition knew all about it at 3.30. In view of what has been said, if Mr. Speaker had accepted the Motion, would they have then gone off somewhere else and said that was more urgent and of greater public importance? It[...] is quite possible it is; I am not arguing that. I only say that if one once says that this is a matter of such urgent and definite importance that it should be raised today, then, if it is raised, one has very little reason for then saying that it had better be raised next week or the week after.
We really think the Government should deal with this matter now. We are not asking them to make a profound change of policy. We are saying to them merely this. The Government of Egypt has declared that it is inevitable that the 1936 Treaty should be abrogated. I do not complain that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did not think it proper to blame the Egyptians, or to reproach the Egyptians for holding that view. I think that if we are starting difficult negotiations, a very unsuitable way is to 439 reproach and to indulge in mutual recriminations.
I think my right hon. Friend was right when he said that they are coming here to negotiate, that we welcome them here to negotiate, that we want to negotiate with them, and that we are not going to begin by getting very hot about the fact that they have declared they would like to abrogate this Treaty. All that is very proper and right, and we are not saying that that should be changed in any way. We are saying that these negotiations are very important to this country. We do not know, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary does not know, how the negotiations will end. We all hope they will end satisfactorily. They may not necessarily end in the prolongation of the present Treaty, or they may so end. They may end satisfactorily, or simply by negotiating a new treaty—who knows?—which will be satisfactory and acceptable to both Egypt and ourselves.
On the other hand, we cannot go into negotiations having plans only on the basis that the negotiations will succeed. Negotiations do not always succeed. Even these may fail. If they fail, what is to happen to our troops in the Canal zone? What is to become of our interests under the Treaty? What is to become of the whole complex strategic and political interests in pursuance of which this Treaty with Egypt was made in the first place?
In a supplementary question this afternoon I suggested that surely it is elementary prudence in such a situation not to place in, the hands of Egypt armaments, and very good armaments, necessary for ourselves and our other friends in the world until we can be quite certain that they will not some day be used against the very interests which we wish to protect under this Treaty or in some other way. All we are saying is this: suspend delivery of these things while the negotiations proceed—no more than that. It is very difficult indeed to see why there should be any objection to the suspension of delivery during negotiations. It is not even the repudiation of a contract. I am not saying that ultimately we may not have to repudiate. I do not know; it depends on the negotiations. But, as my hon. and learned Friend pointed out, we committed ourselves in an earlier case to the principle of repudiation if the over-riding considerations are right and important. 440 We may have to do that, but there is no need to do it today.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I think the hon. Member is using slightly different words. I think what my hon. and learned Friend read was where the Government said they were ready to requisition any goods which they themselves required, but I do not think the Government said they were necessarily going to repudiate contracts.
§ Mr. Silverman
I used the word "repudiate" in a supplementary question and I think my hon. and learned Friend quoted the whole case. I used the word, and the word "repudiation" was accepted by the President of the Board of Trade. I need not argue that point with my right hon. Friend, however; the effective point then was whether Poland got them or not. and the effective point now is whether Egypt gets them or not; and having decided that Poland should not get them at all, it cannot be inconsistent with the principle there established that Egypt should have to wait for them at any rate until the successful outcome of the negotiations we are proposing to hold.
I cannot follow at all the point that we intend to deliver these goods on the ground not merely that we are bound by contract to deliver them but that they have been paid for. My hon. and learned Friend dealt with part of that point and I should like to deal with the other part. It is suggested that they are paid for because we hold sterling balances of theirs accumulated during the war. We shall have to go on delivering jet aeroplanes and Centurion tanks for about 25 years if the accumulation of sterling balances is regarded as payment in advance.
I ask my hon. Friend to bear in mind that there is no party division on the question of whether these things should be delivered. I think the great majority of my hon. Friends hold the view that it would be very much better and very much wiser, and certainly very much more prudent, not to deliver them just yet—not to deliver them while the negotiations are proceeding; and while we may criticise right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite for making as much party capital out of this situation as is possible, it remains true that they also are of that opinion. I think it is quite clear 441 that the overwhelming view of hon. Members of the House of Commons, irrespective of party, is that the Government would be ill-advised in this situation to go on delivering these armaments, that there is time for them to have second thoughts and that we hope they will have second thoughts.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. A. R. W. Low (Blackpool, North)
I do not want to enter into the arguments about the policy of party machines to which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), has referred. I want to ask the Government one or two questions. Before I do so I think it is relevant that the House should be aware that, despite the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), this matter was first raised in Questions by hon. Members from this side of the House, one of whom was myself. The hon. and learned Member cannot claim that he and his hon. Friends are alone looking after the defence interests of the country. If that were so, why did he and his hon. Friends not put down the same type of Questions as that which I put down for reply today? There was plenty of time; the hon. and learned Gentleman had been aware of the facts for the last week as a result of newspaper publicity.
To my mind this matter raises very big issues and it is no good the House discussing it at large unless the leaders of the Government, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, are present on the Front Bench. I will not, therefore, go into the large issues. Personally I think the hon. and learned Member for Northampton put the case excellently and very precisely—indeed, more precisely than I have heard him sometimes put other cases. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne said he thought the Government had not made up their minds about this. It may be that that is so, but it has never occurred to me that the Foreign Secretary at least has not made up his mind about it.
I do not know whether the number of tanks involved has been made public, but it is not a very large number, and it seems quite clear to me that the Foreign Secretary has decided that the tanks which are now in some depot in this country, and which we have contracted to send to the Egyptians, are to go to them. That was 442 a statement in reply to a supplementary question by the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) on Monday, and it is well to remember just what that question was, because it does not seem to accord very well with what the hon. and learned Member for Northampton put to us earlier. The hon. Member for Aston asked:Would my right hon. Friend not agree that, pending a solution of this matter, it might be as well to stop the supply of arms, including Centurion tanks, to Egypt, which is proving an unreliable friend, and divert them to more reliable friends in the Middle East?That, of course, is not quite the point which the hon. and learned Gentleman was putting at the beginning of this Debate. His point was that we should keep them here because we needed them; and with that I most sincerely agree. The Foreign Secretary replied:I see that a number of Questions are down tomorrow to the Minister of Defence, and I will leave the answer to him.We have not, of course, ever had any answer.We entered into a contract for the tanks, and the Egyptians paid for them. I do not like breaking contracts too easily, and we decided to supply those that have been paid for."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1950; Vol. 481, c. 38–39.]Let me ask some questions for elucidation of that point. Have the tanks actually been paid for by transfer from one sterling balance account to another Egyptian account, or how? If they have been paid for, when were they paid for? Whose property in law are the tanks at the moment? I must not go into the legal jargon, but do they, besides being in possession of the British Government belong, in fact, to the British Government, because they have not passed yet to the buyer? Or has the property passed to the Egyptian Government?
§ Mr. Low
I know the point about requisitioning, but that does not concern my point. What were the terms of delivery in the contract? Is it not, in fact, the case that the contract to which the Foreign Secretary was referring must necessarily have covered an enormously larger number of tanks? Is it conceivable that the Egyptian Government have made a contract for such a small number of tanks—under 20? If the contract covered a larger number of tanks what is happening to the rest of them? The 443 Government claim the right to break the contract so far as the rest of the tanks are concerned; why cannot they break the contract relating to these tanks? Or have the rest of them already been delivered? Is it a fact that a large number of Centurion tanks have in past months already been sent to the Egyptian Government?
It seems to me that the House ought to be informed about these matters. It may be that it cannot be informed tonight, but the Under-Secretary of State ought to know the answer, and I think he ought to be able to give it to us.
§ Mr. Low
I am bound to say that I sympathise very largely with what the hon. Gentleman said, but I am dealing—and I think it is fair that I should—with the defence of the Government, and I think I am entitled to do so, because even though we may have larger points on which we think they are wrong, I think we can also say that on the narrow line of defence which they have put up, they are also wrong. It is on that point that I was speaking.
I started my speech by saying I thought this matter raised very large issues. As every hon. Gentleman in this House knows, I have in the back of my mind the defensive preparedness of this country as a whole, and the safety of our troops in the Suez Canal area. I do not want to enlarge on that because I do not think that this is the occasion to do so, and that is why I have been on the much narrower issue.
I close on this note. I do not believe we can buy the friendship of the Egyptian Government or make any alteration in the stand they are taking against us today, just by this ridiculous—and it seems ridiculous not only to us but must seem ridiculous to the whole world—obstinacy on the part of the Foreign Secretary.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Crossman (Coventry, East)
I should like to add my voice to the plea that has been made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northamp- 444 ton (Mr. Paget). Fundamentally this is a Debate only on this side of the House, because the other side of the House, as they have so amply told us, have reserved theirs for some "more important" occasion. I should like the Under-Secretary of State to realise that, from the point of view of the Government, what is said and thought tonight on this side of the House constitutes the important occasion. What we have to do tonight, we who have been concerned with the Middle East for five years is to plead with the Foreign Secretary to put behind him the memories of past vendettas, and to put behind him the tragedy which we are willing to forget if he is willing not to go on with it. That is the first thing I want to say.
I want to add one or two points to the argument of my hon. and learned Friend. He dealt with the legal aspect, and gave us an overwhelming case to prove that, by the precedent of the Polish Treaty. We are perfectly entitled in this case, too, without having to break the contract and within the interpretation of the Treaty, to withhold the delivery of these tanks to the Egyptians.
But I can see what the Foreign Secretary may reply. He may say, "Look, we are trying to negotiate a new treaty with the Egyptians, and unless we punctiliously observe on our side the provisions of the Treaty, how can we hope to induce treaty-mindedness in the Egyptians?" And to that we must reply by saying that we have had some experience in the last four years. I should like to quote one example to him. For two years the Egyptians, in gross defiance of international law, have closed the Suez Canal. For two years hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of this House have protested against the ignominy that British ships carrying oil are stopped and not permitted to go through the Suez Canal. I think it was nine months ago that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) put this point at the end of a debate to the Foreign Secretary, who then said that the Attorney-General was inquiring into the position in international law. The result of his inquiry has not yet been made public.
I think it is a most remarkable thing that we should be so long-suffering with the Egyptians on this issue. It is not a very good augury for the view that if only we are punctilious in the supply of Centurion tanks, we shall get them to be 445 punctilious on their side. On the contrary, there is every sign that five years of appeasement have had their inevitable result. The obvious anxiety at all costs to obtain a Treaty has increased every year the price of the Treaty. How often have we said, "Oh, we must placate you by giving you this; by promising you that, by not protesting against the violation of the Suez Canal Convention, by permitting you to attack your neighbours, by supplying the arms with which to do it"? Has it paid us? Has it induced in the Egyptians a receptive state of mind? On the contrary, after five years of cosseting, the Egyptians have denounced the Treaty altogether. Now they make it quite clear that in the Sudan, of vital interest to both us and the Sudanese, they are going to have everything or nothing.
Next we must ask ourselves for what purpose do the Egyptians want these arms. Do they want them to resist Communist aggression? They have made it quite clear that they do not. They were the only members of the Security Council who refused to vote for sanctions against Korea. A nation in the Middle East which would not take the risk of not appeasing the Russians in the case of Korea, 10,000 miles away, is surely somewhat neutrality-minded! We cannot, therefore, say that we are supplying arms to the Egyptians because they will be resolute allies in the battle against the Communists. They have proved in the first test case of collective security that they are not going to be by our side if ever the Russians threaten, until they are sure it is the winning side.
How can we go on providing with tanks a nation which has ostentatiously opted out of collective security, especially when they have told us quite openly what they really want these tanks for? They want them for the second round of their war in the East. They want them in order to regain the prestige which they lost in their disastrous attack on Israel. Everybody in the Middle East knows what they want them for, and believes that if we are providing them we are tacitly approving their purpose. There is not a person there who will not draw the false conclusion that when we send them Lincoln bombers they are designed not to strengthen the forces of democracy against Russia but to enable the Egyptians to carry out their own foreign 446 policy, their declared intention to renew the war against Israel at the first opportunity.
Had we not better make up our minds that, whatever the Foreign Secretary's motives, no one in the Middle East will fail to draw the conclusion which I have drawn, that we are still in some way carrying on that vendetta by providing the Egyptians with tanks? But the Egyptians have a second use for these arms. Having achieved the second round against Israel, the next use of the tanks is to get rid of us. They are completely open about it.
These are the two openly acknowledged reasons why this nation wants arms. It seems to me a strange thing in 1950, in this international situation, that the nation which has been so candid in opting our of collective security against Communism, in announcing an aggressive policy against its neighbour which we do not approve, and its determination to get rid of us, if necessary by force—that, of all the nations in the world this should be the one to which Centurion tanks, Lincoln bombers and our latest jets should have streamed. Do not let us talk about "only carrying out contracts for tanks." There was nothing in the contract which said that we should train the Egyptians to fight. There was nothing in the contract which said we should train them to fly at British Air Force stations.
We are not simply selling tanks, but we are doing a great deal more. We are training the Egyptians in the use of these machines, although they have made it clear that they are not going to use them for any purpose which is in conformity with British policy. It seems a pretty extraordinary situation if, after that, we should continue to send them arms.
I am delighted to see the way in which Members opposite now understand the dangers of Egyptian policy. I welcome their repentance, even if it is somewhat tardy. For no one has been more monolithic in supporting the Foreign Secretary's pro-Egyptian policy for year after year—until the side they backed lost in Palestine. Not a word was said by the Tory Party against the supply of arms to the Egyptians and to Trans-Jordan for the shelling of Jerusalem—so long as they were to be used in order 447 to destroy the Jews. It was only when the side they backed lost, that the Tories, in a typical way, switched to the winning side. I think it is just as well that Members opposite should be reasonably modest in stating that they—
§ Brigadier Clarke (Portsmouth, West)
Has the hon. Member forgotten so soon our objections to the sale of jet aircraft to Poland, to the Argentine and to Egypt?
§ Mr. Crossman
If the hon. and gallant Member had been listening to the Debate, he would know that I was referring to the fact that throughout the last Parliament and up to January, 1949, the Tory Party was monolithic in support of the Foreign Secretary's pro-Egyptian policy. I am very glad that they have changed their minds.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I take it that the hon. Member's party has changed its mind and now no longer wants to sell things to Poland?
§ Mr. Crossman
On these matters many minds have changed, and I am glad that they have. I hope that the mind of the Foreign Secretary will also be changed. Let Members opposite not talk as though they had not actively connived at and encouraged the sale of arms to Egypt for many years after the war—indeed, until January, 1949.
Lastly, I would ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to tell the Foreign Secretary that he should not strain the loyalty of his supporters too far. This is not an issue where principles can once again be sacrificed to expediency, as we were told was the justification of our policy to the Jews. Here is a perfectly meaningless concession to emotion. Here is something which has nothing to do with national interest. Here is something which makes us either a laughing-stock in the Middle East, or suspect of the most nefarious designs. But here is something on which the right hon. Gentleman can remove the necessity for a debate and a Division next week by doing something simple over the week-end.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
Very seldom can there have been such an attack made in this House on a Government from its own benches as that 448 to which we have listened tonight. It seems to me as though the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) became somewhat frightened and began to run away, and to throw mud at other people, rather like a small boy who is frightened at what he has done; but he succeeded only in bespattering himself.
I intervene in this Debate because of the bad faith which has been attributed to my right hon. Friends the Members for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), and Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). It has been said that they ought to have taken up this matter on the Adjournment. It has also been said that this is a matter of the greatest possible importance. Yet Members opposite would appear to think that the proper time to discuss a matter of first importance is on the Adjournment, when no one can tell when the Adjournment might take place.
§ Mr. Paget rose—
§ Commander Galbraith
The hon. and learned Member failed to give way when I sought to interrupt him. He has already made three speeches, and I am not going to give him the opportunity of making a fourth. That a matter of this importance should be argued out in perhaps one hour or one hour-and-a-half is utterly ridiculous.
§ Mr. S. Silverman rose—
§ Commander Galbraith
There is another point which it would be well for the supporters of the Government to bear in mind. We have had an apology from the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to say that it was utterly impossible for him to be present to take part in a Debate of this nature tonight. On that account it was right that this matter should have been put off so that a proper debate could take place when the leaders of the Government were in their places and able to reply to it. It was for that reason that, even before the hon. and learned Gentleman obtained the Adjournment, the following Motion was handed in:That this House regrets that His Majesty's Government are unwilling to suspend the export of arms, including Centurion tanks, to Egypt, whether as a result of previous contracts or otherwise, while the Anglo-Egyptian 449 Treaty of 1936 is being challenged by the Egyptian Government.That Motion has been handed in, and I understand that the Government are going to give time for it to be debated in due course. We shall then deal with the various arguments which have been put forward here tonight.
Before I resume my seat I should like to make one short reference to the very scurrilous remarks which were made about my right hon. Friends the Members for Woodford and Warwick and Leamington. The hon. and learned Gentleman stated that they had the interests of their party more at heart than the interests of their country. I should say that the country is well able to judge as to that from their records and that it will turn down with contumely, the suggestions which have been made in a most cowardly manner.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Mikardo (Reading, South)
The House will probably not expect me to follow the argument of the hon. and gallant Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Commander Galbraith). He managed to demonstrate, without any assistance from me or anyone else, that the motive which impelled him to speak was that of a guilty conscience. If ever any man has so clearly accused himself by excusing himself as did the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I should be greatly surprised.
I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), in thinking that those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who have suddenly discovered that we ought not to be exporting badly needed arms to Egypt are sinners making a belated repentance. The hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low), is a very welcome and formidable ally to have, and I am glad to find him on the same side as myself, but it occurred to me that he was sticking his neck out a bit when he claimed that he was the first to raise this matter. The first time that the matter of arms for Egypt was raised—the hon. Gentleman has forgotten it—was not over last weekend or earlier this year or last year, but in 1947—
§ Mr. Low rose—
§ Mr. Mikardo
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. Perhaps he will allow me to remind him of what happened on that occasion and on all subsequent occasions when these matters were 450 raised from this side of the House. Two things happened. The first one was that the Foreign Secretary bitterly attacked anybody who questioned his supplying of arms to Egypt and the other Arab States. The second thing was that hon. Gentlemen opposite bayed like hounds at anybody on this side of the House who dared to raise such a matter. I speak from very good memory because I was one of the victims, though not by any means the only one, of the behaviour of the Opposition in this connection.
In 1947, 1948 and 1949 they really were most indignant that anybody should query our giving of arms to the Egyptians in order to enable the Egyptians to stop British ships carrying British cargoes through the Suez Canal and to the Irakis to enable them to stop British oil flowing through British-owned pipelines to a British-owned refinery.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I am not aware of that for the excellent reason that it is not true. The point is exactly the same point. The only difference is that hon. Gentlemen opposite had to wait for King Farouk's speech in order to begin to understand the intentions of the Egyptian Government, which were as plain as a pikestaff three years ago to anybody who knew anything about the politics of the Middle East and the policy of the Egyptian Government. It ill becomes hon. Gentlemen opposite to be so immodest in their sudden conversion to the halo of virtue. They are still new among the angels and they should wear their wings modestly and play their harps a little more piano than they are doing at the moment.
§ Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury and Radcliffe)
Will the hon. Gentleman get that wonderful memory of his going and recollect—and say openly in the House—that the point about the delivery of arms for Egypt in connection with the sterling balances was raised consistently by myself and others on this side of the House from 1946 onwards?
§ Mr. Mikardo
No, Sir. Of course, it is true that the Opposition have always opposed our settling any part of our debt with Egypt, whether in arms or in any 451 other form, but it is not true that the Opposition were just as indignant about our sending goods of a peaceful purpose to Egypt as they were in the case of arms. What they objected to was our paying off any part of the sterling balances. That is a quite different point. What some of us were arguing all along was that, irrespective of the method of payment, in supplying arms to Egypt we were supplying those arms to a country which could not be relied upon as an ally in an emergency and whose ultimate objective was to use those arms to clear our troops out of Egypt. That is the discovery which hon. Gentlemen opposite have made since Thursday of last week.
I want to make two other points. The first is to ask: What could these arms possibly be for that is in any way a national interest of this country or of the allies of this country? It is true, as has already been pointed out, that Egypt was the only member of the Security Council which would not support the British, the Americans and others in condemning aggression in Korea, and that, as one of my hon. Friends has pointed out, does not promise too well about any use to which the Egyptians may put these arms.
Those whose memories go back further may recall that at a critical stage in the recent war when we were fighting a military dictatorship, those who were in charge of our affairs in that part of the world had on one occasion more difficulties than they ought to have had, merely because they could get no cooperation from the Egyptians in our defence of the Egyptians' own country, because the Egyptians thought that we were losing. The Egyptians are as good allies as anybody who likes to back a horse the moment after the result has been declared. At the moment they do not fancy our chance too high, but there is no reason why we should do anything to make them more powerful in their choice.
The Defence Minister this afternoon, under considerable pressure from both sides of the House—I cannot remember in my short Parliamentary experience any occasion on such a major issue when there was such a large degree of unanimity in the House—said that as from now we shall only export arms as far as that export will be of strategic value to this country. Clearly there lies within that 452 phrase an opportunity for the Government, starting from scratch, to reconsider every export to Egypt, from the very next tank and the very next jet plane. The position has changed. That which is true today is quite different, in respect of our relations with Egypt, from what was true less than a week ago. One could start to make what I think the military men call "a fresh appraisal" of the extent to which a single extra bullet put in the hands of Egypt is, to quote the words of the Minister of Defence, "of strategic value" to this country.
There seems to be no earthly reason in logic, in principle or in expediency why, as from this moment or from half past three this afternoon when the whole House revealed its views with unmistakable clarity, the Government should not make a fresh appraisal of the extent to which they can now consider. at least until our relations with Egypt are clearer than they now are, whether it is against the stategic interest of this country that one single extra weapon should be sent.
We seem to have had, over the last few years, a blind spot in our policy in the Middle East. It is time that our eyes were opened and that that blind spot was removed, and that we devoted to our Middle East policy the same criteria of care for our national interest and security that we devote to the rest of the world.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
One point, at any rate, in this Debate is a very short one. That is, whether we should at this moment be sending arms to Egypt. I think it is quite obvious that the vast majority of the House say that we should not do so. We have heard and read that the Egyptians propose at the earliest possible moment to abrogate the existing treaty. We know that these arms may conceivably be used against our own countrymen and may very probably be used to fish in the troubled waters of the near East. As a crowning blow, they are to be paid for out of the balances accumulated by Egypt from us as a fee for our defence of her own country. Personally, I do not think that that point needs labouring any further.
I see no reason why the shipments of arms should not be suspended It may well be that they should not be cancelled until after the treaty negotiations have 453 taken place, but there seems to be an overwhelming case for the suspension of these shipments until those negotiations have either reached a successful conclusion or, as they may do, break down. I confess that I agree with the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) when he very rightly pointed out that smiles or blandishments to the Egyptians are not very likely to influence them now if they have not done so over the last six years.
There is another and perhaps minor point. I do not believe armoured formations can be trained unless they can be supplied, not only with tanks, but with modern tanks, and unless they can be supplied in sufficient numbers to make it possible to train large formations at one time. It seems at least open to doubt whether we have the tanks in this country to enable us to train our own men here at home.
We have watched over the past years the tide of a war-time climate advancing step by step over the world. Even in the last few weeks we have seen very significant events which can only be interpreted as the on-march of hostilities. We have listened to a very liberal-minded Home Secretary saying that he could not allow a peace conference to take place in this country.
§ Mr. Grimond
I withdraw. He said that he could not allow certain delegates to a peace conference to enter this country. It is not unfair to the right hon. Gentleman to say that on that occasion he based his argument, broadly speaking, on the view that we were not living in a peaceful world and that it was dangerous to allow certain nationals of countries with whom we are nominally at peace to come here because they would use their entry into this country for what were, in fact, the purposes of war—cold war, if you like. We are now asking the Foreign Secretary to suspend certain contracts—again, with a country with whom we are at peace—and, possibly. ultimately to cancel them.
I do not think that we can accept this incursion of the tide of a war-time climate step by step over the world. The great strength of this country in the past has been that we have gone out of our way 454 before each war to attempt a peaceful solution. I do not believe that the present state of the world is in any way due to this country. I do not believe that the atmosphere of war is anything that we are creating. It may be something which, indeed, we cannot prevent, but here again, we must make a plea with the Foreign Secretary to see whether he cannot make another great effort to bring the leaders of the world together at the highest level and to see if the root causes of these matters cannot be eliminated.
The root cause of this Debate here tonight is not the question of tanks to Egypt. What we are dealing with tonight is a disease of the whole world, and this is merely a symptom. Until we strike at the roots of that disease, we shall be here night after night on the Adjournment or on some other form of debate, tackling this sort of problem. The only end then that I believe would be in sight is war and, therefore, without in the least seeking to blame the Foreign Secretary in any way for what has occurred, we must ask him to make one further effort. a great positive effort, to bring together the only people who today can remove the conditions which make it necessary to cancel contracts, to keep out nationals of foreign countries, to interfere with world trade, and in general to build up this war atmosphere.
We have heard that Egypt may be contemplating attacking in the Near East. If that is so, it is because today the waters of the world are troubled. If those waters were not troubled she would not dare even to consider such a thing. Therefore, we should not close on a negative note. Let us stop these arms going to Egypt; but let us at the same time take some positive action to remove the causes of our present discontents.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Ernest Davies)
I do not propose to enter into the party political argument as to the reason why the Debate has taken the line which it has taken, as regards the lack of Members of the Opposition participating and the fact that it has largely been a backbenchers' Debate so far as we on this side are concerned. I will, however, say this. It is normal procedure that Cabinet Ministers or senior Ministers do not reply to debates on the Adjournment—that is 455 an accepted practice in the House but in view of the heat which was engendered at Question Time today, and in view of the seriousness with which the situation was viewed by Members of the Opposition, had it been decided that the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), and others should be here tonight to raise this question, then of course there would have been Cabinet Ministers and senior Ministers here to reply.
I have listened with great attention to the speeches which have been made, and I hope that in my attempt to answer the points made by my hon. Friends, they will find, when they have heard and listened to the Government's explanation of the situation and of the policy we are pursuing, that their loyalty will not be strained, as it was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) it might be.
§ Commander Galbraith
The Under-Secretary of State said that had the Leader of the Opposition and other senior Members—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
The hon. and gallant Member cannot speak again without the leave of the Hounse.
§ Commander Galbraith
I was only putting a question to the hon. Gentleman regarding a question he had raised—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order! I think that as the Minister has given way, the least that hon. Members can do is to keep quiet whilst the question is asked.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
On a point of order. There are practices in the House which many of us like to keep. I have never, 456 in all the time I have been in the House, refused to give way to an interruption—
§ Mr. Silverman
The point I am putting to you Sir, is that if an hon. or right hon. Member refuses to other Members of the House the ordinary courtesies of the House, is he entitled to claim them himself?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The Minister has given way and I think the least the House should do is to allow the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) to speak.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
Further to that point of order. The rule is that on an occasion such as this an hon. Gentleman can only speak again by leave of the House. It is manifest that in this case it has not been given, and in those circumstances can the hon. and gallant Gentleman speak again?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
He could not speak again without the leave of the House, but the Minister has given way so that the hon. and gallant Gentleman can ask a question, and I hope the House will now give the hon. and gallant Gentleman the opportunity to do so.
§ Commander Galbraith
The hon. Gentleman said that if the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington had indicated that they would be present here tonight then senior Members of the Government would also have been present. Might I ask him if he could say definitely that the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister would have been here, because the information which was given to us was contrary to that and that was one of the reasons why the debate was put back.
§ Mr. Davies
I was careful in the words I used. I said that Cabinet Ministers and senior Ministers would have been present. 457 [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] There is no reason for the Opposition to get excited about it. That was the statement that I made, and that was what was in my mind. It is perfectly true that there happens to be a Royal function in the City this evening and that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, as the host on this occasion, had to be present. It would have been extremely difficult for him to be here.
The main case put by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who introduced this debate, and others of my hon. Friends was that the safety of this country is threatened at the present time due to the change of circumstances which have arisen from the statement by King Farouk of Egypt; that we further endanger our safety if we ship these Centurion tanks to Egypt at the present time; that we cannot afford to part with this equipment; and that we cannot allow modern equipment to pass into the hands of a potential aggressor.
As regards a potential aggressor and a second run in the Middle East, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) referred, we do not accept the fact that there is the likelihood of a second round in the Middle East at the present time, nor do we look upon Egypt as a potential aggressor. I cannot accept the remark which was made in an interjection—why should we send arms to be used against our men in the Middle East? We do not believe that that situation is likely to develop. As regards a second round, I should like to remind my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East, of the joint statement which was issued after the tripartite meeting in London of 25th May. The United Kingdom, France and the United States received an assurance from the States in the Middle East, to which we were willing to ship arms, that they would not use those arms in any act of aggression against any other State.
§ Mr. Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
Was it not also a part of that statement that discrimination in the supply of arms would cease and that Israel would also get arms equally with Egypt and the other Arab countries? And in that case, why has Israel never received a single arm since that statement was made?
§ Mr. Davies
It is true that this statement put an end to discrimination—[An 458 HON. MEMBER: "It did not."]—and since the statement has been made, our defence position, as hon. Members have pointed out this evening, has been reviewed. There has been a ban on the shipment of arms, and shipments have been made only in connection with the fulfilment of Treaty obligations, with which I shall be dealing in greater detail in a few moments.
§ Mr. Crossman
To get it quite clear, is it our view then, in order to show that we are genuinely friendly to Israel and to Egypt, that we are shipping arms to Egypt and not to Israel? Does that show the genuine bi-partisan friendliness of the Foreign Secretary?
§ Mr. Davies
That is a quite unfair but able debating point. I hope that, as I develop my argument in my own way it will be possible to show exactly how we stand in relation to the shipment of arms to Egypt. I want to repeat that this assurance was received from these countries: that arms were required for their defensive purposes and would not be used for the purpose of a second round or for any aggressive purpose.
As regards the present position with Egypt, arising out of the statement made by King Farouk, the position which the Government have taken up was made quite clear to this House on Monday by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. It is wrong to assume, as has been assumed by some hon. Members tonight—one of whom was corrected by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman)—that the action taken by Egypt is an abrogation of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty. It is not so. Egypt has stated that it ceases to be a basis for Anglo-Egyptian relations and it is inevitable that annulment should be decided and new provisions arrived at by agreement.
But, of course, the demands which Egypt has made are total demands and have to be regarded with the utmost seriousness. She demands the immediate evacuation of our troops and the unity of Egypt and the Sudan under the Egyptian Crown. It has been intimated also, of course, that Egypt will introduce the necessary legislation to implement these demands if she so decides. Egypt has stated her demands, but we have not accepted these, and we do not accept that Egypt can unilaterally abrogate the 459 Treaty; that she can by her own action put an end to that Treaty.
It has become evident that Egypt is quite willing to discuss this matter. The Egyptian Foreign Minister is coming to London next week and we understand that he is willing to discuss defence questions with us. Quite clearly these discussions will cover the whole field of the Middle Eastern defence and of the position arising out of the statement made in the King's Speech to the Egyptian Parliament—
§ Mr. Davies
—and all relevant matters. I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East, to appreciate that at this delicate stage of the commencement of discussions with the Egyptian Minister, it would not be right to take the attitude he does and to prejudice the situation in advance.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the discussions will include the question of the delivery of arms?
§ Mr. Davies
Regarding the arms position and the main question of the shipment of the 16 Centurion tanks, the immediate question is whether those tanks, which are part of a large order, should be shipped or not.
This matter has to be seen in relation to our arms policy, and our arms policy has been made clear in this House on several occasions. It is not to ship any arms outside the Commonwealth and outside the North Atlantic Treaty countries, except those which are not needed by those countries. That policy has been laid down. We shall of course ship surplus arms of a type not required by these countries, that is to say the Commonwealth and the N.A.T. countries where our strategic interests have been served; but our own strategic interests come first in regard to the despatch of any arms and equipment abroad.
§ Mr. Davies
Of course the Middle East is still part of our strategic interests as I have stated already. As regards the difference between shipping arms to Egypt and to Israel, that has been discussed in this House time and again; and the answer has been given that where we have shipped arms in the past to Egypt it has been in accordance with our treaty obligations, and we did not have treaty obligations to Israel. But, as I have pointed out, discrimination no longer exists as regards the shipment of arms to the Middle East.
To go back to this question of our arms policy. When this policy was decided upon last autumn there was some equipment which was already, as it were, in the pipeline. There was some equipment for which orders had not only been placed, and the orders paid for, but shipment was about to take place, and it was found that shipment—
§ Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)
Would the hon. Gentleman specify the equipment to which he has referred?
§ Mr. Davies
I was just about to do so, if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will allow me. I was going to add that it was not possible, it was not considered wise, to stop the final flow that was already in the pipe-line. But there were only two cases where this arose—where procedure had gone so far that it was considered necessary to proceed. They were. as it were, marginal cases, and those two marginal cases were the case of jet engines to Switzerland, the shipment of which has proceeded, and the question of Centurion tanks for Egypt.
In the case of Egypt, the decision was taken that as the contracts for the tanks had been completed a long time earlier, had been entered into a long time before this decision was taken, and as they were all ready for shipment, and as they had been paid for to the extent of 80 per cent., the shipment should proceed; but they have not yet left this country. As regards payment, two of my hon. Friends have suggested that there was really no question of payment because the money was simply a transfer out of blocked sterling balances, therefore, it was not a question of the tanks being paid for. My hon. Friend, in this case, happened to be 461 misinformed, because payment for these tanks has been made out of current account and not out of blocked account.
§ Mr. Davies
I must ask my hon. and learned Friend to apply his legal and logical mind to finance and realise that all Governments have current transactions on which they either accumulate assets or liabilities. A similar decision to that taken in the case of Egypt was taken in the case of Switzerland. In the case of Switzerland it was jets, but no jets have gone to Egypt since August, and no shipments of jets are contemplated to Egypt at this time.
§ Mr. Davies
The cessation of shipment of jets was entirely in accordance with decisions which were taken regarding the ban on the export of arms, except in the two cases I have mentioned. If shipment had not been authorised in the case of Egypt, and this is the case we make out for the decision to authorise, that is to send the Centurion tanks to Egypt, there would certainly have been a serious breach of contract. And this breach of contract would have been in regard to a country towards which we had treaty obligations, and a country with which we have had, in the past, close and friendly relations, relations which we hope will again become as friendly in the future.
It was thought this was a comparatively small matter, but, if we broke faith in this regard, it would make further negotiations with Egypt more difficult. I would remind the House that we have had a series of negotiations with Egypt over a long time, and at no time have we abandoned the hope that it will be possible to reach revision of the Treaty or to enter into some defence arrangement with Egypt, possibly covering a wider field than Egypt itself. It is because we do not want to get into a situation where it is not possible to continue these negotiations that I say that, in this case, which we considered, at the time, to be a comparatively small matter, we decided to go ahead.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton raised the question of the breach of contract with Poland, and he made out a good case in com- 462 paring the situation over the ban on equipment, machine-tools and the like, to Poland, and allowing the authorisation of these tanks to proceed to Egypt. He asked me whether we still stood by the Motion debated in this House, moved by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. Of course we stand by that Motion, and our policy continues to be based on it.
He then asked whether the equipment which we were sending to Egypt did not fall under the same definition as the equipment we were sending to Poland. I contend that there is a considerable difference between shipping 16 tanks—no more—to Egypt, and shipping machine-tools to Poland.
§ Mr. Davies
It does not make any difference whether it is one, two, or three, in the case of machine-tools, because machine-tools are used to produce further equipment. It is very different sending 16 tanks and sending machine equipment which will produce far more equipment.
§ Mr. Davies
If my hon. and learned Friend will not accept my argument that there is a difference between the shipment of 16 tanks to a country with which we have treaty obligations and sending machine-tools for the manufacture of further equipment to a country which unfortunate circumstances have made us not regard as a particularly friendly country at the present time, I say there is a considerable difference.
§ Mr. Low rose—
§ Mr. S. Silverman rose—
Mr. Deputy-Spepaker (Major Milner)
I think the Under-Secretary of State gave way to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman).
§ Mr. Silverman
My hon. Friend says there is a difference because we were in treaty obligation with Egypt, which we regard as a friendly country, but is it not a fact that Egypt has been in breach of her treaty obligations for over two years in the matter of the Suez Canal and, surely, in that case, it would have been at least necessary for her to keep her treaty obligations if she expected us to keep ours.
§ Mr. Davies
The question of the Suez Canal and its closure to the shipment of oil to Israel is at present before the Security Council. It is being discussed before the Security Council at the present time. So far as the past is concerned, as I have stated in reply to Questions, including some I believe from my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne, the legal situation with reference to the action which Egypt has taken in regard to the Suez Canal is by no means clear. We hope that that will now be decided before the Security Council.
§ Mr. Davies
This is a country with which we have a defence treaty agreement and which we still consider would stand by us in case of emergency and with which we have a common strategic interest; and we cannot say that in the case of Poland.
To break this contract with Egypt now might prejudice the talks which we hope will proceed. We consider that even more patience is required in dealing with what will be very delicate negotiations and we do not want to do anything which might make the successful outcome of these talks more difficult to achieve. We do not wish to break with Egypt by taking this action, if by taking it there is a likelihood of that break occurring. I would remind hon. Members that Egypt is not alone concerned in this. Our relations with Egypt affect the whole of the Middle East, so that we must not be over-hasty in any action we take and must not prevent the corning negotiations from reaching, if they can, a satisfactory conclusion.
But I will give this assurance to the House. As I have said, the tanks have not yet left this country and their immediate despatch is not likely. The question of their immediate despatch does not arise. The talks to which I have referred are imminent and I can give this undertaking to the House, that no tank will be shipped to Egypt before my right 464 hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has come to the House and reported to it on these talks. That is to say, no tanks I will leave or any other action be taken before my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has informed the House of what the Government's intentions are in this matter.
I hope that this undertaking which I have been able to give to my hon. Friends will meet the case which they have put forward and will also answer the case which hon. Members opposite have made, and that it will reassure them that the tanks will not be leaving this country until the House has had another opportunity of considering the matter.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I listened with great attention and interest to the speech of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. I was a little disappointed that he rose to speak before I had had an opportunity of asking certain questions, but in view of what he said, I no longer feel any regret about that. I think the best part of his speech was the last two sentences. I thank him most sincerely on behalf of all on these benches for what he said; I think I can say we appreciate it very much and, in the circumstances, we would not desire to pursue the matter very much further.
There are, however, certain other matters arising out of this Debate to which I would desire to refer the attention of the House. The first point is that this Debate, important as has been the issue to which it has been devoted—and we are very grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) for raising the subject—would have been notable to me if only for the speech of the Chief Liberal Whip, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). I thought it was a voice which was worth hearing at this juncture because it is certainly of the greatest importance that on all sides of the House we should emphasise the necessity of considering this matter from a liberal point of view—from the point of view that war is not inevitable and never can be inevitable, and that the question of avoiding war is an international affair, not solely for this country or any other country but for mankind to devote themselves to works of reconstruction and to organise themselves for that purpose.
465 On occasions in the complete absence of the Liberal Party I have drawn attention to these matters, and if I may now rely upon their support in my endeavours I shall be very grateful. [Laughter.] I am sorry that we are ending on a note of hilarity because there is another point to which I wish to direct the attention of the House. It has been one of the great traditions of this House that when matters affecting the security of the country or our international prestige come before us the House endeavours to approach those matters not in a party manner but as an assembly of persons putting forward honest and sincere views on matters of vital importance. I think it is quite fantastic that we have debated here for all this time with the Front Bench opposite almost completely empty. We were told by the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) that they could not fire because the big guns were not on the Front Bench.
§ Mr. Hale
I certainly understood that the hon. Member said that, but if he says he did not then I apologise at once, and attribute the remark to somebody else who has probably gone home. The fact remains that there have not been many guns on the opposite side of the House. I agree with the hon. Member so far. We have had on the Front Bench opposite for the whole Debate not even a minor cannon. We have not had the great demonstration from the Opposition that they were going to make on this question; it has been left to a Labour back bencher to raise this matter, and he has been supported from these benches.
I am told that there were reasons why the Opposition have not made that demonstration. Let us examine the reasons why. We are told now that it was the desire of the Opposition to postpone this discussion until after the negotiations had taken place. We were told earlier today that they did not desire to have the debate until next week because they were anxious to attend a social occasion, and so this matter of vital national importance, on which earlier they desired to adjourn the House—
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
I hope the hon. Gentleman does not mean to be unfair. It has not been suggested that the reason why a debate on this subject was not initiated by the Leader of the Opposition 466 tonight was because he was at a social occasion. That has never been suggested.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
No. The Under-Secretary of State pointed out that his right hon. Friend was host at a social occasion of great importance.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove) rose—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), is in possession of the House, and unless he gives way the right hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot speak.
§ Mr. Hale
I have not the slightest intention of giving way to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just come into the House and whose contributions on these matters are not particularly powerful. The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) always observes courtesy, and I am sorry if there has been a misunderstanding, but I understood that from the National Liberal benches the statement was made that there was some special occasion which made it undesirable for the Opposition to raise this matter tonight. In any event, the Opposition have not been here. I counted something like 29 hon. Members on the opposite side of the House once at the height of the Debate, and the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Donner), who gave notice of his intention to raise this matter has not been here at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] He has not been here at all on this vital matter, and the whole Debate has come from these benches.
I was anxious to put certain questions to the Under-Secretary of State. As I said just now, unfortunately I could not put them before he replied to the Debate, and I am afraid that they must now be regarded as rhetorical, but I must say that I think he ought to apply his mind to one or two considerations particularly. I am nearly a pacifist. I have never been able to accept the pacifist doctrine but I am nearly a pacifist.
§ Mr. Hale
The hon. and gallant Member who cheers, and who occupied a very distinguished position in the Army, may 467 be interested to know, if I may so inform him, that, although nearly a pacifist, I joined the Forces as a gunner on 3rd September, 1939, as a volunteer. I joined the Anti Aircraft Command because it seemed to me that that might comply more with my own peculiar views. It seemed to me that I should be restricting myself to defence. Now, perhaps, the hon. and gallant Member may like to cheer that and sit down.
But I must say quite frankly that there is some 5 per cent. of combatant about me in this particular matter, because for some years British blood and British money were spent in the defence of Egypt, and for some years we had very little help from the Egyptians, and I do not think it would be unhelpful that the negotiators, when they come to negotiate, should be told and know what the feelings in this House are on this matter. We spent our British money and British blood in defending that country with very little support from them. My hon. Friend said that we have had close and friendly relations with this country for four years. Well, I spent 24 hours some two years ago in Egypt under armed guard, and I was not allowed out. If that is the ordinary routine for a transient visitor to Cairo who is flying through—to have an armed guard put outside and to be told that if he is a Briton he is not allowed in the streets—well, all I can say is that I do not regard that as manifesting friendly relations. It did not prevent my going out because I had friendly arrangements with the armed guard, but that is not a relevant matter.
We talk about the sanctity of treaties. and everyone on these benches would agree that we ought to care about the sanctity of treaties, but if for two years the Suez Canal has been closed to British oil tankers, and if for two years there have been manifestations of hostility towards us, despite a treaty between us, then it would not seem to be over-stating the case to say that those relations do not appear to have been particularly close and friendly, in our view, for some considerable time.
Then there is this question which I raise as one seeking enlightenment, and to 468 which I do wish to draw the attention of my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend said that if we sent machine-tools to Poland they could be reproduced there. But we are told that if we send 16 tanks to Egypt they cannot be reproduced there. Why not? The other question which I want to emphasise is this—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Sparks.]
§ Mr. Hale
If these armaments are being sent to Egypt for the defence of Egypt, against whom is Egypt defending herself? I think that is a matter which we want to know. Is it against us? Is it against the Sudanese, whom we have built up in these last few years? Is it against Israel, with whom we have close and friendly relations, or who is it against? Who are the Egyptians trying to defend themselves against? I suspect that the rulers of Egypt have a clear opinion on this matter; they want to defend themselves against the Egyptians. I think that at least we ought to consider this matter very carefully before we embark on the course that appeared to be indicated in the replies given to Questions this afternoon. I am sincerely happy that this Debate has elicited from the Under-Secretary this very satisfactory assurance, and that we have now found out that the impression which we got from the answers given this afternoon was not in fact a completely accurate impression—that the tanks have not gone and will not go; and that negotiations will very probably be renewed and, as we all hope, brought to a successful conclusion.
I am sure that the Under-Secretary would not underestimate the sincerity with which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton and my other hon. colleagues have put their point of view today. I rose only—and I hope that I have made it clear that that was my only intention—to thank the Under-Secretary for the statement which he has made and the assurance which he has given, which, I am sure, will be received with satisfaction in all parts of the House.