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Military Equipment (Export)

Volume 481: debated on Wednesday 22 November 1950

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asked the Minister of Defence whether he will give an assurance that no jet aircraft, Centurion tanks or any recently-produced military equipment has been this year, or will be, exported to any country outside the Atlantic Treaty until this country's rearmament needs are fully provided.


asked the Minister of Defence whether he will give an assurance that no Centurion tank is sold to another country before all armoured units in the active army and the Territorial Army have been equipped with them and adequate reserves have been built up.

The policy of His Majesty's Government in this matter was recently reviewed and no future sales of equipment of the kind referred to will be allowed unless they are in our strategic interest.

Why have the Government continued to export from our very limited production of Centurion tanks until this moment?

I have already explained. Exports have been made to certain countries in relation to certain agreements.

I do not know whether this is the Question on which the right hon. Gentleman wants to reply to my earlier supplementary, but I should like very much to know why, in view of Egypt's attitude to the Treaty, all further supplies of war materials should not be suspended meanwhile?

I think the Foreign Secretary gave a reply to that in answer to a Question on Monday.

Does not my right hon. Friend consider that it would be a reasonable precaution not to deliver more of our much-needed defence equipment to a country until it is quite clear that it will not be used to drive our Forces out of the Canal zone some day?

Can we have an answer? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] Do we take it that the right hon. Gentleman has refused to answer the hon. Member's direct and pointed question?

The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. I have not refused to answer the question at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer it, then."] It referred to the future and, therefore, I said it was hypothetical.

With all respect, the supplementary question did not refer to the future, nor did the Question on the Order Paper refer to the future. It referred to the present delivery of arms to Egypt. All we are asking of the Government is that these arms should not be delivered until Egypt's treaty position towards us is clarified.

The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. If he would look at the two questions he would see that they are framed in a general form and that no reference is make to Egypt.

I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker, but I would point out that I asked a supplementary to Question No. 51 and the right hon. Gentleman put me off to a later Question. Question No. 51 asks, quite clearly,

"What modern defence equipment has been sold or allocated to the Egyptian Government in recent months?"

I have no desire to chide the right hon. Gentleman. I asked him a supplementary question on Question No. 51, but he put me off, saying that he would reply later. Now he is trying to wriggle out of the whole thing altogether.

I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's judgment of what is wriggling. I have given a straightforward answer—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and I do not propose, in spite of the observations, audible and inaudible, from the other side, to add anything to what I said.

Would the right hon. Gentleman have the courtesy to tell me to which Question he was referring me when he said he would answer my supplementary during a Question later on the Order Paper?

Does the right hon. Gentleman's answer mean that we are continuing to supply tanks and other weapons to Egypt in present circumstances?

That question was answered by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on Monday. My right hon. Friend made it perfectly clear to the House—I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member was present—that we were under contract to supply some Centurion tanks, that these Centurion tanks had been paid for, and that it was the intention of the Government to comply with the terms of the contract.

Will my right hon. Friend now take note of the feelings of both sides of the House, and see what he can do to change the decision?

All Members of the Government take note of what is said on both sides of the House, but I have given the House a perfectly fair reply.

The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the Foreign Secretary. Does he not also remember that the Foreign Secretary, in replying to a question about arms for Egypt, said that the Minister of Defence would give a reply to that exact question? Will he not also bear in mind that these tanks, to which my Question at any rate refers, are our very latest equipment and that we do not want our very latest equipment to get into the hands of countries whose friendship to us is, for the time being, doubtful?

I have already replied. The Foreign Secretary dealt with that aspect of the matter. A contract was entered into and we are complying with the terms of the contract. As regards the future, we do not intend to export arms unless it is in our strategic interest.

In view of the seriousness of this matter and the difficulty of getting a satisfactory reply, I ask that this matter shall be debated by the House today as a matter of immediate public importance.

if the right hon. Gentleman means to move a Motion under Standing Order No. 9—

—then I must point out that the Foreign Secretary answered this Question, and that this matter should have been raised earlier. Under Standing Order No. 9 it should have been raised sooner, but I have had notice, as a matter of fact, that an hon. Member intends to raise this matter on the ordinary Adjournment. Under Standing Order No. 9, however, the time for raising the matter should have been yesterday, when the Foreign Secretary answered this Question, and not now. An hon. Member has given notice that he intends to raise this matter on the Adjournment tonight.

Perhaps my hon. Friend would permit me first to represent this to you, Mr. Speaker. As I understand it, yesterday the Foreign Secretary told us that the answer on this topic would be given by the Minister of Defence today. Since we have not had an answer and the matter is urgent, I do not know what course is open to us but this, except per- haps to put down yet another Question to the Foreign Secretary next week and to be told that the Minister of Defence will give us the answer afterwards.

Further to that point. May I direct your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that a Question was asked of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on the subject of the export of tanks to Egypt and he replied on the specific point which emerged? As supplementary questions were asked about the general position of the export of arms, he referred to an answer I should give on a subsequent occasion.

My recollection is quite clear about the Foreign Secretary's answer. He said that what had been paid for would be delivered. I think that covers the point raised now. The answer was quite clear on that point. The Minister is quite correct when he says that, in supplementary answers, the Foreign Secretary said that the question would be asked of the Minister of Defence the next day.

Is not the question of the immediate stoppage of the delivery of Centurion tanks and other modern war materials to Egypt a definite matter of urgent public importance? Might I, as a matter of order, ask you, Sir, whether any reference to moving the Adjournment made by one of my hon. Friends below the Gangway does not refer to the Adjournment of the House? It is quite a different thing from the special procedure, so long cherished by the House, of moving the Adjournment of the Debate on a definite matter of urgent public importance.

The Adjournment which the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Donner) has requested is not, of course, an Adjournment under Standing Order No. 9; it is quite a different proposition. Of course, there can be no Division. I should state that I have no Motion before me so I do not know what is in order and what is not. In any case, in my opinion the Foreign Secretary answered this point and it does not, therefore, come under Standing Order No. 9.

Further to the point of order raised by the Leader of the Opposition, may I. with respect, direct your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the facts of the case? On Monday the Foreign Secretary, in reply to a specific question on the export of Centurion tanks to Egypt, gave the facts, which were that a number of tanks, a very small number, were to be exported under a contract previously entered into. I submit, with great respect, that if the right hon. Gentleman wished to raise the matter on the Adjournment that was the occasion upon which it should have been done.

Because the Foreign Secretary himself asked us to await a reply from the Minister of Defence. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept that it was really out of courtesy to the Foreign Secretary's request that we thought we would wait to see what the Minister of Defence said.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary replied on the specific issue of the export of Centurion tanks. As regards the future, that was to be left to the subsequent occasion. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to know what our intentions are as regards the future in the export of Centurion tanks to Egypt. My answer is that it is not our intention to proceed beyond the existing contract.

We are not seeking to move the Adjournment upon any intricacy as to the questions asked, or how they were answered, but on the definite matter of urgent public importance of continuing the exports of vital war material at this juncture from this country, which may be going on any day—a definite and urgent matter of the highest importance.

Something which may be going on any day is certainly not definite. That is quite certain.

This matter would also fail, in my opinion, as a matter of urgency. It was answered by the Foreign Secretary—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—and that was the time it should have been raised. Therefore, it is too late now. I must also, although it is a different Adjournment notice, take notice of the fact that we are to have time to discuss this matter later today.

I thought I said going on every day." What I meant to say, and what I think I said, was that "it may be going on any day." Anyhow, that is what is meant. We do not want to see action taken between tonight and tomorrow morning which will be definitely prejudicial to our position.

If that is regarded as a point of order—and it was within your discretion, Sir—then, with great respect, may I submit that it is not our intention to proceed beyond the existing contract, and that, quite apart from what was said, by the Foreign Secretary on Monday, nothing more will happen between today and tomorrow—if that will satisfy the right hon. Gentleman.

Have we not agreed, whatever the merits, that the issue is whether the existing contract shall be fulfilled by us, when the Egyptian Government have made it plain that they are not fulfilling their engagements under the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty?

So far as I am concerned, I am perfectly clear. I have had a notice of Motion put in my hand, which says:

"To draw attention to the unsatisfactory reply of the Minister of Defence in regard to the sale of vital war materials to Egypt."
That was exactly the Question which was answered yesterday or the day before by the Foreign Secretary, and, therefore, I rule that it fails on the ground of urgency.

On a point of order. Leaving aside anything to do with the Question asked and answered, is not the issue which is now before us a definite matter of urgent public importance?

No. I do not see that there is any change in the situation. I think it is governed entirely by the Question which the Foreign Secretary answered. I do not see that anything fresh has arisen. We have known about this for some time, and I am not prepared to allow this Motion under Standing Order No. 9.

With all respect, Sir, how could anyone have known about this for some time, since it was only at the weekend that the Egyptian Government took their action?

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, I give notice that on the second Adjournment tonight I shall raise the whole question of the export of jet aircraft and of tanks. Further to that point, is not that question quite apart from the point of order raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), since the tanks, the sending of which to Egypt he is objecting to, are still held in this country and may, in fact, any day, be exported to that country?

We give notice that as you, Mr. Speaker, have refused our request for an Adjournment debate on a definite matter of urgent public importance, we shall seek the earliest convenient opportunity to debate this precise issue in the House.