Skip to main content

Middle East Arms Supplies

Volume 885: debated on Wednesday 29 January 1975

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will ask the United States of America, the USSR and France for a joint embargo with Great Britain on arms and weapons spare parts to both Arab and Israeli contestants in the Middle East; and if the Government will give the lead by prohibiting such supplies from Great Britain forthwith.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will propose at the appropriate international organisations a total ban on all arms supplies to the Middle East by Great Britain, France, the USSR and the United States of America.

An effective agreement on some measure of arms limitation in the Middle East is likely to be possible only with the support of the parties to the dispute and in the context of a general settlement.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Middle East war could escalate into the third world war, which none of the four Governments mentioned wants? If agreement is difficult, as he suggests, why should not Britain give the initiative by getting out of this dirty business herself instead of selling arms to both sides? Lastly, is not talking of a balance in supplying arms, as some people do, a poor excuse, because it is really accelerating the arms race in that part of the world?

First, I agree with my hon. Friend that there are great dangers in the Middle East. That is why I think it is the responsibility of all of us to put as much pressure as we can upon the parties concerned. Most of us will welcome the fact that Dr. Kissinger is proposing to pay a further visit to the Middle East. I think we would wish him well in that. As to whether Her Majesty's Government by taking unilateral action would affect the situation, I very much doubt that.

The main decision concerning arms is that taken by the countries themselves. They decide for themselves whether they want arms, in the same way as we decide whether to produce them. There is little doubt that if the British Government were to decide to impose a unilateral embargo, the orders would be taken up by other countries. I do not think that anything would be achieved.

Is the assumption made in the Question correct—that only the countries named are supplying arms to the area?

While I agree with the purport of the questions of my hon. Friends, may I ask the Minister to bear in mind when considering this matter that an embargo limited, in the terms of the Question of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), to

"both Arab and Israeli contestants in the Middle East"
would not be good enough, because there are other people who, as intermediaries, are willing to pass on arms to some of the contestants?

May I also ask my hon. Friend to bear in mind that if he is considering an embargo of this kind he should also be considering the complete division of the British Aircraft Corporation which has been set up for the supplying of sophisticated weapons to Saudi Arabia, which I believe is situated in the Middle East?

Does not my right hon. Friend agree, however, that in 1973 Her Majesty's Government made a unilateral declaration and decided, during the October war of that year, to refuse to supply arms to either side? Therefore, by doing as the Question suggests we would not be embarking upon any new policy but would be following a sensible decision made in 1973.

I do not think I can agree. I thought that the decision taken at that time was deplorable. I do not think many of my hon. Friends thought that the decision of the previous Government to deny arms to one country when it needed them was a decision that was promoting peace or anything else.