HC Deb 19 December 1963 vol 686 cc1436-8
Q4 Mr. Gordon Walker

asked the Prime Minister (1) what steps he has taken to co-ordinate the work of the Departments concerned in carrying out Her Majesty's Government's policy in regard to the export of arms to South Africa;

(2) in view of the Security Council resolution of 4th December on the supply of arms to South Africa, what changes have now been made in the policy of Her Majesty's Government on this matter.

Q7. Mr. Mayhew

asked the Prime Minister if he is satisfied that adequate co-ordinating arrangements have been made between the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade regarding the sale of spare parts for tanks and armoured cars to the Union of South Africa; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister

All applications to export arms and spare parts for arms to other countries are carefully scrutinised by the interested Departments. This is so in the case of South Africa and I am confident that the machinery is adequate. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary explained to the House on 25th November, it is our policy not to export arms to South Africa which would enable the policy of apartheid to be enforced.

Mr. Gordon Walker

May I ask the Prime Minister whether he is aware that there is increasing scepticism—and not only in political circles—aboutthe feasibility of this distinction between arms for internal use and those for external use? Can the Prime Minister tell us whether spare parts for Saracen tanks and Wasp helicopters are still being exported to South Africa, both of which could be used, if necessary, for the suppression of internal protests and disorder?

The Prime Minister

We supply spare parts for the Saracens under existing contracts, but we intend to make no new contracts. The helicopters in question are naval Westland Wasp helicopters. They are used for anti-submarine purposes, and are not equipped with machine guns or missile launchers.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we must keep this policy constantly under review, but one must remember that, under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, a nation has the right to arm itself for self-defence, and the Simonstown Agreement is very valuable to the United Kingdom as well.

Sir J. Duncan

Would the Prime Minister agree that the safety and freedom of the sea round South Africa is a British interest? Will he do nothing to discourage South Africa from keeping the Simonstown Agreement?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir; I have been aware of that ever since the crisis in Suez.

Mr. H. Wilson

Does the Prime Minister recall that when we made a strong declaration on this question last March we were subjected to continuous attacks from Ministers? On the question of an arms embargo on South Africa, is the Prime Minister aware that we support the partial conversion of the Government, under United Nations and American pressure, on this matter; but is he aware that we are still very worried that the Government, who up to a few months ago said that no embargo could be carried out, are not fully honouring the spirit of what is intended by the United Nations Resolution?

The Prime Minister

I think that an arms embargo would be wrong, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will agree, because this would involve the Simonstown Agreement to which I think I remember him saying he attached considerable importance. Within our licensing system we are able to control the export of arms, and they will not be exported if, in our judgment, they can be used to suppress the African population.

Mr. Wilson

Since we are doubtful about the approach of the Government to the carrying out of this in view of their rather belated conversion, will the Prime Minister say why, on the debate on the Whitsun Adjournment, a Minister was put up to attack the Opposition's view on this and to oppose the idea of any restrictions whatsoever on shipments of arms to South Africa? Will the Prime Minister say why, when he was Foreign Secretary and we put Questions to the Foreign Office, we could get no assurance at all about the control either of tear gas or tear gas equipment? Are teargas and tear gas equipment controlled now?

The Prime Minister

I should like to see that Question on the Order Paper. I have always been against an arms embargo. I am not against using our licensing system to control arms so that they will not be used against the African population.