HC Deb 16 March 1964 vol 691 cc987-90
44. Mrs. Castle

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if, in view of the proposed export to South Africa of Wasp helicopters, it remains the policy of Her Majesty's Government not to export arms to that country if they could be used to suppress the African population.

Mr. Mathew

As my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation explained in a Written Answer on 2nd March, these helicopters are designed to carry only naval weapons. They are normal equipment for the "Whitby" class anti-submarine frigates and other vessels which we have supplied to South Africa under the terms of the Simonstown Agreement. Their supply is thus in accordance with our policy as stated in the United Nations, that we will not export to South Africa arms which would enable the policy of apartheid to be enforced.

Mrs. Castle

But is not the hon. Gentleman aware that there is no mention whatever of helicopters in the Simonstown Agreement? Is he aware also that these helicopters, even though they are naval aircraft, can quite easily be equipped with machine guns for the purpose of suppressing the African population, and is he further aware that our own Navy is short of helicopters and is waiting for them? What on earth is the sense of our exporting to South Africa helicopters which we need for our own forces, when we cannot trust the South African Government with instruments of suppression of this kind?

Mr. Mathew

The answer to the hon. Lady is that these helicopters were specifically designed for use in an antisubmarine torpedo-carrying rôle. The specifications make them unsuitable for use in a police rôle. It is true that the South African Government have bought aircraft of other types from other countries. As regards fitting the Westland Wasp helicopter with machine guns, my right hon. Friend explained on 2nd March that these helicopters are not designed to carry machine guns.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Will my hon. Friend say whether machine guns have ever been fitted to any type of helicopter?

Mr. Mathew

Not to my knowledge.

Mr. Gordon Walker

The hon. Gentleman constantly uses the word "designed". Does he mean to hold that these aircraft cannot be adapted for use in various ways not only with machine guns but in other ways, with small bombs and such things, for possible use for internal matters? Will the hon. Gentleman answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle)—of which the Prime Minister said he wanted notice the last time it was asked—and say whether or not helicopters are mentioned in the schedule to the Simonstown Agreement?

Mr. Mathew

In reply to the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, we agreed to supply, as I think he knows, 18 new vessels—four frigates, four seaward defence boats and 10 minesweepers—under the Simonstown Agreement. As regards whether it is possible or not to fit them with other weapons, the position is that these are helicopters supplied for a specific rôle; they are a reasonable complement for the frigates which the South African Government acquired under the agreement, and they are not equipped to carry machine guns.

Mr. Mayhew

Did we ask for assurances that they would not be used for internal purposes?

Mr. Mathew

Once they pass into the possession of the South African Government, presumably, we have no further control. We are supplying these aircraft under the agreement, which was in the interests of the defence of this country and of South Africa, and it has nothing to do with any police rôle whatever.

Mr. Mayhew

Is it not complete hyprocrisy to say to the House that these helicopters are not in the Simonstown Agreement, that they can in practice be used for internal purposes, and that no effort was made to get an assurance from the Government that they would not be used in that rôle?

Mr. Mathew

The hon. Gentleman must listen to what I say. I never said that they could be so used in practice. They are supplied for a specific defence rôle to the South African Government under the agreement, and they have nothing whatever to do with police operations or anything of that sort. We have agreed in the United Nations that we will not export arms to South Africa which could enable the policy of apartheid to be enforced, and we are keeping to that agreement.

Mr. F. M. Bennett

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With respect, may I call to your mind that, not very long ago, you informed me, in your discretion, that to accuse another hon. Member of an act of hypocrisy was out of order in the House, and I was asked to withdraw? Has that Ruling been changed or is it still in force today?

Mr. Speaker

It sounds very odd, to my recollection, but the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the precise wording may not be so important as the context in the circumstances. I shall have to refresh my memory on what he says. I am not aware of anything out of order being said in this instance.

Mr. Brockway

Apart from the question of arming these helicopters, is it not the case that the South African Government are using helicopters for the purpose of observation against opponents of apartheid, particularly on the frontier of the High Commission Territories? Could not these helicopters easily be used for that kind of purpose?

Mr. Mathew

I think that I have dealt with the latter part of the supplementary question quite clearly. On the first part, we have no knowledge of this. That is quite another question. The hon. Gentleman should put a Question on the Order Paper—if he can get it in order.

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