HC Deb 21 May 1974 vol 874 cc186-93
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to inform the House of further Government decisions regarding the supply of arms to Chile and South Africa.

The Government have now completed their review of the contracts covering the overhaul of aero-engines and the supply of engine spares by Rolls-Royce (1971) Ltd. to the Chilean Air Force, and have been in touch with Rolls-Royce So far as overhaul is concerned, the contract between the company and the Chileans provides for termination on three months' notice. Rolls-Royce will exercise this contractual right at the Government's request. The policy on spares for these aircraft and their engines should obviously be consistent with the policy on overhaul, and contractual obligations to supply spares will also therefore have to come to an end. [HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful!"]

In the case of South Africa the Government have decided that the export licence for one Westland Wasp helicopter, the remaining one of the series, delivery of which was outstanding when we came to office, is to be revoked.

Mr. Heath

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this further capitulation to his Left wing will merely earn him and his colleagues further contempt? May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to be more specific on the part of his statement in which he said that Rolls-Royce will exercise this contractual right at the Government's request? This is an ambiguous sentence in the right hon. Gentleman's statement, perhaps due to hasty drafting, but have the Government exercised this request to Rolls-Royce and has the company accepted the Government's request? Are we to understand that from the right hon. Gentleman's statement? If the Government have already asked Rolls-Royce to exercise the right to break the contract, are the Government also ensuring that three months' work will now take place on the overhaul of the engines?

The right hon. Gentleman said that it is logical that spares should not now be supplied, but I understand that servicing can take place in other countries. Other Governments treated by the British Government in this way would be able to get their engines serviced, but is it not true that no other country will be able to supply spares unless the Government wish to encourage an indirect traffic to other countries so that the spares can be supplied to Chile?

So far as the Westland Wasp is concerned, was it not part of the agreement of the last Government to carry out the Simonstown Agreement? What justification is there for revoking the licence for this helicopter?

Will the Government recognise that treatment of this sort of another Government because they dislike that other Government's political views is gravely damaging to British trade and industry and to jobs for people in this country? Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to tell the country what the consequences of this action will be, and will he also say what is the position about the supply of submarines and other naval equipment?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman referred to contempt, yet nothing brought this country more into contempt than the right hon. Gentleman's lickspittle attitude to the Chilean revolution. If Opposition Front Benchers got the information which we got about the treatment of Dr. Allende they would not regard it as a laughing matter.

I will qualify what I have just said to the right hon. Gentleman. His attitude to South Africa was even more contemptible. His decision to supply arms to South Africa was announced by his Government before the Cabinet met, such was the obsessed determination on their part.

So far as Simonstown is concerned, we disagreed with the statements made by the right hon. Gentleman which wrecked one Commonwealth conference because of his obsession.

With regard to contracts, I made clear that if the right hon. Gentleman tried to tie up the incoming Labour Government with further contracts we would not regard those contracts as binding. They are in defiance of the United Nations resolution which the right hon. Gentleman has always treated with scorn.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about Rolls-Royce exercising its contractual right at the Government's request. We have requested this and Rolls-Royce has agreed to our request, but I take full responsibility for this. Rolls-Royce will do this. I am surprised—well I am not surprised, but I regret that the right hon. Gentleman did not take some action.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about other countries undertaking servicing. This is the traditional policy of the prostitute throughout the ages—"If I don't do it, somebody else will".

Mr. George Lawson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the great principles in the Labour movement, as I have always understood it, is that we should avoid double talk and double think at all costs? Would my right hon. Friend be prepared to treat Russian dictatorships on the same kind of basis—[Interruption.] Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is no distinction at all in the mode of behaviour in the Soviet Union and in the satellites of the Soviet Union? Therefore, is he prepared to behave in the same way towards dictatorships whose shirts happen to be red, as distinct from other dictatorships?

The Prime Minister

We do not supply arms to the Soviet Union. What I have announced this afternoon is that we are going to stop the policy of the previous Government of supply arms to Chile and to South Africa.

So far as the Soviet Union is concerned, I was myself involved with negotiating the Comcon agreements for stopping on a NATO basis the supply of arms to the Soviet Union and to members of the Warsaw Pact. Therefore, my hon. Friend's high-flown oratory is entirely beside the point and so is the cheering of hon. Members opposite.

Mr. Heath

Perhaps the Prime Minister could answer my question, especially in view of the last part of his answer to the last supplementary question, in which he used the general term "arms", on the position with regard to naval equipment for Chile. Can he also answer the other question I asked him, which was whether there will now be three months' work on the overhaul of the engines which are over here? In other words, as a result of the Prime Minister's further capitulation, will r. Scanlon tell the workers concerned that they must now work for three months?

The Prime Minister

I regret that I did not answer those two questions. I was interrupted by Conservative Members. The matter of the ships was dealt with in a statement by my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary a few weeks ago, and what he then announced remains the position.

The contracts to which the right hon. Gentleman has just referred, are of course under the three months' break clause, in force during that period. It is a fact that for some considerable time workers engaged on the work—a total of 16, I think, which is 1 per cent, of the total employed at East Kilbride—have refused to do it. If the right hon. Gentleman can suggest how they can be made to do the work, perhaps he will help the House in the matter. By the workers' own decision, the work has not been going on for several weeks. The contract remains until the end of the three-month period.

Mr. Fernyhough

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that there are many precedents for his decision? A National Government dominated by the Conservatives in 1936 adopted a nonintervention policy in Spain and broke contracts, and in the recent Middle East war the then Government refused to carry out their contract with either side. Does not my right hon. Friend agree that in 1951 we broke a contract with Poland, which had paid for two tankers built in my division, and the tankers were not delivered? Does he not also agree that the decision befits a Labour Government, because the Lancashire cotton workers 110 years ago, rather than use cotton from the slave States, were prepared to walk the streets hungry?

The Prime Minister

I am not sure that we need to go back that far for justification for the acts I have announced, although it is a fact that on that occasion, too, the London Establishment was in favour of the slave owners. Without going back over the other cases mentioned by my right hon. Friend, I would say that the precedent for what I have announced on South Africa was one of October 1964, which was denounced by Conservative right hon. and hon. Members.

If one wants to look for precedents on Chile, one recalls that the previous Government cut off spares and ammunition for Israel, which is a democracy. It does not have an oppressive Fascist Government, which Chile has, and one which the previous Government gave aid and comfort to. The previous Government were also different from other European Governments in their treatment of refugees and prisoners.

Sir Frederic Bennett

Can the Prime Minister confirm that the aero-engines in question will be serviced in future in Brazil, which already has a military regime? Can he say also whether we have given assurances to Brazil that we shall not interfere with our arms trade with that country? Will he further elucidate what one military regime has that another has not, except possibly that trade with Brazil is more important than that with Chile?

The Prime Minister

I was not talking about trade today; I was talking about arms. This has been a consistent policy of successive Governments. If the Brazilian Government wish to service the aero-engines, that is a matter for them. I am not responsible for the Brazilian Government. This democracy will not do so.

Mr. Flannery

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that it is in the true traditions of the Conservative Party that they so rabidly support the Fascist Chilean junta?

The Prime Minister

As I have said, many European countries, including some members of the European Economic Community and others outside, took a very different line on the availability of their embassies to people who were fleeing from persecution and murder. We have changed that rule as well since we came to office.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Does the Prime Minister agree that the moral basis of his statement is that he takes the view that this country should not supply arms to countries which might, or would, use them for what we would regard as indefensible internal coercion? If that is the case, would there have been any justification for denying frigates to Allende? Secondly, if that is the justification—and there must be justification—when does the right hon. Gentleman intend to announce a general policy on the sale of arms, indicating the circumstances in which we shall sell arms and the circumstances in which we shall not? We cannot proceed in an ad hoc way.

The Prime Minister

I do not apologise to the House for having announced today what is right in our view in the case of Chile and South Africa. In regard to Chile, I cannot accept what the hon. Gentleman said about the supply of frigates to the Government of Dr. Allende. As for South Africa, it has been the view of our party, and I thought that it was the view of the hon. Gentleman's party—he will correct me if I am wrong—[An hon. Member: "It is the Young Liberals."] No, I think that it is the old Liberals as well. I think that it has been the policy of both of us, but not of the Conservative Party, that we should not supply arms to South Africa. [Interruption.] It is not only because of the possible use against the civilian population, but because we do not believe we should continue to supply arms to a Government who have been, on so many matters, outlawed by the whole world civilised community, apart from a few abstentions by the former Conservative Government. We are acting in accordance with the decisions of the United Nations, which I thought the Liberal Party also supported.

Mr. Faulds

Is my right hon. Friend contemplating the supply of Centurion or Chieftain tanks to Israel while that country is in defiance of United Nations resolutions and in occupation of Arab territories?

The Prime Minister

My statement referred to Chile and South Africa. When we are ready to make a statement on the Middle East and arms supplies, we shall make one.

Mr. Amery

Is not the Prime Minister aware that by condemning a political strike in Ulster and in the very next breath announcing capitulation to Mr. Scanlon's pressure he has achieved a degree of silliness, inconsistency and indecency which amounts to political streaking?

The Prime Minister

It may be necessary to remind hon. Members that that remark came from a very senior Foreign Office Minister in the previous Government. That explains most of the matters I am trying to deal with this afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman is more concerned to attack Mr. Scanlon than he ever was to attack the Chilean dictatorship when he was in office. He will have to justify that to his conscience one day.

With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's reference to Mr. Scanlon, the question of the aero-engines——

Mr. Adley

Where is the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary?

The Prime Minister

He is in Washington, fathead—through you, Mr. Speaker—and he will not come back in Mao Tse-tung uniform either. I was trying to say to the House that Mr. Scanlon's intervention in the aero-engine matter came long after the Cabinet had become seized of the matter. It was made clear in a statement that the blacking had started long before Mr. Scanlon intervened. When Mr. Scanlon appealed last week to the shipyard workers to black their work as well, they refused to do so.

Mr. Kinnock

Will my hon. Friend accept that what he has said this afternoon will be music to the ears of true democrats throughout the world? He has made it clear that he and the Labour Party are the foes of dictatorships on whichever side of the Iron Curtain they happen to be. Further, does he appreciate that the idea of reviewing our whole policy on arms sales is very good and that by doing so we shall avoid difficulties in future such as the present position? Will my right hon. Friend take note that there is no question— [Interruption.] We are all aware of the views of the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery.) We heard them during the Chilean debate. He is an upholder of Fascism in Chile. Will my right hon. Friend take note that he has made it clear that he has not capitulated to any section of opinion and that he has not shown the weakness that Conservative right hon. and hon. Members displayed when they capitulated to the Fascist Regime in South Africa and the Fascist junta in Chile?

The Prime Minister

I believe that what I have said about South Africa will be supported by democracies all over the world, as it has been supported by the United Nations. I believe that the only people who are opposed to what I have said are the supporters of Conservative right hon. Gentlemen who have had an obsession about this matter. We announced on taking office that we were cutting off all arms sales to South Africa. Today we have dealt only with the remaining contract for a West-land helicopter, which will cause a significant change in relations between Great Britain and the Commonwealth. The members of the Commonwealth were horrified by the action of the Conservative Government in 1970. They made no secret of that. Great Britain has very great trading interests and interests generally with many African countries. Those countries will applaud the decision that I have announced.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the contract to supply spares to Chile is terminable on three months' notice or whether it is an indefensible and straightforward breach of contract? Secondly, will he say un-equivocably, in view of what we have read about the attitude of the Secretary of State for Industry, whether the supply of ships and spares to Chile will go ahead?

The Prime Minister

The aero-engines contract is subject to a three months' break clause, which is being invoked. The supply of spares is subject to a reasonable period of denunciation, and that is happening The denunciation is occurring. With regard to the ships and the spares, I refer the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) to the original statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in April. I forget the date, but I think he announced on 10th or 11th April the position regarding the ships and the spares for the ships.