HC Deb 13 February 1979 vol 962 cc948-9
14. Mr. Rifkind

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement as to what effect recent developments in Iran have had on the future of the Central Treaty Organisation.

Mr. Mulley

It is too early to make a firm assessment.

Mr. Rifkind

Does the Secretary of State accept that the withdrawal of Iran from CENTO is a death blow to an organisation which already appeared to be moribund? Does he accept that there is a need for an urgent review by Britain and the Western allies about the form of defence assistance that they can give to Iran's neighbours and to other Persian Gulf States which feel threatened by Soviet subversion?

Mr. Mulley

I agree that, in the light of events that have occurred, even since the hon. Member tabled his Question, the future of CENTO must be reviewed with our allies. I believe that the alliance has been a factor for stability, but its military importance should not be overestimated because there was no declaration of forces to the alliance by any of the partners.

Mr. Litterick

Since the main effective purpose of CENTO was to provide the Secretary of State's Department with a means of reducing its overhead costs, and since that is now disappearing rapidly, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time for his Department to study seriously the alternatives to manufacturing armaments? Is it not time in particular to study the proposals of the Lucas Aerospace shop stewards' committee?

Mr. Mulley

My right hon. Friend has already dealt with that to some extent. All the firms that are dealing with contracts with Iran are able if they wish—most of them have both civil and military work—to diversify. We shall, with the Department of Employment and the sponsoring Departments, do our best to find alternative work for any whose jobs are threatened as a result of cancellation of contracts with Iran.