HC Deb 26 April 1983 vol 41 cc731-2 3.31 pm
Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)

(by private notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if, in view of the United Nations arms embargo against South Africa, he will now take immediate steps to ensure that an initial consignment of radar equipment with military capability from Marconi in Britain to South Africa is not delivered.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

No, Sir. The United Kingdom complies fully with its obligations under Security Council resolution 418. The export of this equipment was approved on the understanding that it is for use in air traffic control in southern Africa and involves no infringement of the United Nations arms embargo. We have no doubt that the system in question has a genuine civil application.

Mr. Davis

Is the Minister aware that that is a disgraceful response, which evades all the essential issues? Is he not aware that this equipment is capable of being used for military purposes? What sort of Government are they who accept such a guarantee from a Government of South Africa who have involved themselves in avoiding their obligations in respect of Namibia and many other United Nations resolutions? How does the Minister reconcile this contract for the sale of a high-powered static radar system which is used, and is capable of being used, for defence purposes—to quote from "Jane's Weapon Systems" — with mandatory United Nations Security Council resolution 418, which relates to the supply of arms and related materials of all types?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the ultimate purchaser in this case is the South African air space control authority and that the South Africans have themselves asserted that this improved radar system is a valuable arm of their military capability, which is clearly capable of being used against Mozambique and Angola? Is it not clear that this evasion of the embargo, which the right hon. Gentleman justifies only by semantics, is but one of many breaches of the embargo committed by this Government since 1979? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the protestations of the Government, and in particular the Prime Minister, over a long period about abhorring apartheid are to be seen as pure cant when the Government can be seen to be actively assisting in the maintenance of the rotten, diseased, corrupt system of apartheid?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman is free with his adjectives because he has such a poor case. This is a contract for a civil organisation—he correctly gave the name of that organisation — predominantly for civil purposes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Predominantly".] The hon. Gentleman is on poor ground on the merits of the case and on even poorer ground when one recalls that he was a member of a Government who authorised a very similar contract by Plessey not long ago.

Mr. Churchill (Stretford)

Is it not the sheerest humbug and hypocrisy for the Opposition to be taking the line they are taking in regard to a civil radar installation, bearing in mind that a Socialist Government signed a contract with the Government of France under which for many years Puma helicopters, largely made by Westlands in this country, have been sold to South Africa, and remembering that those helicopters represent the finest counter-insurgency weapons available? Two successive Labour Governments approved the sale of those weapons to South Africa.

Mr. Hurd

It is for hon. Gentlemen opposite to answer that compelling point. I rest on the facts of the case: this is a good contract for Britain, it is predominantly for civil purposes, it is supplied to a civil organisation and it is comparable to a similar deal authorised by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. A private notice question is an extension of Question Time. I shall call one more hon. Member from each side and then move on.

Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)

Will the Minister first ascertain whether this equipment is to be fitted into the existing radar system on the north-west and north-east borders of South Africa? If it is, is it not clearly intended primarily for military use against Angola and Mozambique?

Mr. Hurd

No, Sir. It is intended primarily for use by a civilian organisation for the control of civil air traffic in southern Africa.

Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the last few days the Foreign Minister of Angola has been on a shopping trip to Hungary and Czechoslovakia seeking to buy military and air defence equipment and that Mozambique has recently deployed a wide range of ground-to-air missiles? Why do the Opposition consistently bleat about the sale and export of British technology equipment, even if it is to be used only for civil purposes, whereas they turn a blind eye to Soviet provocation in other parts of the world?

Mr. Hurd

I imagine it is because they read the Sunday newspapers without checking the facts or recalling their experiences.