HL Deb 12 July 1967 vol 284 cc1127-30

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they can estimate what financial loss the United Kingdom has suffered by the ban on the export of certain types of aircraft, submarines and other vessels and their equipment which are used by the South African Government to fulfil their task in defending the sea routes around the Cape in conformity with the terms of the Simonstown Agreement, and also in the external defence of South Africa.]


My Lords, No. We do not now seek such orders, and cannot say whether we should win them if we did.


My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, am I to understand that Her Majesty's Government cannot "estimate"—that is the word in my Question—the loss occasioned by an act of policy? How then can they relate national finances to any act of policy?


My Lords, the reply to the first part of the noble Lord's Question is: Yes. It is not possible to make an estimate. I do not necessarily see the correlation between this particular matter, where facts are not available, and others, where facts are available.


My Lords, I wonder how much information there is as to the increase in the export of arms to South Africa from other countries since the ban was imposed. Have the Government any reason to think that our stoppage of the export of arms has had the slightest impact upon the racial policy of South Africa?


My Lords, I have no figures on the value of exports by other countries. It may interest the noble Earl to know that in fact the export of defence equipment in 1965 and 1966 by Her Majesty's Government, or by the British Government and exporters, in furtherance of agreements already entered into, was higher than ever before.


My Lords, with regard to the Question asked by my noble friend Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, I wonder whether the Minister would allow me to put this question to him, as the noble and gallant Field Marshal, Lord Alexander of Tunis, and I were responsible for making the whole of the Agreement about Simonstown, and about orders for these ships. It was perfectly clear what was going to be ordered and those are all there, and I rather think they are set out in one of the White Papers. Surely, it could be no breach of security, and would be quite proper, to say which of those orders have been carried out and which have not.


My Lords, it would be perfectly possible. The commitments under the Simonstown Agreement and the orders under it have been fully met, except in relation to two particular ships for which the South African Government did not ask us to tender.


My Lords, why did not they ask us? Was it because we made a mess of it?


My Lords, since figures have been quoted by both United Kingdom and South African trade associations and by Ministers in South Africa, may I ask the Minister whether it would be inaccurate to attach any importance to these figures which relate particularly to security? Further, would the noble Lord agree that the same thing would apply to the loss of business of this character to Portugal with reference to Mozambique?


My Lords, I do not think I ought, within the terms of the Question, to discuss Portugal. I am not, I do assure the noble Lord, holding out. I have no figures. Certainly figures have been published by certain people. I cannot, I am afraid, assess whether they are correct or not.


My Lords, are Her Majesty's Government seeking to suggest that no financial loss has been suffered by the ban on the export of these goods; or is it merely that they cannot quantify the loss?


My Lords, certainly I am not anxious to suggest, and did not suggest, that there has not been any loss. If one follows the right policy, it does not mean that there may not be certain disadvantages—in this life, anyway.


My Lords, would the noble Lord say that there may have been a loss, but that Her Majesty's Government do not propose to tell Parliament what it is?


My Lords, I should like to be helpful to the noble Marquess. We do not know what loss there has been on orders which we have not obtained, and which, as I said in my original Answer, we have not sought; and we do not know whether we should have won them if we had sought them. I would only repeat again, so that there is no misunderstanding, that we have fulfilled our commitments under the Simonstown Agreement. We are continuing to supply spares because clearly there is, if not a contractual obligation a semi-contractual obligation, to supply spares, both for ships and aircraft, and we did deliver the aircraft for which we had contracted.


My Lords, can the noble Lord tell the House what aircraft, submarines, ships and other equipment, which it is perhaps quite reasonable to assume might have been supplied by this country, have been supplied by other countries? If such information is available, would not that give some idea of the kind of loss which this country has suffered because of Government policy?


My Lords, again I wish to help the noble Lord. We do not have this information; we do not know the value of equipment supplied by other countries. There has, I know, been references to submarines which the French are supplying. We were not asked to tender, and I do not know what they are worth. It would be quite improper for me to attempt an estimate on such a very tentative basis.