HL Deb 13 July 1967 vol 284 cc1260-3

3.21 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 their decisions as to licences for defensive equipment for overseas are governed by normal commercial considerations or by ideological principles—a practice not followed by other U.N. member countries.]


My Lords, the decisions of Her Majesty's Government about export licences for defence equipment are reached in the light of several factors. Political, economic, strategic and security considerations are all taken into account in deciding whether the export of a particular item of defence equipment may be permitted to the Allied, Commonwealth or friendly Governments to whom we might sell, having regard to the circumstances obtaining at the time.


My Lords, in view of the concern about this matter made clear in this House yesterday which, as will be known to the noble Lord, exists in the country as a whole, would he not agree, since this affects South Africa and Portugal, that the situation justifies review, particularly since it appears to be clear that recent circumstances concerning the Canal have put us in a different position with regard to the passage round the Cape and the necessity of using South African ports? Secondly, may I also point out that this not only endangers our actual strategic position but indeed causes anxiety about employment in this country? Would the noble Lord not agree on these two points: that we cannot afford to lose this very large amount of business, which other countries are taking from us, and, secondly, that it would be timely to review the position as he has stated it?


My Lords, I cannot give any undertaking about the noble Lord's last suggestion of a review. The matter is under continuous consideration, and each item is considered on its merits. Broadly, the principle applied is national self-interest, and we in the present Government interpret as national self-interest that we should support the United Nations in their resolution. I am sure that the noble Lord would not suggest, for instance, that we should export equipment to the unfriendly countries. I take his particular point with regard to South Africa, and I would only say that Her Majesty's Government have made their policy very clear, and we shall have to continue to honour it in the way we consider best in the national interest.


My Lords, as the noble Lord mentioned falling in with the wishes of the United Nations, may I ask whether it is not a fact that, of all the countries supplying this type of material to South Africa, only the United States of America and ourselves are adhering to the embargo; and other countries, like France, Italy and Germany, are cashing in on our absence from this market? Would not the noble Lord agree with my noble friend that it really is time to have another look at the whole of this policy, both as to its effectiveness and as to the wisdom of its application?


My Lords, I very much appreciate the force of the noble Lord's argument. Clearly, if there were a general breakdown, it would make a nonsense of the policy of the United Nations; but generally, although I have no precise figures on this, the United Nations members do observe the United Nations resolutions, although I agree with the noble Lord that there are exceptions and I have chosen my words very carefully on this. But I have noted what the noble Lord said.


My Lords, is the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, aware that, following the exchanges which took place yesterday, he rather left the impression that Her Majesty's Government were really not interested in this export trade to South Africa; and having regard to the general balance of payments conditions that seems a fairly—if I may use the word—callous attitude to take up in view of the difficulties we are in? Is that a correct impression to have formed, or would the noble Lord like to take the opportunity to correct it?—because I think, after what he said yesterday, it is an impression which is widely held.


My Lords, I must say that I am very sorry that I should have given the impression of being either uninterested or callous. It certainly was not my intention to give that impression, but I do not depart from the basic statements that I made.


My Lords, as yesterday and again to-day it has been explained to us that Her Majesty's Government are following this policy from a sense of what they think to be right, and as the loss falls entirely on Her Majesty's subjects, would it not be a very good thing if Her Majesty's Government, in addition to the moral satisfaction of carrying out their policy, shared a little of the misfortune falling on the rest of Her Majesty's subjects by reducing the salaries of Her Majesty's Ministers when they take these decisions, so as to make the public feel that the Government are sharing in the burden?


My Lords, we are not interested purely in moral satisfaction.


My Lords, can my noble friend tell me whether there exists such a thing as a practice not followed by some other United Nations member-countries, and if so what it is?


My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Viscount is asking his supplementary question in relation to this particular Question. If he is, I have already mentioned that some nations are not fully honouring the U.N. resolution. If his supplementary question is not related to this Question, it would not, I submit, be in order for me to answer.


can the noble Lord tell the House whether licences granted in respect of defensive equipment are of a standard kind? That is to say, can a particular type of equipment be exported from some other country which Her Majesty's Government would not agree to export from this country? Quite clearly, if this matter is not considered by all countries on a comparable basis, this country could be placed at a very great disadvantage.


My Lords, clearly, the form of licence is not similar in each country. I think the point made by the noble Lord is whether there is a different interpretation applied. I suspect that this must be the case, in view of the action of certain other countries.