HL Deb 10 July 1985 vol 466 cc185-6
Lord Hatch of Lusby

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what their attitude is to a reimposition of an arms embargo on Chile.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, we believe that a total embargo would be ineffective, but we take great care to ensure that British firms do not sell items which, in our judgment, are likely to be used for internal repression.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord whether or not it is the case that a demonstration model of the gun-carrying half-track vehicle, the Centaur, has been sent to Chile with a view to further sales.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, yes. As the noble Lord says, an export licence was granted for the demonstration model. We have not received any application for a full export licence for Centaur vehicles to Chile. Any such application would be considered carefully, taking into account all the prevailing circumstances.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, are not the Government making an arbitrary distinction between arms which can be used for internal repression and those which can be used for defence against an external threat? Would not the noble Lord agree that many weapons fall into both categories? I am thinking, for example, of jet aircraft manufactured by British Aerospace, which can be used for the purpose of training pilots but which can also, by a very simple modification in the field, be changed to have a ground attack role which might be used against civilian populations. Therefore, would not the Government consider that, in line with their policy of supporting the special rapporteur on Chile, they should reimpose the arms embargo to demonstrate their displeasure at the current state of human rights in that country?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not sure that the type of embargo which the noble Lord has in mind would actually achieve the end that he seeks. We repeatedly and continuously make clear our views on abuses of human rights wherever they may occur, including in Chile. However, if we were to proceed along the route which the noble Lord suggests, I do not think that we should carry the same force.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, would not the type of ban which the noble Lord opposite has suggested simply have the usual effect of these bans—in other words, we should lose the market and Chile would get the same arms from our competitors?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, history would suggest that my noble friend is quite right.

Lord Oram

My Lords, is not the Chilean Government's record on human rights—which was already deplorable before the declaration of the state of siege last November—becoming very much worse, including murders by death squads? Therefore, is it not quite wrong for us to supply arms of any kind to such a regime? How is it possible to differentiate those arms which are ostensibly supplied for external defence, but which in fact are used for internal repression?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I offered no defence for the abuses of human rights which occur in Chile, or indeed elsewhere. We make our views known to the Chilean Government on appropriate occasions. On the question of the state of seige to which the noble Lord referred, I understand that the state of seige was lifted recently by the Chilean Government and we shall be watching to see how matters develop following that. However, on the wider question on how one differentiates between arms destined for one purpose or another, I point out that one needs to recall that the UN Charter, no less—I think that it is Article 52—confers the right of self-defence upon all the signatories to that Charter. That is a right which we ourselves enjoy and one which we would not wish to disturb in others.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, will the noble Lord take the opportunity of dissociating himself from the view of his noble friend who spoke earlier, that if a repressive regime is to receive the weapons to exercise that repression, it does not matter whether we supply them—provided we get the market—or whether somebody else supplies them, and that we are guiltless because if we do not supply them then somebody else will do so? Will the noble Lord also say whether or not there is any point in sending the demonstration model which I mentioned in my first supplementary question unless that demonstration model is to be taken up and supplied? Do the Government contemplate giving a licence for the supply of the Centaur? If so, do they not agree that that is assisting the repression of human rights which the noble Lord has said in so many words the Government deplore?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we have not yet taken a decision on whether the Centaur vehicles, to which the noble Lord refers, should be exported to Chile. Indeed, we have not yet received an application; nor, so far as I know, have the suppliers received an order for the vehicles. We shall want to take our decision in the light of all the factors relevant when, and if, those events occur.

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