South Africa (Arms Supply)

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th November 1970.

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Photo of Mr Stephen Hastings Mr Stephen Hastings , Mid Bedfordshire

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about Her Majesty's Government's policy towards South Africa.

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on his talks with other Commonwealth Ministers about the sale of arms to South Africa.

Photo of Mr Nigel Fisher Mr Nigel Fisher , Surbiton

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will delay a final decision on the supply of arms to South Africa until there has been a full exchange of views at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference.

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

We have not yet reached a conclusion on this matter.

Photo of Mr Michael Barnes Mr Michael Barnes , Brentford and Chiswick

What representations has the right hon. Gentleman received from the Nigerian Government about this impending decision? Would he agree that it would be a great irony if, after the controversial steps which Britain took to maintain British influence in Nigeria during the civil war, we were now to force Nigeria into the arms of Russia by this policy?

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

I certainly hope that we shall not force Nigeria into the arms of the Soviet Union. The exchanges that we have had with Commonwealth countries must, of course, be confidential until Her Majesty's Government take a decision.

Photo of Mr Stephen Hastings Mr Stephen Hastings , Mid Bedfordshire

In this connection, would my right hon. Friend agree that those who would have us believe that the main source of danger to this country springs from the problems of race—though I agree that these problems are important—are completely wrong, that the main source of danger remains Soviet power and that this menace is steadily increasing?

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

Soviet power can of course be a menace and if there were a monopoly of Soviet power in, for example, the Indian Ocean, the West might find its options closed as to the policies that it might wish to pursue. The problems of race are also, of course, problems of which we must take very careful account.

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the careful and very proper consultations which he has already had have led to a much better understanding of the British position over this issue?

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

I hope that that is true. What has happened in the Mediterranean and the pattern which might be introduced into the Indian Ocean has certainly impressed those whom we have consulted.

Photo of Mr Nigel Fisher Mr Nigel Fisher , Surbiton

Would my right hon. Friend agree that there is no hurry to announce a decision in this matter and that on an issue which may well prejudice the future of the whole Commonwealth, it would be proper for the Commonwealth Prime Ministers together to discuss it, especially as their forthcoming meeting is to be comparatively soon.

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

I will certainly bear in mind what my right hon. Friend says. I do not think that anybody could accuse us of not taking time to consult the Commonwealth.

Photo of Mr Denis Healey Mr Denis Healey , Leeds East

Reverting to an answer which he gave to an earlier supplementary question, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say whether he agrees with his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence that the presence of the Soviet Fleet in the Indian Ocean is nothing to get steamed up against? [Hors. MEMBERS: "Against?"] Yes, to get steamed up against or, indeed, to get steamed up over?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are five frigates of the Royal Navy allocated to the Indian Ocean with the duty of blockading the Port of Beira? Is he further aware that the whole of Her Majesty's Opposition strongly support the plea made by his hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) that a decision should not be taken until there has been a chance for collective consideration by the Commonwealth Prime Ministers in Singapore?

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

We certainly have no intention of getting steamed up in this matter. However, Governments must use foresight, and the present Government are responsible for this nation's security. We must, therefore, look ahead and see what plans can be made for the security of the Indian Ocean.

To answer the right hon. Gentleman's question about the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher), that will certainly be taken into account.