Iran (Defence Co-operation)

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th February 1979.

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Photo of Mr Arthur Newens Mr Arthur Newens , Harlow 12:00 am, 13th February 1979

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on defence co-operation with Iran in the light of recent developments.

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

We are watching developments in Iran closely, but in present circumstances it is difficult to predict the future course of our defence relations.

Photo of Mr Arthur Newens Mr Arthur Newens , Harlow

Yes, but does not the success of the mass uprising of the Iranian people show the crass folly of previous British and American policies in supporting an appalling tyranny, in supplying it with huge quantities of arms, and utterly disregarding all the expressions of opinion by opposition and progressive forces within the area? In these circumstances, does my right hon. Friend recognise that both his policies and those of the Opposition are now in utter ruins, and that to attempt to revive them or continue them elsewhere in the Gulf will leave Britain in the long run without a single friend in the Gulf region?

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

It would be unwise for me to pronounce on the present situation in Iran. As I recall, my hon. Friend has uttered these observations previously. I do not think that in the past it was wrong to supply our CENTO ally with the arms that she sought.

Photo of Mr Philip Goodhart Mr Philip Goodhart , Beckenham

As production of the Shir Iran tank is about to start in particular at the Royal Ordnance Factory, Leeds, does the Secretary of State have any plans to take over the contract for the tank for the British Army or other potential foreign buyers?

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

In the confused circumstances of the past few weeks, it has not been possible to have the necessary discussions on the complex contractual arrangements with Iran. All the options are under consideration, and we must await a view from Iran before reaching final decisions.

Photo of Mr Emlyn Hooson Mr Emlyn Hooson , Montgomery

As the British Army of the Rhine is equipped with outdated tanks and the Shir Iran tank is the most modern design, has not the Secretary of State considered taking over the contract so that the tanks can be used for the defence of this country and the West? In that event, he might have the support of his hon. Friends below the Gangway.

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

I should welcome such support. But the Shir Iran tank was designed for conditions in that country. We have under development for the British Army a tank that is designed for the European theatre. We shall have to consider this matter further.

Photo of Miss Joan Lestor Miss Joan Lestor , Eton and Slough

In reply to a written question by me, my right hon. Friend last week said that, although arms supplies to Iran were stopped in December, nevertheless some would probably still have gone because licences had been issued. Can he therefore tell me who will bear the financial cost of those arms if the Iranian authorities do not?

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

My hon. Friend should know that most of the contracts with Iran were pre-financed. If one of the subcontractors supplied equipment to Iran, it would be against payments already received.

Photo of Mr Ian Gilmour Mr Ian Gilmour , Chesham and Amersham

Despite the glee shown by the Tribune Group about the difficulties caused to our arms contracts with Iran, does not the Secretary of State agree that the employment implications are extremely serious? Unless he is prepared to take the tank for the British Army, will not this mean the closure of ROF Leeds?

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

I do not think that the question of closing ROF Leeds will arise. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that this is a difficult situation with complex contractual negotiations. He probably had knowledge of these when he had my job, because the negotiations pre-dated this Government. Until we can disentangle the complications about cancellation charges, and so on, it would be premature to make a pronouncement.