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Volume 643: debated on Wednesday 28 June 1961

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asked the Lord Privy Seal what representations have been made to the Portuguese Government about the use of the two frigates sold to them by Her Majesty's Government; and what efforts were made to cancel the sale.

None, Sir. These frigates have been sold to Portugal as replacements for two Portuguese destroyers of British design which are now almost thirty years old and which are to be scrapped. These ships will help Portugal to meet her N.A.T.O. obligations. They are now in British yards and being refitted. This will take some months to complete.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Foreign Office is consulted before these sorts of sales are made? If not, should it not be consulted, considering the devastating effect that they may have on the British good name throughout the world? Is he aware that yesterday we were told that further sales are now in suspense? Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether this means that there will be no further sales of arms to Portugal, or sales of arms which could get to Portugal, until the trouble in Angola is cleared up and the present repressive measures abandoned?

The procedure for deciding about the sale of arms, either Governmental or private, was described by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the House. There is Government machinery for dealing with that. The announcement yesterday was that orders for arms for Portuguese overseas territories are now held in suspense.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what machinery Her Majesty's Government are setting up to ensure that arms shipped to Portugal are not used in Portuguese overseas territories? Are Her Majesty's Consul-General in Luanda and the other gentleman charged with inquiring into the situation in Angola by the Secretary of State given any instructions on this issue? Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the refitting of the two frigates will take many months?

I have told the House that it will take several months to complete the refitting.

As for the destination of arms, it is up to the Governmental machinery which is established to examine each of the orders for arms going to Portugal in the light of their possible use.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Prime Minister made no answer to us yesterday? He just sat there dumb. Secondly, if it will take many months to refit the frigates, was there any real urgency for making the announcement of their sale now? Could it not have been held up until they were ready?

The Question on this point to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was not reached yesterday. I was referring to the general machinery for the examination of all orders for arms to this country, either Governmental or by private arrangement. As for the order for the frigates, such an order takes a considerable time to be negotiated and when it is finally settled it has to be signed and then the process of refitting carried out.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say specifically what the obligations are that Portugal is having to fulfil to N.A.T.O. with two frigates thirty years old which we were about to scrap?