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Chile (Submarines)

Volume 892: debated on Wednesday 21 May 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he now intends to allow Chile to receive two submarines at present docked at Greenock; and if he will make a statement.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he still intends to allow the two submarines lying at Greenock to depart for Chile.

The answer to the first part of the Question is "Yes, Sir." No new export licences for arms to Chile are being granted with the exception of spares and equipment relating to existing contracts.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is some regret that these submarines are now to be released to Chile? Does he also accept that we should now try to establish throughout the world an understanding about the basis on which arms should be supplied by the great Powers to lesser countries? Does he further agree that there is a degree of international morality in this matter and that where a nation has offended against the moral code throughout the world it should not be supplied with arms? Is it not now time for the United Kingdom to try to raise the moral standing and to give a lead in such affairs by saying that we are not prepared to supply arms in such circumstances?

My hon. Friend is right. I do feel some regret about this. We had this discussion a year ago. I am quite clear that as the ownership of the warships had already then passed to the Chilean Government we would be wrong to interfere. I took that view then and have maintained it steadily since. I am concerned, as I think everyone must be, about the question of the supply of arms. We have at the moment about £200 million-worth of arms orders for ships in Latin-American countries. This is a considerable benefit to us in many ways. I have heard it argued—although I think this is more for the Secretary of State for Defence than for me—that we could not maintain an independent arms industry unless we were prepared to engage in this trade. It does present difficult problems for those who have to take these decisions. I ask for understanding from my hon. Friend.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that what he has said will receive widespread support in all parts of the House? Does he not also agree that when we talk of morality it is important that this country should not give the impression that it maintains double standards? Does he not further agree that this is something which affects not just the Government and Secretaries of State but other organisations within the country?

I have pleaded guilty before to double standards. I do try to avoid them. There are times when someone standing at this Dispatch BOY, alas, cannot evade the trap. But I give careful consideration, as does the Cabinet, to this kind of question and—if it is possible—to trying to work out principles that will reconcile with the considerations put by my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson).