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Rolls-Royce Engines (Chile)

Volume 951: debated on Tuesday 13 June 1978

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I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the deliberate and provocative refusal of Her Majesty's Government to return to the Government of Chile four Rolls-Royce Avon engines, the property of that Government, sent here for servicing in 1973 and subsequently held by Her Majesty's Government at the instigation of shop stewards at the East Kilbride factory of Rolls-Royce, where the engines are currently held in defiance of a court order that the Chileans' property should be released and returned to them."
This is a specific matter because it refers to a known consignment of Rolls-Royce Avon engines. It is a specific matter because it is known to the Department of Industry, which in an answer to a Written Question last night informed the House that the Chilean Government
"have applied for an export licence for the Avon engines and this application is currently being considered by the Departments concerned."
I stress the plural "Departments", which I believe is relevant, as I shall later show. It should be borne in mind that the answer fails to point out that this issue dates back to 1973, when the engines were sent here, or certainly to 1974.

The matter is urgent because the news of the court action has only just become public, it appearing to have been concealed by Her Majesty's Government. There seems little doubt that other foreign Governments, or foreign customers, considering sending goods to Britain for servicing, will be confused by these events and will want to know just where they stand in the event of there being a change of Government while their goods are here, or in the event of shop stewards taking the law into their own hands. The issue creates doubt among trading partners and puts our exports at risk. The matter is, therefore, urgent.

I feel that there is little doubt about the importance of the matter. It is not merely a commercial matter. The implications of the Government's action—bowing to the threat of force of the shop stewards and defying a court order—indicate that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was right when in 1974 he asked the people "Who governs Britain?".

I stress that, however important this issue is, we are not discussing the rights or wrongs of the situation in Chile. We are not discussing the sale of arms, because the engines belong to the Chilean Government. They have been paid for years ago. We are discussing nothing less than international banditry by Her Majesty's Government.

I have sought, Mr. Speaker, to find an analogy which I think is relevant. If you, Mr. Speaker, were to take your bicycle to a cycle repair shop, and that shop subsequently were to be taken over by, shall we say, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), who decided that he did not like you and that he would keep your bicycle, and you subsequently went to a court of this land and obtained a court order to the effect that you could have your bicycle back and the owner of that shop decided that you were not to have your bicycle back, you would think, Mr. Speaker, that that was a poor show. When that is done by a Government entitled Her Majesty's Government, it is a serious matter.

I refer finally—

Order. First, the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) picked on the wrong George when talking about a bicycle. However, he is coming to a conclusion.

I finally refer back to the answer that was given last night containing the use of the plural "Departments". The Department of Industry did not indicate which other Government Departments were involved. Was it the Ministry of Defence, to which I originally tabled the Question? Was it the Foreign and Commonwealth Office? Both Departments have maintained a gutless silence in the face of this long delay.

The use of the phrase "the rule of law" tends to be over-used, but in this instance I submit that the Government are stealing somebody else's property. That cannot be condoned by the House, nor even by the Government. On that basis, Mr. Speaker, I seek your agreement that we should debate the matter at an early date.

The hon. Gentleman gave me notice before 12 o'clock this morning that he proposed to ask leave to move to Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the Government's attitude towards the court order to return aero engines the property of the Chilean Government to that Government".
I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said. The House knows that it is not for me to decide the importance of a matter but whether it requires an emergency debate in the House. I have to rule that the hon. Gentleman's submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order. Therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) implied that I have your bicycle. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that unless a military coup takes place in my shop I shall ensure that you get your bike back.

Welsh Affairs


That the matter of Youth Unemployment in Wales, being a matter relating exclusively to Wales, be referred to the Welsh Grand Committee for their consideration.—[Mr. Coleman.]