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Royal Ordnance Factories (Employment)

Volume 958: debated on Tuesday 21 November 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence what are the prospects for employment in Royal ordnance and other factories, in the light of recent developments in Iran.

Recent developments in Iran have not led to any reduction in the level of Iranian business with the Royal ordnance factories, nor, so far as I am aware, with any other factories. Consequently there has been no change in the prospects for employment.

Will the Minister assure the House that contingency plans exist in case of cancellation or default of arms orders from our customers in the Middle East? Will he also give an assurance that should these materialise there will be no loss of employment but that it may well lead to re-equipment of Her Majesty's Forces earlier than originally programmed?

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the last assurance for which he asks. Obviously we are hoping that the present orders will continue and have no reason to believe that that will not be the case. Regarding the Royal ordnance factories, the orders for Iran are being pre-financed.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the letter in The Times last week, written by a businessman who said that on his last visit to Iran, where he had been going for many years, he discovered that because of the statements made by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs there was a definite coolness towards him on the part of Iranian business people? Is it not clear that we should be careful about supporting dictatorial regimes, because it does not necessarily help British business? Is it not time that we took an independent attitude on these matters?

I did not see the letter to which my hon. Friends refers. I am sure that he will be aware that the Prime Minister recently sent a message to the Shah urging him to continue with his programme of liberalization and that—despite the recent turn of events in Iran —the Shah has again publicly reiterated his firm intention to do so.

Will the Royal ordnance factories be receiving extra orders for anti-aircraft and anti-armour missiles which are needed by British operational units in Germany?

There is a Question appearing later on the Order Paper about orders for surface-to-air missile systems.

In spite of what the Shah has said, is not my right hon. Friend aware that there is recent evidence that torture and repression are still continuing under this tyranny? Does it not trouble him at times that this tyranny is being upheld by British arms?

Questions about the current political situation in Iran, or any other country, are best answered by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.