Arms company faces Commons scrutiny: Labour aims to establish if firm broke trade embargoes. Tim Kelsey reports

THE arms-exporting record of Royal Ordnance, as a state-run and then a private company, will be put under parliamentary scrutiny in the new year in an attempt to establish if the company broke national and international embargoes.

David Clark, Labour's defence spokesman, is to table a series of questions challenging the Government to describe the extent of its knowledge of exports by Britain's largest weapons manufacturer since the early 1980s.

Royal Ordnance was a state-run business until 1987 when it was sold to British Aerospace.

Dr Clark also plans to write to Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, to ask him to comment on the report in yesterday's Independent which disclosed that Royal Ordnance has been accused of helping a German arms manufacturer breach sanctions.

It has been alleged during a court case in Germany that the company was involved in systematic evasion of international embargoes to a greater extent than that disclosed by the current Scott inquiry, with its remit restricted to arms supplied to Iraq.

East Germany, a former potential enemy, and the Nicaraguan Contras are among alleged recipients of machine-guns made by the German firm Heckler & Koch, but routed through Royal Ordnance in the UK when a state-run concern.

'I just find it appalling that the British Government must have been aware that these weapons were going to our enemies,' Dr Clark said. 'East German soldiers were trained to fight our men. It just shows how sleazy and corrupt the Government has been.'

The accusations were made during the trial of Walter Lamp, the managing director of Heckler & Koch, one of Germany's most famous arms companies, which manufactures machine-guns and rifles. They focus on an attempt to ship more than 1,100 machine-guns via the UK to the United Arab Emirates in 1987.

Italian police, who first discovered the shipment, believe that it was destined for Iraq. The prosecution has evidence of up to 50 shipments via the UK to several banned destinations.

Mr Clark intends to ask the Government how much it knew of the relationship between Royal Ordnance and Heckler & Koch both before and after it was privatised in 1987. The Independent reports today that H & K weapons were exported in 1992 to parts of the former Yugoslavia after the imposition of the UN embargo. At this time, H & K was a wholly owned subsidiary of Royal Ordnance.

Mr Clark will also be tabling a series of questions regarding alleged exports by Royal Ordnance to other destinations, including Iran. He is seeking to establish who gave sanction for these alleged exports and whether Margaret Thatcher or John Major, or any of their ministers, had knowledge of them.

This is not the first time that Royal Ordnance exports have come under scrutiny. The company has been accused by the US Senate of selling rocket propellant to Iraq. The Independent on Sunday disclosed last year that the company had been involved in an international network supplying artillery ammunition to Iran in the 1980s.

Separately, Royal Ordnance was accused of shipping explosives to the Iran-Iraq battlefield in spite of sanctions. It has also been forced to admit that it helped to construct a weapons plant for the Iranians. Royal Ordnance has repeatedly said it cannot be held responsible for the ultimate destination of its products, but that it exports its goods in full accordance with British law.

Royal Ordnance's relationship with H & K went back well before it bought the German company in 1991. In 1986, the two companies signed a letter of intent to collaborate on research and sales. But even before that, it has been alleged by the prosecution in the German court case, H & K guns were being imported by Royal Ordnance and assembled at its plant in Enfield, north London.

The prosecution claims that H & K used Royal Ordnance as a means of breaching stringent German export laws which forbid sales to trouble spots around the world, not all of which are banned under British law.

It is alleged that Royal Ordnance falsified documents and then helped with the re-export of the weapons to their real destinations. These, according to the prosecution, included the Lebanon in 1982, the Nicaraguan Contras in 1986 - H & K weapons, assembled in the UK, were found in a plane shot down by the Sandinistas - and the East German security forces.

German Customs officers have told the court, which is sitting near H & K's headquarters in Oberndorf, Baden-Wurttemberg, that more than 300 machine-guns were found in the East after reunification and claimed that these had been exported via Royal Ordnance.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific