HC Deb 04 December 1956 vol 561 cc1046-7
49. Mr. Swingler

asked the Prime Minister what principles govern the publication of, or refusal to publish, information concerning the supply of military and para-military equipment to foreign Powers.

Mr. R. A. Butler

The kinds and quantities of arms used by the military forces of any State are matters closely affecting the national security of that State. Any State might consider the publication of details of arms supplied to it prejudicial to its security. The Government must therefore decline to publish such information.

As my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade stated in his reply to a Question on 21st November, certain figures are published from time to time. These are available at intervals, but in each case the categories which include arms and military supplies include also civil goods. This arrangement is deliberate.

Mr. Swingler

Has the Lord Privy Seal studied the OFFICIAL REPORT of 21st and 22nd November, in which Questions identical to this were addressed to the Minister of Defence and the President of the Board of Trade, and the Minister of Defence declined to answer the Question, whereas the President of the Board of Trade gave the figures? Could we not have some co-ordination or some principles laid down by the Government whereby the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence would follow the same practice as the Board of Trade in supplying these figures?

Mr. Butler

I have with me the Answers to which the hon. Member refers. The President of the Board of Trade said: It is not the usual practice to disclose the total value of arms exports …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 92.] In fact, such figures as are governed by my Answer can be found in the Annual Statement of Trade of the United Kingdom, which is published after the year to which it relates. The ordinary United Nations quarterly figures are not published in the United Kingdom but they are available on request from the Board of Trade about three months in arrears. I should certainly be ready to give consideration to publishing the quarterly returns, if the hon. Member so asks me.

Air Commodore Harvey

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that if he were to publish figures of arms supplied to Egypt since 1945, it would be helpful in tomorrow's and Thursday's debate?

Mr. Butler

It would be helpful in keeping the balance between the actions taken by both sides of the House.