HC Deb 08 July 1975 vol 895 cc406-68

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Harper.]

7.2 p.m.

Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)

This is a mini-debate on a maxi-subject. Arms control and the sale of arms is one of the several subjects of high importance that this House rarely, if ever, debates. Other such subjects include the European Conference on Security and Cooperation, the MBFR talks in Vienna, the Conference on the Law of the Sea, and the state of the Nato alliance. It seems that there is an inverse ratio of the number of Members who turn up for such debates to the importance of the issues being debated.

We have three hours in which to debate arms sales, and I hope that this means that we shall all be mercifully brief. It is flattering to see the Minister of State here tonight. He has spent the last month defending the Government's defence review, and as a consequence has become something of an expert in fighting on the retreat. In my short opening I have several questions to put on arms control, and we expect the Minister to answer them.

There are three attitudes which can be adopted towards the sale of arms. It can be regarded as morally abhorrent. It can also be regarded as a welcome and essential opportunity for national armaments industries to reduce their unit costs and to win exports. The third attitude is that the arms trade should be used as a means of increasing our influence abroad and furthering the national interest. In each case limits must be set. We do not sell arms to our enemies. In the last resort arms sales must be governed by strategic considerations. I go along 85 per cent. of the way with the proposition that what is good for Vickers is good for Britain. Where I wish to probe the Minister of State is in that area of the remaining 15 per cent. I want to discover where his limits lie.

I ask those people who believe that the arms trade is an immoral and dirty business to live in the world as it is and not as they would like it to be. We live in a world of a seemingly ever-increasing number of nation States, each saddled with the obligation of self-defence, each eager, out of vanity or necessity, to further or defend its interests. Some are poor and others—the OPEC countries—are filthy rich. All have an appetite for modern arms which it is almost impossible to satisfy.

Were we not to sell arms to these countries others would. Were others not to sell them, the countries would eventually make the armaments themselves. Hunger, one-party States and a thirst for arms are the three realities of the Third World. Most of us agree that it is an advantage for Britain to sell arms. Without large export orders to reduce unit costs, the viability of an independent arms industry and the base for research and development would be at risk. Even were that not the case, we need the money. We need to win back from the OPEC countries our share of the money paid to them. Arms sales could lead to the sales of other things, such as soft drink plants, hotels and hospitals. At a time when the amount of money available to be spent on defence in Western countries has to be limited we have to sell arms in order to purchase our own defence economically. Where, however, should the limits lie?

The rationale of what we do at present is a mixture of exports for exports' sake and the pursuit of our interests abroad. Is there any conflict between these two objectives? Is not the stability of the Middle East an essential Western interest? The Ministry of Defence may wish to sell almost anybody nearly anything, but perhaps the Foreign Office sometimes has its doubts.

Take the Middle East. Since the start of 1974 the value of arms ordered or sent to the area is in the region of $13,000 million. American sales to Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia are of the value of $8,500 million. The Russians have sent arms worth $4,000 million to Egypt and Syria. France is third in the league. In 1974 Britain sold arms worth £475 million and expects this year to sell orders to the value of £560 million, mainly to Iran, Egypt and the Gulf States.

The size of these transactions is easily explained. First, the October War destroyed much equipment, though it needed to be replaced. Secondly, and this is a very significant point, the major oil producers—Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait—have embarked upon a spending spree. As a result, the Gulf States now equal, if not exceed, the spending of those countries most affected by the Israeli-Arab dispute. Iran now ranks ninth in the world defence expenditure league. In 1966 it ranked thirtieth. The arms race in the Middle East is a matter not only of quantity but of quality. Iran has on order 80 F-14s together with a Phoenix missile system. It has in service or on order 150 Phantoms, 250 F-5s, and 550 helicopters. If only the Royal Air Force could claim half as much!

Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)

The hon. Gentleman's argument is that although it may be morally abhorrent, it is vital to this country that we should have these arms exports. I believe that morality and self-interest usually go together, even in this case. If both sides go on flooding the Middle East with arms, a war starting there may escalate into world war three. Which would cost our country more, the loss of some arms exports or a third world war?

Mr. Critchley

Anyone who believes that morality and self-interest go hand in hand in international affairs is living in a world of his own.

Mr. Allaun

What a horrible thing to say.

Mr. Critchley

None the less, the question that hon. Gentleman poses is a serious one. If he will bear with me, he may find that one or two of my conclusions are not altogether shocking to him.

Iran will have in service 800 Chieftain tanks—more than the British Army of the Rhine. The Shah has the world's largest hovercraft fleet and the very latest frigates. We are investing a lot in one man who has many enemies. The Saudis and the Kuwaitis have in service or on order some extremely modern weapons including the American F-5, the French Mirage III and the Soviet MiG 25. All the weapons systems I have mentioned, including dozens of sophisticated armaments and support systems, have been supplied at special rates to both sides in the Israeli-Arab war.

The United States has approved the sale of the Lance surface-to-surface missile in service with the Seventh Army in Southern Germany with nuclear warheads, to Israel along with the F-15 air superiority fighter. The Russians have supplied the Scud missile to Egypt and Syria.

In addition to the sale of large amounts of advanced conventional arms, Egypt, Iran and Israel have all recently negotiated for the sale of American and French nuclear power plants. Is there not a somewhat ominous link between the availability of nuclear fuel and a conventional arms race which includes weapons all too easily adapted to nuclear delivery?

The sale of arms, even of British arms, is not just a simple matter of congratulation. The Middle East is experiencing a regional and, so far, non-nuclear arms race of remarkable proportions. Weapons are being shipped into an area replete with the sources of military conflict.

There are some specific questions I wish to put to the Minister of State. How does he view the relationship between the unlimited sale of arms and the likelihood of war? Would he care to speculate as to cause and effect? I would have said that war in the Middle East cannot be in the interests of the major arms suppliers and is unlikely to be in the interests of the major recipients. However, war is in the interests of the forces of revolution in that part of the world.

Recent wars in the Middle East have demonstrated the importance of deception, speed, surprise and advanced technology used to achieve victory. There is every incentive for the quick kill. Does not the Minister agree that unless military success is forthcoming in the very short run, the prospects of international intervention and thus of escalation are greatly enhanced? Would he not agree that if unrestricted arms sales continue, the strategic implications must spread beyond the regional frontiers and beyond the boundaries of that particular region?

Iran is being built into a regional super-Power in order to fill the vacuum left by the withdrawal of Western forces. What is the effect of the build-up of Iranian armed power on the Turks? I went to Ankara in April. The only thing that seemed to energise the Turkish commanders to whom I spoke was a combination of anxiety and envy when they discussed the arms that were being shipped to Iran. They immediately made the contrast between this phenomenon and the fact that the Congress of the United States has slapped an embargo upon American arms to a NATO ally, Turkey.

Would not the balance of power in the Indian Ocean be upset were Iran and Pakistan ever to make common cause? Will not Israel have to face a threat from the whole Arab world? Will not an uncontrolled arms race whet the appetite for the greatest virility symbol of them all, nuclear weapons?

The Arabs have money to burn. The Indians have made the bomb on the sly. I would assert again that it would be highly unlikely that the introduction of nuclear weapons into the Middle East would be paralleled by the emergence of stable régimes. For those who support Israel—and I strive for a certain neutrality—unrestricted arms sales to the Middle East can work in favour only of the Arabs. The Arabs have more money, more manpower and more friends. The Minister of State will know what the consequences for Europe would be if a fifth round in the Israeli-Arab war were to occur. We should be forced to choose between our financial stability, which is a gift of OPEC, and our military security, which is a factor of our relationship with the United States of America.

I want the Minister of State to spell out what he regards as the strategic implications of the arms race in the Middle East. Are the major supplier nations feeding the fires of existing hostility and are we, in company with the French and the Americans, making a future conflict in that region inevitable by our sales to the oil-rich countries of the Gulf? I fear that in the long run this behaviour must increase the risks of war and the disruption of our vital oil supplies.

I believe that the countries of the Western Alliance should take steps to moderate the dangers of this arms buildup. Should not Britain, France and the United States explore among themselves more stringent regulations on the transfer of arms? Between 1950 and 1954 Britain, France and the United States were successful in regulating the flow of arms to the Middle East through the Near East Arms Co-ordinating Committee. However, that policy failed because the Russians decided that it was in their interests to supply Egypt and Syria with modern arms. The Russians still wish to play the revolutionary in the Middle East in contradiction to the policy that the Soviet Union pursues in Europe—conference diplomacy. Europe has had to accommodate its policies to OPEC. Are we then not embarked, willy-nilly, on a course that might bring about the very circumstances that we devoutly wish to avoid?

As a nation we need to export arms and we also need to seek security. Perhaps the way out of the dilemma lies in Europe. If we could rationalise the armaments industries of Europe, with rationalisation leading to standardisation and specialisation, not only would we save vast sums of money but we would sell more of our arms to Europe—to our allies—and to the United States than we would sell elsewhere. A European arms procurement agency would be the means whereby we could produce our arms more efficiently and at the same time control the export of arms to third parties. The solution to this problem, as with the solutions to many of the problems which face us as a nation, lies in the growing unity of Europe.

7.20 p.m.

The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. William Rodgers)

Such have been the changes on the Opposition Front Bench in recent months that I am not sure whether I should welcome the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) to the Front Bench for the first time or merely welcome him back after an absence. However, I am sure that the whole House is very glad to see him there. His speech, even if occasionally I found it confusing, was as intellectually distinguished as all his contributions are on matters related to defence.

I had always assumed in the past that Opposition Supply Days were occasions for powerful protest, intense argument and, overall, a demonstration that the Opposition can oppose. It is worth putting on record that at this moment there are only four hon. Members sitting on the Opposition benches and that for a large part of the hon. Gentleman's speech there was only the single lonely figure of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind). This was a pity, because I would recommend the speech of the hon. Member for Aldershot to those many Opposition Members who chose to stay away on what I was led to believe would be a grand occasion. I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman and with the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), who was unable to get his troops along today to support him in the debate.

I had intended to say that it might be helpful to the House if I spoke fairly briefly now and allowed myself a brief reply at the end of the debate if I am fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye and to have the permission of the House. It rather looks as though at present there will be adequate time for me to give a very long reply at the end. However, I should prefer to give way to enable other hon. Members to contribute, if this is the way that matters work out, because certainly there are far more Members on the Government side of the House at present and I hope that they will have the opportunity of contributing during the evening.

There are three issues involved in any debate on defence sales. First, there is the large issue of principle concerning whether such sales are acceptable at all, given that war is hideous and there is moral obloquy in seeming to contribute to it. Second, given that arms sales are not ruled out completely, there is the question of safeguards—to whom we sell and in what circumstances. Third, there is the practical application of the rules—in other words, how effectively the business is conducted within the policy laid down.

I take it—though there is not yet much to go on—that this debate was intended to be mainly on that third issue, which featured in part in our last major defence debate and was certainly referred to substantially by the Opposition in our debate a fortnight ago on the Royal Air Force Estimates. The question which Opposition Members particularly have been asking in recent weeks is whether the Government are doing enough to enable British business men to compete effectively in the international market place.

However, to return for a moment to the first principle, I want to say this, and it has a bearing on the brief intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) a short while ago. I fully recognise, as I am sure do all hon. Members that the arms trade is a distasteful business by definition to a number of people. I wholly respect the views of those who believe that the arms trade is immoral—provided only that this means immoral for everyone, not only for ourselves.

Equally, however, I doubt whether the majority of people see it that way. To put it at its least—and this has a bearing on something that was said by the hon. Member for Aldershot—to sell arms to our partners in an alliance and to friends elsewhere is to strengthen our own security. To that extent defence sales are part of self-defence. To go beyond that is to recognise the reality of international life and that national self-denial in this respect does not mean the end of all defence sales. It simply transfers the opportunity—perhaps also the guilt—elsewhere, and the world is not transformed.

However, I should not allow myself to be drawn too far into moral philosophy. I would only say that the obligation is accepted by the present Government to continue to put their full weight behind disarmament on a multilateral basis, as we are doing, for example, at the MBFR talks in Vienna, which I visited recently; to support any worthwhile initiative in the United Nations or elsewhere which would result in internationally agreed restraints on the arms trade, with a view to reducing it—again, this has a bearing on the hon. Gentleman's remarks—and carefully to relate their own decisions on particular sales to the likely international consequences of them.

This brings me to the second issue of safeguards, of the circumstances in which we do or do not sell. Whatever may be said across the Chamber today, all Governments accept the need for safeguards and have refused to allow sales to individual countries or of individual items from time to time. There have been no arms sales at all to Warsaw Pact countries. The wisdom of this policy has never been challenged as far as I know.

Similarly, successive Governments have been alert to the particular problem of the Middle East. Certainly we do not wish to encourage arms sales there. I shall reflect very carefully indeed upon the hon. Gentleman's remarks and examine them in the light of his own very clear concern about the danger that the build-up of arms might lead to a spread- over into a major and catastrophic war. Again, I do not think that the principle laid down by the hon. Gentleman or the principle followed by the present Government would be challenged. It is primarily a matter of judgment in which many factors have to be weighed.

I agree that there is an area of possible dispute and it becomes larger when considerations other than those of national security or upsetting a balance of deterrence become involved. The recent argument about arms sales to Chile comes into that category. But, again, successive Governments have followed restrictive policies on the same broad grounds. Despite brave words before 1970, a Conservative Government did not restore South Africa to the list of countries to which arms could be sold freely. We may disagree about where the line should be drawn, but successive Governments accept the justification for such a line.

But the issue of safeguards extends beyond countries to the arms themselves. At one extreme, there are nuclear weapons, which we sell to no one and where we fully support non-proliferation; at the other, say, small arms ammunition. Clearly the sale of sophisticated weapons, representing advanced technology, induces a cautious approach while the distinction between offence and defence can be real in relation to a specific situation.

Mr. Frank Allaun

My right hon. Friend has just said that we supply nuclear arms to no nation. Agreed. But is it not a fact that from Windscale enriched uranium is being supplied to countries with reactors, and that this is putting a great potential weapon into their hands—a potential nuclear weapon? Have the Government considered the dangers of this policy?

Mr. Rodgers

We have certainly considered the dangers of the policy, but I think that we have not hitherto concluded that any sale of the kind my hon. Friend mentions has any consequences for proliferation. However, I shall reflect on what he says. If I have anything further to add, I shall add it in the course of what I say in concluding the debate.

The point I was making is plain. There is a difference between types of weapons. Quite apart from nuclear weapons, it is not difficult to see tanks, aircraft and submarines in a different category from, say, girder bridges, bomb disposal equipment or, even, air defence radar. In some cases the margin is fine; in others a decision may turn on the geographical position of a country in relation to the capability of the equipment or on the competence of those who will operate it or on the possibility of re-sale to third countries. These factors must all be considered and weighed together.

I hope that I am not stating the obvious, but the question of restraints and safeguards is more complex than critics of the policy seem to imagine. I can only add that a great deal of care is taken by the Government, as I assume it has been taken by others, to reach the right decision, balancing the clear economic advantages of sales against the broader considerations of national and international policy. It follows that the largest and most sensitive decisions are made not somewhere down the line but at the highest level in Government.

I make one further point. I believe that if it were possible to explain in detail why a particular decision was made one way or the other, the House would almost always endorse it. However, to do so might be to vitiate wholly the rightness of the decision itself. To announce the details of sales would often be unacceptable to the purchaser for understandable reasons related to considerations of national security. To announce why a sale was not being made might be to damage relations between Britain and another country or the prospects of a sale to a third. What is understood and acceptable in private between nations can cause a diplomatic incident when articulated out loud.

I turn to how much we are selling and how we are selling it, and to the obligations that lie on the Government as regards the defence contracting industries.

The facts are simple. The present Defence Sales Organisation was set up nine years ago by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. At present, the organisation employs some 350 people. It is led by Sir Lester Suffield, who reports directly to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The estimated value of defence sales in the last financial year was £475 million. In 1975–76 we expect them to reach £560 million. As for jobs, we estimate that on the basis of the value of our defence exports at least 70,000 to 80,000 are involved. The administrative expenses of the organisation in the current year are expected to fall a little short of £3 million.

In this area international statistics are not readily available. If they were, they would be suspect. However, the United States and the Soviet Union are clearly well ahead of us in sales. As for France, it makes a great song and dance about its achievements, while we choose to maintain a low profile. There is no real evidence, however, that France does better than achieving fourth place behind the United Kingdom.

The Defence Sales Organisation is highly professional and highly committed. It works within the parameters laid down by the Government, but, beyond that, it believes in what it is doing. On the other hand, "positive salesmanship", which I remember was a phrase used across the Chamber—

Mr. Critchley

Am I right in thinking that I heard the right hon. Gentleman say that Britain was not fourth but third in the league? I took my evidence for claiming that Britain was fourth and not third from the Financial Times. Would the right hon. Gentleman care to reflect about that as well?

Mr. Rodgers

I am happy to reflect, but I do not think that it will change the fact that hard evidence is difficult to get. We should not be misled by the rather loud noises which the French make from time to time. Whether it is right for us to maintain a low profile is a matter which the House may choose to discuss. On the best evidence that is available to us, we believe that we are still in third place and not in fourth place, the Financial Times on this matter as on many other matters notwithstanding.

The point that I am making is that I do not think we should allow such enthusiasm as there may be for defence sales and the need for positive salesmanship, which we are told is required, to lead us into believing that the Defence Sales Organisation should not maintain its own integrity. I do not believe that any of my right hon. and hon. Friends would deny that in the long run it is a mistake to sell to customers what they do not want, what they cannot use or what they cannot afford. I do not believe that the organisation should consist of "wide boys".

Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)

Is there not a danger that the Defence Sales Organisation will feel frustrated if other considerations are brought to bear, and will accordingly seek to overcome those considerations when trying to boost sales? The sort of considerations which might apply are those to which my right hon. Friend referred earlier—for example, not selling to countries where we feel that our own interests would not be advanced by so doing. Is there not the danger that sales may go to certain countries and be passed on elsewhere, as happened in the case of sales made to Jordan and various other countries in the past?

Mr. Rodgers

On my hon. Friend's second point, I referred in passing to sales to third parties and the need for the Government, in laying down the rules, to be careful that the maximum is done to prevent a transfer of the kind to which my hon. Friend has referred, which would not be acceptable. As for the organisation feeling frustrated from time to time, that may be the case. If it believes that it has something worth selling, no doubt it would like to sell it to anyone who is prepared to buy, given the other quality of good salesmanship. However, I have no doubt that our defence sales staff, who are part of the Ministry of Defence, are loyal workers within the rules that have been laid down. I have no evidence to suggest that that is not the case whatever the temptations may be.

I am prepared to believe that the organisation, which I know was substantially criticised a little while ago, has its failures as all of us have. However, I would regret winks and nods on private occasions that imply shortcomings in the organisation when those shortcomings are not specified. If the right hon. and hon. Members have specific criticisms, I hope that they will make them plain in this debate. Such criticisms will be carefully investigated. The organisation is part of the Ministry of Defence, and it is rightly open to the procedures of this House. Equally, it deserves ministerial protection in the face of generalised criticism or innuendo.

Few defence contracts are on a Government-to-Government basis. In almost all of them a private initiative—namely, a sales pitch by an individual company—is involved. Even when our defence contractors are competitive in their product, as they so often are, they can fall short in their salesmanship. The record of British industry in this respect is impressive but not necessarily impeccable. What I am saying is that individual defence contractors and the Defence Sales Organisation are in partnership. Together they have a good story to tell, but obviously they know that they can improve upon it. A relationship of frankness and confidence is the best way of doing so.

If individual firms have complaints, I invite them to write to me openly rather than to complain in private about what the organisation may or may not have done. In the course of our debate it may well be that recent cases of defence sales will be raised and commented upon. I think that the right course is for me to attempt to deal with specific questions at the end of our debate. I welcome the debate as it should help to clear the air. I shall note carefully the points that are made if time does not allow me, as perhaps it will not, to answer them in the way that I would choose.

7.39 p.m.

Mr. Malcolm Rifkind (Edinburgh, Pentlands)

In opening his speech, the Minister of State correctly referred to the presence of only a small number of Opposition Members. He indicated that the Government were represented by almost twice as many Members. He may care to reflect that this is not altogether an unnatural or improper situation given that there is not merely one Opposition defence policy but two, of them one being put forward from the Government benches. In that sense it does not seem unreasonable that there should be double the representation on the Government benches. Indeed, in the course of the debate the Minister might wish that rather fewer of his hon. Friends were present. That is something that no doubt we shall observe during the evening.

Few people would seriously question that the whole concept of arms sales involving the use of weapons for the destruction of human life is infinitely and overwhelmingly a moral issue. I was interested in the intervention of the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), who postulated the proposition that morality and self-interest were simultaneous—in other words, that they co-existed. He expressed horror when my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) suggested that that view was naive. I ask the hon. Member for Salford, East to consider not primarily whether morality should be the prime consideration of foreign policy but whether it is realistic ever to expect that to be the basis of a nation's foreign policy. The hon. Gentleman will accept that there are indicators in the history of mankind showing that Governments when under pressures from a series of sources do not think purely in terms of morality as the basis of foreign policy.

Mr. Frank Allaun

May I put to the hon. Gentleman the same question as that which I put to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley)? If the buildup of arms in the Middle East leads to the third world war, would not the cost far outweigh any possible loss of exports to our country? Therefore, do not morality and self-interest go hand in hand on this vital issue of life and death?

Mr. Rifkind

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's premise but not with his conclusion. If it were the case that the sale of arms to the Middle East led to a third world war, there would be few hon. Members who would argue that the short-term export benefits would justify such a catastrophe. I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider whether, if a democratic nation is trying desperately to survive in a hostile environment, it would be other than consistent with international morality to provide the necessary requirements for that nation's defence.

Mr. Allaun

That is all very fine, but we have sold arms to both Arabs and Israelis. Therefore, I cannot see how the hon. Gentleman's argument holds water.

Mr. Rifkind

The basis of the argument is that the criteria applied by Governments are based not on an abstruse or philosophical concept of morality but on the best means of achieving or maintaining international peace or an internationally stable political system. It may be that in certain circumstances the cause of peace or stability might be advanced by refusing to supply weapons or arms or similar equipment whereas in other circumstances the situation may demand a generous provision of armaments.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on our not-too-distant history. During the last world war we were grateful for arms supplied to us by the United States. Is he suggesting that that was inconsistent with standards of international morality? We all know that the United States by providing those armaments enabled Great Britain to withstand aggression from Nazi Germany. Is the hon. Member suggesting, for example, that the provision of military equipment supplied to the Soviet Union in that war was contrary to the standards of international morality?

The hon. Gentleman must clearly concede that there is no theoretically perfect situation to meet any circumstance that might develop. It is necessary to be pragmatic, to look at the circumstances and to make an objective decision whether the provision of arms and military equipment will further the cause of international peace and stability or will damage such objectives. But to suggest that in all circumstances the provision of arms or the sale of arms runs contrary to the interests of peace or international morality neither matches experience in our history nor meets any intellectual justification which the hon. Gentleman can hope to put forward.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that the nuclear weapon brings into the situation a new dimension? Does he agree that Japan, the only country to suffer a nuclear holocaust, does not export arms? Does not that attitude flow from the largely pacifist feeling emanating from the horrific experience of the Second World War? On the other hand, Japan has one of the best rates of GNP in the world and, indeed, is one of the trade competitors we fear most.

Mr. Rifkind

One must remember that Japan takes the view that it is under the umbrella of its allies. Japan knows that the Western Alliance can be relied upon to ensure its survival. Although it is proper to argue that an individual State could prosper without any form of arms sales or military equipment, when we are dealing with an international situation that requires the close alliance of States involving different political systems it is naive to suggest that any country can afford the luxury of the situation which the hon. Gentleman envisages.

It is often implied by Labour Members, particularly members of the Tribune Group, that their position is superior to that of others because in determining their policies they aspire to overwhelmingly moral considerations. I have for a long time been interested in that approach because at a superficial level it is attractive, pleasant and desirable, but I wonder whether those who make that approach really believe what they say.

I remember with some relish a member of the Tribune Group—who is not present today and whose name I shall not mention—discussing the subject of arms assistance to the Government of Oman. The members of the Tribune Group were not so concerned about British arms being sent to assist in the fight in Oman as with the fact that they were being used to fight on the wrong side. That may well indicate the strength of feeling among certain Labour Members on these issues.

The Labour Government in considering sales of arms do not maintain a consistent attitude. I could understand the situation if the Labour Party were to say "We believe that in all circumstances to supply military equipment to Right-wing regimes or military dictatorships is to be condemned and opposed at every conceivable opportunity". That is the attitude of the present Government in regard to Chile and South Africa. But let us look at another side of the coin, which is just as objectionable. In other respects the Labour Government have been content to supply arms without any qualms or conscience.

In 1964, when the very Left-wing Government of President Goulart of Brazil was overthrown by the military, that fact did not prevent the then Labour Government from continuing to supply arms to the Brazilian Government. Equally in South America, when the military coups took place in Argentine in 1966 and in Peru in 1968, and when the democratically elected Governments were replaced by Right-wing military dictatorships, the Government did not find it impossible to continue with the sale of arms. The reason is quite simple. The protests from the Tribune Group were not sufficiently strong, and others within the Labour Party had not quite caught on to the situation, so that the Government were able to get away with it. The Minister's hon. Friends were not doing their job properly.

That is an inconsistent and hypocritical position. I suggest that it is possible, right and necessary to have objective criteria in determining to which States we should supply arms. Clearly, the Minister has indicated one or two of the grounds on which he believes that it is acceptable to supply arms, but I suggest that the Government do not have a concerted and co-ordinated policy in this respect or a basis for determining in each case whether the objective criteria are met.

The Minister is looking puzzled, so may I refer him to a Parliamentary Question which I asked his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and President of the Board of Trade: Are there any objective criteria for determining to which countries arms will be sold? If so, what are those criteria? The answer was: This has to be decided…very much on a case-to-case basis."—[Official Report, 8th April, 1974; Vol. 872, c. 20.] It may be that the Department of Trade does not have the objective criteria to which the Ministry of Defence is privy, but clearly it is right and proper that criteria should apply so that one can judge each particular case against a known basis for determining what these policies should be.

We should take account not of Government policy towards the Middle East, where strategic questions, or questions of overall war and peace, come into account, but of the particular problems raised by the vexed questions of South Africa and Chile. I strongly believe that a distinction can and ought to be made between military equipment the prime purpose of which would be for internal repression and equipment required for external defence.

I am well aware that there is a considerable grey area in between, and certainly in regard to that grey area, if there is a realistic prospect that military equipment sold to a repressive or dictatorial régime would be used for purposes of internal repression, I for one would not support the sale of weapons for that purpose. I certainly would not support the sale of weapons, for instance, to the South African Government that might be used purely for internal purposes or to enforce apartheid. But clearly, when we are considering the Government's attitude towards the questions of Chile and South Africa, that has not been their position. They have preferred to take a comprehensive approach. They have said that in no circumstances is it right, proper or desirable to provide any form of arms equipment to the Government of either Chile or South Africa.

I was slightly amused by the quoted remark of a worker in the Lower Clyde shipyards engaged in the manufacture of submarines that were intended for sale to the Government of Chile. He was told that the sales of submarines were not to be allowed to continue because the Labour Government believed that it was inconsistent with their policy and that these arms would be used for the repression of people in Chile. He was quoted as having remarked that if submarines could be used to repress the people of Chile, there must be very big sewers in the capital city.

Clearly, when we are dealing with naval equipment and the whole range of military equipment, it is absurd, whether we are talking of Chile or South Africa, to maintain that they have any relevance to questions of internal domestic policy.

I suggest to the Government that, when they are considering their policy towards arms sales to South Africa, they should abide by the following. Their policy should be not to be interested in empty gestures or actions which would inflict severe damage on the British economy and the level of employment without changing the situation in Southern Africa. The reason why I suggest that as the basis of Labour Party policy is that it is the Labour Party's policy. On page 12 of the Labour Party's programme for 1973, exactly that policy is laid down. I do not know whether it has changed since then. It changes quite often. But the Labour Party, at least in those far-off years, did not believe in empty gestures or actions which would inflict severe damage on the British economyֵwithout changing the situation in Southern Africa. One is bound to ask the Government on what basis they believe that, for instance, to deny maritime aircraft or naval equipment to the South African Government would be other than an empty gesture. Do they believe that such equipment could be used for internal purposes? If not, on what basis is it to be denied?

It is often suggested and argued by the Government that it is vital not to upset black Africa because, after all, the States of black Africa form one of our largest trading partners. Indeed, I understand that our trade with black Africa is now greater than our trade with South Africa. It is argued that that trade would be endangered if we were to continue with any form of supply of military equipment to the South African Government.

That is a very powerful argument but it rather begs the question. If at this stage, despite many years of the military alliance with South Africa and of selling military equipment to South Africa, our trade with black Africa is already greater than our trade with the Republic of South Africa, does not that suggest that these fears might be mildly unjustified and that the black African States, whatever the hon. Member for Salford, East may feel, quite naturally and rightly put their own self-interest before abstruse questions of morality, and that if they can buy British goods at good prices, or sell their own goods to Britain for good prices, they will do so without being terribly worried whether the odd maritime aircraft or ship has been sold by Britain to the South African Government?

If we are already in a situation in which our trade with black Africa has increased enormously, despite any question of a political relationship or military alliance with South Africa, is it not rather crazy and absurd to suggest that this will somehow be endangered? Do we not consider the experience of the French, who have made no qualms and shown no signs of embarrassment or shame about an enormous arms trade, which we look at with envy, in terms of the boost to their export trade? Is there any lesson to be learnt from the fact that, despite those sales of arms, France has probably, at the very least, as good relations with black Africa and the Third World generally as this country, despite the periodic gestures and moves made by our Government towards appeasing the views of Labour Members?

Clearly, one can say that in pursuit of foreign policy where the provision of arms or military equipment can be seen to play a proper or significant rôle in propping up a repressive regime or imposing a local tyranny, few Members on either side would have any truck with it. Equally, where the provision of arms can make a positive contribution towards international peace or international stability, there too, I should have thought, few Members in their heart of hearts would have objection to it.

The grey area is in between. Those situations where the supply of arms, such as to Chile, would make no significant difference to the question of international peace or stability will certainly make not the slightest difference to the ability of the Government in question to impose its policies internally, where the only relevant consideration from the point of view of this Government is the boost that would be given to our own export trade and the earning of badly-needed foreign currency.

In such a situation is it really justified, for the sake of some symbolic gesture, which will have no effect on determining or altering the policies of the Government concerned, to waste or sacrifice the financial help and the jobs in this country that the provision of such equipment would provide? Many of us would be happy and quite prepared to make major sacrifices if results were likely to be achieved from those sacrifices. What makes many of us angry and concerned is the pursuit of a symbolic goal at the expense of other people's jobs, at the expense of foreign currency and at the expense of our export trade where no political or humanitarian benefit can be achieved. That is the charge which we make against the Government, and I hope that the Minister will seek to reply to it.

8.00 p.m.

Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) began by saying that any discussion of arms sales raised a number of moral questions for everyone. I agree with him, and that is why there are disputes about whether particular gestures are symbolic and why many people consider that the embargo on sales of arms to South Africa is more than a symbolic gesture. In questions of morals, it is difficult to say that what is one man's meat is not necessarily another man's poison.

The hon. Gentleman went on to suggest that only members of the Tribune Group were concerned and had misgivings about arms sales. As I hope to show, he misrepresented the position of a number of Government supporters. Whatever the attitude of hon. Members may be to defence matters, the subject of arms sales raises a series of moral, economic and political problems for us all which are not necessarily identical to the attitude which those same people take to defence itself. I make no secret of the fact that, although I find defence at best a necessary evil, arms sales to countries outside our immediate allies are prima facie morally repugnant. A very good case has to be made to justify them.

I wish that this country was able to take the tough line adopted by Japan, the Federal Republic of Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. All four refuse to sell arms privately or publicly to countries involved, or likely to be involved, in international disputes. I believe that the Conservative Party was right shortly after the Yom Kippur War to put an embargo on arms sales to both sides. It was right to do that at the time, and it was a mistake subsequently to relax that arms embargo. Some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) suggest that the same view may in part be held by Opposition Members even today.

However, there are some powerful arguments used against that position. There is the argument that we lose valuable export orders. There is the argument that if we do not sell arms, other countries will. That latter argument, however, has been put to me as being that which the drug pedlar has used throughout the ages, and that is not a particularly creditable one.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman draws this parallel with the drug pedlar. However, what we are concerned with is not who will supply arms if we will not to a State involved in an international dispute, but what will happen in the Middle East, for instance, if the Arab countries receive enormous supplies of arms from the Soviet Union when Israel is denied them from the United States. That is a very different situation from the example quoted by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Roper

I shall come to deal with the need for multilateral solutions to these problems. Clearly, the argument about what will happen if we do not sell arms requires a more substantial answer than my parallel with the drug trade.

However, I want first to deal with the economic argument, which is substantial on two levels, one being the general level of exports and jobs, and the other being the level of unit costs in our defence industries. Both are arguments of substance, and each must be considered.

The economic argument in terms of our balance of payments and job creation is important in our present situation. But if we look at the examples of the four countries which since the war have adopted a policy of very serious restriction on their arms sales, there is no evidence that it has done any harm to their economies. The Federal Republic of Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Japan have put restrictions on their sales of arms to countries involved, or likely to be involved, in war. In the case of Switzerland, when there was an attempt by the Oerlikon Company to evade those restrictions, several executives of the company were gaoled for a substantial period. However, policies of restrictions on arms sales have not handicapped the economies of those countries, and a liberal arms export policy cannot be shown to be a sine qua non for economic growth or a strong balance of payments.

Certainly we cannot suddenly switch off this arms trade overnight, but I should like it to be a medium-term objective of our economic policy to be able to have sufficient strength in our other industries not have to rely on this trade.

It may be that the idea of following the four other countries towards a unilateral policy of restriction on arms sales will be considered an ideal one. Therefore, we should perhaps try in the first instance to reach a multilateral agreement on the matter, as the hon. Member for Aldershot hinted.

There are two levels at which this might be attempted. First, we should attempt it at the international level. I was interested to read the speech made by the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 19th February 1970 to the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament at the beginning of what was said to be "the disarmament decade". He said: We would welcome international agreement on effective measures to control the arms trade, and for some time we have been studying the problems involved and the best way to make progress. In our view the primary requirement for the implementation of an effective international agreement is the active support of all the major supplying countries; although, of course, the attitude of recipient countries is a key factor as well. Although experience in the past has shown us that an effective agreement on the arms trade may be very difficult to reach, I hope that this problem will not be neglected during this coming decade. As far as I know, that is the last occasion on which a British Minister spoke in an international debate about restrictions on arms sales. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend can say what has happened in the half of the disarmament decade that has elapsed since those words were uttered by the Minister of State in 1970. Have the studies referred to been pursued? Have any proposals been put forward, or has the problem been neglected during the disarmament decade? I hope that my right hon. Friend can reply to those suggestions made in 1970 and report to us what has been done.

Alternatively, if a global solution at world level is difficult—and it may be argued to be impossible—what about looking initially at the European level? We hear a great deal, for example, about the activities of France. I believe, along with my right hon. Friend, that there is need to develop the Eurogroup, and to develop procurement on a European basis. I was therefore extremely interested to listen to a speech made by the Belgian Foreign Minister, Mr. Van Elslande, to the Western European Union Assembly in December last year when he argued the case for common European defence procurement but went on to say something which was of great interest as far as European defence sales are concerned: From a political point of view, exports are meeting with increasing opposition among the public. Rather than art instrument of foreign policy, they finally come to be seen as a constraint which limits our opportunities for diplomatic activity by subjecting them to excessive economic compulsions … To speak of Belgium alone, it is clear that a country which exports 85 per cent. and 90 per cent. of its production, according to type, is obliged to consider exports more as an unavoidable factor than as an instrument in the service of its diplomacy. Attempts at European integration imply a parallel common policy on exports. There is no question of their exclusion a priori; but standardisation should make it possible to reduce exports—outside the NATO area—to much more marginal proportions … The present anarchical competition only results in encouraging the arms race. To be sure, Europe alone will not be able to find an effective solution to the problem of the armaments race and of the proliferation of armaments throughout the world. This is not to deny that, here again, Europe ought to be able to speak with a single voice which, being less dependent on vital economic interests, could afford to be more selective and more prudent than are each of our countries taken individually today. Answering a question from a member of the Assembly, Mr. Van Elslande said: So long as we have national armaments factories, we shall have for purely economic and technical reasons to combine production with export. I would be very glad if we could give up exporting weapons. This is something that I believe would be possible, if we tackled the problem on a European scale. What we need to do, inside this Alliance of ours, is to create enough economic opportunities to be able to limit weapons production to meeting our own defence requirements. Bearing in mind the areas of territory we have to defend, our economic potential and the equipment we need, I think it must be possible to set up an integrated European armaments industry which would serve only our own defence needs"— and I would stress the word "only".

I believe that those ideas which Mr. Van Elslande put forward to the WEU Assembly in December last require very serious study by my right hon. Friend, because not only would they give advantages of cost saving as far as standardisation is concerned but they would also enable us to find a satisfactory economic basis for turning our back on what I, at least, find morally repugnant, arms sales to further countries of the Third World which can ill afford such expenditure.

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend in replying will be able to tell us whether the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have studied those proposals and whether he would be prepared to support proposals of these kinds as a method of eliminating that part of arms sales which I believe is repugnant to many of us in this House today.

8.12 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey and Walton)

The Minister made some sport at the start of his speech with the numbers of hon. Gentlemen present for this debate. Speaking for my hon. Friends, we would express our pleasure at seeing so many hon. Gentlemen opposite present. Certainly, this is some contrast to the debate on the Royal Air Force, when fewer hon. Members opposite were present. The Minister was not present on that occasion, and hon. Members on this side of the House had to sustain the debate from half past six on; so we are very pleased to see the burden of debate being shared.

The hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) made an interesting speech. He spoke of four countries that he singled out, saying they had turned their backs on the export of arms to countries where conflict is expected. As far as I am aware, it is not the case of anyone on this side of the House that arms sales are an absolute essential to a healthy balance of payments, the converse being that we cannot have a healthy balance of payments unless we have arms sales.

If the hon. Gentleman would look back in history to the situation of those four nations, certainly before the last war, I believe he would accept that theirs was not a very advanced tradition, certainly compared with some British armaments industries. One could certainly distinguish Switzerland, Sweden and other countries where the arms industries are of comparatively new growth. With Germany, obviously that is not so. But, compared with those four countries, we have particular skills in our armaments industries which we have developed over a considerable period of time, and it is these skills, and not the use or sales of their products, that we wish to discuss in this debate.

I would be the last person to deny that we must give due weight to foreign policy considerations. The Minister spoke of the drawing of the line in particular places, and usually the debate is only about precisely where the line should be drawn. I would not suggest that there should not be a line drawn in some particular way, nor would I suggest that it is absolutely wrong in every single case not to buy British where defence equipment is concerned. But I would say, bearing in mind the balance of payments consequences, the industrial and employment consequences and the future technology consequences, that a foreign product has to be substantially superior to its British counterpart to warrant purchase on behalf of Her Majesty's Government.

Further considerations to be given over and beyond all this to the impact of a foreign purchase on the export sales potential that its British counterpart has. It must be a crippling handicap for any person who is trying to sell a British product in a difficult sales market to be faced with the question "Have the British Government ordered this product yet, or not?" What on earth can that person feel when he is forced to say "Actually, no. We have bought the French equivalent in this case"? That would substantially weaken the position.

I would invite the Minister to indicate whether any cases are known to him where a decision to procure a foreign product for Her Majesty's Forces has actually assisted sales of a competitive British product in export markets. I would submit that in too many fields the decision has already been taken for us because we have opted out of market after market since the war, going back to gun design, tank design, and other examples too numerous to mention where people no longer beat a path to our door in these particular areas because they know we have opted out of the technology.

That has been the result of the depressing ritual that repeats itself year after year at some stage, under Governments of either political complexion, we have cancelled or retarded various defence projects. A requirement becomes paramount and there is a rush to see what is actually on the shelf. A lobby builds up, and then everybody says that we can get it only from United States. At the present time we have precisely this setback in the anti-tank field and also in the airborne early warning field. Excellent work is being done at Hawker-Siddeley, which is developing our own airborne early warning capability; but the United States is peddling very hard its AWACS, which would involve huge cost to the balance of payments of this country. A figure of £40 million per aircraft has been mentioned. If as a matter of positive policy we were deliberately to decide to opt for American technology, in this case the employment consequences for the Manchester area would be extremely serious. Although the AWACs and AEW situation is pressing, we are some months away from a decision.

An even more immediate and critical example is Milan versus Swingfire in the anti-tank field. We are told that Milan, a French-produced weapon, would cost £100 million across the foreign exchange, which we can ill afford. We also understand that the British Army is keen to have it. Will the Minister say whether the French army has yet ordered this French-produced weapon? In a recent exchange at Question Time some weeks ago I indicated to the Minister that it seemed odd—not because it was French but because it had a smaller warhead than the rather ancient, venerable but effective Vigilant anti-tank weapon—that we were considering ordering this weapon. We are in the situation of buying Milan—although I do not think that a decision has yet been taken; no doubt the Minister will say—for tactical reasons alone.

We understand that the Milan warhead armament will not be sufficient to combat the new heavy Russian battle tank. It will drive a coach and horses through our export effort in the Middle East, where we have opportunities with certain countries. The product has been tested and evaluated by Egypt, and the decision has been made in favour of the United Kingdom product. Now, if the United Kingdom buys the competitive product, it will be a remarkable situation. I suggest that it is a free and easy system in which the French seem to make free and we take it easy.

That brings me to the main charge I make against the Government in the sphere of defence sales policy. It has nothing to do with the points most eloquently expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) on the question of to which Governments we should sell. It is that, given that there is an arms sales opporttunity and that we have the capability to supply this requirement, so many times we seem to miss the opportunity. I emphasise that I am not talking in a derogatory sense of the Defence Sales Organisation or of the Service chiefs, who often, with their staffs, have to demonstrate particular weapons systems and arms.

Highly current at the moment is the failure on the part of this country to secure the surface-to-air missile contract for the Rapier from the United States Government. Let us look for a moment at sonic of the facts. I do not want to weary the House unduly with technical data. Rapier is called in the language of the trade a "mature" system, which simply means that it is in service with NATO. The competitive system, which is called Roland, will be available in about five years from now. An immediate United States requirement for Rapier could be satisfied in about two years, but Roland will not be available for over five years. Rapier has been declared fully operational by the Supreme Allied Command in Europe. On American evaluation it is reckoned to be cheaper, more easily adaptable when it has the blind-fire version added to it, it has better all-round strike power, it is easier to maintain and it is more manoeuvrable.

Roland has a wheeled mobile unit which makes it difficult to conceal and is very vulnerable to an air strike. Rapier came out clearly best, apart from two important points which were against it, one of which was the time it takes to get into action, which is admittedly longer than the Roland. Yet it lost, amazing although it may seem, clearly on political grounds.

Information that is coming from the United States indicates that there was no top-level British political support for this sales contract, which has been conservatively estimated as involving $1,000 million, taking account of all the training and back-up systems. The German Chancellor thought it worth his while to go to talk to the United States President, although there was only a 20 per cent. German involvement. One reason for the American decision on this was probably the German offset situation, which would be of some value. The Americans now have a system which is 80 per cent. French and 20 per cent. German on their hands.

The Defence and Foreign Affairs Daily of 26th June says: Roland's snag sheet"— a nice American phrase— shows systems failures. I understand that the Hughes and Boeing companies are under treat of contract termination. Here we have a rare situation in which the round about may come round to us one more time. We may have another chance to retrieve what we failed to retrieve before.

Can the Minister give us an indication whether a top Minister—the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer or his right hon. Friend—would be prepared to lend weight to this sale in the way that their counterparts in France and Germany seem to do? Will the Minister also say whether on this kind of sale there is ever any quid pro quo? Perhaps the Minister will reassure me on that.

For example, there was the purchase of the Lance nuclear missile. We always seem to be buying these weapons. This is another case where we opted out of this weapons system development some years ago. The Americans say: "Here is our system and here is the price." In that situation do we every say "We would be very interested in this, but what about Rapier?" What bargains do we try to drive?

I am fully aware that the Minister can give only a general intent here because in a debate of this sort he cannot reveal the political nuances between Governments, but an indication would be welcome. The companies involved are working hard, the Defence Sales Organisation is working hard, the Service chiefs and their teams are working hard. It would be hard to find a clearer example than Rapier versus Roland of a vital political commitment.

In future we may have opportunities coming from Turkey following the United States embargo, which may or may nor have been lifted. We understand that it may be possible to sell Jaguar aircraft to that country. The Government have to decide whether they are satisfied with the degree of top-level support that they give to United Kingdom producers. If they are satisfied, they are in every sense failing the nation, because the results do not justify such a degree of satisfaction.

The economic survival of this country does not depend entirely on the arms industry, but we are considering exports of £800 million and job opportunities. We have hundreds of thousands of highly-skilled people working in these industries who are proud of the products they produce but are not convinced that they get the degree of support to which they are entitled from within the House and from successive Governments when it conies to selling their products. Therefore, our future technology and our industrial muscle will entirely depend on our ability to make these sales.

8.29 p.m.

Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)

The hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) said that our industrial muscle depended on these jobs. I should like to point out that the country which has exported no arms at all has the greatest industrial muscle, development and export of all, and that country is Japan. Japan has exported no arms and is certainly conquering the markets of the world with all that it produces. The argument that the hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton put forward is a greatly mistaken one.

I intend to make a brief speech because many of my hon. Friends wish to speak and, frankly, I thought that they would be called before me. However, first let me refer to the Early Day Motion on the Order Paper which was signed, in a short space of time, by 50 of my hon. Friends. I shall read out the motion for the record. It says: That this House notes the pressure by Conservative Members of Parliament for increasing arms sales abroad; rejects Great Britains growing involvement in the arms export trade, a policy which stimulates the arms race, prevents peaceful settlements in many of the world's trouble spots and contravenes Labour's principles; and calls for a reversal of this policy and for the resources devoted to the arms trade to be re-deployed so as to help our export trade in non-military equipment and provide for the real needs of the Third World. In a nutshell that is my case.

The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) made a remarkable speech. Conservative Members have put forward the case for bigger arms sales. However, let us consider the position of Vickers of Barrow—almost a one-company town—which concentrated for years on two small ships; namely, two 7,500-ton Polaris submarines. As a consequence it lost both the capacity and the opportunity to tender for giant oil tankers, oil plant and so on. The job security of the workers at Barrow would have been much greater if the company had concentrated on civil orders rather than the Polaris submarine orders.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) defended arms sales. Does that mean that he would defend nuclear arms sales, because that is only a logical extension of that proposition? Indeed, that has already taken place. There are sales of potential nuclear weapons from Canada to India, from West Germany to Brazil and to both Egypt and Israel. Five nuclear reactors have been sold to the Shah of Iran by France. My goodness what does Iran want with nuclear reactors if it is not for military purposes since Iran is bursting with oil? In my view this is a very dangerous development.

I should like to refer to Windscale. I hope that the Minister of State, when he winds up, will refer to this matter, because enriched uranium from Windscale is being supplied to countries which could use it for war purposes.

What really shocks me is the sale of weapons to the Third World. These nations are crying out for water well drilling equipment and we supply them with sophisticated bombing planes, battleships and tanks. This is an altogether disgusting business. Countries are selling arms to Bangladesh, Latin America and African States, but what do these countries want these sophisticated weapons for? It may be said "Ah, these countries asked to purchase them." We encourage them to purchase these weapons. We give them credits, and we sell to one country and then go to another and say "Your rivals have got weapons; therefore, you should have them." This is happening in Peru and Chile. That is really what Sir Basil Zaharoff did for Vickers at the beginning of this century.

The hon. Member for Pentlands defended the sale of weapons to Chile. In this country we have eight aeroengines and a cruiser that are due to go back to Chile. They are either being built or refitted here. I strongly oppose their return to Chile until Chile has settled her debts. That is quite apart from the internal situation, about which I feel very strongly, because trade unionists, Socialist and Liberals are at this moment being tortured to death in the gaols of Chile. We have a right to say, "We will not supply arms and help a country like that."

Apart from the moral issue, Chile has defaulted on the repayment of £14 million to Britain this year. Regardless of whether these weapons are for use internally, externally or at all we should say "We are impounding your assets until you settle your debts."

The Minister said that the Government were putting their full weight behind disarmament. They even appointed a Minister for Disarmament in 1964. The post soon disappeared into oblivion. At the same time a super arms salesman was appointed, Sir Raymond Brown. He was succeeded by Sir Leslie Suffield, who, as the Minister has said, is now selling £560 million worth of arms and has a staff of 320. Presumably they are not sitting on their backsides but working to increase the sale of arms.

I do not think that this is a proper stance for a Labour Government to take. The Minister had reservations. He said that we do not sell arms to countries which cannot afford to pay for them. That sounds a good business principle to me. But we are doing so. I understand that at the moment we are negotiating with Egypt over the sale of 500 tanks. I am a neutral in the Middle East. I am neither for Israel nor for Egypt. I am for peace. I do not say this because I am anti-Egypt but Egypt is in debt to the Western nations to the extent of $3 billion. Egypt cannot afford to pay for these weapons. Why on earth are we selling them?

Since you rather caught me with my pants down, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will conclude this speech by congratulating the hon. Member for Aldershot. I hope that I shall not embarrass him in doing so. He is a highly intelligent man, although I regard him as a reactionary in many spheres. He has the intelligence to see that this piling up of arms in the Middle East could lead to a holocaust which could kill us all.

Mr. Critchley

The hon. Member must be careful with his flattery. It has taken me nine years to get this far. If he goes on like this, it will take me another nine years to get anywhere else.

Mr. Allaun

I appreciate that. That is why I said I did not want to embarrass the hon. Gentleman. If it is dangerous to pile up arms in the Middle East it is equally dangerous to do so in other areas which are also tinder boxes, such as the Gulf and Latin America. The hon. Member would be in some difficulty if I asked him to name anywhere in the world where it would not be dangerous to pile up arms.

8.38 p.m.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

I apologise to the House for not being present when the Minister spoke. I remember walking beside the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) in a march to protest about oppression in Biafra. We were objecting to it being subjugated by Nigeria. At least that was the issue. I was there marching for Biafra and would willingly have seen arms sent to Biafra if they had been sent to Nigeria. Perhaps the hon. Member was marching with a wholly different intention.

Mr. Frank Allaun

I remember the day very well. I respect the hon. Member for taking part in that march. Surely, instead of sending arms to Biafra the common sense solution was to stop sending arms to Nigeria. If neither side had arms, the deaths would not have occurred.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I agree to the extent that I wish that the British Government had not been supplying arms to Nigeria.

I come back to the main theme of this debate and admit at once that this subject of arms sales is a vast and, one might say, immoral business. Yet morality is relative. We always think of arms sales in terms of selling arms for offensive purposes. Generally those arms are for defensive purposes. Indeed, I wonder how many of the arms sold this century have found their way into wars.

Since the war, only a few incidents have broken out between the nations which are not involved in the East-West conflict. When considering arms sales within the terms of the East-West conflict, our values are called into question more than when we consider the requirements of small nations, of which there is a proliferation, to build up defence forces, to give them a sense of security against a neighbour which may turn hostile.

Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman made the point about small nations. Would he consider taking the real-life example of a target figure of 2,000 battle tanks, which is Iran's target? Indeed, the figure is 2,300 battle tanks. That is hardly the process of making a small nation more secure and safer from a horrendous threat. That figure is higher than the number of tanks that were deployed by either the Germans or the Russians in the biggest battle of the Second World War, the battle of Kursk bulge.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman and I saw the same television programme. I heard that figure quoted. It covered many years. Iran has a common frontier with the Soviet Union. That must give Iran much more cause to worry about its security than most other countries in the Middle East. I am not here to defend Iran's need for 2,000 tanks, nor do I know whether that figure is accurate. No doubt the Minister can tell us, as the tanks were made at the Royal ordnance factory. However, rather than be diverted into dealing with the question of whether Persia should have so many tanks I shall continue with the point I was trying to make.

Israel is the outstanding example of a small State which if it were not heavily armed could not have existed. I well understand the feeling in any Israeli heart when its owner hears us talk about cutting off arms sales, remembering what happened when that nation found itself in that position. That is why Israel is now building up her own armaments industry even to the extent of making her own strike aircraft. Who can blame her when her life, her security and the very existence of that State depend upon the willingness of her people to fight those who wish to destroy them or to drive them into the sea?

Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there would be less compulsion and less need for the Israelis to build a factory for the manufacture of strike aircraft if we were not building a factory in Egypt so that the Egyptians could build strike aircraft?

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I was thinking of what happened in the past. I wish to take the examples of Czechoslovakia and Hungary, both of which sought a measure of liberation from Soviet tyranny. Both of those countries found themselves compelled, under Russian tank attacks, to give up their simple plea for a little more freedom. Those cases bear out my point.

Mr. Litterick


Mr. McNair-Wilson

If I give way I shall not make a speech at all.

Mr. Litterick

For many years Czechoslovakia was a notorious exporter of arms.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

What sort of arms? That is the question. What do we mean when we refer to the export of arms? Are we thinking of tanks, guns, uniforms, aero engines or transport aircraft? What arms do we mean? I do not wish to be diverted into the subjects raised by the hon. Gentlemen, interesting though they are. I wish to keep to my theme.

I put forward the proposition that in our uncertain world no nation can feel safe without defence forces. If we have defence forces, that presupposes that we must provide them with armaments. The issue at stake, therefore, is whether those armaments are to be made by ourselves, if we can afford them, or purchased from those who already make them. If a nation believes that its security may be threatened and that it may not be able to obtain the arms which it desperately needs, it will build up its industry. It follows that once a State has built an armaments industry it is in the market to make arms.

Far from reducing the amount of arms on sale, nations that make arms will inevitably find outlets for them. I dismiss the argument that if there were no arms sales the world would be a safer place. The contrary is true. The fact that there are armaments in the world is one reason why some nations manage to remain inviolate.

There has been talk about Japan not selling arms at all; but in the years since the war Japan has depended totally upon the United States for its defence. Japan knows that its record in the Far East is one which would not lend itself to having a large military force or to selling arms. It would be derogatory to its economic success. Wisely it has decided to let the Americans carry the burden of defence while it gets on with the job of selling cars, cameras, television sets and the like at our expense.

Sweden and Switzerland have a record of neutrality which I envy, but both are well armed and both have an armaments industry. Perhaps we could follow their example and have the peace which they have enjoyed.

At this time the talks on mutual and balanced force reductions are taking place, as is the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe. Both may cool the hot element of the cold war and lead to a reduction in the armed forces that straddle Western Europe. No doubt we would all feel a great sense of relief if the security of the world no longer depended on armed men facing each other in a warlike posture.

But I believe that it was Bismarck who said that the worst mistake a diplomat could make was to have illusions. The worst mistake any of us could make would be to have the illusion that if the West ran down its defence force the world would become a more peaceful place. The example of 1939 shows what a terrible error that would be.

This year and for many years past NATO has bought many millions of pounds worth of equipment from the United States, and under a new deal the Western European countries in NATO will be selling a rather smaller amount of equipment to the United States. Do the Harriers for the United States come under this deal and do Roland sales have their basis in the need for America to show some willingness to buy European goods? Perhaps the Minister will tell us.

If it is necessary for our nation to defend itself and play a rôle in NATO, it is necessary for us to have an armaments industry. If we are to have such an industry then, as the excellent "Midweek" programme on BBC television pointed out, if our ordnance factories are turning out equipment and our aircraft industry is making aircraft, it is not unreasonable that, when our own needs have been satisfied, they should be sold overseas. I was impressed by the general tenor of the programme and by the remarks of Sir Lester Suffield who put arms sales in context.

But what I would like to know is whether the Ministry of Defence sales team is of assistance to the ordnance factories, the aircraft industry and the electronics industry. Is it as good as it could be? Sir Lester said rather modestly that his job was to put these industries in touch with people in other countries who want arms.

I was delighted to know that there was this standing exhibition of British defence equipment somewhere in London, and as a Member for Parliament I should like to see it. Perhaps that is possible. I did not find that intolerable but a reasonable approach to this difficult problem. May we be told how much is spent by Sir Lester and his colleagues on arms sales promotion? Perhaps the Minister will touch upon the general budget of our super arms salesman.

Quite a lot has been said about the moral issues which arise in any discussion of arms, and I recognise that there must be political considerations. No Government would wish to prop up represive régimes. Sometimes arms have been supplied not with that intention but with that effect. For example, none of us will know what damage was done to the West or what strength was given to the East by the supply to the USSR of Nene engines at the end of the 1940s, but they were important because they offered the Soviet Union our latest technology in jet engines. None of us will ever know just how valuable they were to Russia in helping it to build up its vast air force.

By the same token, do we believe that a handful of frigates going to Spain would have made all that much difference? Did we believe that they would be used against the Spanish people? Now, as we know, Harriers are going to Spain via the United States. Do any of us feel that we should get up in arms and march about protesting? We know that Harrier aircraft are not bought for the sort of repression some people would suppose goes on in Spain, and equally we are well aware that the Spanish part of the European defence structure is to the Americans one of the more important.

Where is the morality? Is it in supplying Nene jet engines to Russia, not selling frigates to Spain or permitting Harriers to end up on a Spanish aircraft carrier? What about the Buccaneers for South Africa or the helicopters supplied to that country some years ago? We struck our attitudes on these issues but they were rather empty gestures.

Man is a violent animal and we live in a violent world. I therefore come back to NATO, the great defence structure of Western Europe. I was at NATO Headquarters only last week. I suppose hon. Members will say that I was listening to all the public relations spiel that the NATO spokesmen wanted to give me, but the thing which struck me most forcibly after discussing the sale of the F16 fighter to four NATO countries—the arms deal of the century, as it was called—was that in terms of the standardisation of equipment the NATO Procurement Executive was already in existence. I was handed an admirable little book called the NATO Handbook. Under the heading "Military Agencies" is listed one for standardisation which has existed since 1951 and one for aerospace research and development which has existed since 1952. Nevertheless, 24 years later we are still no nearer to getting these agencies into what might be described as a real posture.

Will the Minister therefore say something more about the NATO Procurement Executive? It is a long time coming and meantime we are allowing millions of pounds worth of orders to go across the Atlantic when we know perfectly well that the European aircraft industry has the wherewithal to meet the needs of NATO. Whether Labour Members like it or not, the trade unionists who work in the aircraft industry would have liked Britain, or at least its Western European colleagues, to have been in a position to supply the aircraft which replaced the Starfighter. That might have been possible if only Europe had been able to think more collectively and with more purpose than appears to have been the case.

8.55 p.m.

Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)

Quite clearly we have come a long way since the days of the opulence of the private producer of munitions. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) mentioned Basil Zaharoff. That conjures up the writings of George Bernard Shaw about the evils of the private arms manufacturers. However, the House is not discussing that. That aspect of the matter, with which I shall deal later, is a small part of the business.

Mr. Litterick

I hope that my hon. Friend will not be too long.

Mr. Williams

No, I shall not.

We are talking about the arms sales undertaken by Governments. This is extremely big business. Overall about £2,000 million a year is spent, of which the United States accounts for about £800 million, France accounts for between £400 million and £500 million and Britain and the Soviet Union account for some £250 million each. Whether this gives us third place in the league I do not wish to argue. This country and the countries I have mentioned are clearly in the big league in this respect.

It is as well for the House to examine this aspect first. My hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) mentioned that there are a number of countries which carry out a more selective policy. He mentioned Germany, Switzerland and Sweden. At the same time it is fair to point out that Belgium, Britain, Italy and the Netherlands have by and large adhered to the United Nations Security Council resolutions against the sale of arms to particular countries. Indeed, it is even true to say that France has subjected herself on occasions to self-imposed restraint. Therefore, we are talking not about a laissez-faire situation but about a controlled situation.

The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) mentioned two interesting matters. First, he said that the joint procurement policy in Europe would bring a bonus in stability. I believe that to be profoundly true. The more that the Powers within Europe and the great Powers have a kind of statutory policy, the more stability and control there will be and, in the end, as has been mentioned by my hon. Friends, the less shall we be forced to sell arms to third countries, like the developing world—which clearly should be spending their resources elsewhere.

Nevertheless, as I shall truncate my speech, I shall turn to the private element. Although I have said that it plays a small part in this business, it should not be totally neglected. The Government should consider what contribution small arms manufacturers do in fact make. Most of the main companies operating in this country are extremely responsible. In any case, they all work to Government controls. They are not free to supply arms wherever they want. Nevertheless, some of them get up to a number of dodges. I am talking not about big companies but about small private operations. I should like there to be an international draft agreement on the end use of these weapons. This would make a contribution to stability in the so-called Third World. In this respect NATO cannot make a major contribution. Clearly it cannot do so because it is exclusive. It does not include Third World countries, so there is a restriction there. The United Nations cannot do so either, for the reason that a proposal for general end use control might provoke charges of discrimination against countries without any arms-producing capacity. That, again, is an objection in respect of the United Nations.

Another possibility could be OECD. This body is certainly wider and includes Japan and a number of other countries. However, I do not think that that would be a burden it would like to take on or that there would be very much support for it.

Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister, with his advisers, might consider seeing whether some ad hoc committee could be negotiated through an appropriate international forum to see whether something could be done about the end use of a number of small arms which contribute to instability in areas outside the great Power blocs which are stabilised by NATO and the arrangements that have arisen from NATO. We have a situation in which the great Powers ensure their own stability, although I am not complacent about this situation. However, where areas of conflict exist there is still opportunity for private arms producers to fuel potential war. That is the area to which my right hon. Friend might direct his considerable abilities and attention.

The speech made by the hon. Member for Aldershot—making his debut from the Opposition Front Bench, I think—received praise from my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East, and the hon. Gentleman said that it might damage his prospects. I only hope that I shall get praise from my hon. Friend which might improve my prospects.

Finally, this is an extremely serious matter. We have come a long way from the writings of George Bernard Shaw. All of us realise that in this particular area we cannot be complacent.

9.1 p.m.

Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)

First I should like to take the opportunity, all the more pleasant because it comes so rarely, of congratulating the Opposition on having given us this opportunity to debate the arms trade.

I should like also to join in the general paeon of praise to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley). I labour under the distressing and uncomfortable handicap that I agree with more of his speech than many of the speeches we have heard in the last few months from that Dispatch Box. I particularly agreed with his comments on the arms race in the Middle East and I shall return to that matter.

I think that the House generally accepts—it has run through the debate—that our share in the arms trade is already fairly enormous. A number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), have made the point that the arms trade and our arms sales allow us to maintain and to preserve an armaments industry which is larger than our economy would otherwise bear, and thus enable us to continue to have military pretensions beyond what that economy would bear.

I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) that it is just not good enough to justify our participation in this arms trade by reference to other countries which do the same. For one thing, many other countries do not participate in the arms trade, particularly Japan. I do not propose to go over that ground because hon. Members have already done so.

However, there is another reason for the argument that it is just not good enough to take that line. We do it more than many other countries. A number of speakers have said that Britain is the third largest exporter of arms. That is true. But I wonder how accurate it is to compare ourselves with Russia and the United States. After all, when they go in for their arms trade abroad, they are not looking for purely commercial sales. They are looking for subsidised sales or the transfer of armaments for a political motivation.

Here I take up the point made by my pair, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), when he referred to our experience during the last war and the supply of armaments from the United States. Certainly there was then a case for the arms trade. But we are not here comparing like with like.

Of course, I understand that nations such as the United States, and indeed such as ourselves, may from time to time wish to send arms to another State which may be threatened, as a political act because we approve of and wish to support that State. That is one thing. It is quite another thing to sell arms on a purely commercial basis for the profit motive and for what it does to our balance of payments. That is what we are doing at present, and we do it far more than anyone else. Indeed, with the exception of the French, no one else sells even one-quarter of the volume of arms that we do on a purely commercial basis.

It is therefore disingenuous of us to say that we are doing only what others do, because we are one of the few who set the pace for what others do. Therefore, we have a duty to ask ourselves searching questions about the moral basis of what we are doing and why we are doing it.

I turn to the question of the Middle East. What is the possible moral justification for our continued sale of as much armaments to both sides in the conflict in the Middle East as their money is good for? I take up the point that was made by the hon. Member for Newbury. The hon. Gentleman said that in many cases the arms sold through the arms trade are not used or are rarely put into effect. I would have thought that in the Middle East, where a high proportion of our arms exports is going, there is a real possibility that the arms we are sending will be used. I am sure that we all hope for a peaceful settlement in the Middle East, but let us not forget how fragile the peace is at present. Only yesterday one State in the Middle East attacked the territory of another State. We have a fragile situation in which arms that we export may well find a use.

There can be few hon. Members who would deny that the competitive arms race in the Middle East is at least one factor which has precipitated the two conflicts of the past decade. I do not think we can attempt to disguise even from ourselves the fact that we connived in the arms race, thus helping to make those two wars more probable and the present peace in the Middle East that much more unstable and fragile.

Thte House will be aware of the deal which is being concluded with Egypt, It is said to be worth £500 million. There has been reference to it already in this debate. However, the references hitherto have seemed to be based on the assumption that it is a standard deal in which we shall transfer so many tanks or so many aircraft to the Egyptians. Of course, it is nothing of the kind. What the deal does is not only to sell the Egyptians the equipment but to sell them the plant and technology to set up their own armaments industry financed by other Arabian countries.

We are creating in Egypt a major military industrial complex capable of producing its own jet aircraft and its own battle tanks. I am bound to say that that complex will exert the same pressures in the area with which we are so familiar from our own experience—namely, the pressure to increase the arms budget and to maintain a high defence expenditure.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs about his opinion of the arms deal and whether it should go ahead, my right hon. Friend replied that some measure of arms limitation in the Middle East is likely to be possible only with the support of the parties to the dispute."—[Official Report, 25th June 1975; Vol. 894, c. 424.] I can understand that approach but I am not persuaded by it. I cannot understand how by helping to build up a major armaments industry in the Middle East we shall encourage that area to engage in arms limitation. How can that be said to be the position when we are introducing into the State of Egypt a sophisticated defence industry the existence of which depends on perpetuating the conflict which called it into existence? Of course, we never really ask ourselves that kind of fundamental question.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence for depositing in the Library, in response to a Question from myself, a copy of the Defence Sales Equipment Catalogue. I have spent many a pleasant hour leafing through it. It is a remarkable tribute to the printers' art. It is clear that those who wrote the catalogue had forgotten what it was they were selling. I was particularly struck by that thought on reading the description of the Chieftain tank. I came across the urbane sentence adequate ammunition for the normal day's engagement is carried. That suggests that at about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, after the normal day's work, the tank crew knock off and go home for a shower and a pint. It is clear throughout the catalogue that the authors have forgotten that they are dealing with weapons of death and destruction. Only occasionally does the reader come up against a phrase such as "maximum lethality" or "maximum kill probability". Such phrases remind us with a jolt of exactly what we are selling.

Much of what appears in the catalogue is inoffensive. There is contained in that document what I can only regard as a joke page from Wilkinson Sword. If people wish to dress up ceremonially with a sword, I have no objection to selling those items abroad, but somewhere between a Wilkinson sword and a Vickers 1,000-ton submarine we should be capable of drawing a line. I detected from the speeches in this debate from hon. Members on both sides of the House a sense of intellectual dissatisfaction and frustration because we have never seriously tried to draw that line.

To look at the Minister's argument which we heard a little earlier, surely there is no logic in saying that from time to time there will be countries of whose regimes we disapprove and, therefore, we should not trade with them. The hon. Member for Pentlands was right to say that this is an illogical and indefensible attitude.

The great irony about the Chilean business is that the Labour Government have been politically embarrassed by the fag end of a deal which was one of the major successes of the sales drive of the Labour Government in the 1960s. We then went through with an agreement with President Frei, the democratically-elected president of a perfectly constitutional regime. Unfortunately regimes change—and perhaps they change rather more rapidly in countries with a high military expenditure and it is those countries which are among our large customers.

The moral of the Chilean episode is that if one does not want to end up with a contract to supply arms to people with whom one has nothing in common, one should not go into the market on a purely commercial basis to sell arms. This moral also applies to our sales to Saudi Arabia and Iran. We are now equipping those nations on a lavish scale without giving much thought to the proposition that those arms will be good for the next 25 years.

Let us consider the volume of sales to States in the Persian Gulf. It looks as though the only possible rationale for our behaviour there is that we are carrying out an experiment to test the thesis whether a competitive arms race produces war at the end of the day. I may be wrong. A competitive arms race may not lead to war, but if there is a conflict in the Persion Gulf it will be on a much more horrendous scale because of the flow of arms there over the past five years.

The dilemma which we face is not new. Every Western child is brought up to accept the tomahawk as the symbol of the ferocity of the Red Indian. It is only when we look into the matter that we realise that most tomahawks now in American museums were made in European foundries. With the advantage of 200 years' hindsight, we can clearly see the moral responsibility for that trade. No doubt at the time the situation was muddier and people were prepared to say "We must carry on this trade for the sake of export and jobs". There would have been somebody, even 200 years ago, who would have taken the attitude "If we do not sell those arms, the French will."

The only aspect that is different today is that the weapons we sell are so much more sophisticated and destructive. I can seen no logical or moral defence of such a trade other than the sale of arms to our allies. I have reservations about NATO, but so long as we are members of NATO and postulate a common external threat it would be foolish not to share our arms in that alliance.

I do not accept the argument that we should create a European military industrial complex. That could be a seriously destabilising force in the world today, but I accept that we should and could trade within NATO, and that is a large market. We must bear in mind that 80 per cent. of all the world's purchases of arms last year were destined for NATO or Warsaw Pact countries.

I presume that nobody tonight will suggest that we should sell arms to members of the Warsaw Pact. If we rule them out and keep NATO in, we are talking only about the remaining 20 per cent. of the margin of arms purchases. That is the 20 per cent. that we should be prepared to give up if we want to have a logical, sensible and rational policy on arms trade.

I see from my notes that when I prepared this speech this morning I wrote that such a proposal was "visionary and unrealistic". I was not so sure, when I heard the hon. Member for Aldershot, whether I might not carry him with me, because that seemed to be the tenor of his concluding remarks. Unfortunately, I would have failed to carry the Minister with me. Therefore I shall put forward two specific proposals of a more limited nature for him to consider.

First, if we are to continue to sell arms abroad, let us at least sell arms and not the equipment or factories to manufacture further arms. The growing tendancy to sell the technology of arms manufacture represents a very disturbing and very serious proliferation of the ability to manufacture sophisticated weapon systems. I should have thought that those who defend an open arms trade, even on their own terms, would have difficulty in opposing such a proposal, because, after all, once these nations have their own arms industry they enter into the arms trade as our competitors.

I refer here again to Israel. It is worth noting that only in the past week America has been gravely concerned because it finds that Israel, to which for a decade it has exported the technology of missile production, is now entering into missile contracts with Latin American States, thus introducing a new escalation in the arms race in an area about which America is very sensitive, and also competing with the native American arms industry. I put forward that first proposal for very serious consideration and hope that it commends itself to Members on both sides.

My second proposal is that we should at least abandon the secrecy that surrounds our arms sales. The Minister in his opening speech suggested that this was unrealistic, impractical and visionary, but I remind him that for 15 years before the last world war the League of Nations produced an annual register of all arms sales between Governments and individuals. I do not see why a proposal that was feasible and practical 40 years ago should now not be feasible and should now be impractical. It is a very realistic proposal and one that would be a positive step for the good.

I feel that once the secrecy is dropped, once the people of our country know what is going on in this business, once they know the kinds of weapons we are selling, what these weapons can do and to whom we are selling them, there will be such a revulsion against our participation in this trade that we shall be forced—and quite rightly—to find alternative employment for those who at present make these weapons of death.

9.18 p.m.

Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

My stand is basically that the arms trade is immoral, but at the same time I am not a pacifist. Certainly many of the trappings and activities associated with the arms trade would appear to be unequivocally immoral.

A few weeks ago the late General Stehlin unfortunately "fell" under a bus and was killed. This was the closing event of a series of revelations about the said general's activities, to the effect that he was secretly a front man for what Frenchmen saw as a foreign armaments manufacturing organisation. He was seen by many Frenchmen to be acting contrary to the interests of the French nation, of the French economy, and, of course, of the French armaments industry. We have been assured by the French Government that the said general died accidentally, and I suppose we have to accept that assurance, but the fact remains that a general officer of the French armed forces was suborned by a foreign arms manufacturer into acting against the interests of his country. That is corrupt and immoral. He made a lot of money. He is now dead.

We know that the Northrop Company —which, by the way, employed General Stehlin—has been reported as having spent $450,000 in buying a couple of Saudi Arabian air force generals. We also know that a member of the Royal House of that country cut himself in on the deal to the tune of ô150,000 merely by saying that if they did not give him a piece of the action he would put a block on that armaments deal. That too is dishonest and corrupt. The activity itself inevitably is corrupting, and, like selling whisky or drugs to people who should know better or selling sex to travelling gentlemen, it is surrounded by a great deal of casuistry. Indeed, the sale of arms is usually explained in casuistic terms, and the best reason that I have heard tonight for selling guns came from the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), who said that we needed the money. That, ultimately, is the excuse for engaging in all the other activities which I have mentioned.

It may be that General Stehling needed the money. It may be that that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia needed the money. But they both allowed themselves to be corrupted. The arms trade is big money. So long as there is big money floating around, there are people to be suborned, bought and corrupted.

The Northrop Company, which employed that unfortunate French general, bribed the Saudi Arabian generals and bought off the Saudi Arabian prince, said that this was "standard business pactice". I should like to direct a question to the Minister. Is it standard business practice? My right hon. Friend is concerned centrally with the organisation and co-ordination of Britain's part in the global arms traffic. I have in mind that we are discussing not a laissez-faire traffic but a State-managed traffic. It is a traffic engaged in not just by us but by the numerous States in the Northern Hemisphere which have an argaments production capability. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider whether what the Northrop Company described as "standard business practice" is standard business practice in the eyes of his Ministry. I expect to be reassured to the contrary.

I take the view that an armed society is a violent society. The most persuasive analogy is the United States, which prides itself, as part of its mythical past, on the violence of its past. The Wild West —that prolonged act of genocide by which the Middle and Far West of the North American continent was colonised—is glorified in American life. One part of its inheritance as a result of that is the proliferation of arms within American society, and one consequence is that the homicide rate in the United States is many times higher than that in Western Europe. Any one of two dozen cities in the United States has a homicide rate far in excess of that in the United Kingdom. To make clear what I am saying, one has only to select one of the two dozen largest cities in the United States and count the number of murders in one calendar year to find an infinitely greater number than the total number of homicides in the British Isles in a calendar year.

The United States is a heavily armed society. It is so heavily armed that the authorities, whether federal or state, have no idea how many guns there are. What they do know is that many thousands of Americans die violently by the use of those guns every year. That does not happen in Britain because Britain is not an armed society; and, by comparison, Britain is not a violent society. So, too, it seems to me that we can say of the globe itself that an armed globe will be a violent globe.

Hon. Members have suggested, without necessarily having said it—they usually say it in the context of a defence debate —that armaments help to keep the peace. They seem to get stuck in the rut of saying "The Russians are coming", or something like that, and that the only thing that prevents them coming is the fact that we have bigger, more, or quicker guns than they have—forgetting that there is in Moscow a group of men who get up once a year and say exactly the same thing to the Russians about us; that the only reason why the Western Imperialists have not galloped across the Ukraine is that they, the Russians, have bigger, more, or quicker guns than we have. In other words, we believe each other's delusions when the reality is that the globe has been made more and more violent since the end of the Second World War. That itself was something of an achievement. We managed to kill 40 million human beings in about five and a half years. Human ingenuity cannot go much further than that, considering the great variety of means we used to kill those 40 million people.

Mr. Alan Lee Williams


Mr. Litterick

I will give way to my hon. Friend in a moment.

Far from the proliferation of arms, whether nuclear or otherwise, having stabilised the world's political structure or having pacified the globe, it has at the very least not prevented about 100 wars taking place. Some 100 wars have taken place since 1945, some very big, some very small which perhaps some hon. Members would not like to regard as wars; but to the people who were killed in them, or those who had their homes destroyed in them, they were certainly wars. These wars took place all over the world and no number of weapons could apparently prevent them happening. It seems to me, therefore, that it is not an unreasonable conclusion that the sheer number of weapons lying around, which was part of the inheritance of the Second World War, had something to do with those wars taking place.

Mr. Alan Lee Williams

I am sure my hon. Friend wishes to be fair. He said that the United States was a violent society. Would he not agree that the Soviet Union is a police State, and that is one of the reasons why the Soviet Union requires an increase in its armaments expenditure, for obvious reasons? This ought also to be stated to make the point clear.

Mr. Litterick

I am certainly persuaded that the authorities in the Soviet Union who make decisions over armaments commitments do so on lines very similar to the rationale used by people over here in making decisions. I am not so sure that it has to do with whether or not a country is a police State. It has a great deal to do—this is somewhat of a diversion from the argument—with whether or not a great deal of power is given to a small number of people without subjecting them to immediate democratic control.

It seems to me, anyway, that the more remote the people having this centralised power are, the more likely it is that they will make highly irrational and probably paranoid decisions. Perhaps we are moving some way towards the hon. Gentleman's point that the more centralised, the less responsive and the less democratic are the centres of decision-making power, the more likely it is that the decision-makers will be paranoid. But, having said that, I do not believe that we should for a moment forget that there have been one or two recent Presidents of the United States who have displayed very disturbed and very disturbing minds, and they may have been made that way by the fact that they have been placed in these positions of immense power with peripheral power of control. However, that is another argument, which I shall be happy to pursue somewhere else.

It seems that selling arms is even more immoral when it comes to selling arms to people who cannot buy food. For me to make that point in that way sufficiently dramatises the fact that it is totally immoral to supply with arms people who want for sufficient food to keep themselves alive and whose position will be made worse if they have to spend real resources on arms instead of on food. Often in Third World countries that means exchanging food for guns and condemning even more people to malnutrition and hopeless lives.

The deals which have been mentioned with the two Middle Eastern countries Egypt and Iran, have exercised my attention and need some further explanation from my right hon. Friend the Minister. I have listened to my right hon. Friend intently on this subject more than once, and I am aware that he sees it as part of his obligation to ensure that armaments are not sold to a nation State in such quantities or of such sophisticated quality as to disturb the balance of military power in that region of the world. We are told that we are to be involved in a £500 million armaments deal with Egypt. That represents a lot of military hardware. We know also that the Russians are involved in armaments traffic with the Egyptians. We know also that our ally, the United States, is committed to servicing Israel for an indefinite period.

That raises in my mind the question —to which I hope the Minister will respond—that, if the British Government sincerely believe that their arms sales policy with reference to Egypt will not disturb the balance of military power in that part of the world, there must be some form of collusion between the British, French and Russian Governments. It would appear that there is a tripartite arrangement to supply Egypt with arms in such quantity and of such quality as not to disturb the balance established by the American supply of arms to Israel.

On the same principle, it is difficult to explain the arms traffic between Britain and Iran in any other way than as a deliberate attempt to disturb the balance of power in that aprt of the world. That question needs to be examined much more closely.

9.32 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings)

I must first extend my apologies to the Minister for not having been present when he first spoke because I had to receive a deputation. I understand that I am to have the pleasure of a "second house" very shortly, and I look forward to hearing his reply to the debate. I should declare an interest as an aeronautical engineer.

The debate has provided a valuable opportunity for hon. Members on both sides of the House to establish their position on arms sales, a subject which arouses more passion, more anger and more division than most others with which the House freely chooses to confront itself. The persuasive arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) and the hon. Members for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) and Farnworth (Mr. Roper) which have flooded around us tonight have established the expected, triple division in their stream between those of us who believe that British arms should be sold to most countries which want to buy them, those who believe that they should be sold only in limited fashion to certain specified countries, and those who believe that the export of arms is wrong at any time.

I regret that the debate has put before the Minister many questions from his own side that he is called upon to answer. That was not my intention in challenging him to the debate. I notice that the hon. Member for Salford, East, (Mr. Allaun)—who has put down a motion—is absent. I hope that his absence implies that he has gone galloping off to see the amendment to that motion which my hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) has tabled.

I accept the sincerity of the hon. Member for Salford, East in believing in neutrality and pacifism, but what worries me is that he takes with him so many other people who tend to suggest by their speeches and actions that they are happy for the Russians to go around arming the world but that it is wrong for countries in the West to seek to protect themselves.

Mr. Litterick


Mr. Warren

It may sound like nonsense, but that is the demonstration we have had in the House for some years now.

The Opposition selected this difficult subject for debate tonight not just to renew declarations of these divisions, but first to probe Her Majesty's Government on the validity and strength of their own policy on arms sales. Secondly, we wanted to suggest some new ideas and some new approaches to see whether it is possible for both sides of the House to find some common and rational policy on the future of arms exports from Britain.

The hon. Member for Farnworth tried to make the case that a liberal arms export policy is not a sine qua non of economic prosperity. He drew our attention to West Germany, Japan and Switzerland, and their traffic in arms. However, he failed to point out that West Germany is a growing substantial arms exporter particularly to the Middle and Far East. I wonder if the economic success of the three nations which he quoted has anything to do with the fact that their Governments encourage enterprise of all kinds.

The need for a policy supported by the majority of hon. Members of all parties is, I believe, as important a component to the continuity of British foreign policy as it is to the foreign policy of other countries which put their faith in our aircraft, shipbuilding and weapon manufacturers. The continuity of policy does not stop with the signing of the contracts. The need for continuity is equally essential to the workers in the machine shops, on the assembly lines, in the test houses or on the slipways of our yards.

The Minister has had his acquaintance with the expectations of these workers expressed most forcibly and, I am happy to say, frequently over the past few months by the shop stewards and staff of British factories whose jobs may be in peril. Those people are very worried about the Government's cuts in our defences. Hon. Members on all sides of the House have been lobbied by these workers, who expect, and with sound reason, that the Government will recognise the value of their unique skills and encourage their use and employment in the service of their country.

If the Government had to cut defence expenditure, we would have expected them to increase their encouragement for the export of military aircraft and ships to offset the reduction in home demand. We have the same strange paradox that if an industry falters, or a company fails, the Government rush legislation through the House fast enough to ensure that it does not go under. However, when it has anything to do with the aircraft, the naval, or the armament industries, we find that that encouragement is not as forthcoming to save jobs.

The opportunities for our export sales abroad are very wide indeed. The sale of Jaguar to India is a typical example. For three years through three Governments, the British Aircraft Corporation sought to sell that aircraft to India. The Minister knows that at the last hour he and his friends said that the Government of India was not creditworthy. That coming from the present Government would be laughable after their appalling financial record were it not for the humiliation which the Indian air force officers were subjected to by the Government of this country pulling the rug from under them after they had backed Britain by selecting this aircraft. I am delighted to hear that the Indians refused to accept this snub. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will see whether it is not possible, even at this late hour, to help the Indians and to help the workers of this country who want to export.

The hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton mentioned these sales and also the possibility of sales to Turkey and Australia. He also raised the question of offsets. I hope that the Government will pay more attention to the offsets that are possible in terms of the sale of more maritime Harriers, particularly to France, if we can find some method of purchasing its submarine missiles as opposed to those from America.

The eyes of foreign customers are focused on the development of Britian's attitude to India in particular. Few countries could have expected to sour so many export customers' appetites as quickly as this Government have done. However, when on a previous occasion I asked the Secretary of State for a list of countries to which it would be possible for manufacturers here to sell arms, I was told that it was not possible to supply that, because the list changes from time to time. When I asked to whom we cannot sell, I was told that that was another question. That might be funny enough for the Palladium, but, frankly, it is not good enough for the workers in the factories or the salesmen sweating it out in expensive competition with the French and Americans in export battles around the world. It is certainly totally unacceptable to customers who spend years of detailed studies and negotiations with our engineers here and in their own countries.

I compliment the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams), who mentioned the problem of exports to end users. This is something which we should study much more closely. An incredible length of time is required for defence sales negotiations. It is this which makes them so vulnerable to changes in Government policy, let alone changes in Government. Two to four years of a company's private venture investment amounting to tens of thousands of pounds and frequently millions of pounds of expenditure paid out of past profits are essential resources in these modern competitions.

The prizes are vast. A lost sale can mean that a generation of technology is wasted. Thus, it comes hard to a company and its workers, after years of striving in the export market, to find that the rug is pulled from under their feet by their own Government, whom they have financed by their taxes. The Minister knows that the Jaguar is but one example. I fear that there are far too many. I appeal to the Government to examine their policy on defence exports and to demonstrate that they appreciate that it is on too short a time-scale to suit the essential requirements of selling in the export markets.

The need is for the Government to get ahead of the problem in their present policy. There is a big and expensive organisation in the Ministry of Defence called the Defence Sales Organisation, staffed by elegant civil servants but rather too few engineers. Looming ahead of this country and the whole of NATO is the need to standardise weapons to give us a better and cheaper chance of defending ourselves. Standardisation will mean more arms exports and imports between the NATO nations.

Secretary of State Schlesinger has accepted this for the United States, and we welcome his declaration. We also welcome our Secretary of State's rôle as Chairman of the Eurogroup. I suppose that good will abounds everywhere, but I think that there is a catch. My question is: what is in it for Britain? We have just witnessed the Americans scooping the board by the sale of their F-16 aircraft to Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Holland. We all knew that the market was there. We have known for years. The British had already built a light, cheap aeroplane a decade ago in the Gnat. Yet 10 years afterwards Europe failed to realise that it could easily have built a clever little aeroplane like the F-16.

When the European Governments wake up to what has happened they will rightly be able to say, like the old boxer, "We wuz robbed." It seems that our Defence Sales Organisation completely failed to predict that opportunity which arose five years ago, let alone secure a share of the action for Britain. That is a lesson. I suggest that we have a splendid chance to show that we have learned the lesson once and for all, as yet another opportunity comes into view.

The Minister knows that NATO needs an airborne early warning aircraft. Even before the formal operational requirement is written, the United States is crowding us with salesmanship, asking us to accept its solution to all our problems at a cost of only £1,200 million for 45 aeroplanes. In Britain we all know, certainly the hon. Member for Salford, East knows, that we have an unequalled aircraft called Nimrod, which I am assured can readily be modified to do the job for 40 per cent. of the price.

Here is a challenge for the Minister worthy of his acceptance. Let him try to outsell the United States in this venture. It will demand all the vigour and resource at the command of the aeroengine equipment manufacturers, let alone their salesmen, engineers and shop-floor workers. Above all, it will demand the dedication of the Government. In the Ministry of Defence alone it will require the defence sales, operational requirements and research establishments to team up with the manufacturers to act together as part of a sales team. It will require the commitment of the Departments of Industry and Trade and the Foreign Office. This is the scale on which American competition is already operating. To try to get away with less would be a tremendous waste of time and money.

Is it too much to ask the Minister to recognise and accept this challenge? It took 12 years and five Governments to get the maritime Harrier off the drawing board. I joined many hon. Members on both sides of the House in applauding the Government for taking that action. Export opportunities abound for that areoplane. There is a second chance with the Nimrod for the Government to prove that they are prepared to act. Time is not on our side, but time is available. I do not want the Americans to kid us that there is no time. We must decide on the time when we need to buy the aircraft in Europe—and not buy it sooner than that.

None of us wants war, whether we speak with the feelings of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) or with those of many other hon. Members, including those of myself. I hope that no nation needs war, but our security can be found only in strength—the strength produced by the unity of all people who live in freedom. Beyond our words must be our willingness to help these people who want to defend themselves. We must be allowed to protect their freedom as well as ours.

9.46 p.m.

Mr. William Rodgers

With the permission of the House, I would be grateful if I might say something further in conclusion on the debate.

I was caught off balance by the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), who surprised the House by leading us along interesting philosophical paths and widening the horizon before us. The balance was at least partially restored by the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Warren). Though he spoke in a mild way, he repeated today in effect that the Government should pull their finger out and sell more arms to more countries and more aggressively than hitherto. I welcome the hon. Member for Hastings as having made a maiden speech from the Front Bench. I endorse the new spirit of ideological dissent on the Opposition benches, of which those two speeches were further examples.

This has been a good debate as I am not compelled to reply in detail and at length to many criticisms of the Defence Sales Organisation or alternatively to make the case in detail for what we have done or what we have left undone. The debate has, on the contrary, opened our minds to some of the large issues which lie behind the question of defence sales. In practical ministerial terms, some of those issues are not for me or for the Secretary of State to answer. Rather they apply to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. However, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has heard much of this debate. I can give the undertaking that those remarks which were more appropriate to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will nevertheless be taken as close note of as anything said relating primarily to my Department's responsibilities.

Some of the arguments were occasionally oblique, contradictory and even irrelevant. I do not hold the view that defence sales at the sine qua non of economic achievement. Equally, however, I do not hold the view that the absence of such sales is a precondition for economic achievement. I think that the business of economic growth is more subtle than that. We should be following a blind alley once again and finding explanations for our failure if we were to make that a central argument when we looked at the question of defence sales.

Secondly, I share the view that it seems ridiculous that poor countries should wish to buy arms. But the initiative comes not from the richer countries wanting to sell arms but from the smaller countries which want to demonstrate their own sovereignty. I have always been amazed by the extent to which newly independent countries want to build large palaces for their Presidents or Heads of State and to establish airlines without delay. Airlines throughout the world lose money, and I like to think that if I was responsible oil these occasions I would not waste the money of a poor country by having an airline. But I regret that this is the way of the world.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper), it is true that, over a number of years, and before 1970, this Government—and, I would like to think, other Governments as well—have been concerned with the possibility of achieving international agreement on arms limitation. It is not countries with defence sales interests which have been the primary objectors. It has been the countries which believe that they are in a position of disability who wish to buy arms, either to protect their own sovereignty or to demonstrate that they are strong in the world even though the reality is very different.

I endorse the sentiments of those who say this is a tragedy and that these are cases not for guns but for butter. However, in this harsh and terrible world countries that cannot afford arms are often in search of them. I can only repeat that I do not believe that our own sales organisation has made a point of trying to sell arms to countries which it believes cannot afford to buy or to countries for which particular arms would be irrelevant.

The hon. Member for Hastings spoke about the sales of Jaguar to India. We have already debated this in the House and I have nothing further to add except to say that I hope the hon. Member will reflect carefully on all the implications of every sale, even to a friendly country. I do not believe that any representatives of the Indian armed forces have been humiliated by the course of events.

I do not believe that the Defence Sales Organisation, the Services themselves or the Ministry of Defence have conveyed anything other than a sense of reality about the prospect of a deal. The hon. Member for Hastings said we had pulled the rug from under a number of deals which were in prospect. I understand why he missed my opening remarks, but he cannot expect me to repeat all I said then. If he has chapter and verse of a situation where an industry, pursuing legitimate defence sales, feels that it has been let down, I hope he will give me the details.

The hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) spoke about the sale of Roland rather than Rapier to the United States. It is not as simple as he suggests. Rapier's failure in the United States was because it did not meet the United States requirement. That is not to say that it is not an excellent weapon in its own right. It is an excellent weapon and it is selling well. For the hon. Member to suggest that it was only the failure of top-level United Kingdom support which led to the United States decision is naïve.

We are in constant touch with the British Aircraft Corporation. I know the individuals principally concerned. They have not complained to me or my Depart- ment, neither have they spoken to us in the terms implied by the hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton. If they feel that we have let them down, let them say so. Let us sort it out and re-establish the relationship on a basis of confidence.

I do not say that there may not be in some way a growing relationship between the United States and Germany which may have consequences in this area as in others, but the hon. Member must look beyond this particular deal and the question of arms sales to the large issues concerning Britain's rôle in the world, and in Europe in particular, and our present economic strength. It is there that he will find the answers to some of his questions.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth that it is true that we sought to take an intiative on the limitation of arms sales as long ago as February 1970. He referred to remarks then made by my noble Friend Lord Chalfont. I would not like to believe that the initiative has since been lost and I can give him an undertaking that I shall examine very carefully the remarks of Mr. Van Elslande at the Western European Union in December 1974. We shall see whether the occasion arises or whether we can create one when it might be possible to take an intiative which might prove more fruitful than the initiative taken some years ago.

Anybody listening to the debate and reflecting upon the events in the Middle East must feel a deep concern about the course which is being taken. I understand if I do not wholly agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) that the dangers of selling technology are greater than the dangers of selling arms. Certainly a heavy obligation lies upon the Government in their discussions about sales to the Middle East to ensure that nothing we do upsets the balance there or is likely to lead to a further outbreak of hostilities at a much higher level with a disastrous escalation involving the great Powers or in any way the destruction of ony of the countries at the eastern end of the Mediterranean.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) intervened and repeated a question about Windscale. Sometimes my hon. Friend confuses me, but I am not often as baffled as I am now, I can only promise to look at the point he raised, read in Hansard what he said and seek then to give him a satisfactory answer. I am not suggesting that his point is not important, but I have not yet fully grasped the significance of it.

The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) asked whether he could visit the Defence Sales exhibition, the catalogue of which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central. The answer, of course, is "Yes". Everything that the hon. Member for Newbury and others have said about the procurement and standardisation of NATO armaments is something which we shall continue to pursue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Williams) referred to international agreements on the arms trade and referred particularly to the question of the Third World, with which I have already dealt. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) in a wide-ranging contribution referred to national phsychology and motivation. I do not believe that I can follow him all the way in what he said, but I endorse his remarks about the desirability to find a way, if such exists, of preventing an escalation of arms sales to the Middle East. There are certainly no tripartite arrangements and no collusion of the sort to which he referred.

This has been a good and useful debate. I shall certainly take away with me some thoughts which had not previously occurred to me about what is a genuine moral dilemma for both sides of the House. A few say that there is no case for arms sales and others say that arms should be sold irrespective of the circumstances. It is a matter of judgment as to where one draws the line. I should like to believe, like the hon. Member for Hastings, that there will ultimately be more agreement on this than sometimes appears to be the case.

Mr. Joseph Harper (Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.