HC Deb 13 July 1976 vol 915 cc354-5
12. Mr. Cryer

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the defence sales exhibition held at Aldershot.

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

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) on 29th June 1976.

Mr. Cryer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this side of the House condemns the sale of arms by Russia, America and other countries, especially in a world in which two-thirds of the people go hungry every night? Does he accept that the display at Aldershot was an immoral encouragement of the sale of arms? Does he accept that in the longer term it will mean a loss of jobs, because our industrial capability will be overtaken by countries such as Japan which refuse to join in this death-sales race and instead concentrates on peaceful purposes? Will my right hon. Friend now reject the present concept as an affront to the trade union and labour movement and the whole of humanity?

Mr. Rodgers

I am ready to agree with my hon. Friend that the arms trade is not a happy business. However, if we believe, as successive Governments have done, that it is right to sell arms to our friends in different parts of the world, it would surely be hypocrisy not to have the sort of exhibition lately held at Aldershot. As regards the latter part of my hon. Friend's question, I do not believe he believes that if we were to stop all defence sales now others would follow, or that it would not result in large unemployment at a time when we can least manage it.

Mr. Lawrence

How many jobs would be lost if we cut out arms sales?

Mr. Rodgers

It is extremely difficult to say, but, obviously, many thousands.

Mr. Litterick

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the list of nation States represented at the Army equipment exhibition at Aldershot shows that the vast majority of potential customers for British armaments are nation States whose systems of Government are hideously undemocratic? Does not that make a mockery of the United Kingdom's international stance as a defender of freedom and individual liberty?

Mr. Rodgers

My hon. Friend raises the difficult question of how many systems of government in the world we would all wholly approve of. That is not a basis for international relations. On that basis we would have diplomatic relations with virtually no one outside Western Europe and North America. This is a commonsense business to which we must have a robust approach. There were no representatives from South Africa or Chile at the exhibition and, apparently, most people thought that the exhibition was organised in a sober and proper way.

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