HC Deb 23 May 1978 vol 950 cc1313-6
6. Mr. Hugh Jenkins

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he has now drawn up a full list of companies participating in the private arms trading fair at Aldershot in June and of countries to be invited to send representatives; and if he will publish these lists.

Dr. Gilbert

A provisional list of companies participating in the British Army Equipment Exhibition was published in the Official Report on 18th May. It is not the practice to release information about sales or potential sales of defence equipment.

Mr. Jenkins

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this arms fair coincides with the United Nations Special Session on Disarmament? Has he noticed Early-Day Motion No. 438, which calls upon Her Majesty's Government to demonstrate their devotion to disarmament, rather than to rearmament, by cancelling the fair and concentrating on the Special Session?

Dr. Gilbert

I have indeed noticed the Early-Day Motion to which my hon. Friend refers. I am quite confident that the initiatives that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are contemplating taking in New York will bear fruit. We need to keep these things in some sort of perspective. The United Kingdom is responsible for only about 5 per cent. of global sales of defence equipment.

Mr. Critchley

Is the Minister aware that the Aldershot arms fair is of very great assistance in the export of British arms, without which, rightly or wrongly, the whole of our arms expenditure would be very much higher?

Dr. Gilbert

There is no question but that arms exports help to keep down the cost of equipment to the United Kingdom Forces, in so far as they relate to equipment that is being used by the Services. The Government want to see a reduction in multilateral transfers of armaments, but that has to come through agreement between both suppliers and customers.

Mr. Litterick

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the Secretary of State has always maintained that the British Government's arms sales policy has always been a discriminating one? Will he therefore tell us to whom, apart from Chile and E1 Salvador, his Department will not sell arms?

Dr. Gilbert

Normally we do not give details of countries that are not eligible for sales of defence equipment, but the answer to my hon. Friend is "South Africa".

9. Mr. Ron Thomas

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received in regard to the proposed arms exhibition at Aldershot; and if he will make a statement.

Dr. Gilbert

Letters have been received from Members of Parliament and members of the public, and Questions have been tabled in the House. The Government are aware that some people are concerned at the coincidence of the British Army Equipment Exhibition with the penultimate week of the United Nations Special Session on Disarmament, but are confident that this will not detract from the effort of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary in New York.

Mr. Thomas

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us feel that there is a real sense of hypocrisy here, in that we are having this arms exhibition at the same time as the world leaders are trying to get agreement on disarmament? Will he get together with the Secretaries of State for Industry and Trade to see how we can use the innovating skills of the workers involved in order to reduce the imports of finished and semi-finished manufactured goods and to produce socially necessary products along the lines of the Lucas Aerospace proposals?

Dr. Gilbert

No one is keener than Defence Ministers to see a reduction in the world's trade in armaments. Unfortunately, the world in which we live is such that it does not permit us to do so. The way to get a reduction in arms sales is through multilateral agreement with the major suppliers and customers. That is what my right hon. Friends will be attempting to do in their initiatives in New York.

Mr. Rhodes James

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the true author of this Special Session of the United Nations is my former colleague, Mr. Arkadiy Shevchenko, who, having realised the error of his ways, has now changed sides?

Dr. Gilbert

I am obliged for the information.

Mr. Stoddart

Is it not the proliferation of arms throughout the world which causes tragedies such as those we have seen in Zaire? Would it not have been far better if the Government had sought to limit the sale of arms rather than to promote it? If the Government cancelled the exhibition at Aldershot would not that strengthen their moral authority when they go to the United Nations?

Dr. Gilbert

I take the force of the first point made by my hon. Friend. Of course, the accumulation of arms carries risks in itself. But I cannot see that a self-denying ordinance by the United Kingdom—when other suppliers and customers have no intention of reducing either their supplies or demands for arms—would do anything other than contribute to further unemployment in this country.