HC Deb 04 November 1986 vol 103 cc788-9
4. Mr. Simon Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he has any plans to set up a register of arms sales.

Mr. Archie Hamilton

No, Sir.

Mr. Hughes

Is it not inconsistent of the Government to deny the public any opportunity of seeing in the House or outside, the applications made for arms sales, let alone knowing the criteria on which those arms exports are made, when only two years ago the Government's representative at the United Nations study on conventional arms argued for an international arms register? That was blocked by the Soviet Union. However, our allies, the United States, have a public debate in Congress before deciding major arms sales. Should the Government not be consistent both with their allies and with their other more private activities?

Mr. Hamilton

The Government consider that they have a great safeguard in that any defence equipment needs an Export of Goods (Control) Order before it can be shipped. We are satisfied that that provides the safeguard that the hon. Gentleman seeks.

Mr. Whitfield

I welcome my hon. Friend's reply to that question. Is he aware that it is official Labour party policy, with which the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) presumably agrees, to disband the Defence Export Services Organisation as part of trying to bring the sales of all arms under closer political control? Is not such a policy wholy repugnant to the many thousands of people who work in the defence and arms industries in Britain, and to our allies in NATO, including Turkey, which, according to that policy, is classed, for some extraordinary reason, as a repressive nation?

Mr. Hamilton

It is remarkable that it is Labour party policy to disband the Defence Export Services Organisation, especially as it was set up by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). Indeed, that was one of his better acts as Secretary of State for Defence. When it comes to defence export sales, we are talking about 120,000 jobs in Britain being at stake. We should not dismiss that lightly.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box. On the question of arms sales by British contractors, has he seen the file and appendices that I submitted during the recess to the Minister of State for Defence Procurement on excess profits being made on defence contracts by Thorn EMI and Dowty-Rotol, and Aish and company? Has the hon. Gentleman examined that document, and when may I expect a ministerial reply setting out acceptance of the need to compensate whistleblowers on excess profits where they are being made?

Mr. Hamilton

I am aware of that document, and I know that it is being investigated. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman can expect a reply before very long.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Will my hon. Friend reconsider his position? If we had an arms sales register, we could constantly remind the British people of the enormous contribution by the defence industries to our overall export drive. In particular, we could remind them of the record £5,000 million deal—the biggest export deal ever — which was secured by British Aerospace, this Government and our Prime Minister.

Mr. Hamilton

I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend, but many of the deals are confidential as between the supplier and the recipient and some countries would not want all the deals that we make with them to be made public.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Will the Minister consider widening the suggestion? It would help taxpayers to know just how many contracts go to privatised firms which are not only not British, but do not provide jobs in any form in this country?

Mr. Hamilton

It remains an objective of the Ministry of Defence to get the best value for money. We cannot restrict ourselves to British suppliers if we are to do that.

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