HC Deb 28 June 1988 vol 136 cc182-3
7. Mr. Soley

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence why it is the Government's policy not to disclose who is invited to the British Army equipment exhibition.

Mr. Sainsbury

It has been the policy of this and previous Administrations not to release details of invitations to the British Army equipment exhibition. Invitations are issued on a confidential basis, and it would be a breach of trust to release names.

Mr. Soley

That is a pretty weak and pathetic excuse. Given that we are supposed to be protecting a free and open society, would it not be a good idea if, in common with most other Western democracies, we were a little better at freedom of information?

Mr. Sainsbury

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise the rights of those who are asked to the exhibition to the protection of their own confidential information. We should respect their entitlement to that.

Mr. Couchman

When my hon. Friend looks at the exhibitors at the British Army equipment exhibition, will he bear in mind Vickers' need to be able to forward-plan its programme and make an announcement as soon as possible about the new tank replacement, which is needed for the 1990s?

Mr. Sainsbury

The equipment on display covers a wide range and is a valuable display for all who attend. It is probably more important for those who attend from overseas than for members of the British Army, who can see the equipment in other ways.

Mr. Wallace

Given the Minister's negative attitude to freedom of information in the context of these invitations, do the Government propose to adopt a more open attitude when it comes to supporting the United Nations register of arms transfers?

Mr. Sainsbury

I am not sure that that arises directly out of this question. If there were an effectively policed and verified international register, we would support it.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

As information on who is invited to this military exhibition is to remain confidential, will my hon. Friend slip an invitation to the Leader of the Opposition, so that he can pick up some——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Please stick to the question on the Order Paper.

Mr. Sainsbury

My hon. Friend makes an interesting and useful suggestion. I assure——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have already said that we must stick to the question.

Mr. Frank Cook

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is fine to rule a question out of order, but it seems senseless to rule it out of order if you then allow it to be answered.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I thought that the Minister was going to answer the bit that was relevant.

Mr. Sainsbury

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

A large number of right hon. and hon. Members receive invitations and attend the exhibition. If other right hon. and hon. Members would like to attend and would let us know, we should probably be able to arrange invitations.

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