HC Deb 24 November 1992 vol 214 cc732-3
8. Mr. Denham

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Aitken

We welcome the recent reaffirmation of Saudi Arabia's commitment to the Al-Yamamah project, which remains as strong as ever. Discussions are continuing on the range of defence equipment required by Saudi Arabia in the future.

Mr. Denham

Is the Minister aware that in 1988 Vosper Thornycroft shipyard in Southampton was promised six orders for minesweepers? To date, funds for three have been committed and for the first time the yard has an empty glass reinforced plastic berth. In the absence of an effective defence diversification programme, the orders are vital to maintain the viability of the company and future employment. What prospects does the Minister hold out that those extra orders will be forthcoming?

Mr. Aitken

The speed and nature of Saudi Arabian defence orders are a matter for the Saudi Arabian Government. I can understand the hon. Gentleman's impatience on behalf of his constituents, but I remind him of the legendary gravestone which is said to lie somewhere near Riyadh: "Here lies the European who tried to hurry the Saudi Arabians." They must move at their own pace. I know that the hon. Gentleman will wish to congratulate Vosper on the sale not only of three minehunters to Saudi Arabia but of two Corvettes to Oman and four strike craft to Qatar. I was interested in the recent policy announcement by the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), as none of those countries appear to be democracies. Should the orders be sent back, I wonder?

Mr. Mans

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Al-Yamamah programme is of especial interest to the north-west because of the number of jobs there and because of the effect that it has on the economy of the north-west? Bearing that in mind, will my hon. Friend give me some ides of the prospect of Saudi Arabia ordering further Tornados?

Mr. Aitken

As I said, what Saudi Arabia orders in the way of Tornados or of any other defence equipment must be a matter for the Saudi Arabian Government. The Tornados and the orders have already represented 33,000 jobs for the north-west. It is a major project and I am glad that there is bipartisan support in the House for it.