HC Deb 12 January 1993 vol 216 cc751-2
3. Mr. Nigel Evans

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on defence sales to Kuwait.

Mr. Rifkind

I signed a defence equipment memorandum of understanding with Kuwait on 2 December. This will enable Kuwait to purchase defence equipment directly on a Government-to-Government basis from the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence, which will place and manage contracts with British equipment manufacturers. Negotiations are already taking place for the sale of GKN's Warrior and Piranha vehicles.

Mr. Evans

That news will be welcomed by the many thousands of people who are involved in the defence industry in this country, especially in the north-west. In 1990, defence sales amounted to £3 billion.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend note the policy of Opposition Members who are opposed to the sale of arms to non-democracies, thereby jeopardising this country's defence industry and the contract that he has mentioned? That could lead to a loss of jobs in this country.

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the remarks of the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), who, speaking on behalf of the Opposition, opposed any arms sales to non-democracies. If his policy were implemented, the many British industries that will benefit from sales to countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and to middle eastern countries, would be gravely jeopardised and there would be many job losses as a consequence.

Mr. Dalyell

Has the Secretary of State, or any senior Ministry of Defence official, read Kenneth Timmerman's book "The Death Lobby—How the West Armed Iraq"? Given the behaviour of the Kuwaitis towards the Palestinians and many others who built up Kuwait, given the human rights situation and given the legal difficulties over the border with Iraq, would not it be better—in the face of the appalling abyss presented by the alternative —at least to enter into some kind of dialogue with Baghdad?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is incredibly naive if he believes that dialogue with Baghdad is likely to prove fruitful. At this very moment, we are witnessing Saddam Hussein's intransigence in refusing to recognise even the authority of the United Nations Security Council.

Mr. Conway

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take the opportunity to congratulate the excellent management and work force of GKN in Shropshire, which makes the Warrior vehicle—and, more important, Perkins Engines in Shrewsbury, which produces the engine that fires that tremendous vehicle—on the expertise and workmanship that have resulted in such a saleable product?

Mr. Rifkind

I am happy to do so. The fact that the United Kingdom has increased its share of the world market from 17 to 20 per cent. in the past year is a tribute to the professionalism, experience and dedication of the many hundreds of thousands of people who work in our defence industries, including those mentioned by my hon. Friend.

Mr. David Clark

Have the Kuwaitis made any requests for defence equipment recently, in view of the Iraqi incursions into their territory? Do the Government believe that the United Nations did or did not approve that equipment and what does the Secretary of State think should be done if the incursions continue?

Mr. Rifkind

We are currently negotiating with the Kuwaitis about their possible interest in Warrior and Piranha armoured vehicles. They have expressed great interest in taking forward the contracts. As for the recent incursions into Kuwaiti territory, the United Nations Security Council has made it clear that that is unacceptable behaviour and has demanded that the Iraqis return the Silkworm missiles that were removed and cease their transgressions with regard to the frontier between Iraq and Kuwait.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, apart from selling arms to Kuwait, we should give the Kuwaitis strong advice about how to protect the defence equipment in their care? Will he and the Government ensure that representations are made—not only to the United Nations, but to the Kuwaiti authorities—about the recent scandalous stealing of equipment by the Iraqis which suggests that the Kuwaiti authorities have been extremely negligent?

Mr. Rifkind

The equipment in question was in the hands of United Nations personnel, who, under United Nations rules, are unable to be armed. For that reason, the Iraqis who crossed the border were able to remove the equipment. That was unacceptable and the Security Council has made its views known.

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply—

Madam Speaker

Order. As it was not the hon. Gentleman's substantive question, I cannot take that as a point of order.