HC Deb 31 January 1995 vol 253 cc845-6
10. Mr. Mullin

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he next intends to visit the covert and operational procurement exhibition in Esher; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Freeman

Neither I nor my ministerial colleagues at the Ministry of Defence have ever visited, or have any plans to visit, the COPEX exhibitions.

Mr. Mullin

That is a pity because, if the Minister had been able to get there, he would have found himself rubbing shoulders with representatives of some of the world's most unpleasant regimes, including military attaches from China, to whom I did not think that we were supposed to sell arms, and a delegation from Iran. What on earth was he doing to allow such a delegation to attend arms fairs here? He might also have found equipment capable of use in torture on sale, or available, through that exhibition. Does the Minister think that sponsoring events of that kind is the best use of British taxpayers' money?

Mr. Freeman

It is a private exhibition. No taxpayers' money is involved. The hon. Gentleman knows that any arms equipment that could be used for torture or violating human rights is not exported under licence from this country. I sometimes wonder whether he and the other 39 unilateral disarmers should not pay a little more attention to the United Kingdom's excellent defence record on exporting the most excellent equipment, including some that is manufactured in his constituency.

Mr. Wilkinson

Did my right hon. Friend decide not to attend COPEX in part because he believes that it is more important to attend premier exhibitions and shows such as the Paris air show? Is it because he wants to view at such occasions British equipment in which the British taxpayer has invested a large amount of money, such as the European fighter aircraft? Is he sanguine that, in view of the German Parliament's decision not to continue funding the development of that aircraft, it is likely to appear in Paris?

Mr. Freeman

There is no threat to the Eurofighter programme. I very much agree with my hon. Friend that we Conservatives very much admire the efforts of British Aerospace, Rolls-Royce, GEC and many others with a magnificent record of defence export sales—£5 billion expected this year. I wish that the Labour Front-Bench team would not be so grudging and would welcome that excellent achievement.

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