HC Deb 04 July 1995 vol 263 cc130-1
7. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps he is taking to assist the overseas promotion of sales by United Kingdom defence equipment industries. [30561]

Mr. Freeman

The Defence Export Services Organisation helped British industry in 1994 to achieve orders worth £5.4 billion.

Mr. Winterton

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government should be proud of their commitment to promoting British defence exports which, from the figures that I have, could be worth as much as £7 billion annually, providing and guaranteeing some 500,000 jobs? Does he also agree that the longer and larger production runs are beneficial in saving money? In connection with the order that the Ministry of Defence is about to place for the attack helicopter, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the Tiger, Tigrat, Euro-tiger team with which British Aerospace is involved, and which could add to the great assets that I have outlined?

Mr. Freeman

I find myself in complete agreement with my hon. Friend. Conservative Members are all proud of Britain's defence export record, which is second to none in Europe. I agree with what he said about the value of defence exports to domestic procurement prices. Because of the volume of defence exports, we can reduce the cost of domestic procurement by about £300 million a year.

As for the attack helicopter, I know that my hon. Friend has a constituency interest. We hope to announce a decision as soon as possible. I must say that we have been very thorough in our analysis and we shall be purchasing an attack helicopter in the best interests of the British Army, based on cost and operational effectiveness.

Mr. Fatchett

Is the right hon. Gentleman not scoring something of an own goal for the Government when he draws attention to the Government's record on defence exports? Is not the real issue the Government's covert and illegal support of arms sales to Iran and Iraq? Given the scandal that surrounds the Government's breach of their own regulations on Iran and Iraq, and the controversy surrounding BMARC and the role of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is it not true that, whatever happens in the vote on the leader of the Conservative party in Committee Room 12 today, the Government will always be remembered for sleaze, corruption and deceit of the House of Commons when it comes to exports to Iran and Iraq?

Mr. Freeman

I think that we would all agree that that was utter claptrap, and I choose my words carefully. The policy of the United Kingdom Government in the 1980s was not to supply any lethal equipment to Iran or Iraq. The record of China, Russia and other major European countries is such that our modest contribution of non-lethal equipment to those two countries pales into insignificance.