HC Deb 17 April 1996 vol 275 cc707-8
16. Mr. Madden

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what representations he has received concerning the supply by British Aerospace to India of Hawk 100 aircraft. [23931]

Mr. Nelson


Mr. Madden

India and Pakistan have gone to war over Kashmir in the past, and both countries now have a nuclear capability. Does the Minister agree that another war over Kashmir is potentially the most dangerous conflict in the world today? Given that serious situation, does he also agree that it is grossly irresponsible for Her Majesty's Government to promote sales of Hawk aircraft or other arms to either India or Pakistan? Instead of promoting arms sales, should they not press the Governments of India and Pakistan to come to the negotiating table, under the auspices of the United Nations—in line with UN resolutions—to reach a political settlement of the Kashmir dispute that would give the people of Kashmir the right to determine their own destiny?

Mr. Nelson

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern—a concern that must be felt by hon. Members on both sides of the House—about the continued unsettled, simmering situation in Kashmir. However—although it is not directly my ministerial responsibility—I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I do not necessarily accept that we should not be engaged in the sale of defence equipment to India.

I have not considered an application for a licence for the export of Hawk aircraft. We know that India requires an advanced jet, and—along with the Prime Minister and others—I have taken opportunities to commend Hawk to India. We await events, but we must follow our own licensing application procedures. We must also be careful not to do what the Labour party seems increasingly to be doing—turning down virtually every export market that we have for defence equipment.

Mr. Atkins

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Hawk 100 is one of the most successful aircraft of its type, built as it is partly in my constituency, and that, in export terms, British Aerospace is one of the most successful companies worldwide? Does he therefore agree that any attacks on the credibility of customers who want to buy such aircraft from such companies, as has been occurring recently in certain aspects of the British media in relation to Saudi Arabia, does nothing but damage prospects not only for the aircraft and the company but for the jobs of many people, including those in my constituency who are contributing substantially to the economy's future?

Mr. Nelson

I concur whole-heartedly with what my right hon. Friend says about British Aerospace and our specific export market in Saudi Arabia. British Aerospace is this country's top exporter and is responsible for employing 25,000 people. Yet, at every opportunity, the Opposition seem to be turning down export markets. Some of the reports, malicious and mischievous as they have been, about one of our principal markets for defence sales, the market in Saudi Arabia, have potentially been most injurious. The Government certainly do not share those views. It is a most important market to which we want to continue to supply defence and other equipment.