HC Deb 27 November 1996 vol 286 cc329-30
12. Mr. Barry Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent advice his Department has given to other Government Departments about Government policy on arms sales. [4597]

Mr. David Davis

We give regular advice to other Government Departments on the foreign policy aspects of arms sales to other countries. It is the Government's policy to encourage legitimate exports of arms and military equipment unless there are compelling foreign, security or defence policy reasons not to do so.

Mr. Jones

What action is the Department taking to ensure that France and Germany sign up to and order the future large aircraft? The wings of the European Airbus aircraft are made by 2,500 of my constituents, who are desperately anxious to know the future and status of that military project. Can the Minister help?

Mr. Davis

The hon. Gentleman has a legitimate and sizeable constituency interest in that project. He may not know that, a few weeks ago, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I visited the Airbus Industrie factory in Toulouse on the day that it won the huge order from US Air. I wholeheartedly approve of that European project: it is extremely successful.

After that meeting, we went to the summit in Bordeaux attended by the French President. The matter was raised with him, and it was agreed that both countries had a significant interest in the project. We understand that it will be discussed by the French and Germans on 9 December. For our part, we continue to press hard to ensure that the project is put on a commercial basis so that it will be successful. That is what we all want to achieve.

Mr. Viggers

Does my hon. Friend agree that the experts on the export of military equipment are the manufacturers themselves? Many of them, such as Basys Technology in my constituency and Vosper Thornycroft, have been extremely successful not only in selling military equipment, but in diversifying into civilian activity. Does he agree that the last thing those successful manufacturers want is the Government, through an agency, telling them what to do, and telling them to diversify into civilian products?

Mr. Davis

My hon. Friend is right. That is the best way to ensure that we preserve jobs. They are the best people to make those decisions, bearing in mind the defence, security, foreign policy and human rights constraints to which I referred.

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