HC Deb 08 July 1997 vol 297 cc763-5
10. Dr. Lynne Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he expects to make the announcement of the first countries to be blacklisted under the new code of conduct for arms sales. [5737]

Mr. Tony Lloyd

We shall announce, as soon as it is completed, the results of the review of criteria used in considering licence applications for the export of conventional arms. We are taking this exercise forward as a matter of urgency. The review does not focus on individual countries and will not involve the compilation of a blacklist. It will, however, meet our commitment not to permit the sale of arms to any regimes that might use them for internal repression or international aggression.

Dr. Jones

My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government have raised expectations that their attitude to the arms trade will be different. The previous Government rejected calls for a ban on arms sales to Indonesia, despite photographic, video and eye-witness evidence of the use of UK equipment for internal repression. Will the Government draw up guidelines to allow the acceptance of such evidence and will he confirm that breaches of those guidelines will lead to the cessation of arms sales to the country concerned?

Mr. Lloyd

As I have said, the review is urgently under way. My hon. Friend would not expect me to comment on its impact on individual countries because its purpose is to ensure that we have a truly global framework. Nevertheless, in the context of Indonesia, the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), has asked for precisely the sort of information she mentioned, so that we can take a proper and informed view of the consequences of previous UK arms sales.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

In advance of the review, will the Minister make it clear that the Government support the principle of defence exports? The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) called them arms sales, but they are in fact defence exports. Will he confirm, that our defence exports are vital for Britain because they sustain tens of thousands of jobs, often high-technology jobs, not only in my constituency but in those of many Labour Members; that they enable us to provide our services with the best British equipment at a price that we can afford; and that they give us foreign policy levers over countries with which we enjoy good friendship?

Mr. Lloyd

The Government might find it easier to take lectures from Conservative Members, and from the hon. Gentleman in particular, if they had not been part of a Government with an incredibly sleazy record on arms sales. He well recalls the way in which that Government prostituted the aid budget to obtain arms sales at the time of the Pergau dam scandal, and how that Government wriggled and tried to hide the truth about arms sales to Iraq. They were prepared not only to put at risk the lives of British people in the services but were so economically incompetent that we are still owed money by the Iraqis for those deals. If he wants to talk about arms sales, he should start by apologising to the House for his role in that shameful Government.

Mr. Mullin

Talking of Indonesia—my hon. Friend will recall that the regime there came to power on the back of a bloodbath matched in Asia only by Pol Pot—was he as surprised as I was to find that the Ministry of Defence has given invitations, no doubt left over from the previous regime, to three Indonesian generals who are due in Britain later this month to discuss who knows what? What discussions has he had with the MOD about whether that is a good idea and whether it will send the right message to the Indonesian Government?

Mr. Lloyd

I can confirm that the invitation was issued by the previous Government.

Mr. Gerald Howarth


Mr. Lloyd

Conservative Members speak for themselves.

We do not know yet whether the invitation will be taken up. I can confirm that any sales to any part of the world that arise from that or other exhibitions of military equipment will, of course, be subject to the export licence procedures that I have already discussed. Inevitably, our commitment to making sure that the review ensures that we do not provide arms that can be used for internal repression or external aggression will also apply to such arms sales.

Mr. Faber

Further to the last answer, does not the existing policy guidance document on defence exports already include the need to take into account the human rights record of recipient countries? With exactly what aspect of the current criteria does the Minister disagree?

Mr. Lloyd

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman does not anticipate the outcome of the review but, that said, I remind him—as I said to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) a few moments ago—that his party in government ran defence sales in such a way that they brought great shame to Britain. They made Britain's name abroad one of disrepute. We intend to ensure that Britain, while recognising our legitimate right to trade on the world stage, operates with a degree of moral responsibility. That might shock Conservative Members, but at least we shall ensure that we can hold our heads high in the international arena.

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