HL Deb 28 May 2002 vol 635 cc1147-9

3.7 p.m.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice, namely:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will clarify the position about the export of arms to Pakistan and India.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the Government's policy on arms exports to India and Pakistan remains unchanged. There is no embargo and no suspension. However, the consolidated national and EU criteria, which apply to all export licence requests, require the Government to take full account of circumstances in the region. In respect of India and Pakistan, the Government are keeping a very close eye on developments and are applying the criteria rigorously.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that the escalation of hostilities leads to a threat of nuclear conflict, which, on the estimates given, could lead to the deaths of between 12 million and 30 million people? In that light, would the initiation by the Government of a total embargo on both countries be a strong indication of the Government's position? Will not the Government have to choose between the roles of peacemaker and arms broker?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the Government's position is very clear and is known to the participants. Any action that we take has to be judged by its total impact on the situation and by its relationship to the role that we are playing in that part of the world.

Lord Jones

My Lords, what are the employment consequences of the Government's decision?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, as we have made no changes, there are no employment conditions.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Leader of the House for allowing this PNQ, particularly as we all had a letter only this morning from the Foreign Secretary to say that Parliament was in recess. I heard what the Minister has said, but nevertheless there have been different statements from No. 10 Downing Street, from the Department of Trade and Industry and from others. Given that there seems to be confusion at the very heart of government, does the Minister not agree that that is the worst possible background for the Foreign Secretary's visit to India and Pakistan? Can the Minister tell us whether there have been consultations with the Society of British Aerospace Companies, BAe Systems and the Defence Manufacturers Association? Does he agree that this confusion, which I maintain is a confusion, is very bad indeed for British industry and particularly bad for British manufacturing? Moreover, as the noble Lord, Lord Jones, said, the confusion has an impact also on employees. This morning, I believe, or yesterday, Sir Ken Jackson said that 2,500 jobs would be at risk if, for example, the Hawk were halted.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I think that I have made the Government's position very clear in my Answer. I again repeat that there is no embargo and no suspension. We shall examine all export licence applications from both India and Pakistan against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria. It is a very grave situation and we need to proceed very carefully. We are always in discussions with the industry on these issues, and we have been in discussions with the industry in this instance.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, while the question of jobs is very relevant in most circumstances, we are teetering on the edge of what could be a new, nuclear war with incalculable consequences not only for South Asia but for the whole of the world. Will the Minister therefore consider again whether a clear embargo on arms exports to the two countries, imposed by a country which has considerable influence on both countries as a fellow Commonwealth member, would be appropriate and would send an appropriate signal to the two protagonists—which will have to make up their minds in the next few days whether to allow the situation to spiral out of control?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, clearly the Government's main consideration is the impact of our actions on the very grave and dangerous situation in that part of the world. That is our primary—indeed our only—consideration. At this point, jobs are not a consideration. We are concerned about the impact on that part of the world.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, does not the public controversy now surrounding the affair only further point to the need to establish a defence exports scrutiny committee—the DESC—which has been promoted in the other place and in this House? Indeed, it is supported by 310 elected Members of Parliament. Why cannot we now have this committee to deal with these matters?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I would simply point out that no licence is currently being considered for the main arms. The arguments against DESC, and the possibilities of delay with the consequent difficulties, have been well rehearsed in debates on the Export Control Bill. I do not think that it would add anything in these circumstances.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, when could the first deliveries of Hawk training aircraft be expected to go to the Indian subcontinent?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, as there is no application for these aircraft at the moment the issue does not arise.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, if hostilities break out between India and Pakistan, what will be the position on the provision of spares and replacements for arms already supplied to those countries?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, in such situations, and at this point, it is impossible to specify what action would be taken. Obviously it would depend on the exact circumstances at the time.