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Arms Trade

Volume 927: debated on Wednesday 2 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will initiate discussions with the United States Government on the issue of international restraint on the arms trade, in the light of recent suggestions by President Carter.

Her Majesty's Government are in touch with the new United States Administration on this question. As my right hon. and noble friend said in another place on 17th February, we await with interest further details of President Carter's proposals.

In the meantime, will my hon. Friend clearly inform the House what response the Government made to Vice-President Mondale's invitation to co-operate with the United States Government in achieving multilateral talks on the restriction of arms sales? In particular, does my hon. Friend accept President Carter's view that the Middle East is an area that particularly requires restriction on the volume of arms sales to it?

We have noted with interest Vice-President Mondale's remarks in the conversation he had with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister two or three weeks ago. I agree with my hon. Friend that any action on this subject must be on a multilateral basis and involve commitments by a large number of Governments. I agree that the Middle East is one of those areas where we would most like to consider restrictions of this kind. We restrain our own sales of arms to the area so as not to upset the military balance.

Will my hon. Friend consider going a little further and recognising that there is no future either in terms of employment here or for our foreign policy if we continue with this vile trade in arms? Does he agree that we should be trying to set an example to other countries, including the United States, by being much more restrictive in terms of those to whom we sell these offensive weapons?

We exercise considerable restraint on the sale of arms. We consider each case on its merits. We do not sell arms to South Africa or Chile, other than those which we have an absolute legal obligation to provide. It would not be sensible for us unilaterally to cease sales of arms, however, if the only result of that was that similar arms were supplied by another country.

If the hon. Gentleman enters discussions with the United States Government on this matter, will he also call to their attention the illegal supply of arms to terrorists in Northern Ireland? In view of the United States Government's recent declaration in this respect, will the hon. Gentleman supply them with all the material aid that they need?

We have repeatedly drawn the attention of the United States authorities to the support that appears to be given to the IRA and others in Northern Ireland from certain sections in the United States. The authorities there are giving us the maximum possible co-operation on that.