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Developing Countries (Arms Exports)

Volume 958: debated on Tuesday 21 November 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence what percentage of British arms exports are sold to developing countries.

It has been the policy of successive Governments not to divulge the value of defence equipment trade between the United Kingdom and individual countries or groups of countries.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the developing countries are now spending a great deal more on arms than on education or health? Does he agree that that is neither good for them nor for peace? Will the Government change their minds and seek to reduce rather than increase the arms trade?

I have a great deal of sympathy with everything that my hon. Friend has said. However, I must tell him that when the Government took an initiative at the recent special session of the United Nations and put forward a draft programme for disarmament, a considerable amount of resistance came from the developing countries. The way to make progress is through agreement with them and other supplying countries.

Does the Minister agree that the main criterion in such decisions is the interest of the United Kingdom and of NATO? Is China considered to be a developing country by his Department in that regard?

I am not sure that we have considered China's special status. Applications for sales of defence equipment to China are regarded on a case by case basis.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that arms supplied to some developing countries are used not for defence but for repression, as happened when arms were supplied to Iran recently? Chieftain tanks were used in the streets of Teheran to suppress popular demonstrations. Will the Minister consider imposing conditions on the use of arms which are supplied to developing countries in order to prevent that?

The Government take into account a whole series of criteria, with which my hon. Friend will be acquainted, before they agree to sell arms to anybody. We have made considerable efforts to persuade Governments who are buying arms that might be used for such purposes to use non-lethal equipment for not control, as our Government do in Northern Ireland.