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Arms Sales

Volume 986: debated on Wednesday 18 June 1980

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5.

asked the Lord Privy Seal, what criteria he adopts regarding the sale of arms to foreign Governments.

The standard practice in dealing with arms sales proposals is to consider them case by case in relation to their political, strategic, security, and economic merits.

Was the Foreign Office consulted by the defence sales office about the countries which are normally invited to the British Army exhibition? If so, why were States such as Zaire, Indonesia, Iraq and even Libya invited, although their contempt for human rights is notorious? Is it not humiliation enough that we should have supplied radios to Amin's secret police without us also supplying the tools of surveillance to every police State which happens to be outside the Warsaw Pact?

We were consulted. This is a matter for the Ministry of Defence. The Under-Secretary of State answered questions yesterday. I have nothing to add to what he said.

When the Under-Secretary of State answered questions yesterday he placed heavy emphasis on the human rights concept. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Republic of China, for example, is not a place where human rights have a high priority? Would not it be more apposite if, as with our allies the French, the sole criterion for the sale of arms was their effect on production and employment in this country?

We try to take a number of criteria into account when making a responsible judgment on each proposal. On reflection, my hon. Friend will recognise that that must be so. Human rights is one criterion.

Leaving aside the question of the exact criteria which govern the sale of arms, does the Minister agree with the statement in the Brandt Commission report that the escalation of arms sales generally is a serious and dangerous matter? Does he accept that the competition in selling arms between the Soviet Union, the United States and France—the three principal suppliers, although Britain and Italy are suppliers on a smaller scale—is damaging and dangerous in all its implications?

What has happened to the discussions begun two years ago between the United States and the USSR, with the support of the British Government, to try to find a way of limiting the sale of weapons, particularly to developing countries, which should be spending their money on other priorities?

Clearly the discussions did not lead to any marked progress. We are a long way from the Soviet Union joining others in restricting arms sales.

Can my hon. Friend comment on reports in the press today that the French Government are seeking to undermine the Jaguar aircraft deal with India which was negotiated under the previous Government? Is my hon. Friend aware that, in relation to that deal, the construction of about 40 aircraft has already begun in Britain? Will he comment on reports that the French have made strenuous efforts to have the contract annulled and replaced with the purely French Mirage aircraft?

I cannot comment on that today, but I shall look into the matter and let my hon. Friend know.

On a day when there is evidence that the South African Government are taking a heavy toll of lives, will the hon. Gentleman take the opportunity to make it clear that Government policy is that there will be no arms sales to South Africa?