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Arms Sales

Volume 24: debated on Tuesday 25 May 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will adopt more restrictive criteria in reaching decisions upon individual applications for the sale of arms, following the Falkland Islands dispute.


asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether there are to be any changes in the sale of arms policy arising out of the Falkland crisis.


asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether, in his review of arms sales to individual countries, especially with regard to the nature of the regime concerned, he will bear particularly in mind circumstances in which such a régime is involved in a territorial dispute with another country.

We shall continue to subject all proposals for the sale of military equipment overseas to close individual scrutiny, taking into account all the factors relevant to each particular case.

Will the Minister confirm that the £120 million worth of arms from Britain and the expertise acquired by Argentine troops trained in Britain are now being used to kill British Service men such as those who were on the Gazelle helicopters that were reported to have been shot down by British-made Blowpipe missiles? Will he now listen to those of us who have consistently argued—even when the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) invited the Argentine air force chief to Britain with a view to arms sales—that it is time that we called an end to this situation, cancelled the British arms exhibition scheduled for June and worked for international agreement to end this trade in the weapons of death?

All defence sales are considered individually on their merits, and have been ever since the Labour Government established the defence sales organisation in 1966.

The hon. Gentleman may or may not have supported that development. None the less, it is true. It is also true that Labour Governments have supplied large amounts of military equipment to Argentina.

Order. I remind the House that I am calling first those hon. Members whose questions are being answered.

When the battle in the Falkland Islands is over, when the dead on both sides have been finally counted and the generals and their opposite numbers have wined and dined, would it not make sense for this Government, unlike all previous Governments, whether Tory, Labour or Lib-Lab, to make an unequivocal declaration that there will be no more arms sales to Fascist-style regimes? Would that not make sense?

The question whether we sell military equipment to anyone turns on fundamental questions about whether we wish to supply our own Armed Forces with cur own equipment, and the industrial consequences of that. In addition, we must have regard to the 200,000 plus jobs in this country that depend on the manufacture of military equipment.

Is it not a fact that without the junta's threats and the invasion of the Falkland Islands, arms sales to Argentina would have been continued as previously, without murmur of protest from Conservative Members? Do arms continue to be sold to the Right-wing dictatorship in Chile and other such regimes where murder and torture are the order of the day?

I repeat that all arms transfers are decided on the particular circumstances prevailing at the time. Obviously, no Government will make arms transfers to someone whom they have reason to believe will use them against them. That was no doubt exactly the case when the Labour Government decided to sell two type 42 destroyers to Argentina in 1970.

Will my hon. Friend expand on his last answer and indicate the amount, in cash terms, of arms sold to Argentina by Labour Administrations and perhaps also indicate the type of arms that Labour Administrations have been prepared to sell to Argentina in recent years?

I have already mentioned the type 42 destroyers. I think the House will be aware that the first consignment of Sea Dart missiles, Lynx helicopters and Blowpipe surface-to-air missiles were all supplied under Labour Governments.

Much as the House will support the Government in refusing to sell arms to Warsaw Pact countries. Surely the overriding lesson that we should now learn is that Right-wing dictatorships are just as evil as Left-wing dictatorships.

The same answer must apply—that all the situations prevailing at any particular time must be taken into account, irrespective of whether we are talking about different political situations in various parts of the world. All of that must be considered.

Does my hon. Friend not agree that hindsight wisdom seems to be flying about on the Labour Benches and that the reality and importance of arms sales is demonstrated by the Harrier and its great success on the AV8B?

I agree with my hon. Friend, but what he has said relates to an earlier answer that I gave. That was the fundamental question whether we believe that we should be properly defended. We need equipment to carry out that requirement, and must decide from which country we shall get it. If we want to get it from Britain, it helps if we can have decent, long production runs, so that we can enjoy all the industrial benefits arising therefrom.

Does the Minister recall that in August 1980 my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) urged the chairman of the Conservative Party, who is a member of the War Cabinet, not to sell weapons of war to military juntas such as Argentina? Will the Minister comment on who was right—the chairman of the Conservative Party, or my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow?

As my right hon. Friend had no influence whatever over Argentina's decision, either to acquire Exocet missiles from France or type 42 destroyers from the Labour Government in 1970, I do not think that that question arises.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.