Does my right hon. Friend agree that British companies are leading the reconstruction of Kuwait because the Government give the best organised support? Has he any plans to extend the success of Kuwait elsewhere in the world where disaster strikes and reconstruction is required? Is he entirely happy with the Export Credits Guarantee Department cover provided for such work?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks. It is a successful effort, with industry and Government working together, to ensure that British industry plays as leading a role in the reconstruction of Kuwait as we did in its liberation. We can learn and have learnt lessons from that and we have put them into practice elsewhere. I have just led a joint operation—business and Government again working together—in Venezuela. In Caracas we set up a task force of nine business men supported by two Government officials. The task force will stay there for several months and we believe that it will make a major impact on the Venezuelan market, which will benefit a wide range of companies in this country.
Is the Minister aware that since the Gulf war the United States has sold $18 billion worth of arms to Kuwait and other middle east countries, and that a new high-tech, smart bombs arms race is roaring ahead in spite of what the President of the United States and the British Prime Minister have said? As it is now clear, from what the United. Nations Commission has said, that the British arms embargo on Iraq was as full of holes as a string vest, what will the Minister do to stop the sale of arms to unstable countries that are threatening world peace? How quickly will those British companies that have broken the law be prosecuted?
On the question of sales to Kuwait, our record is second to none in promoting British industry. As for the embargo on arms, in the course of the summer I published details of every licence given for the sale of sensitive items to Iraq. If the UN team has any further information, we shall look into it thoroughly. Moreover, the Customs and Excise, which is responsible for enforcement and prosecution, will look into any evidence of law breaking. As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, there have already been some prosecutions and charges.
My right hon. Friend will know that one of the groups of companies experiencing difficulty in getting into Kuwait consists of companies that have been blacklisted by the Americans because of allegations that they have wrongly traded with Iraq. In the case of companies about which the Americans now say that they have no firm evidence but would like to ask more questions, although, when invited to do so, they do not send them, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will keep up the pressure on the Americans to come clean about the allegations or take the companies off the list?
I assure my hon. Friend that I shall pursue any such issues. Indeed, I have already pursued those concerning a firm in his constituency. In respect of an earlier question by my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), there is ECGD cover for Kuwait and I believe that that will be adequate.
Does the Minister accept that the activities of the Government and his Department in Kuwait exhibit a lack of judgment and, in some cases, a lack of competence? He has told us how many contracts have been awarded; will he now say how many have been lost because of the criteria used by his Department? If the Minister is so interested in the future of oil as one of the major commodities, when will his Department take action on the possible prosecution of those involved in dummy trading in the Fox market, where oil is an important aspect?
I do not think that the last part of the hon. Lady's question has a great deal to do with Kuwait. It is typical of those on the Labour Front Bench that when British industry is doing outstandingly well and our share of the market has risen several fold compared with what it was before the war, the hon. Lady should want a list of the contracts that we have not won. We have not won 100 per cent. of the contracts, but we have done a great deal better than any Opposition Member would have expected or would have achieved had they been in office.
Without wishing to make a yah-boo point, with 1 million barrels of oil a day every day for nine months spewing up carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and creating graver pollution than any other anti-pollution activities in the rest of the world—that is the view of the Financial Times—how, in all seriousness, can a Secretary of State come to the House and say that we are making as great an effort to put out oil fires and reconstruct Kuwait as we did to liberate Kuwait? We are not making anything like the effort that we put into Operation Desert Storm.
We helped in the establishment of a Kuwaiti-British group, which I am happy to say has a contract for extinguishing fires and, more importantly, ensuring that the infrastructure in the Sabriyah field is operational again. There are now only 30 fires left to extinguish in that field, and there are several hundred staff working on that operation who began work as soon as they were given the contract by the Kuwaiti Government. It may have escaped the notice of the hon. Gentleman that Kuwait is a sovereign country which gives contracts to us. We do not have the right to take over its oil fields and extinguish fires off our own bat.
The Secretary of State presents a rosy picture of British industrial activity in Kuwait, especially in relation to the Kuwaiti oil field fires. How many contracts have been sold to American operators because British companies cannot cope with the work load? If the Secretary of State cannot give that information, will he undertake to contact the gentleman, whose card I have in my hand and will pass to him, in order to obtain the information that the right hon. Gentleman should have close to hand anyway?
I shall, of course, follow up any questions that the hon. Gentleman poses on the part of his constituents or others. It is deplorable that Opposition Members should knock the successful effort made by British companies. One of the distinguishing features of the operation in Kuwait was that British companies joined the task force not just to represent themselves but to work on behalf of their whole sector including companies here. Those companies co-operated and worked together for Britain, and did not expect to be knocked by the Labour party as soon as they achieved success.