Defence Export Services Organisation

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th March 1997.

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Photo of Lady Olga Maitland Lady Olga Maitland , Sutton and Cheam 12:00 am, 11th March 1997

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the work of the Defence Export Services Organisation. [18035]

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate

The Defence Export Services Organisation helps the United Kingdom defence industry to export its products and services. Provisional figures show that Britain's defence exporters achieved around 25 per cent. of the world market in 1996, attracting more than £5 billion to this country.

Photo of Lady Olga Maitland Lady Olga Maitland , Sutton and Cheam

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on that excellent news. Does he agree that, put in a different way, that means that Britain's defence exports have increased by 50 per cent. in the past two years? Does he also agree that it is hard for any other sector or country to match that success story? There is another perspective, however. Does he agree that 360,000 jobs in the defence industry could be put at risk by the Opposition's defence review—their cut-and-slash programme to cut defence spending by £5 billion, which would undercut our defence procurement and defence sales?

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate

Everything my hon. Friend says is right. First, it is indeed the case that, in 1994, our share of defence export sales was 16 per cent. of the world market and that today it is 25 per cent., so there has been a 50 per cent. increase. I cannot think of any other industry that has matched that performance, either in this country or elsewhere. My hon. Friend is also right that we can have that level of defence export sales only if we have reliable home markets. The Labour party is now committed to a defence review with, as its spokesman said, all the painful consequences that would follow. Every time we have challenged Opposition spokesmen to say whether one project or another would be exempted from that review, we have been denied any answer, so we must assume that all defence projects are at risk from Labour's defence review. If our home orders are at risk, obviously our export sales are at risk too.

Photo of Mr Llew Smith Mr Llew Smith , Blaenau Gwent

How can the Minister justify subsidising arms manufacturers who sell weapons of death to the most odious dictators, who use them against their own people—as was done in Indonesia, where hundreds of thousands of people from East Timor were murdered?

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate

We carefully observe the United Nations and European Union embargoes. Our country has one of the strictest regimes in the world for the control of arms sales. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making it so clear that, in the event of there being a Labour Government, many Labour Members would like the industrial success story to be choked off. They would like jobs to be lost in Britain, not because of anything that the UN says or any treaty that we have entered into, but because of their political bigotry towards other countries.

Photo of Sir John Cope Sir John Cope , Northavon

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, at our last defence debate, 21 Labour Members were against all arms exports and defence sales of any sort? Their policies would be extremely damaging right across the board to the jobs to which he referred.

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate

My right hon. Friend is right as far as he goes, but the number was as low as 21 only because the frighteners had been put on tens of others. In previous years, a far higher number of Labour Members have said that they wanted to ban defence export sales and were in favour of unilateralism and cutting our defence budget. Each year, the frighteners are put on them.

The point is that if there were to be a Labour Government, those people would be able to exert influence. People know that our defences would not be safe under Labour because of the pressure that would be imposed on Front Benchers by Back Benchers, and because the Front Benchers themselves are at best new converts to defence; I do not believe in them at all.