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Iraq (Talks)

3.32 pm

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (by private notice) : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the Government's policy towards President Bush's invitation to Iraq for talks on the Gulf crisis.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg) : I begin with an apology. Unhappily, I have lost my voice, soI am somewhat less audible than I would wish to be.

We welcome the United States initiative, which is designed to increase the peaceful pressures on Iraq and to reinforce the need for compliance with United Nations Security Council resolutions. As President Bush and Secretary Baker have made clear, the purpose is not to negotiate with Iraq. It is rather to leave the Iraqi leadership in no doubt as to the determination of the international community to see Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait in accordance with the requirements laid down by the United Nations.

Mr. Kaufman : The Opposition also welcome President Bush's initiative, as an imaginative attempt to solve the crisis peacefully.

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House whether the British Government were consulted in advance by President Bush, and if so when, and can he say whether the United Kingdom Government will take part in the talks? Will he confirm that the 12 United Nations Security Council resolutions on the Gulf crisis stand and cannot deviate? Will he also confirm that these resolutions require Iraq's unconditional withdrawal from the whole of Kuwait, and the unconditional release of all hostages? Will he further confirm that resolution 660, which was passed on 2 August and has been reaffirmed many times since, calls upon Iraq and Kuwait to begin immediate intensive negotiations for the resolution of their differences, and that such negotiations can begin once the UN Security Council resolutions on withdrawal and the release of hostages have been implemented?

Will the Minister further confirm that, once the Security Council resolutions requiring withdrawal and release of hostages have been carried out, the way will be clear for the international conference on the middle east for which the Labour and Conservative parties in this country have been calling for many years? Will he agree that that conference can deal with self-determination for the Palestinians, resettlement of Palestinian refugees, Israeli security, a peace settlement in the middle east and the withdrawal of foreign forces, removal of all non-conventional armaments from the middle east and control of arms sales to the region? Will he point out that all these great prizes are open for discussion as soon as the Security Council resolutions are implemented?

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman send President Bush the good wishes of the House for the success of his initiative, and a peaceful resolution of the crisis on the basis of the Security Council resolutions?

Mr. Hogg : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support. On his first question, we were indeed given notice of what occurred. On his second question, the 12

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resolutions are still in place. On his third question, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has no plans to go to Iraq. On the other resolutions, the position is quite plain. The United Nations resolutions require Iraq to leave Kuwait unconditionally, to release the hostages, and to restore the legitimate Government of Kuwait. Once that has happened, and not until then, there is some unfinished business which can be addressed, one aspect of which is the Palestinian question. I make it plain to the House that we see no linkage between the two.

Sir Peter Tapsell (East Lindsey) : Will my hon. and learned Friend bear in mind the fact that many of us share the misgivings about the latest development that Mr. Henry Kissinger expressed yesterday, and that we would be very concerned indeed, even if Iraq were to withdraw from Kuwait, if Saddam Hussein were left in possession of chemical and biological weapons, and possibly the capacity to produce nuclear weapons and to deliver them, as I have been told, to areas as far afield as Sicily?

Mr. Hogg : I entirely understand my hon. Friend's misgivings. On his central question, by the invitation that he has extended, President Bush seeks to make it wholly plain to Saddam Hussein that the resolutions mean precisely what they say--that he must comply unconditionally with the resolutions by 15 January or face the possibility of being driven out of Kuwait by force. This is not a process of negotiation. It is a desire to make it plain to Saddam Hussein, so that he understands the position without any doubt or equivocation.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : Is the Minister aware that the talks- -which have been requested urgently from the outset by people all over the world--will receive a warm welcome? Is he aware that the pressure for them to take place was primarily a result of the worldwide campaign for a peaceful solution on the basis of implementation of all the United Nations resolutions, including that applying to the west bank and Gaza? This has been prompted by the catastrophe of war which is becoming apparent all over the world, not least in the United States.

Does the Minister agree that the Government have no moral right to commit our troops to battle, or to put at risk the lives of 1,400 British citizens in Iraq and Kuwait, without the explicit consent of the House of Commons? That has been urged strongly in the United States--under its own constitutional provisions--but ought, on moral grounds, to apply in the United Kingdom as well.

Mr. Hogg : It is, of course, very important that there should be no misunderstanding of the nature or purpose of the talks. The purpose of the invitation issued by President Bush is to ensure that Saddam Hussein understands clearly that he must comply, fully and unconditionally, with the United Nations Security Council resolutions ; and that, if he does not do so, he faces the risk of being driven out of Kuwait by force.

As for the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, the Labour and Conservative Front Benches share a common stance. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is unable to support his own Front Bench on this matter.

Mr. Robert Hayward (Kingswood) : I welcome what my hon. and learned Friend has said this afternoon, especially

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in relation to the gesture of good will made by President Bush. Will my hon. and learned Friend emphasise that the greatest gesture that President Hussein could make would be immediately to release all hostages of all nationalities? Will he also convey the message that it is not appropriate--in saying this I make no criticism of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)--for President Hussein to release hostages to one emissary when he has announced that he will release the same group of people to a previous British emissary--my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath)? President Hussein is currently claiming credit twice over.

Mr. Hogg : I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, and indeed to his family support group, for the work that they have collectively done ; it has been of great value to families and hostages.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's substantive point. The detention of hostages by Saddam Hussein is a wicked and immoral act. It is also contrary to international law. He should release them forthwith.

Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford) : My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) asked whether there had been prior consultation. If so, when was it--or were the Government notified only a few minutes before the talks?

Mr. Hogg : We were informed of the impending announcement before the announcement.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton) : May I thank my hon. and learned Friend- -or, rather, Her Majesty's Government--for standing firm against any linkage with the Israeli-Palestinian dispute? Does he agree that, if Saddam Hussein were to withdraw because any linkage had been conceded, not only would he be being rewarded for his infamy, blackmail and slaughter of Kuwait, but the chances of a nuclear conflict that would result in the deaths of many thousands of people would be much enhanced?

Mr. Hogg : I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend. There is no linkage. It would be absurd to say that the solution to a problem that had recently developed must be postponed until the resolution of a long-standing and intractable problem. Let me add, however, that, once the UN Security Council resolutions have been complied with in full by Iraq, there will be unfinished business--and that unfinished business includes a serious attempt to resolve the Palestinian problem.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : Do the Government believe the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who told us that the Kuwaiti oilfields are deep mined by the Iraqis? What technical information is available to the Government about the effect of the detonation of oilfields by deep mines? Do the Government dispute that the sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide consequences could travel 750 km or more from the area in which the oilfields were blown up? There is talk about the military options. What assessment has been made of the ecological, quite apart from the human, consequences?

Mr. Hogg : If the hon. Gentleman is saying that war is a bloody and beastly business which one should avoid if at all possible, I entirely agree with him. The British

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Government's position, and that of the Labour Front-Bench spokesmen, is plain : we wish to avoid war. We hope very much that Iraq will comply with the Security Council resolutions by 15 January. If it does, there will be no war. Otherwise, Iraq faces the possibility of being driven out of Kuwait by force.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham) : Has my hon. and learned Friend reflected on the fact that, had Israel not acted in 1981, our armed forces would be facing a nuclear-armed opponent? Whether or not Saddam Hussein withdraws from Kuwait, what should we be doing to deal with Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological warfare capabilities?

Mr. Hogg : The first thing to do is to secure unconditional compliance with the Security Council resolutions.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : Many of us will support military conflict, if it is necessary, but as a position of last resort. Is there not a position of first resort? Ought not the Government discreetly try to exert pressure on Mr. Bush to widen Mr. Baker's remit so as to hold discussions on matters that might lead to an end of the crisis, or are we simply going to lull ourselves into war without considering the consequences?

Mr. Hogg : Neither the American Government nor Her Majesty's Government, or any other Government involved in the matter, regard war as being a position of first resort. As I have just said, it is a beastly and bloody business which one should avoid if at all possible. It is also, however, true that Iraq has invaded its neighbours, killed its citizens and stolen its property. Iraq must now comply with the Security Council resolutions. It has a further six weeks in which to do that. It has plenty of time. If Iraq does not do so, at the expiration of that time it faces the risk of war.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak) : Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that many of us have been saddened by the appeasers' road to Baghdad that has been taken by some right hon. Members and by other spent volcanos of so-called leaders in Europe? Is it not time for us to say that what President Bush is really saying is that he is willing to give peace one more chance to stop bloodshed, but that what he is not willing to do is to give way on the fact that Kuwait has to be free? If Kuwait is not free, Saudi Arabia, the whole middle east and possibly the whole world could be involved in war. Is that not where we stand--for freedom and justice, not for appeasement?

Mr. Hogg : My hon. Friend puts his point robustly, as is his wont. The purpose of the invitation is to ensure that Saddam Hussein learns for himself that the United States and her allies will carry the military burden of this business, if it needs to be carried. We are determined to do what has to be done to ensure full compliance with the Security Council resolutions. At the same time, we are anxious to avoid war if at all possible. Therefore, the invitation is designed to make sure that there is no misunderstanding on the part of Saddam Hussein.

Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North) : If the Bush initiative is not successful and hostilities break out in the Gulf, does the Minister accept that many thousands of British citizens working in other Arab countries could face

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some difficulties from local groups hostile to the west and sympathetic to Iraq? Does he accept that one group of people who could be placed in some jeopardy are British lecturers and teachers in Arab universities? Will he consider instructing British ambassadors to seek assurances from other Arab countries that their welfare, property and lives will be safeguarded in those circumstances?

Mr. Hogg : The hon. Gentleman makes an important and relevant point. We are urgently considering how best to ensure the safety of British citizens in the middle east.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. I remind the House that this is a private notice question and that we are to have a statement after it. I shall call two more Members from each side, but then we must move on.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) : My hon. and learned Friend alluded to the possibility of unfinished business being on the agenda of a middle east conference in the event of an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. Will he comment on the Government's view of the statement made today by the Israeli Government that President Saddam Hussein should withdraw from office?

Mr. Hogg : It would be a very good thing if he withdrew from office. It would be an even better thing if he withdrew from Kuwait.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) : The link between the situation in Kuwait and that of the Palestinians is not Saddam Hussein but international law, which is being breached in both instances. We must take a firm stand on the settlement of the Palestinian question, because that is the way to make the middle east safe. Our Government have behaved like a poodle for the United States. To achieve a proper settlement, we need a separate European initiative in which European Governments are not implicated in backing the intransigence of Israel in the middle east. That includes not only an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait but a long-term peaceful settlement in the middle east rather than a horrific war.

Mr. Hogg : There is neither logic nor morality in arguing that there is some link between resolution of the Palestinian question and securing the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Once Iraq has unconditionally

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complied with the United Nations Security Council resolutions, we will return to the unfinished business that has been discussed in the Chamber today.

Mr. Conal Gregory (York) : Will my hon. and learned Friend confirm that we are doing our utmost to stop sanction breaking, which many newspapers are reporting is happening in some areas? Also, will he give succour to the families of hostages that a financial lifeline will be supplied by the Government in the event of their being unable to make mortgage and other payments, which, as we approach Christmas, could cripple families?

Mr. Hogg : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the plight of the hostages. I have considerable admiration for the courage and fortitude shown by the families of the hostages. I am glad to say that we have been able to do much to assist them. We have close contacts with them, not least through the family support group, with which my hon. Friend is closely associated.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye) : May I underscore the plea that has just been made on behalf of the hostages? May we have an assurance that, in this welcome initiative, the Government will stress to the President of the United States the need to put them at the top of the agenda? As the Minister rightly made it clear that the United Nations resolutions will be adhered to and will be stressed by the President, the word "negotiation" will not be appropriate in the context of the meeting, but what status does the Minister foresee for the meeting? Does he regard it as a dialogue or an opportunity for the position of the United Nations to be rehearsed directly to President Hussein?

Mr. Hogg : The hon. Gentleman is entirely right to emphasise the great importance that the Government attach to the early release of the hostages, and we have made that plain on every possible occasion. The hon. Gentleman referred to the invitation from the United States Government. I agree with him that to use the word "negotiations" is misleading. The purpose of the invitation is to make plain to Iraq the fact that the Security Council is intent on securing full compliance with the resolution and that those countries that have deployed forces in the middle east stand behind that resolution. If Iraq does not comply unconditionally with the terms of the resolution, that country will be exposed to the risk of war, and Saddam Hussein needs to understand that.

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Iraq (Exports)

3.55 pm

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Tim Sainsbury) : With permission I should like to make a statement about exports to Iraq.

The Exports of Goods (Control) Order 1987 specified the goods the export of which would require a licence from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in 1988. The export of any military equipment required a licence. The order specified a range of equipment that is capable of being used for either military or civil purposes which also required a licence. Decisions on export licences applications are taken on a case-by-case basis.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), the then Foreign Secretary, set out the guidelines applying to exports of defence equipment to Iraq in a written answer on 29 October 1985, at column 450 of Hansard. Those guidelines state that we should maintain our consistent refusal to supply any lethal equipment and that, subject to that overriding consideration, we should attempt to fulfil existing contracts and obligations. However, the guidelines said that we should not in future approve orders for any defence equipment which, in our view, would significantly enhance the capability of Iran or Iraq to prolong or exacerbate the conflict between them.

It is clear whether or not most goods fall within the guidelines. There is, however, a range of equipment--particularly machine tools--which could have either a civil or military use and for which a licence will be required.

When appropriate, both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry if Defence are consulted before a decision is made by my Department on whether a licence will be granted.

Applications for export licences are made on a form that requires the exporter to state both the customer and a description of the equipment. It is normal practice for it to be emphasised to those applying for licences that they should make clear the purpose for which the equipment is to be used.

In early 1988, following representations from a number of hon. Members on both sides, of the House, my hon. Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement, the then Minister for Trade, agreed to meet the Machine Tool Technologies Association to discuss the application of the guidelines in relation to the export of machine tools to Iraq. My hon. Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement strongly denies the interpretation put on the remarks alleged to have been made by him in The Sunday Times article. I will not comment on the record of the meeting kept by the MTTA, which was not sent to my Department at the time, as I am advised that to do so might prejudice possible proceedings.

As the House will be aware, some matters concerning the licences granted to Matrix Churchill and the exports carried out by that firm to Iraq are now the subject of investigation by Customs and Excise. These investigations are carried out by Customs and Excise under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979. It would therefore be improper for me to comment on those matters or to say anything that might prejudice any proceedings.

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Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan) : That insignificant statement will surprise and satisfy no one. It will certainly not satisfy the readers and reporters of The Sunday Times. It will not satisfy the arms manufacturers who were first encouraged to sell arms to Iraq and who now have the possibility of prosecution hanging over them. It will not even satisfy the Minister for Defence Procurement over his role in this sorry affair.

Perhaps the Minister will confirm that there have been arms sales to Iraq, involving battlefield radar supplied by Thorn/EMI, tank-tracking equipment supplied by Bimec Industries, engineering equipment for mortar shells supplied by Wickman Bennett, as well as many parts of the so-called supergun which required explosive retardants and which got through the gap.

Will the Minister say more about the status of the meeting that took place on 20 January 1988 between the then Minister, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), and representatives of the Machine Tool Technologies Association? Did the then Minister advise them about filling in forms? Did he tell them to couch their applications in a manner designed to emphasise- -and therefore by implication to mislead the other Departments--the peaceful aspects of the deals? Did he warn them of the need for speed to avoid bureaucratic--Foreign Office--interference because of external, namely United States, considerations?

Does the Parliamentary Under-Secretary appreciate that his totally inadequate explanation and his spurious distinction between lethal and non- lethal equipment make a mockery of the explicit instructions set out in December 1984 and the guidelines announced by the then Foreign Secretary on 29 October 1985? Is he aware that those statements were reinforced by the then Prime Minister on 10 November 1989 when she said, in reply to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) :

"supplies of British defence equipment to Iraq and Iran continue to be governed by the guidelines introduced in 1985,"--[ Official Report, 10 November 1989 ; Vol. 159, c. 800. ]

Does the Parliamentary Under-Secretary not appreciate that the casuistry of those concerned will continue to be exposed and that the Government will not get away with selling what, if it is only the straw, is the straw with which the Iraqis are making the bricks which will be built up against our troops in the Gulf if it ever comes to action? Does he realise that, if people have been distorting, bending and falsifying the rules and hiding behind commercial constraints when they choose to ignore questions from hon. Members, they will be found out and the wrath of the British people will be heaped on them as a consequence?

Mr. Sainsbury rose--

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Hon. Members : Is it a point of order?

Mr. Speaker : Order. I cannot know whether it is a point of order until I have heard it.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) said that the statement would not satisfy the readers of the Sunday Times. Is it not--

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Mr. Speaker : No. That is not a point of order ; it is a point of argument.

Mr. Sainsbury : When I was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement I occasionally had opportunities to debate with the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill). I recall that he was very hard to satisfy. However good the news one announced, he would find cause to criticise it. Just for the record, may I say that I have moved on and I am now Minister for Trade, not a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State.

The hon. Member for Clackmannan is an Opposition Defence spokesman and he is perhaps not as familiar with the procedures for export licensing as he might be were he Opposition spokesman on Trade and Industry matters. It is the exporter's responsibility to provide information to the Department which will enable the department with responsibility for issuing licences to determine whether the equipment concerned qualifies for a licence.

The guidelines to which the hon. Gentleman referred are clear. They were set out by my right hon. and learned Friend the hon. Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) on 29 October 1985, and since then they have been scrupulously and carefully followed in the issuing of licences. No other country has such a careful method for scrutinising applications for export licences and for controlling exports.

Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West) : Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be unwise for hon. Members to pursue a witch hunt in a vacuum when we do not know the facts? If any firm has deliberately broken the rules, it will be prosecuted by the proper authorities. We should not have a witch hunt against many firms which, over the years, with the best of good will, have genuinely tried to maximise their exports for the good of the country.

Mr. Sainsbury : I agree that it would be most unwise for any of us to make statements or allegations which might prejudice the outcome of proceedings. Surely it would be in the interests of both sides of the House that, if proceedings are brought, they are not frustrated by comments made in the House.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Is the Minister aware that his statement will not satisfy most hon. Members and that it will certainly not satisfy public opinion? Is he aware that the most serious allegations have been made that, in the months and years leading up to the invasion of 2 August, there were exports to Iraq which helped to build that country's war machine and that there was much complacency on the part of the Government and on the part of the Minister who was named in The Sunday Times report? Does the Minister really believe that his feeble excuses today will satisfy the House and the country?

Mr. Sainsbury : When it comes to being hard to satisfy, the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) is certainly put in the shade by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). The exports to Iraq in the period to which the hon. Gentleman referred were made strictly in accordance with the criteria to which I have referred. I hope that the hon. Gentleman heard what they were. They barred the export of lethal equipment or equipment that would significantly enhance the capability of Iraq or Iran to carry on their conflict.

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Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield) : My hon. Friend mentioned that he had received representations from both sides of the House. Would he care to elaborate a little on the role of the Labour party?

Mr. Sainsbury : I shall have to write to my hon. Friend to let him know the full list of hon. Members who wrote to my predecessor seeking meetings on behalf of the Machine Tool Technologies Association. I assure my hon. Friend that the meeting that took place and which was referred to in the article in The Sunday Times arose as a result of those representations.

Mr. Ted Garrett (Walsend) : I must declare two interests. First, I am a member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union and, secondly, since 1968, I have advised the Machine Tool Technologies Association. Many members of my union worked on the machines that are now in Iraq and they would deeply resent any imputation that they were guilty of helping Iraq to protect-- [Interruption.] Let me have my say. It is wrong to pillory the management of the machine tool industry--men who have served their apprenticeships, gone through the ranks and worked to produce exports for the industry and for the country--to the extent that the Minister alleges that they might face charges in court. The Minister should state clearly that it is a tale of confusion between the Department of Trade and Industry, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Customs and Excise. None of them has got its act together, and that is why the article appeared in the "Insight" column of The Sunday Times. It is wrong for there to be public recrimination on an issue which the Government should admit would not have come forward had there been co-ordination in their activities and information to the machine tool industry.

Mr. Sainsbury : The hon. Member is a strong supporter of the machine tools industry. It is a significant industry, with a good export record, and it provides much employment. I do not wish to comment on the matters to which the hon. Gentleman has referred because--I apologise to hon. Members for it and hope that they understand--I must fall back on saying that it would not be proper to comment on matters that are currently subject to investigation under the Import, Export and Customs Powers (Defence) Act 1939.

Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham) : Does my hon. Friend recall that, during the Iran-Iraq conflict, when a company in my constituency wanted to supply engines for recovery vehicles, the application went to a Cabinet sub-committee and was declined in case the engines could be put to military use? Is that not a clear example of the Government abiding by the regulations? Bearing in mind what the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) has said, it will come as a great surprise to the House that the Liberal Democrat and Labour parties are attacking the machine tools industry in this way--[ Hon. Members :-- "Not true."] That has to be the case, despite Opposition Members' protests. If exporters are misleading a Government Department, that is a matter for the courts, not for the bear garden of Opposition Members.

Mr. Sainsbury : I do not remember the particular application to which my hon. Friend refers. I believe that it would have come before one of my predecessors. However, I can confirm, as I have done already, that there

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were guidelines which were well known to both exporters and the House. I can assure the House that those guidelines were scrupulously followed and that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence, when appropriate, were consulted before my Department issued or refused a licence application.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye) : Does the Minister accept that his statement is nothing less than a Sir Humphrey classic in its desire to obscure, confuse and cloud the issues? While accepting that he does not want to prejudice possible legal proceedings, surely the best way not to do so is to come forward this afternoon with the fullest possible disclosure of the facts, but that is what the hon. Gentleman has singularly failed to do. Why was not a minute of the meeting between the association and the Minister, to which he referred in his statement, not sent to his Department, given that his Department would then have been responsible for the granting of subsequent licences arising from the context of the discussions at that meeting? Is it not a ludicrous failure in the civil service, where the Government are policing their own policy?

Mr. Sainsbury : As I said in my statement, it would not be right for me to comment on the record that was kept of the meeting by the Machine Tool Technologies Association. I am advised that to do so might prejudice possible proceedings. I realise that the hon. Gentleman finds that unsatisfactory, but when he asks me to come to the House to make the fullest possible statement, he is asking me to do just that--to make a statement that would prejudice possible proceedings, and that I do not intend to do.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it proper for the Minister to claim sub judice when no proceedings have been started, which is what he has been doing throughout?

Mr. Speaker : Order. I did not hear the Minister claim sub judice-- [ Hon. Members :-- "He did."] Well, it is up to him how he answers the question. The case is not sub judice, and I did not hear him claim that it was.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham) : Is not one of the differences between Iraq and this country the fact that a newspaper here can raise such issues? Is not one of the differences between this country and Iraq the fact that Parliament can respond to it? Is not one of the differences between Iraq and this country the fact that the trade association or The Sunday Times could publish the whole of the note that was made by the trade association, so that the rest of the House can make either the same judgment as the newspaper or a different one?

Mr. Sainsbury : My hon. Friend draws attention to what some of us would regard as the less important differences between our country and Iraq. I rank human rights as the most important. However, these are significant differences, and my hon. Friend makes a good point.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : Leaving aside how British troops in the Gulf must now feel towards the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), and the fact that the occasion of this statement is not only a good occasion for his resignation but another

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good reason for not drifting senselessly towards war in the Gulf, how can this Minister now face the 89 workers and their families from Matrix Churchill in Coventry who this weekend were given notice of their redundancy, which will take effect four weeks today? The Minister seems to have done nothing in the five weeks since I led a deputation of workers to him in his office. Is it not a fact that his Department encouraged general exports to Iraq, including machine tools and lathes from Matrix Churchill and Wickman Bennett? Is it not a fact that in November 1988 the former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced £400 million in credit to enable those exports to be made and that 10 days before the present Secretary of State for Health said in the House that the Iraqis were using chemical weapons to bomb the Kurds? Is it not a fact that the Department allowed the Iraqi secret service to take over Matrix Churchill? Is it not also a fact that, after sanctions were imposed in August, the Government washed their hands of the responsibility for workers in Coventry and elsewhere? As it is all the Government's responsibility, should not the Minister announce today that the Government will take over the firm, take it out of the hands of the Iraqi secret service, and guarantee the jobs and livelihoods of the workers in Coventry and elsewhere?

Mr. Sainsbury : Job losses and redundancies are always a matter for regret and I am sorry to hear what the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) said about some of the workers in Matrix Churchill. The hon. Gentleman read out a list of "facts", most of which I did not recognise as facts.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : Will my hon. Friend pay attention to the wise words of the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett), and not the synthetic row being artificially created by the main Opposition? Does he agree that the gist of the Opposition's argument seems to be that any type of export from this country could conceivably, some day, somehow, be used for aggressive purposes and that their main accusation against my hon. Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement is that he did his best, within the law, to promote British trading interests? Will the Minister confirm that British policy on lethal weapons has not and will not change?

Mr. Sainsbury : I can confirm that our general policy has not changed and that our policy on the export of military equipment and arms to Iran and Iraq was clear and has been adhered to. The most that we can do at any time is to make the most informed, cautious and considered judgments in the light of all the information available. I doubt whether any other country has a more comprehensive and rigorously enforced system of defence export control.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : Does the Minister accept that it is the Government, not the machine tool industry, who are in the dock today? Were any private officials present at the meeting between the Minister and the Machine Tool Technologies Association? If there were, does their minute of that meeting coincide with the minutes published this weekend in The Sunday Times?

Mr. Sainsbury : I can confirm that it was a normal meeting and officials were present, as normal. The hon. Gentleman asked who was in the dock. Nobody is in the dock, and it is important to keep that in mind. I am not

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prepared to make statements that might prejudice any proceedings that may be brought because, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, Customs and Excise is at present investigating certain matters, as I said in my statement. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would recognise that it would be unwise to make statements that might prejudice any proceedings arising from those investigations.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) : The Minister has admitted that, as one would expect, his officials were present at the meeting. Is it not a fact that the Department's normal practice is to keep its own minutes of such meetings? Has he not said that the meeting was not of a confidential nature but was to clarify already published guidelines to industry, so there was no secrecy in relation to the meeting or the minutes? How do his Department's minutes differ from those of the trade association?

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