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Military Technology Transfer

7. Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): What role his Department plays in making representations to the US Administration on issues relating to military technology transfer to the UK. [12884]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The Foreign and Commonwealth Office works closely with the Ministry of Defence to improve the transfer of military technology between the United States and the United Kingdom. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised the issue with the US Administration most recently in May of this year. Those in our embassy in Washington have frequent contact on the issue with their colleagues at all levels of the US Administration and Congress.

Mr. Jack: Although I acknowledge the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister's efforts particularly to free up the technology of the joint strike fighter project for availability in the United Kingdom, so far we are only trusted with 10 per cent. of that technology. If Britain is to take the industrial and military opportunities presented by the joint strike fighter project, what further steps will the Minister put to the US Administration and members on the Hill to encourage them to trust their ally and give us opportunities to participate fully in that programme? What advice can he give to hon. Members about the role that we can play to convince our opposite numbers on the Hill that this is a matter for trust, not secrecy?

Mr. Alexander: The right hon. Gentleman raises a very important point, and I am grateful to him for giving me this opportunity to reply, not least because I understand that he shares a strong constituency interest in this matter with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary—so for that reason alone, I can assure him that the issue is uppermost in our thoughts. The right hon. Gentleman raises the important point, however, that this is not simply a matter of bilateral relations between the UK Government and the US Administration.
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One of the challenges that we face is with the role of committees in the House of Representatives and, indeed, the US Senate. In that regard, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we continue to work on that effort. We have not made as much progress on technology transfer as many of us would have wished, particularly in relation to the joint strike fighter; but I can none the less assure him that we will continue to use our contacts—not just those with our embassy, but at ministerial level—to make those points.

The right hon. Gentleman's final point was about the role that hon. Members can play. I understand that he has travelled to the US on this matter, and I applaud him for his efforts on behalf of his constituents and in the interests of British industry more generally. If colleagues on both sides of the House are travelling to the US and, in particular, to Washington, I would certainly welcome the opportunity to furnish them with information, to equip them to take forward this discussion with colleagues from the Senate and, indeed, the House of Representatives.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): It seems quite clear that the US and UK military strategy is framed entirely by a high-tech weapons-based approach, which has seen annual global military budgets soar to $1 trillion a year. Would it not make much more sense for some of those huge resources to be deployed on things like peace building, disarmament, climate change mitigation, clean energy technology and on measures to tackle resource depletion and environmental degradation, which are the root of so much national and regional instability? Why take the high-tech weapons approach all the time?

Mr. Alexander: Of course, it is a matter of record that, as recently as the G8 summit at Gleneagles, important discussions were held between ourselves, the United States and other G8 partners on some of the issues that my hon. Friend has addressed, but I would respectfully point out that the procurement of military capacity and military technology can contribute to effective joint working on peace building and the range of work that we want to take forward with allies such as the United States.

Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): May I thank the Minister on behalf of the small delegation that will visit Washington next week to make representations on the joint strike fighter? Does he agree that BAE Systems has a great deal to offer not only in vertical take-off and landing technology, but in the Typhoon's construction techniques, and that it is crucial that the Royal Air Force and British industrial interests should have access to full information about the joint strike fighter if the RAF is to operate that aircraft?

Mr. Alexander: I am certainly happy to concur with the point made by the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, I reiterate the offer that I made: if we can facilitate further information being provided to him during the coming days—no doubt, in addition to the information provided by the British company involved—we in the Foreign Office will certainly be happy to do so.
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Arms Sales (China)

8. Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): If he will make a statement on EU arms sales to China. [12885]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander): We are continuing discussions with EU partners on the modernisation of strategic export controls, including the review of the arms embargo on China. There will need to be more consultation in the EU and with other international partners before any decision on the arms embargo is taken. In those discussions, we recall the European Council conclusions in December 2004 that any decision on the arms embargo would not result in an increase of arms exports to China in either quantitative or qualitative terms.

Mr. Hunt: I am grateful to the Minister for his answer. While I appreciate the diplomatic and commercial significance of the decision on the arms embargo, I am sure he will agree that the decision also has tremendous military significance for the people of Taiwan. Does he agree that our policy towards Taiwan must be consistent with our policy towards Afghanistan and Iraq, where we have always recognised the fundamental importance of allowing and promoting people's right to determine their own destiny?

Mr. Alexander: Despite having no diplomatic ties with Taiwan, we enjoy good relations with it in areas such as trade, investment, culture and, indeed, education. However, sometimes a fallacy creeps into the discussion about the review of the arms embargo. I point out that the embargo that is in place at present does not cover areas such as avionics, radar and satellite and communications systems, so although it is important to be respectful of the points of view of all parties, which will be covered by the review, we should be absolutely clear about the effect of the review that is under way.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Have any representations been made to Beijing about the reported remarks of General Zhu, who envisaged a nuclear strike against the United States if conflict began over Taiwan?

Mr. Alexander: I am not aware of the comments to which my hon. Friend refers. Of course concern has been expressed about the anti-secession law that was recently passed. Although we in the United Kingdom wish to support China when it states that it wants to resolve the Taiwan issue using peaceful means, as is recorded in the law, we remain concerned about the reference to the possibility of "non-peaceful means".

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I fully support the maintenance of the embargo on EU arms sales to China, but I do so in particular because, as the Government will be aware, China is taking an increasing interest in Africa and is involved in the sale of arms to Zimbabwe. Are the Government concerned about that? Does it weigh heavily with them in respect of their consideration of lifting the arms embargo? Are they in favour of China actually selling arms and weapons to Mr. Robert Mugabe so that he can subdue the poor people of his country?
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Mr. Alexander: The Foreign Secretary has already made clear the extent to which we deplore the actions of Robert Mugabe's Government in Zimbabwe, even during the course of these questions. The general point that the hon. Gentleman raises is important, which is why we have been advancing the argument for an arms trade treaty. It is fair to say that support for such an idea is limited to a fairly small number of countries, but I assure the House that we will try to expand the group greatly to get a consensus for negotiation in the United Nations on such a treaty.

EU Presidency (Environment and Sustainable Development)

9. Helen Southworth (Warrington, South) (Lab): What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the priority given to environment and sustainable development during the UK's Presidency of the EU. [12886]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Our two Departments worked closely together on the EU presidency White Paper, which sets out the priorities for our presidency. These include climate change, the review of the EU sustainable development strategy and the new EU chemicals strategy.

Helen Southworth: Is my right hon. Friend aware that environmentally conscious chemicals manufacturers in Warrington are worried that the excessive regulation proposed in EU chemicals directives could destroy competitiveness and drive chemical manufacturing out of the UK and into unregulated states, which would have a considerable cost for jobs in the UK and the global environment? Will he take action?

Mr. Alexander: I assure my hon. Friend that we have taken a close interest in the matter, not least because the type of chemical industries that she describes exist not only in Warrington, but in Paisley and Renfrewshire, South, which I have the privilege of representing. Ciba Speciality Chemicals, which is in my constituency, has on several occasions raised with me its concerns about the proposed REACH—registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals—directive, which is why I welcome the steps taken by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We make it clear that although we are keen to make progress on REACH, we must balance the environmental needs that   we all uphold with the need to secure the competitiveness of EU countries.

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