|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Will my right hon. Friend return to the points raised by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) about the sale of arms to both India and Pakistan? They are both countries with enormous structural problems and tremendous povertyhuge problems that could be resolved with better attention, shall we say, to internal issues. However, the west, and Britain in particular, has been very happy to do enormous arms deals with both countries. There must be an increased danger of war between them the longer these arms sales go on. Will my right hon. Friend impose an arms embargo on both sides and encourage the rest of Europe and the western world to do exactly the same?
Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend is right to say that those countries have devoted to military expenditure considerable resources that otherwise could have gone to civilian expenditure. That is why we in the international communityincluding the UK Government, myself not leasthave been working so hard to encourage the parties to the dispute to reach their own solution to the dispute. As I said at the end of my statement, the problems between India and Pakistan cannot satisfactorily be resolved by military means. However, I have seen no evidence that a unilateral arms embargo by the UK, or even by the EU, would help to resolve this issue or lead to less defence expenditure by these countries. I simply do not believe that that would happen.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): I compliment the Foreign Secretary on his diplomatic efforts, but will he tell us what applications for arms sales in the last two months, if any, have been blocked by the Government? Could he give guidance to UK companies that are perhaps thinking of trying to sell arms to India or Pakistan as to which licence applications would be blocked in future? We need more information about what the Government will and will not allow.
Mr. Straw: So far as I am aware, no applications have been blocked; they have been subject to processing in the normal way. However, I shall be happy to set the record straight for the right hon. Gentleman and for the House if my recollection is inaccurate.
The criteria were clearly laid out in the consolidated criteria that were put before the House on 26 October 2000 by my right hon. Friend who is now the Minister for Europe. The criteria on which we make decisions, which are the consolidation of national criteria and mainly EU criteria, are clearly set out. They are criteria that the defence industries themselves properly understand. I have had no request from the defence industries for us to provide a gloss on the criteria, as it were. The best way
Mr. George Mudie (Leeds, East): I am slightly disconcerted by the Foreign Secretary's approach in his statement, which seemed to view the Kashmir problem only in the context of the US war against terrorism. I am also slightly disconcerted by his apparent dismissal of past UN resolutions as historic and not worth arguing about. However, I am totally disconcerted by his view that this 50-year-old dispute can be settled only by the two parties concerned. It is 50 years of such advice from the Foreign Office that has led to the present situation. Is there not a case for the Foreign Secretary, on behalf of the Government, to approach the US Government and the other two regional powers involved to see whether the two parties to the dispute can be brought to the table, so that the issue of Kashmir can be settled? Clearly, after 50 years, it cannot be left to the two parties alone.
Mr. Straw: It is simply not the case that I have approached the issue solely in terms of the fight against terrorism. I have a fair knowledge of the dispute, not least after 25 years of representing people from both India and Pakistan who live in my constituency. I could turn my hon. Friend's argument back on him and suggest that if United Nations resolutions could have solved the matter, it would have been solved more than 50 years ago. I am happy to talk about the UN resolutions, but while Pakistan adopts them, India claims that they were superseded by the Simla agreement between the two countries in 1972. I shall put the terms of that agreement on the table for hon. Members to discuss.
I accept that the dispute is a bilateral one, butas I said in my statement and have said on many previous occasionsit has serious international implications, both because of the potential consequences if war breaks out and because of wider humanitarian concerns for the benighted people of Kashmir on both sides of the line of control. That is why the Government have been so heavily engaged in seeking to encourage the parties to resolve the dispute by peaceful means. So too, have the US, Russia and China, to which my hon. Friend referred. However, external parties can do all that they can, with the best will in the worldPresident Putin and President Jiang Zemin both held meetings separately with President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee in Almaty some 10 days agobut in the end the matter can be resolved only by the two key parties who are arguing about territory. We do not have the international law behind us, or the military mighteven with the US, Russia, China and the UK combinedto police an agreement that has not been made by the two parties.
Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): The Foreign Secretary has already confirmed that there are contingency plans for British military advisers to be sent to help to seal the line of control if asked to do so. Are there contingency plans, or any extended contingency planning, to provide a helicopter fleet to assist with sealing the line of control? Will we send any other assets to assist, either on our own or with the help of the US?
Patrick Mercer (Newark): The Foreign Secretary has already alluded to the number of people in this country who have direct and personal involvement with affairs in India and Pakistan. What interdepartmental talks have there been about deterring and containing any outbreak of violence that might spill over from the sub-continent on to the streets of this country?
Mr. Straw: I understand the burden of the hon. Gentleman's question, but I do not believe that anyone has that idea in mind. However, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I, along with other colleagues, are well aware of the anxieties and strong passions, some of which have been expressed this afternoon, that are felt on the issue. As I said in my statement, my right hon. Friend deemed it appropriate to hold a meeting with representatives of south Asian groups, including Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, on 29 May. I met a similar group the next day to talk about community relations in this country, along with colleagues from both sides of the House and Lord Filkin, the new Home Office Minister with responsibility for race and community relations. We intend to stay very closely in touch with the communities in this country.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): I welcome the relaxation of tension to which my right hon. Friend referred in his statement. However, given the apocalyptic nature of the weapons available to India and Pakistan, despite the answers that he has given this afternoon and that his Department has given in the past, many of my constituents were, and remain, deeply concerned that the Government will not impose an absolute ban on arms sales from this country to that region at a time of such tension. Will my right hon. Friend look at the issue again, as the Government's approach seems to do little or nothing to contribute to what everyone in this country, regardless of nationality or creed, wishes forthat is, that there should be no war in that part of the world?
Mr. Straw: I understand the deep concerns of my hon. Friend's constituents, and I do not dismiss them for a second. However, some of the supplies that I have approved in the past, such as de-mining equipment, have been extremely benign, albeit that they are classified as arms sales. A blanket ban would involve a complete ban on any kind of material at all. I have already said that to the best of my recollectionI will correct this if I am wrongI have neither seen nor approved any arms control licence in respect of India or Pakistan in the past two months.
The criteria that I mentioned earlier are applied very carefully. Moreover, the decisions that Ministers make are the subject of retrospective scrutiny by the so-called Quadripartite Committee. Although I know that there has been a separate discussion, led by my hon. Friend