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31 Oct 2002 : Column 1061—continued

Mr. Joyce : I presume that my hon. Friend recognises that in recent history there has been a shift in the economy from manufacturing to service industries. There are areas that rely heavily on manufacturing jobs. I think that defence economists generally accept that the new jobs that would be created would not be in the same areas. They would tend towards the south-east and away from the areas that rely on manufacturing jobs.

Ms Drown: There are a couple of points to make on that. First, retraining is always possible. Secondly, I recognise that we need to do much more with regional planning to ensure that we do not continue to suck more and more jobs, together with more and more housing, into the south-east. That is not welcome in the south-east or at the edge of the south-west, just as it is not welcome in other parts of the country.

Moving from old trades to new trades without job losses is the key to serious defence justification that the country needs.

Mr. Kevan Jones: It seems that my hon. Friend is referring to the arms industry as rather like sin, and that she is in favour of a little of it but opposed to a lot of it. In the north-east, for example, there has been a shift from manufacturing. The new jobs that are coming on stream are very high tech and service related, and many of them have an important role to play in the defence industry in this country and internationally.

Ms Drown: I shall explain why it is appropriate for us to support defence and arms. At present, it is not easy to support our position if we support an ethical foreign policy.

Mr. Keetch: In my speech and in the speeches of other hon. Members in the defence in the world debate two weeks ago, we covered large aspects of the hon. Lady's argument. She mentioned ethical policy. Does she agree that, there is nothing unethical about supplying our allies and friends with the arms to defend themselves? That is right and proper. The real problem for the arms

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trade is that we sometimes supply weapons to countries that are not our friends or that may turn out not to be our friends in the future.

Ms Drown: If the hon. Gentleman will let me continue in a little more detail, he will see that his position is not so different from my own.

There is much talk about the fact that the current labour market is much more flexible than ever before, and that full employment cannot always mean the same employment. The success in my constituency is due to the flexibility of the work force. Swindon lost thousands of jobs when the railway works closed, but our highly regarded work force have adapted to change, and we enjoy near-full employment, with more manufacturing than many other parts of the country, as well as a strong service sector and many UK national and international headquarters based in the town.

People who work in the defence industry are highly skilled and well trained. Managed right, with proactive defence diversification, we should be able to get those skills into new and more productive fields without redundancies or unemployment.

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: In my constituency we have a Royal Ordnance factory. Workers there cannot easily be retrained. Their specialist employment is making explosives. Can the hon. Lady explain where we are to get retraining and re-employment for people in Somerset?

Ms Drown: Retraining is the key to a successful defence diversification policy. I have every faith that the hon. Gentleman's highly skilled workers can be retrained. We in Swindon had to do it with our railway workers, who produced some of the best engines that any country has ever seen. They are now doing different jobs in high-tech firms—more productive firms. It can be done if there is the will to do it.

Perhaps the York report has persuaded the Ministry of Defence that the only argument left is the political one. The Minister with responsibility for defence procurement has said:

So arms exports are supposed to be about benefiting our friends and allies, helping to deter aggression and keep the peace. That should mean that such exports help legitimate regimes. That is why the Export Control Act 2002 is so important. It allows the Government to refuse export licences to regimes that do not embody the positive values that we want to spread—regimes that flout human rights—or to stop the purchase of arms that would not support sustainable development.

The problem with that argument is that we currently export arms to regimes that clearly fail to promote those positive values. British arms exports to Saudi Arabia have helped legitimise a corrupt and undemocratic regime with one of the worst human rights records. Systematic torture and ill treatment in prisons and the imposition of corporal punishment such as amputation and flogging continue there. The political argument for arms exports cannot be listened to sympathetically while

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we continue to support arms sales to regimes that do not uphold human rights or where they are used to fuel aggression.

Ministers and hon. Members may have heard on the XToday" programme a couple of weeks ago that in Jordan, Ministry of Defence officials, UK Government employees, Prince Andrew and a Defence Minister were in the same hospitality suite at an arms fair as Saddam Hussein's cousin. That arms fair was attended by delegations from Syria, Libya, Iran and Iraq. The Government had 40 employees there and Britain was the biggest seller, besides Jordan itself. Every half an hour, Army display teams were showing off weaponry like a live television commercial, so even those threatening us are given intelligence on our weapons.

The Minister said that it was fine for Iraq to come and look, but because of the UN embargo, it cannot buy. That does not stop the Iraqis getting intelligence on our weapons. They were invited to see them, even though they cannot buy them. What do the Government do to protest about the fact that Iraq was represented at the arms fair? When there is an arms embargo on Iraq, what are Iraqis doing at an arms trade fair? The fair was held in Jordan, which the Scott report identified as the main route for arms to Iraq. When questioned, the Minister said that those countries are moving towards democracy and are forces for stability in the region.

Let us wake up. The truth is that the UK is such a massive exporter of arms that our threshold for friends must be very low. We are friends of India and Pakistan. That is right, but there are serious questions about selling weapons to those two countries, given the dispute over Kashmir. Given the concerns in the middle east, selling parts to Israel via America is also wrong. Having such a low threshold for friends is morally and economically wrong. It warps the Government's serious attempt to maintain an ethical foreign policy. We need a much higher threshold in place to ensure that we do not export arms to countries that could pose a threat in the future. The Government need to open their eyes to that danger and take action before it is too late. That is even more important, in the light of new international work on tackling terrorism and promoting peaceful and democratic regimes.

Obtaining approval of arms exports from a House Committee rather than from Ministers would be one way to make the system more transparent, and would better show each export on its merits. Similarly, all subsidies for projects should be reviewed to look at how much tax money is going into each project and whether it could be better used elsewhere. In addition, we need to take a serious look at moving skills from defence jobs to more productive areas. We will still need some defence jobs, but not as many as we have at present. The result would be a better use of taxpayers' money, more jobs and a more stable world.

Having heard the comments made earlier, I cannot leave a debate on UK defence without making a few comments about the UK's recruitment of child soldiers.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) suggested to the hon. Lady that she was in favour of virginity, but not all the time—

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[Interruption.]—or rather, in favour of sin, but not all the time. Perhaps she could set out, for the benefit of the House, what defence exports she believes to be justifiable, and to which countries she believes exports to be legitimate. There are a great many people in this country represented by hon. Members in all parts of the House whose jobs depend upon the defence industries, and our armed forces are dependent on those industries as well. Furthermore, those defence industries feed through to civil applications, from which Britain makes a great deal of money.

Ms Drown: If the hon. Gentleman reads my speech in Hansard, he will see the ethical principles in which I believe. I would be surprised if he supported exporting arms to every country in the world. I pointed out that our present threshold is not at the right level. I hope that he will reflect on that and bear it in mind when he considers his own policy on these issues.

I shall speak briefly about child soldiers. The United Nations committee on the rights of the child produced its report on the UK this month. It stated:

The Committee recommended that the UK Government ratify the optional protocol on the involvement of children—

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