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Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Minister insists arms policy 'unchanged'
A Hawk jet
India has already ordered Hawk training jets
The UK government's policy on arms exports to India and Pakistan remains unchanged and there is no embargo, according to a UK trade minister.

UK arms sales in 2000
UK export licences to India worth 64.5m
Exports included military aircraft engines
Components for air-to-surface missiles
Components for combat helicopter
Riot control equipment
UK export licences to Pakistan worth 6m
Components for combat helicopters
Components for navy vessels
Components for military utility vehicle
Loan of military training aircraft
Lord Sainsbury's statement came despite reports that Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt signed an order last Thursday suspending arms exports to the two countries.

"There is no embargo and no suspension," said Lord Sainsbury as he dismissed claims of confusion in Whitehall over the issue.

But British ministers were keeping a "close eye" on developments in the region and each arms licence request would be decided on a case-by-case basis, he told the House of Lords.

That meant the government would "rigorously" apply European Union and its own criteria on arms sales.

'Incalculable consequences'

That message was echoed by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw as he flew to Delhi on the latest leg of his visit to India and Pakistan.

The Liberal Democrats pressed for a total arms embargo to both countries, which their Lords leader Shirley Williams said were "teetering on the edge of what would be a nuclear war with incalculable consequences".

Lord Sainsbury, Trade Minister
Lord Sainsbury:
Lord Sainsbury said the "primary and only consideration" being taken into account was the impact on those tensions in south-east Asia.

British arms industry jobs were not a factor in such decisions, he added.

The statement in the House of Lords comes after the Ministry of Defence confirmed it was to hold discussions about selling a second type of British military aircraft to India.

Delhi already has a 1bn order with British Aerospace for Hawk trainer jets.

BBC News has now learned that the MoD will be following up a request from India about the possible sale of Sea Harriers.

Pakistan talks

The Sea Harriers are fully fledged combat aircraft, unlike the trainer jets.

The aircraft are due to be retired from the Royal Navy in 2004-2006 and India has shown an interest in buying them.

An MoD spokesman said talks with officials in Delhi had not yet taken place, but confirmed the department would be following up India's interest.

A soldier involved in the Kashmir stand-off
Tensions between India and Pakistan remain high

Newspaper reports that Ms Hewitt had suspended arms exports to the two countries have been strenuously denied by Downing Street.

The reports suggested such a move could jeopardise negotiations between BAE Systems and India over the sale of 66 Hawk training aircraft.

However, Tony Blair's official spokesman said: "There is no arms embargo, no suspension of arms, no contract to rule on."

'Honest broker?'

Labour's Roger Berry, chairman of the Commons arms export select committee, argued that the UK should suspend its arms exports to the two nations.

"I think the UK has got to make it clear that we seek to be one of the honest brokers in this and not an arms broker," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"The government's own criteria in relation to arms exports are very clear.

"One is that no licence will be granted for arms exports if there is a clearly identifiable risk that the weapons could be used aggressively against another country or to assert, by force, a territorial claim.

Nuclear threat?

"This seems to me as clear a case as one can get for saying that the government's own criteria on not promoting regional instability suggests that there should be no arms exports.

"We shouldn't apply the morality of the drug dealer that basically says if you don't sell it, somebody else will."

Mr Berry said it was "a bit odd" that the MoD appeared to be "assisting, promoting" the sale of weapons when the government's policy had not changed.

Former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook had said arms export licences should not be granted in the current circumstances.

Andy Maclean, spokesman for the pressure group Safer World, said it was vital that an arms embargo was put in place.

Hawk jets could be used to train pilots to fly Jaguar jets which, he understood, were being adapted in India to make them capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

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See also:

28 May 02 | UK Politics
27 May 02 | UK Politics
28 May 02 | UK Politics
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