Jonathan Aitken, Minister for Defence Procurement, said in a written Parliamentary answer last night that defence sales contracts worth 'in excess of pounds 1bn' had been negotiated between 1989 and 1993.
The figure for the sales - which Labour MPs claimed last night put Malaysia as second only to Saudi Arabia as an arms customer of Britain - will fuel the aid-for-arms sales controversy engendered by disclosures over the Pergau dam.
Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, is due to give evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on 2 March. Baronness Chalker, the Minister for Overseas Development, who is believed to have considered the pounds 234m in aid for Pergau a waste of money, is due to give evidence the following day.
The answer was secured by Jim Cousins, Labour MP for Newcastle Central, who broke through the wall of confidentiality over official figures resulting from the arms accord signed with Malaysia by Margaret Thatcher in 1988 by asking Mr Aitken to update an answer given in 1989 on the then negligible level of arms sales to Malaysia.
Mr Aitken replied that detailed information on defence sales to Malaysia was 'confidential to the two governments', but 'in the circumstances' he could give Mr Cousins the figure of more than pounds 1bn.