ANOTHER VIEW: I'm on Aitken's side

Click to follow
The Independent Online
I was surprised to read of the concernsregarding Mr Aitken's involvement in a company shipping arms to Iran. There is no doubt that British companies receive orders which, with the benefit of hindsight, could have been detrimental to UK interests. If the supply of patrol ship guns to Iran occurred in 1988, however, it is unlikely that they would have been against British interests, for their role at that time would have been purely a defensive one.

It is a moot point, but there is a moral difference between offensive and defensive weaponry. The lathes that BSA sold to Iran (the case against us for doing so was dropped in November 1992) can obviously be used to build almost anything, but not serious offensive weaponry like ICBMs or anything nuclear.

In the Eighties, the rules governing the export of arms were much more loosely applied and interpreted. BSA suffered because of that. The prospect of appearing at the Old Bailey was alarming, but I was always confident: I have faith in the system, and I knew we had a strong case.

Attitudes to arms exports really began to harden with the onset of the Gulf war, and they are quite different now than they were in the Eighties. Politicians are much more wary now of the risk of compromise, and the rules governing arms export are clearer. It is quite unfair to apply the values of 1995 when judging Mr Aitken for a pre-Gulf arms deal in 1988. The whole affair is a storm in a tea-cup, and no more a resigning matter than the fact that Lloyd George had a mistress was.

There is another point: it is unlikely that Mr Aitken, as a non-executive board member, would have known details of particular contracts. Why should he? I have non-executive directors on my board and I doubt whether they know the details of our exports. They are not there to run the day-to- day business, but for the overview.

Britain is a key exporter of defence equipment and it should be remembered that while conflicts around the world receive much media attention, the benefits to a country that can defend itself - so that its people are safe and can use their democratic freedoms and enjoy economic growth - are substantial. Western governments would not spend so much on defence if they did not value freedom. The love of freedom in itself justifies the sale of defence equipment: maintaining a balance of power reduces conflict.

Mr Aitken is being pilloried for political reasons. It appears to be the norm today to throw as much mud as possible at political figures, without regard for their efforts on behalf of the nation.

Much of the lack of confidence in our country, despite some signs of economic recovery, is caused by politicians who, by their mud-slinging activities, do not convey a sense of responsibility to the public at large. Who has confidence in a country, or company for that matter, when the elected Parliament or board acts irresponsibly? Where are the statesmen of yesterday?

The writer is chairman of BSA Tools, the former owner of Matrix Churchill.

Comments