- A row broke out last night over a gift from Britain
to Jordan's armed forces of more than 400 surplus Challenger tanks as Britain
and the US prepare for a possible war against its neighbour, Iraq.
- Senior backbench Labour MPs and the Liberal Democrat
frontbench spokesman Menzies Campbell were last night demanding why Geoff
Hoon, the defence secretary, had sneaked the deal through parliament during
- They also said they were not satisfied that Jordan could
guarantee that the secret of the tanks' reinforced armour would not leak
across the border to Saddam Hussein. Jordan was named in the Scott report
on arms sales to Iraq as a country where sensitive technology leaked to
- The gift has emerged in an obscure memorandum deposited
in the Commons library by the Ministry of Defence. In it, ministers apologise
for not giving parliament a chance to debate what is described as an "unusual
gift" of tanks with a book value of £385,000 each. The tanks
were last used in action during the Gulf war to invade Iraq.
- According to the document, a deal was reached two years
ago to present 288 tanks and 112 support vehicles to back up the foreign
policy of King Abdullah, the new king of Jordan. Just before the parliamentary
recess, Mr Hoon decided to give Jordan another 114 main battle tanks and
19 training tanks.
- The document says: "In the interests of making the
most efficient use of public funds, it was particularly desirable for parliamentary
clearance to be achieved by the middle of October. Early clearance would
help to maximise workshop efficiency by allowing transition, without a
break, to the preparation of the proposed package of Challenger Is after
the preparation of the first batch of 288 tanks was completed in the third
week of October.
- It adds: "The department apologises that it did
not prove possible to offer MPs 14 sitting days' notice."
- Last night Mr Campbell said: "This is a particularly
weak explanation for not telling parliament. I shall be pressing for an
explanation from the Foreign Ofice of the impact of these extra tanks in
the present Middle East situation."
- Ann Clwyd, Labour MP for Cynon Valley and a campaigner
for more openness on defence orders, said: "This is outrageous. Here
we have a case where parliament was supposed to be consulted on this gift
and they provide lame excuses why they didn't."
- Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited