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5.32 pm

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North): I wish to show no disrespect to you or to the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I had hoped to be able to open with a brief reference to Mr. Speaker. So as to keep things in order, might I beg a favour from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and ask you to convey my remarks to Mr. Speaker? This is my first speech in the parent Chamber since the summer recess, and I wanted to register formally my congratulations and good wishes to Mr. Speaker, particularly in the week that his canonised predecessor has been appointed by the Roman Curia as the patron saint of politicians. In doing that, I suppose I should invoke support and help from that sanctified gentleman for the speech that I am about to make.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sure that Mr. Speaker would love to receive a letter.

Mr. Cook: In that case, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will have to learn to write.

I begin with an apology for being unable to attend tomorrow's debate because I am required to participate in Brussels in the joint monitoring group of the permanent joint council of NATO. I am sorry about that.

I agree with the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) on a couple of points--no more than a couple. First, I agree that we should change the nature of these debates. I have complained about this before. Each year we have these two-day defence debates, which are rather like a bran tub containing a host of issues that we can pick and mix, dip into and throw out. There is no real main theme. The hon. Gentleman has chosen for his two main themes the two hot potatoes of the day. He is right to do so. The first hot potato is ESDP, and the second is national missile defence. I would dearly love there to be proper debates, with specific motions, on those issues.

For a start, a debate on ESDP would enable the demolition of some of the misrepresentative and distorting statements that have been made today. Moreover, my experience a fortnight ago at the space command centre in Colorado Springs indicates that national missile defence can only become an even hotter potato than it is already, as the intention is to replace the static array at Fylingdales with an X-band radar station.

My constituents live near enough to Fylingdales to be worried about that, especially given the strategic approach known as decapitation. The mission statement says that the X-band radar is supposed to protect the 50 states of America, so a serious attack on the United States would take out its defence systems first. Fylingdales would therefore be hit, as would Thule air base in Greenland and Shemya island in the Pacific.

The better informed we become on this matter, the more sensible will be our ultimate decision. The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green was right to

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say that the alliance will be put to a real test, but I think that ESDP is being developed properly, as the right hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) will confirm. I should like the hon. Gentleman to come to Berlin in a fortnight's time--

Mr. Duncan Smith: I will.

Mr. Cook: Good. The hon. Gentleman will then be able to listen to the debate on these matters in the NATO parliamentary assembly. The picture presented there will be entirely different from that offered to the House this afternoon.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden): My knowledge of the NATO parliamentary assembly leads me to fear that the hon. Gentleman is giving an incorrect impression. There is considerable criticism and unease about the extent to which the European security and defence identity might interfere with the close relationship that we have always enjoyed with the United States through the NATO alliance.

Mr. Cook: I am grateful for that observation, with which I agree entirely. My point was not that there was no unease in the assembly, but that the views represented there would paint a picture that is totally different from that presented this afternoon. There is a positive quest in the assembly to resolve problems that have been depicted today as set in stone. That depiction is not true.

I want to return to my bran tub analogy, as I did not expect to get on this hobby-horse quite so early in my speech. I want to raise a number of issues that I would normally have raised in the Select Committee on Defence. As I am no longer a member of that Committee, I cannot do so, but I am obliged to fulfil promises that I have made to my constituents.

The first point has to do with the Fellowship of the Services, an organisation that meets routinely and regularly in my constituency. Its members travel many miles to meetings, at which attendance averages between 55 and 60. That organisation has made clear to me its resentment that the royal tournament, the Edinburgh tattoo and similar events have come under threat.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is listening intently, for which I am grateful, and I hope that he will consider the matter again. The members of the organisation are fiercely and passionately loyal. They take great pride in their record of service to the Crown, but feel that the regard in which they are held is being diminished. I know that that cannot be true, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to say something to reinforce their confidence.

The second issue, that of the Gurkhas, is one that has been raised by several right hon. and hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Wealden, and it is one that is causing consternation among ex-service men in my constituency and throughout the north-east. I understand that resolution of the problem will probably mean challenging some European employment law. Many people feel strongly that the Gurkhas, who have offered themselves in every era of hostility that the British Army has passed through in heaven knows how long, should be able to come here and work as drivers on a temporary basis. There is a double irony in the fact that while the

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British Army is training drivers for the purposes of fuel delivery contingency plans, we are refusing to allow former members of the British Army--that is what they were--to come here and do a similar job. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to reconsider whether it is possible to resolve any possible problem between the ability of the Gurkhas to come here on a temporary basis and European employment law.

The third issue that I have undertaken to raise, on which other hon. Members agree with me, is an old chestnut of mine--the British Nuclear Tests Veterans Association. Victims of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease are being given a sympathetic ear. We have heard today the Prime Minister give a very sure indication that sympathetic consideration will be given to ex-prisoners of war held by the Japanese.

Dr. Godman: So they should.

Mr. Cook: Indeed. After a long-fought battle, there has been a decent response to victims of Gulf war syndrome. The people who are not getting any sympathy other than a pat on the head and have not received even an apology are those members of the armed forces, both men and women, who were deliberately exposed to radiation at Christmas island, Montebello, Maralinga and Easter island. Some were required in various forms of garb to roll in the dust on the ground at ground-zero after the explosions had occurred. They did that because they had been asked to volunteer. It is always a dangerous game to volunteer in the forces--or in here for that matter. They did so readily and willingly and as such they deserve the same treatment that New Zealanders, Americans and Australians are receiving from their Governments for performing the same tasks. I appeal yet again most urgently to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to take the matter on board, to think about it and to admit that he is thinking about it.

The penultimate issue is another passionate interest of mine. It relates to unexploded ordnance. The House will know that I am the founding chairman of the parliamentary all-party group on land mine eradication. I commend the Government for the work that they have undertaken and the initiatives that they have launched. They are providing an example for many other nations to follow. However, cluster bomblets are not classified as anti-personnel mines. They are a much more insidious threat. As one person explained to me, an anti-personnel mine will rip off a person's arm or leg whereas a cluster bomblet will blow him into several pieces because it is so much more powerful. There are literally millions of those around the world. In Xieng Khouang in Laos, I picked up eight of them in an hour and 10 minutes--only realising afterwards what a fool I had been. However, I felt compelled to do it. A school playground that had been sterilised by them for well over 30 years was needed for the following weekend, so I decided to engage in the clearance--simply relocating the mines so that the Mines Action Group could deal with them. It was pretty stupid of me to do that, but I do not regret it.

I have heard the briefings given at NATO headquarters on its attitude on cluster bomblets. What are my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's views on our approach to those weapons--on their definition and use and on clearing up the areas where they are a major source of contamination?

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I conclude by making several points on arms control that are in keeping with the general attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards the proliferation of small arms.

Four years after the publication of the Scott report, legislation has not been passed on its recommendations. Indications suggest that the Government will not introduce such legislation in next month's Queen's Speech. Current legislation was introduced as an emergency measure in 1939 at the start of the second world war. Despite publishing a White Paper in 1998, the Government have yet to introduce legislation to close the many loopholes in the current outdated and inadequate regime. As a result, they are still not equipped with the formal tools to guarantee that UK arms transfers do not contribute to human rights violations or fuel conflict or to the undermining of development.

We need to control arms brokering--whereby UK suppliers deliver weapons sourced outside the UK and which is carried out through the registration and licensing of deals. At present, there are virtually no controls as long as the goods do not touch UK soil. Even current proposals to ban the brokering of torture equipment and to ban brokering to countries subject to arms embargoes do not go far enough. Evidence suggests that UK-based arms brokers already evade embargoes by supplying arms to such destinations via recipients in neighbouring countries.

On 10 September, The Observer stated:

In addition, there are several countries--such as Colombia--which are not the subject of an embargo, but to which unregulated arms brokering would clearly fuel armed conflict and existing human rights violations.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry stated:

I agree with him. He announced that the Government will close that loophole, and I am pleased about that, but he did not say when. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence answer that question?

We need to establish strict controls on licensed production--whereby a UK company allows its products to be manufactured and sold by an overseas company. That permits further evasions. In December 1999, a Channel 4 "Dispatches" programme revealed that a Turkish company had made Heckler and Koch UK submachine guns under licence. I have no objection to that, but I do object to the fact that it then sold 500 of them to the Indonesian police at the height of the East Timor crisis. That is what is wrong.

We need to examine end-use monitoring. Currently, no formal mechanisms exist for monitoring the use of British defence equipment once it has been exported. On 25 July 1999, the chief of the Indonesian armed forces admitted that a British-made Hawk jet flew over Dili, despite earlier assurances to the Government that Hawk jets

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would not be used in East Timor. Despite that clear breach of end-use assurances, the supply of jets and components has continued. Is that right? Can it go on?

We need tough new legislation. A Gallup poll at the start of the year showed that 87 per cent. of the British public believe that the Government should introduce tighter controls on United Kingdom arms sales as soon as possible--ideally, in the forthcoming Queen's Speech. Failing that, there should be a manifesto commitment to legislate early in the new Parliament. Ironically, at the last arms fair in this country, the Romanians were trying to sell anti-personnel mines. We need much tougher legislation on the control of arms sales in this country.

To control arms brokering, a central database of UK arms brokers should be established and all arms supplies arranged by UK brokers should be subject to the licensed approval of the Government. That is what we have a Government for. We should bring licensed production under the UK arms general export controls. All licensed production should be treated as standard physical arms transfers. The licence determination procedure must be as rigorous as for standard exports. We accidentally discovered the Iranian gun barrels in Cleveland only because they were described as pipework and therefore aroused suspicion.

It is essential to introduce a robust system of monitoring to the end-use of UK arms exports. Suppliers should be responsible for obtaining the verification of delivery from the named end-user and submitting that, within a given time, to the Department of Trade and Industry. All contracts and end-use certificates should require customers never to use their goods for human rights abuses. I know that this sounds like pie in the sky, but we must make efforts to achieve that, and where assurances are broken, contracts should be rendered null and void and further deliveries and repair services cancelled.

The Government also need to promote greater democratic control via a more robust parliamentary scrutiny of arms export licences. They need to adopt a presumption against licensing military equipment for export to countries where they might be used to abuse human rights, fuel conflicts or undermine development. The Government need to seek agreement, within the European Union and internationally, on common controls.

In the light of the great public concern that I detect on these issues, I just hope that the Government will take time to give serious consideration to the possible inclusion of some corrective measures in the forthcoming Queen's Speech.

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