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17. Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin): What military action Her Majesty's forces engaged in during June over Iraq; and if he will make a statement. [1199]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): During June, coalition aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones came under attack from the Iraqi air defence system on more than 80 occasions. They responded in self-defence against elements of that system on six of those occasions. The House should note Iraqi claims that some 23 people lost their lives on 19 June during a football match in the town of Tal Afar. On that day, coalition aircraft were certainly fired on by a range of

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systems, including anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles, but there was no coalition self-defence response on that day. We believe that the incident was the result of an Iraqi missile falling back to the ground.

Mr. Galloway: Of course I accept my right hon. Friend's unequivocal and categoric assurance that the 23 young people who were killed on that killing field that had been a football field were not killed by British or American forces. However, they are dead, and their families are in mourning. Will my right hon. Friend not reflect with me—and, more importantly, with former supporters of the no-fly zone policy, such as Liberal Democrat Members and, even more significantly, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, from whose territory those missions were flown—that the no-fly zone operations are becoming part of the problem rather than the solution, and that those 23 victims have to be added to the long melancholy list of victims of war and sanctions in Iraq? Would it not be better to pause for reflection on whether the no-fly zones should be suspended?

Mr. Hoon: I might feel a little more confident about my hon. Friend's assertion if he had raised the matter directly with Saddam Hussein, who is responsible for those 23 deaths, and who has inflicted on his own people the horrors that we are seeking to prevent by patrolling in the no-fly zones. I commend my hon. Friend for his concern about those deaths, but that concern would have been much strengthened if he had raised the matter directly with Saddam Hussein.

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Point of Order

3.33 pm

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that, over the weekend, 164 police officers were injured in Bradford. You will also be aware that the Home Secretary said that he is actively considering the use of water cannon and tear gas. Have you received any indication as to whether he will make a statement in the House this week?

Mr. Speaker: I do know that the Home Secretary is very aware of the deep concern in the House.

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Orders of the Day

Export Control Bill

[Relevant documents: The Seventh Report from the Defence Committee, the Seventh Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Sixth Report from the International Development Committee and the Eleventh Report from the Trade and Industry Committee, Session 2000–01, on the Draft Export Control and Non-Proliferation Bill, printed jointly as HC 445.]

Order for Second Reading read.

3.34 pm

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

As hon. Members will know, the Queen's Speech set out a programme of reform and renewal in this country: to extend opportunity for all to reach their full potential, and provide excellent schools and hospitals for all. As we build a future here for our people in Britain, we shall not ignore our international responsibilities: to reduce poverty, promote sustainable development and reduce conflict.

That is what the Export Control Bill is about. It is about people like Fatima, the young girl in Sierra Leone who saw her son shot dead in 1997, along with many others in her village. It is also about people such as Mute-garu-gori, who had to watch her mother and father being killed by soldiers in Rwanda, and three-year-old M'penzi, whose parents were killed in the dawn attack on her village in north-east Congo. She was shot in the shoulder and foot, but survived. Those are just a few examples of the people who suffer when guns get into the wrong hands. Illicit gun running and unregulated arms brokering contribute to the suffering and death of children, adult civilians and whole communities around the world. When we consider the Bill, therefore, let us remember what it will mean to people throughout the world.

The Bill introduces new powers to control the arms trade and also greater democratic accountability for the exercise of those powers. The defence industry here in the United Kingdom employs thousands of workers. It is an important part of our manufacturing base and exports are vital to it. Responsible and legitimate trade in arms, together with our own defence efforts, can ensure security and peace for people around the world. Our exports are other people's defence procurement. They help people to keep the peace by deterring aggression, and when that fails, they help them to defend themselves.

Of course, we also know that there is a dark and unacceptable side to the arms trade: the irresponsible—and indeed immoral—trafficking and brokering of arms to conflict zones and areas of instability. The Bill enables us to ensure that Britain cannot be used as a base for an illicit trade that causes so much suffering. It will ensure that Britain has one of the most effective and comprehensive export control regimes in the world.

The legislation that governs our exports is the Import, Export and Customs Powers (Defence) Act 1939.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): Will the Secretary of State give us some evidence to show that Britain is used as a base for such illegal weapons trafficking? On what evidence are her assertions based?

Ms Hewitt: I think that all hon. Members must be aware of the serious danger of weaponry that is made in

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Britain for legitimate purposes being used abroad for illegitimate ends, as has happened before. All hon. Members will be aware of the danger of equipment or arms that have been licensed for legitimate use none the less ending up in the hands of illegitimate arms traffickers and repressive regimes. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has read the very full report that the Government publish annually on our licensing decisions. It deals with the very tough controls that we have already imposed to ensure that the illicit use of weapons does not arise.

Mr. Howarth rose

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) rose

Ms Hewitt: I have given way on that point, and I should like to make a little more progress before I give way again.

The legislation that governs the export of weapons and related technology has not fundamentally changed since it was introduced at the start of the second world war. The report by Sir Richard Scott—or Lord Scott, as he is now—on defence-related exports to Iraq highlighted the faults of that legislation and called for change. The Bill is the result of the thorough and comprehensive review of legislation for which the Scott report called. The 1998 White Paper on strategic export controls invited views on proposals for a new, more accountable and more modern legislative framework. Earlier this year, we published a draft Bill for further consultation, so hon. Members, non-governmental organisations and business had the opportunity to comment on a draft version before the Bill was formally presented to the House.

We listened to what people had to say and have made a number of important changes. In particular, we decided in the light of responses to the White Paper to introduce a general licensing system for arms trafficking and brokering, as well as our original proposals for controls to allow us to prohibit trafficking and brokering both to embargoed destinations and in relation to torture equipment.

Hon. Members have made a valuable and expert contribution to the review process. We have been greatly helped by the work of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, which published a report in December 1998 on the White Paper. We have also been helped by the Quadripartite Committee, which so helpfully reported on the draft Bill soon after it was published. Our response to the Quadripartite Committee's report was published this morning. We made some changes to the draft Bill in response to the report. As the Committee requested, the Bill makes it clear that licensing decisions should have regard to the purposes that are set out in the Bill. We have revised the schedule that outlines the purposes to make it absolutely clear that export controls can be imposed when there is a risk of internal conflict.

Mr. Bercow: I warmly congratulate the Secretary of State on her appointment. Given that the Government are far short of achieving their objective of processing 70 per cent. of standard individual export licence applications in 20 working days—a matter of continuing and widespread anxiety to companies—will the right hon. Lady confirm

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that the Bill's honourable objectives will not be achieved at the cost of continuing delay and therefore expense to commercial enterprises?

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