|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Ms Hewitt: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. Like him, I am worried about the delays and our failure to meet the target for dealing with all the applications on time. However, I am sure that he acknowledges that some of the applications raise complex and difficult issues on which a careful judgment must be made. On the one hand, we must not interfere with proper and legitimate business and thus impose unnecessary or unjustified costs on British business. On the other, we must not risk the prospect of arms and technology that have been developed and manufactured here ending up in the hands of repressive regimes, which will use them against their own people. The hon. Gentleman would want to ensure that those judgments were made properly. We shall do everything possible to speed up decision making, but we shall not risk making wrong decisions.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): In the light of the Secretary of State's reply to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), will she outline the extent of the parliamentary scrutiny of individual licences that she envisages before they are granted?
Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend raises a matter that was of considerable concern to the Quadripartite Committee. It is important to draw a distinction between accountability to Parliament for the orders that will be made under the BillI shall revert to that laterand accountability for the individual decisions on export licences. As I suggested earlier, we have already prepared a much fuller report on the detail of the applications and the reasons for granting or refusing them. That allows for parliamentary scrutiny and accountability, which, as my hon. Friend would acknowledge, was never available under the Conservative Administration.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): We shall revert to the subject of parliamentary scrutiny during the debate. However, the scrutiny that my right hon. Friend is considering is retrospective, whereas the Committee proposed that scrutiny should take place before contentious licences are agreed.
Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend makes an important point and I understand precisely the nature of the scrutiny for which she asks. Lord Scott made it clear in his evidence to the Committee that some serious constitutional issuesimpropriety, evenwere involved in confusing the proper roles of the Executive and the legislature and handing over decisions on individual applications, which should properly be made by Ministers, to a parliamentary Committee. I share my hon. Friend's view, however, that proper accountability is essential. Part of the purpose of the Bill and the detailed annual report, which we have already begun to publish, is to allow more effective parliamentary scrutiny and accountability.
The Bill responds to Lord Scott's key recommendations for new legislation by setting out in primary legislation the purposes for which orders imposing export controls can be made, and providing for effective parliamentary scrutiny of those orders. It will strengthen and improve the effectiveness of strategic export controls, introducing
The Bill does provide for wide powers on export controls, which will enable us to meet our international obligations on arms controls, and to respond to changing circumstances and new technology. At the same time, as I emphasised, the Bill gives Parliament more control, to protect against any possible abuse of these powers.
Jeremy Corbyn: Some of us are very concerned about the sale of arms and what happens to them. I ask my right hon. Friend to help me with an example. In the case of an unfortunate arms sale to Morocco that has been agreed by the Government, it is quite clear that the only reason Morocco would want any of those arms is to pursue a war against the Polisario, when one would hope that there is to be a United Nations-sponsored referendum to bring about peace in the western Sahara. I submit to my right hon. Friend that, had there been parliamentary scrutiny of that export licence before it was granted, it would never have been granted, because many people would have been able to make the perfectly legitimate point that we were in danger of arming one side in a conflict that we wished would not happen.
Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. I believe that we are all agreed on the purposes for which we want to license and, in appropriate cases, to limit and prevent the export of arms. We are bound to return to the specific example that my hon. Friend gives during the debate and in Committee. However, as I said, the annual report that we are publishing on these matters and all such applications gives Members of the House far more information on the basis of which to understand the system of export licensing that we are putting in place. Moreover, the system of purposes for export control enshrined in the Bill, and the consolidated national and European criteria, state the precise criteria that we shall continue to take into account when taking these individual decisions.
Perhaps I may say a little more about the specific provisions of the Bill. Under present legislative provision, individuals and companies need a licence to export arms, but they do not need a licence to broker and traffic in arms. That simply cannot be right, so clause 5 provides comprehensive new powers to introduce controls on United Kingdom involvement in trade between overseas countries in goods that are subject to export controls.
We shall use those powers, first, to introduce a new licensing requirement for trafficking and brokering in weapons and related equipment; and secondly, to control trafficking and brokering of arms to embargoed destinations. We shall also use those powers to ban the trafficking and brokering of torture equipment. These measures together will allow us to prohibit the supply of weapons to regions of conflict, while of course continuing to allow legitimate trade by British defence companies.
Ms Hewitt: If the hon. Gentleman writes to me with the details of that case, I will of course look into it. I should say that on at least one previous occasion, when a problem of that kind was raised with me, I found that the company had not provided the necessary information in time for us to take a timely decision. That may or may not be the case in relation to the company that the hon. Gentleman mentions.
Ms Hewitt: We made clear in the White Paper, the draft Bill and the manifesto on which we have just been re-elected our determination to deal with the problem of illicit brokering and trafficking. The specific point that the hon. Lady raises involves complex enforcement issues, and we shall continue to consider the matter as we develop the secondary legislation that will be introduced under the Bill.
Mr. Howarth: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way, but I must press her on that point. She owes it to Parliament and to the country at large and defence industries in particularin spirit, they sympathise with the Government's objectivesto give examples of how British-manufactured equipment is getting into the hands of people who are using it unscrupulously; and to identify those British nationals who are engaged in that illegal and quite disgraceful traffic.