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Mr. Bercow: Will the Secretary of State give way?
Ms Hewitt: No, I want to make progress. I have already given way many times.
Clause 2 will give us important powers to control the transfer of technology, including by electronic means. That will end the anomaly that has arisen whereby people need a licence to export paper instructions on how to make a weapon, but are entirely free to send the same information by e-mail. We shall use the powers in clauses 2 and 4 to introduce controls to prevent the transfer of technology or the provision of technical assistance that could help in the development of weapons of mass destruction.
Clause 7 provides for the introduction of tough penalties for export control offences by raising the maximum seven years' imprisonment to 10. Clause 6 will introduce a new power to require exporters to provide information on goods that are to be exported under licences. We need such powers to enable us effectively to fulfil international obligations, including our annual return to the United Nations register of conventional arms. The Bill will provide us with the powers that we need to meet our international obligations and our national commitments.
As I told my hon. Friends earlier, however, the Bill will also ensure that the Government are accountable to Parliament for the use of these new powers. First, in clause 3 we have established the purposes for which export control orders can be made, and they are set out in the schedule. Secondly, clause 12 provides for parliamentary scrutiny of secondary legislation to be made under the Bill. The purposes for which export controls can be imposed include, crucially, meeting our international obligations and our obligations to the EU.
The Bill will allow controls to be imposed to counter risks to national security, peace and stability anywhere in the world and the risk of goods being used for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, internal repression, and human rights abuses or serious crime and terrorism.
Mr. Bercow: Will the Secretary of State give way?
Ms Hewitt: One more time to the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Bercow: I am exceptionally grateful to the Secretary of State, because she has been extremely generous in giving way.
The Secretary of State talks about parliamentary scrutiny, but does she not accept that, on preliminary perusal, clause 12(4) appears to provide for the application of the affirmative procedure and thus to offer an entitlement to parliamentary debate in respect of orders made under clauses 6 and 11, although the negative procedure will apply in respect of no fewer than five other clauses? That means, in simple terms, that Members of Parliament will be denied the opportunity to debate those important matters. Does she sign up to that in every particular?
Ms Hewitt: As the hon. Gentleman himself says, the crucial measures in respect of which orders may be made will indeed be subject to the affirmative procedure, but I am sure that the point as to whether the affirmative or the negative procedure should apply to other measures will be dealt with in detail in Committee.
We make it clear in clause 8 that the consolidated national and European criteria announced to the House last October remain the basis for licensing decisions. In the Bill, we bind ourselves to abide by the guidance published by me, and by subsequent Secretaries of State, including those consolidated criteria. That is a crucial point when it comes to any possible judicial review, and also crucial to effective parliamentary accountability.
We have ensured, in clause 9, that the Government will publish an annual report on export controls. In its response to the White Paper, Oxfam suggested that publication of the annual reportwhich this Government introducedshould be enshrined in law. We agree, and the Bill therefore requires Government to submit a report to Parliament every year.
The Bill also provides for control of the export of objects of cultural interest, and replaces the current provisions on the subject contained in the Import, Export and Customs Powers (Defence) Act. The proposals have rightly been welcomed by the art trade.
The Bill builds on a number of steps that we have already taken to develop a responsible, accountable framework for trade in arms. First, we have already presented the most open report on arms exports produced by any European nation. In 1997, we published the criteria against which licensing decisions are made. Since 1999, we have voluntarily laid orders under the 1939 Act before Parliament, and we have published increasingly full annual reports on strategic export controls. Secondly, we have taken action to ban the manufacture of and trade in land mines, and we have banned the export of torture equipment.
Thirdly, we have reached an unprecedented agreement in the European Union on a code of conduct enabling any member state to object if another member state takes up an arms order which has been rejected under the code. That is a crucial provision, ensuring that the approach we take here in Britain will be reinforced by other member states. For the first time, the countries of the European Union have all agreed to abide by similar standards when assessing licences for arms exports.
The Bill will help to ensure that the United Kingdom plays its part as effectively as it can in making the world a safer place. At the same time, it provides a clear, accountable framework for legitimate business, and for our defence industry. I commend it to the House.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): I start by declaring any relevant interests. I do not think I have any as such, but the Bill is drawn so widely that almost any commercial interest may be relevant, so for safety's sake I draw the House's attention to the Register of Members' Interests.
The House should welcome a Bill that defines the controls that should be placed on exports of defence equipment and related goods, and brings the whole subject within the scope of parliamentary scrutiny. The Import, Export and Customs Powers (Defence) Act 1939 on which successive Governments have relied since the second world war, is clearly inadequate and inappropriate, although it was confirmed and extended in 1990 with the agreement of the then Opposition.
Although the aims of the Bill in that respect are welcome, however, I must qualify the welcome heavily after reading it. In truth, it is little more than an enabling
The Quadripartite Committee, which brought together the Select Committees on Defence, on Foreign Affairs, on International Development and on Trade and Industry, recommended that the Government publish the secondary legislation, in draft form, before the House was asked to give the Bill a Second Reading. That is in the Committee's report published on 1 May this year. I very much regretI expect that the Select Committee members share that regretthat the Government have refused to do that. In truth, therefore, we are being asked to consider a Bill that we have not really seen yet.
Much worse is the fact that the Government have responded to the report only today. Moreover, at a quick reading, they seem not to have satisfied the report's requirements and recommendations. It really is scandalous that, today, the Government have rushed out a very late response to a series of very good Select Committee reports. That is treating the House with considerable contempt. Hon. Members seeking to speak in this debate will not have had a real opportunity to examine the Government's views. It would also have been a courtesy if the Government had supplied an advance copy of the document to those who they knew would be speaking, such as me.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): My right hon. Friend's concerns about our inability to know what will be in the secondary legislation are shared by the Saferworld organisation, which is perhaps not usually associated with our part of the political spectrum. In its briefing document, it said:
It is not as though the Government have not had plenty of time. They published a White Paper on the subject in 1998, but then they did nothing. That omission, too, was critically reported on by the Select Committee to which I have referred, when it expressed its dismay at the Government's failure to introduce earlier legislation.
We all remember that, in 1996, the current Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) worked himself up into a lather of self-righteous indignation about the Scott report. However, when he was in office and able to do something about export controls, he simply sat on the subject. It is only now, in another Parliament, that the Government are introducing the necessary legislation. It is yet another example of all words and no delivery.