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6.39 pm

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech in this debate.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) on his first contribution to the House. I had to confess to him that, until the other week, I had never been to Wolverhampton, but I feel that I have learned a lot about it in the past few weeks and as a result of hearing that speech. I am sorry to say, though, that I do not think that I will be giving up my summer holidays to visit my hon. Friend's home town.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) on his speech. I know that he has very strong ties with the north-east of England. I am glad that he has finally found a berth in Somerset, having unsuccessfully fought several election campaigns in the north-east.

Standing for election and being elected to the House is both humbling and a proud moment in one's life. I should like to thank the people of North Durham for giving me

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the opportunity to represent them in the House, and I give today a clear commitment to repay the trust that they have put in me.

I follow into the House Giles Radice, a man of great courage and integrity who, in the 28 years that he served here, was respected by all in the House. When my party was facing its darkest days, in the early 1980s, Giles was one those few who fought for the survival of our party, not because—as he will admit—he was born into it, but because he passionately believed in it. He saw it as the only political party that could give a voice to those who had no voice, and right the wrongs that he saw in society. Like me, before entering the House he worked for the GMB—in his days, the GMW—an organisation with which he maintained close links, acting as chair of the parliamentary GMB group. He was proud of that association, a pride which I share.

Giles Radice was never one to say something just because it was the right thing to say. I am confident that, over the coming years, we shall be hearing much from him from the Benches in the other place. Giles is a passionate European, and I share some of that passion, but a few weeks ago I had the nerve to tell him that he was taking his support for the single European currency a little far by naming his new dog Euro. It conjures up some great images. I can see it now—my right hon. and noble Friend, in carpet slippers and dressing gown late at night at home in Grantham, shouting, "Come in, Euro! Come in Euro! That's a good boy," obviously to the great distress of his Conservative neighbours. I trust that he and his wife, Lisanne, will enjoy a long, happy and active retirement. On a personal note, I look forward to his continued counsel for many years to come.

The Chester-Le-Street part of my constituency holds a unique place in the history of my party, having returned a Labour Member to the House continually since 1906. Even at the disastrous election of 1931, when Labour returned fewer than 50 Members nationally, Chester- Le-Street remained loyal to the Labour party.

Chester-Le-Street is only one part of North Durham, the other major town being Stanley. My constituency is rural. The two major centres of population that I have mentioned are supplemented by numerous villages: Sacriston, Tantobie, Tanfield, Beamish, Bournmour, Lumley, Pelton, Craghead and Ouston, all former mining communities.

I noted from Giles Radice's maiden speech to the House in 1973 that there were five pits in the constituency then. Alas, today there is only one, at the Beamish open air industrial museum, to remind people of the days when my constituency formed part of the mighty Durham coalfield. The mines may have gone, but there is still a proud sense of tradition across the constituency and, sadly, a legacy of those who still suffer from crippling industrial diseases, which blight their old age.

My constituency must also be unique in having a place—a village, in fact—called No Place. It is located on the road between Chester-Le-Street and Stanley. I have asked numerous times how it got its name—or did not get its name—but alas, nobody has yet come up with a good explanation. Likewise, between Tantobie and Stanley is the charmingly named community of Sleepy Valley.

On being elected, I was asked how I would sum up my constituency in social and economic terms. The phrase that I used then, and will use now, is that it is a rural

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constituency with urban problems. I have described my constituency's mining tradition. Its decline was long; it began in the 1960s and was brought to an abrupt end in the 1980s by the action of the Conservative party. That decline, with the closure of the Consett iron works and the downsizing of the Royal Ordnance plant at Birtley, brought about a community where hope on the jobs front had disappeared and young men and women had no sense of their place in the world.

I have spoken about the traditions of my constituency and the hard times that it has been through, but there are signs of recovery and the rebuilding of communities, and unemployment is falling for the first time in a generation.

In Craghead, a community that lost its pit in the 1960s and its clothing factory in the 1980s, is leading the way in community regeneration. The Craghead partnership, formed in 1996 by local people, is making a real difference. With the support of funding from the lottery, Europe and the single regeneration budget, Craghead has a new village hall. Modern, with internet access, it is becoming a focal point for young and old in the village. The project, along with countless others, aims to involve everyone. Tribute must be paid to the energy of local people and their local councillors, Janice Docherty and Garry Reed, and to former county councillor Lennie James, for their hard work and commitment to their community. I know that such commitment, and the measures in the Gracious Speech, will make a real difference to constituencies like mine.

I speak today in a debate on the control of arms. I come from a region whose wealth at the beginning of the last century was founded on the production of arms and armaments. There was a time when the mighty Armstrong works on the Scotswood road and the yards of the Tyne supplied the world's arms. Today, the industry is smaller and more diverse but remains important to the economy of the north-east. The northern defence initiative alone has 80 companies in the region, and estimates that 250 other companies in the region depend on defence-related work, adding about £500 million a year to the regional economy.

The industry has also become more diverse. The best example in the region must be the House of Hardy in Alnwick, Northumberland, producer of fine fishing rods but now also producing aerials for military radio equipment. Many of these companies rely on exports. SAFT, in South Shields, which employs constituents of mine, produces batteries, 15 per cent. of which are exported for military use.

The measures in the Bill set out clearly a framework for the regulation of arms and defence-related exports. Many, rightly, like me, call for regulation but recognise the importance of the defence industry to regions such as the north-east. The Bill, long awaited, gets the balance right. It is about setting out the ground rules for the first time, thereby enabling companies in the north-east and elsewhere to tender for overseas contracts while meeting the high ethical standards that the public of today demand.

I thank the House for listening to me tonight. I look forward in the coming years to contributing to the work and debates of the House and championing the cause of my constituency and that of the north-east.

6.49 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) and I congratulate him most warmly on an excellent

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maiden speech—I am sure that the whole House will echo that view. He follows a distinguished and hugely civilised predecessor; it will be no easy act to follow. His predecessor is a splendid chap, although of course hopelessly Euro-fanatical. I am not at all surprised that he called his dog Euro. Of course, the difficulty may be that the Prime Minister has aspirations to kick the issue into the long grass. I hope that the same fate does not befall Lord Radice's dog.

The hon. Gentleman not only paid tribute to his distinguished predecessor and his long and distinguished service to the House, but made interesting comments about his constituency. I can tell him that I experienced the same difficulties with coal mine closures when I served as Member for Cannock and Burntwood. I do not want to make a partisan point, but the previous Government in particular and no doubt this Government also have sought to ease the transition from coal mining to other activities in such constituencies.

Hon. Members will be interested to know that so much defence activity goes on in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. We have regular defence debates in the House, and I see the Leader of the House in his place. I can tell him that even though we had many defence debates in the last Session of the previous Parliament, we have not exhausted the matter, so we look forward to another debate in due course. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will contribute to it.

Like the hon. Gentleman, I, too, have constituency defence interests. Indeed, they very much dominate. BAE Systems, which was formerly known as British Aerospace, has its headquarters in my constituency. It is the world's third largest defence contractor and is a massive, hugely successful organisation that employs people of great skill throughout the United Kingdom. BAE is represented in many constituencies, so many Members are keen both to know what it is up to and to represent the concerns of their constituents who work for the company. Indeed, 80 per cent. of its production goes to export. Of course, Airbus accounts for a large part of that, although its defence activities are also extremely important.

What was known as the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency has its headquarters in my constituency, although it has assumed a new name—QinetiQ, which carries no "u"—as it is about to be privatised. It has been at the forefront not only of developing defence equipment for the United Kingdom and undertaking splendid research but of applying defence equipment to civilian uses. We were all interested to hear that Hardy fishing rods are finding a military use as aerials. That is an example of civilian industry spilling over into the defence industry, and I am sure that Sir John Chisholm of QinetiQ will take note.

The Bill will replace the Import, Export and Customs Powers (Defence) Act but I am bound to say that the latter does not seem to have done too badly over 62 years, given that it was introduced as an emergency measure and that large chunks of it are to remain on the statute book. In addressing the issue, we must acknowledge not only that there has been a defence export licensing system in this country—listening to some commentators, one gets the impression that no such system was available at all—but that, overall, it has worked pretty well.

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I criticise those who suggest that previous Governments, particularly the Conservative Government, were cavalier in approving export licences for defence equipment. Successive Governments have always taken a keen interest in ensuring that we have a proper licensing system and it is clearly not in the interest of any Government for equipment manufactured in the UK to end up in the hands of our enemies and be turned on our own forces wherever in the world they are called to serve their country. Clearly, that would be monstrous, and successive Governments have always tried to prevent it from happening.

After the Scott report and the Matrix Churchill scandal, however, it seems that everybody is agreed that we need to update the 1939 legislation. I understand that, but it is important to recognise that the Bill contains draconian powers. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat–Amory) said, it is an enabling measure and we do not have the secondary legislation before us. As the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) rightly pointed out, it appears that it will not be available for scrutiny by the House until half way through consideration of the Bill in Committee. That is a scandal, and I hope that the Leader of the House will take note of my remarks.

Conservative Members often complain that we are unable properly to scrutinise legislation, but as the Leader of the House is new to his post, I hope that he will take on board the criticisms made not only from these Benches, but from the Liberal Benches. Given that the Bill is so dependent on the detail of the secondary legislation, it is unacceptable that it is to be made available to the Committee only half way through its deliberations, following the summer recess. Perhaps the Leader of the House will bear those points in mind, as he will be asked about them at business questions.

We are debating Second Reading, but the Secretary of State herself and other hon. Members have failed adequately to answer the concern that I have raised throughout the debate—namely, that no evidence appears to have been produced that British citizens are acting irresponsibly in promoting illegal trafficking in weapons, thereby adding to the human misery in domestic conflicts around the world.

The Liberals have referred to a couple of companies in the debate, but everybody else has been talking about the AK47 Kalashnikov and similar small arms, which are not manufactured in the United Kingdom. I am not aware that great supplies of the SA80 or other British equipment are ending up in the appalling conflicts that are taking place around the world, so it is important to produce evidence of abuse by British companies or British individuals to justify the acquisition of the extensive powers proposed in the Bill.

The Secretary of State referred to tragic examples of children caught up in horrific conflicts, citing Sierra Leone, the Balkans, Rwanda and a host of places around the world where atrocities are taking place, but no one has suggested that weapons produced in the UK have fallen into the hands of those terrorists.

I want to make it clear that I support the concept of licensing. However, although I am not enough of a libertarian to believe that there is no need for licensing, there is also a moral case for defence exports. It is easy to be pejorative about the arms trade, and newspaper

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headlines about people engaged in nefarious activity often refer to arms dealers, thereby implying that there is something disreputable about that activity. I refer generally to the defence industries, because it is important to recognise the contribution that our defence industry makes to the United Kingdom.

I shall set out five key points as to why I believe that defence exports are morally sound. I have called them the Masefield five, as a tribute to Sir Charles Masefield. After a distinguished career with British Aerospace, he served with even more distinction as head of defence export sales. He has now returned to BAE.

The first key point is that article 51 of the UN charter upholds the right of every nation to acquire defence equipment to protect itself. That is the most fundamental of human rights. I believe that, in pursuance of article 51, it is entirely right and proper that we should assist those nations around the world that we consider to be our friends, because that helps them to defend themselves against invasion. It also helps us to cement relationships with countries with which we want to do business.

Let me cite an example: Saudi Arabia. The biggest defence contract ever signed in the United Kingdom was the Al Yamamah contract, signed by the British and Saudi Governments. That contract helped to bring the United Kingdom and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia together, and as a result of the relationship we were able to rely on an Arab state to support our endeavours to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi invasion. Who knows? If we had not had that relationship with Saudi Arabia, those land bases might have been denied us and we might have been unable to liberate Kuwait.

Clearly, there are risks. Governments can change, and the assessment of the stability of the Government of a country to which we export defence equipment is a key consideration. Nevertheless, we will not always get it right; inevitably, on occasion we will get it wrong. The argument in favour of British military exports to Iraq was based on a wish to overcome an imbalance whereby Iran seemed more threatening than Iraq—but I will not go into that history, especially as the Father of the House is not present. Mine would probably not be a very fruitful argument.

As I think was mentioned earlier, the Argentines deployed Exocets against us, which were supplied by the French.

My second key point in favour of defence exports is that exporting defence equipment is the best guarantee of peace and stability. That follows from my first point. Being weak, Kuwait could not defend itself, and became vulnerable to attack from Iraq. If it had had a stronger defence of its own, it would have been able to deter Iraq.

There are some safeguards. We sold Hawk aircraft to Zimbabwe. We control the supply of spares for those aircraft. I do not think there are 60,000 parts in a Hawk aircraft, as there are in the F16, but there may well be: it certainly contains thousands of parts. Anyway, we are able to exert some influence over Zimbabwe, if only a modicum. In the case of other countries engaged in exporting their particular brand of tyranny, I think that the ability to withhold the supply of spares is advantageous.

My third point is a particularly important one, which I think we must all bear in mind. Defence exports enable us to produce economies of scale in the production of our own equipment for our own services. If we did not have

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longer production runs, we would not be able to buy British for our armed forces. The idea that the United Kingdom should not supply its own equipment—tanks, aircraft or warships—to its own services would land us in very hot water with the British people. I think that they expect us, especially as a nation that has this ability, to manufacture equipment for our own purposes, and for our own forces. Unless we can secure longer production runs, however, we shall not be able to afford to buy that equipment from our own factories, because the unit costs will be prohibitive. There will be pressure on us to buy off the shelf, from overseas.

Moreover, by buying equipment in the United Kingdom and maintaining economies of scale, we maintain our ability to compete technologically, to keep up our scientific advances, and not to become dependent on other nations. That in itself helps to secure the defence of the United Kingdom.

Fourthly, as has been mentioned, jobs are involved. There are some 400,000 jobs in the defence industries, which sustain families throughout the United Kingdom. I believe those who work in the defence industries to be honourable. We have noted the implicit criticism that they do not care what they do, and are impervious to some of the atrocities being perpetrated around the world. That is an outrageous suggestion: they are honourable and decent people. They not only provide the United Kingdom with its defence, but enable us to help the defence of our allies.

Manufacturing industry faces a severe difficulty. It is already in recession, and I think that we have now seen two successive quarters of falling output, which is the official definition of a recession. We should avoid landing them with further burdens at this time. The Defence Manufacturers Association has already expressed concern about the additional burdens that the Bill threatens to impose on it. It is incumbent on the Government to make it clear that they do not intend to impose intolerable burdens on business.

Fifthly, we have competitors. Although, as has been pointed out, Britain is the world's second largest defence exporter, there are those competitors, and I suspect that they are infinitely less scrupulous than we are. We must not lose sight of the need to protect our own industry, and ensure that comparable actions are taken in other countries engaged in defence exports.

BAE Systems has written to a number of us. Its representative wrote to me:

That is an extremely important point which the Government must take on board.

I suspect that industry is, to an extent, inhibited in respect of whatever criticisms it wants to make of the Bill, given that so many defence companies rely on the British Government as their principal customer. I suspect that the criticisms, or concerns, that we may have heard are of a muted nature.

Let me conclude my five key points by drawing attention to what the Ministry of Defence has said. According to the MOD, it is estimated that, without export markets, the British defence industrial base would be less than half its current size, with a loss not only of jobs but technological capability.

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Mention has been made of the role of the Liberal party. The hon. Members for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) and for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) were candid enough to say that they were in favour of scrapping Export Credits Guarantee Department support for defence exports. I hope that all Conservative candidates and Conservative MPs in the country—and, indeed, Labour MPs and Labour candidates—whose constituencies contain substantial military facilities, including manufacturing plants, will note the Liberal policy, which is to cut the ground from under their feet. If the Liberals had their way, when those businesses were competing against the French, the Americans or others, they would not benefit from British Government support, and would be seriously disadvantaged in a highly competitive world. We would thus lose the value of defence exports, and all the benefits that I have described.

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