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7.55 pm

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): I add my sincere congratulations to those already offered to the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) on a thoughtful and confident maiden speech. I wish him well for the future.

The debate has been most interesting. It takes place on the first day of the UN conference in New York on the reduction of global trade in small arms. I share the dismay expressed by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) that the American delegation will scupper any decision on that trade—mainly owing to the influence and pressure exerted by the National Rifle Association in the US in upholding the principle of the right to bear arms and so on. That casts a dark shadow over that important conference.

Understandably, much of our debate has been about small arms. However, after the Dunblane massacre, when we in this place rightly and swiftly brought in strict controls, it is distasteful that the UK remains happy to be a major manufacturer and exporter of those items that were so urgently and correctly banned.

I welcome the Bill. It will tighten the UK's export control system, although perhaps not enough. In that respect, the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) made a thoughtful and thought-provoking speech from the standpoint of considerable experience. We all know the consequences of the indiscriminate use of weapons: we see refugees displaced by civil war and genocide, and we see the peril that our relief personnel experience daily. In today's wars, most of the people killed are civilians and almost half of those casualties are children. Directly or indirectly, conflict causes and aggravates poverty.

Given the importance of the Bill, it is surprising that it has taken more than five years, since the publication of the Scott inquiry into the arms to Iraq scandal, for the measure to come before the House. I am pleased that the Bill has been introduced, but it has taken a long time. As other speakers have noted, primary legislation on the subject has not been introduced since 1939, and the Scott inquiry amply showed the shortcomings of current legislation.

In the meantime, the Government have—to their credit—introduced more stringent controls. The export of land mines and torture equipment has been banned. We talk about end-use certificates—was there ever a moral justification for the production and export of torture equipment? Could there ever be such a justification? The answer is no. That is only common sense. It is disgusting to think that the UK was involved in such trade. However, the Government have introduced a ban on such exports and also on the granting of export licences when there is patent evidence of human rights abuses. Of course that, too, is welcome—as is the fact that the UK has signed up to the European Union code of conduct.

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However, we have seen many disgraceful examples of the misuse of the arms control system in the UK since Labour came to power. That shows that much more must be done, not only by strengthening the system through this Bill but by further intervention. In the first eight months of the Labour Government, 31 per cent. of UK arms export licences were issued to conflict-vulnerable societies. In January 2000, it was revealed that spare parts for Hawk fighter jets were being sold to Zimbabwe. Those planes were being used by that country in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In her opening remarks, the Secretary of State referred to the injuries of people in the Congo. The Zimbabwean presence there is playing a major part in keeping the conflict alive—and, of course, Zimbabwe is not known for its human rights record, even within its own borders. At about the same time, the premature lifting of the arms embargo on Indonesia led to Hawk aircraft being sold to Indonesia when armed militias were still hounding the East Timorese. All that took place while a purported ethical foreign policy was being followed. Those examples show that the current system of scrutiny is not adequate. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have mentioned the need for pre-scrutiny by Parliament, and I add my voice to theirs.

It was reported in the Official Report of 23 January 1997, that an export licence granted for six water cannon to Indonesia included "associated equipment". Parliamentary questioning eventually revealed that the "associated equipment" was 310 armoured personnel carriers. That is rather disturbing, and those answers would obviously not have been given if those questions had not been asked, so there is a need for better scrutiny and far better transparency.

Plaid Cymru has long sought to draw attention to the ethnic cleansing of Tamils and the many stories of extra-judicial killings by the police and armed forces in Sri Lanka. During 1997 alone, 67 export licences were granted for the sale of military equipment to Sri Lanka, rendering it the fourth most popular destination for UK arms that year. Yes, Britain is one of the top exporters of military equipment in the world. That gives me no pleasure, any more than it does the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). Britain has between 20 and 25 per cent. of the world market. That trade contributes £203 million a year to the United Kingdom economy. However, the industry receives Government subsidies worth £431 million. According to my mathematical interpretation, it makes no economic or ethical sense to pursue such an agenda.

The Export Credits Guarantee Department guarantees that moneys are paid in respect of such exports. The aim is to break even, but any shortfall comes from taxpayers' pockets. The arms companies need export credit guarantees—without them, many arms deals would be too risky for the companies concerned and would not happen. In 1999, the then Foreign Secretary instigated a review of the ECGD to find out how it could better contribute to sustainable development. The review concluded that cover for military projects in the 63 poorest countries would not be extended. That was a step in the right direction but it did not go far enough. I should like the ECGD to withdraw its support from all military exports, as Liberal Democrat Members have suggested. It is also something about which some Labour Members are concerned.

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The problem is that those exports are often to the very poorest of countries, which can least afford them and which, in effect, least need them. No one would argue with the right to bear arms in self-defence, nor with the right to provide arms where they are strictly necessary to defend countries that come under seige. Only an idiot would say that that is not right, but far too many of those arms are being supplied to countries in which civil wars are being fought. That is unjustified. Arms are going in by the back door as well, and Britain is contributing by producing those arms.

Early-day motion 191 was tabled during the 1999–2000 Session, and I am proud to say that a Plaid Cymru Member and Scottish National party Member were two of the six sponsors. It was signed by 120 Members, some of whom are in the Chamber this evening. That shows that the view it expressed had considerable support.

The sale of arms often diverts money from much-needed civil projects, which takes money away from funds that could contribute to sustainable development. The schedule to the draft Bill detailed the purposes for which export controls can be imposed and included a section referring to sustainable development. That provision has been removed, seemingly without explanation. That is surprising, bearing in mind the fact that the Secretary of State referred to sustainable development when she opened the debate. It is unfortunate that those words have disappeared from the schedule, and I hope that, in winding-up the debate, the Minister will explain why that very important principle disappeared from the Bill. I also hope that those important words will be reintroduced in Committee.

I should also like to refer briefly to tied aid. I welcome the fact that the Government have committed themselves to getting rid of that practice. Many of the recommendations of the Scott inquiry have been incorporated into the Bill, but several hon. Members have voiced the genuine concern that too much is being left to secondary legislation. The Quadripartite Committee has called this a mainly enabling Bill, as much of the substance will be in the secondary legislation. Of course, the devil will be in the detail, making it hard to judge the real impact that the Bill will have. No doubt things will become a little clearer in Committee, but it is difficult to have as full a debate as we would like on Second Reading. I am very disappointed that the Government's response to the Quadripartite Committee report was not published until today. Surely parliamentary business should not be conducted in that way on such an important issue.

One of the loopholes in the Bill is that it does not seem as though end-use controls will be tightened. I know that there is a substantial problem, but if we do not attempt to solve it, we shall do nothing at all. That is patently obvious. It is also obvious that the current system of end-use certificates is easily abused. To get a licence to export from the United Kingdom, a company must give the Government an end-use certificate, naming the importer of the weapons and the uses to which they will be put. In theory, that sounds good; in practice, it has proved utterly worthless. Apparently, it is easy to get an end-use certificate, and no one checks how the arms are

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used when they leave the United Kingdom. We need a follow-up monitoring and inspection system. I hope that that important issue will be tackled in Committee.

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