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Mr. Berry: It would help the House if the hon. Gentleman gave his personal opinion on each issue. Does he endorse the views of the NGOs or is he simply reading out their brief?

Dr. Lewis: I am happy to give my view; that is precisely my intention. I urge the hon. Gentleman to contain his impatience. He may be pleasantly surprised to find that I have more sympathy with some proposals than he would perhaps expect, having heard the reference to me by the hon. Member for Cynon Valley.

The NGOs say that they are concerned about the effect on sustainable development, but I have less sympathy with that than with the first point to which I referred. If a country has a fundamentally democratic regime, it should have the right to make what decisions it thinks best regarding its own priorities. If a fundamentally democratic regime in a poor country fears that it is in danger of being overthrown and that the regime that will replace it will be massively detrimental to the country's future, I would argue that that Government should have the right to decide whether to spend a proportion of the national wealth on importing weapons to defend itself against subversion or incursion. It is up to such a democratic Government to decide; it is not for us to make the decision for them, on the grounds that we know better than a democratic Government in a poor country what they should be doing to safeguard their country's future.

That proposition is very different from the common ground that I suspect exists between the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) and me on the question of not

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allowing arms sales to undesirable regimes. Such regimes are covered by other aspects of what is proposed. I do not consider it right for a western Government such as ours to second-guess the priorities of a respectable Government in a struggling country that is trying to develop, but also trying to protect itself.

Mike Gapes: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Lewis: I will, but then I must make some progress.

Mike Gapes: Let us suppose that two countries have elected Governments, but are also engaged in a long-standing territorial dispute. Exporting weapons into the area could inflame the regional conflict and lead to its continuation, and that might fuel an arms race in the region.

Dr. Lewis: I do not accept the premise. I was talking about countries with representative democratic Governments, albeit perhaps rudimentary ones. I believe that we learn this lesson from history: when two countries have Governments of that sort, such circumstances seldom arise in the first place.

Mike Gapes rose

Dr. Lewis: I must make some progress. I realise that the hon. Gentleman does not accept my point, but we must leave it at that for the moment. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will make a speech of his own later.

We do not usually find Governments who are broadly representative and broadly democratic racing to war with one another. That is certainly true of developed societies, and I would also argue that it is more likely than not to apply in developing countries as well.

The NGOs' third concern is the one that I mentioned briefly in an intervention. It relates to end-use certificates, and whether they can be followed up through monitoring. On the whole, I agree with recommendations suggesting that more needs to be done. It will probably not be possible ever to follow up more than a tiny fraction of these abuses, but I do not accept the argument that just because the whole problem cannot be solved, a sanction should not be provided to make an example of those who can be caught abusing the system. I note that the hon. Member for Kingswood indicates assent. I am delighted to have reached across the divide in the House on this issue.

The NGOs also have a strong case in regard to something that I have not heard mentioned in the parts of the debate that I have been privileged to attend. I am sorry that mine has not been a continuous presence. I refer to the question of whether British airlines that transport goods that we would ban, and that would be covered by the legislation, will have any responsibility for the transport of illicit goods and strategic weapon exports, or whether they will be able to say, "What goes into the packing cases in our cargo holds is not a matter for us." I should be grateful if the Minister would tell us whether those who transport the weapons will be affected by the secondary legislation.

As for prior parliamentary scrutiny of specific licence applications, I must say that I am inclined to sympathise with the Government. They have stated at various stages

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of the process that it would involve such difficult questions of commercial confidentiality and competitive disadvantage that it is probably impracticable—but I am happy to leave them to fight that out with their own Back Benchers.

Are these measures enforceable? We have seen from what little legislation has been placed before the House that, if someone can be caught in breach of the law as it will be in the future, that person will now face a maximum of 10 rather than seven years in jail. However, I should like to know who will enforce the electronic interception provisions, for example. Indeed, who will address the oral communications issue, which is mentioned in the legislation itself?

Although the controls provided in the Bill are massively lacking in detail and substance, they are enormously wide-ranging in scope. I shall briefly survey a few of them. Clause 1(1) deals with

Clause 2(1) deals with

Clause 2(5) states:

Although it is easy to conceive of such an offence being committed, it is enormously difficult to conceive of such an offence being prevented or detected and punished.

Clause 4(1) deals with

Clause 5(1) deals with

That is what we are talking about in relation to trafficking and brokering overseas.

As I said, those are fascinating goals and worthy ideals. However, we want to know whether they will make good legislation. To make it good legislation, what precisely do the Government propose to do about all those matters that they wish to control? I ask the Minister what opportunities we shall have to examine in detail the specific provisions being proposed to make those mostly worthy aims into practicable realities.

I believe that a few little nuggets in the legislation are sufficiently specific to be worth singling out for praise. Clause 6(1), on information, is well worth while in requiring anyone involved in activities potentially subject to control to keep records as specified in the order, to produce them when demanded, and to give such other information as required.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: I am becoming increasingly alarmed as my hon. Friend reads out the litany of draconian powers that the Bill confers on Ministers. What provisions does he think the secondary legislation might contain to flesh out some of those quite fearsome powers? They make me feel that I should be voting against the Bill.

Dr. Lewis: My hon. Friend is making my point for me. It is possible for us to look at the Bill and for me to take

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one interpretation that encourages me to support it and for him to take another that encourages him to oppose it. As I said, none of us will be in a position to know what to say about the legislation until we see what the Government are proposing to do.

I doubt that it could be argued that many of the proposals are more draconian in principle than the 1939 legislation which they supersede. After all, that was emergency legislation introduced on the eve of war. The question is how the overarching new structure will be applied in practice. Will it be applied too tightly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) fears, or will it be applied so loosely that it will be subject to the very criticisms that the 1939 legislation attracted when the Scott report was published?

There are essential problems of practicality and gaps in our knowledge. There is a bit of a hidden agenda among some Labour Back Benchers who seem more concerned with getting at the arms industry as a whole than with achieving anything very effective for the countries concerned. Sometimes the export of arms is a necessary development to allow countries to preserve their emerging democratic systems.

With the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), I had the sobering experience of visiting Sierra Leone and seeing at first hand the effects of atrocities carried out not with high-tech weapons but with machetes. Only last week, I was reminded of that visit by a radio programme recorded in Sierra Leone that talked about the irony of the fact that in one part of the country large dumps of small arms that had been captured or handed in were being destroyed, while Britain was sending new small arms to the Sierra Leone army precisely in order to reinforce stability and underpin the democracy that we hope will be permanently restored.

We need to think not only about arms but about the people who have them. Weapons are not in themselves bad: what matters is the use to which they are put. I do not believe that it is right for a poor, struggling democratic system to be denied the arms that it needs to defend itself against insurgents, just because it is poor.

I was ashamed of my own party's conduct in the early 1990s, because when moderate Bosnian Muslims were suffering so greatly and the Governments of western Europe and NATO were not prepared to do anything about it, we also refused to allow arms to go to those people to allow them to protect themselves and their families. The then Conservative Foreign Secretary—to whom we are always supposed to genuflect and who is often quoted by Ministers as though every word that he ever says, especially on Europe, should be carved in stone—said that we did not want to arm or to allow to be armed the Bosnian Muslims because we did not want to create "a level killing field".

If there is not a level killing field, there is an uneven killing field, where those who are doing the killing can do it with impunity. That is why, when making decisions about arms sales, it is not enough to say that arms going to a certain destination are automatically a bad thing. Sometimes, arms are necessary to deter, to defend or to liberate. We know a lot about that, because this country made mistakes in the past, disarming when we should not have done so.

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I welcome the Bill's broad principles, but I do not want it to become a cudgel with which those who always hate anything to do with armaments, defence or force, even in the cause of democracy, can belabour those of us who believe in their necessity.

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