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9.9 pm

Roger Casale (Wimbledon): I wish to begin by welcoming my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths) back to the Front Bench. His return illustrates the sound principle, which should have wide application, that one cannot keep a good man down for long. Although I was unable to be in my place for some of the maiden speeches, which—as we have heard—were excellent, I congratulate my hon. Friends and other hon. Members who made their maiden speeches today on choosing this debate in which to do so.

I am in favour of the Bill for three main reasons. The first is that there is an obvious, urgent and practical need for tighter arms control measures. Secondly, I want to see Britain leading the way on arms exports, as the Bill demonstrates that we are doing. Thirdly, the Bill is built on recommendations in the Scott report and, ever since that report was published, there has been a political imperative to introduce such measures.

On the practical need for reform, we must recognise that the legitimate arms trade can ensure security and peace in certain areas, but we must also recognise that the unscrupulous trafficking of arms to conflict zones in areas of instability contributes to the terrible account of human suffering and the destruction of communities and lives that occurs especially when conflicts are fuelled by the presence of small arms. The Government recognise that and the Opposition seemed to recognise it during the debate. The non-governmental organisations recognise it and have pushed for reform. Even the Defence Manufacturers Association seems to recognise that, but it is only now that the Bill will introduce the practical measures of control that we need on the types of equipment, their destinations and modes of transfer. It will also introduce much stiffer penalties for export control offenders. Let us hope that the measures will see more of those offenders brought to book.

The Bill is overdue in an increasingly unstable and dangerous world. It has taken time to act, but we have been engaged in detailed and comprehensive reviews of the existing system. In the meantime, we have introduced several other important measures, including the EU code of conduct on arms exports, in which we had a leading role.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): I agree with my hon. Friend about the terrible toll from small arms. The United Nations' estimate is that some 4 million people—80 per cent. of them women and children—have died because of illegal small arms just since 1990. Does my hon. Friend agree that that requires not only our national action but international action, and is he concerned at reports that the Bush regime may block the UN agreement on small arms?

Roger Casale: I am extremely concerned about what might happen to the initiative that Kofi Annan has taken and what may happen at the conference starting today in New York. The Secretary-General said that small arms

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have been responsible for 4 million deaths in 46 different countries since 1990 and it is worrying that initiatives to control small arms may be blocked because of the US Government's threatened failure to co-operate. That is why it is so important that Britain is seen to be leading the way on arms exports.

We have some remarkable NGOs in this country. Some were mentioned by the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) and I would mention organisations such as Oxfam and Amnesty International, which have campaigned for arms reduction. We can represent their views in the House and Members from both sides can say they agree with those views, but the Bill is proof that a Labour Government are able to act on those views and introduce new export control measures. The values that underpin the passion for change in those NGOs are deeply felt by many decent people who understand the case for arms reform and want that pressure for reform translated into practical action. That is why it is so important to have the commitment from the Government to make those reforms and to push to see them replicated by other countries.

The Bill is also important because of the legacy of the Scott report. The former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), is not in his place, but I read the report of proceedings on the Scott report in preparation for my speech. After an investigation lasting three years, my right hon. Friend was given three hours to prepare what was a searing attack on the whole decrepit system. Although my right hon. Friend made attacks on individual Ministers—especially those who ordered civil servants not to blame them, so that they could blame the civil servants—he also made attacks that went to the heart of a system of government that was decrepit, failing and embedded in the culture of secrecy. That is what the Bill is seeking to tear away. No longer are we plagued with the central charges of the Scott report—that the Government of the day had changed the rules on arms exports and repeatedly failed to admit that to Parliament and to the courts. Let us hope that such behaviour will no longer be possible under the Bill.

We ask why people feel disengaged from politics and do not trust their political leaders. Perhaps we should go back to the days of the Scott report and see what happened then.

I echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) that we need to set the debate in a wider context. Broad and important questions need to be answered—they are beginning to be addressed by measures such as this—about who should adjudicate between human rights considerations and matters of trade and foreign policy; who can best decide whether the nation's defence interests will be served or whether an unstable situation in a given conflict area will be made worse by allowing a particular export of arms to go ahead. It remains for the Government to decide on those important issues, but they must be held to account for their decisions. That is the purpose of the Bill.

This measure, and others like it, must work to make the Government more accountable in the difficult balance that must be struck between competing considerations and concerns. Let us build on the principles of openness and transparency that are anchored in the Bill. Let us not hesitate in redoubling our resolve to see this measure

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replicated in other countries around the world. Let us not be deterred for one moment by the lukewarm, rather grudging, acceptance by the Opposition, who seem to understand the practical need for the Bill without conceding the principle. Let us resolve to implement the measure quickly, because I want to see more convictions, and because to hesitate will cost lives and weaken international resolve.

This is a good Bill which helps this country take a further step in seeking to tame, in part, the worst excesses of a world in which too many lives are still cut short needlessly by weapons made, brokered and/or trafficked by citizens of the United Kingdom. I commend the measure to the House.

9.17 pm

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South): I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths), to the Front Bench and wish him success. I also warmly welcome the Bill, which I do not believe will place needless regulation on business. Indeed, I have been thoroughly disappointed and disheartened by the way in which Opposition Members have stressed how those in the defence industry object to the Bill or believe that it could undermine them. I have not received such a postbag, and have noticed in the press that the Defence Manufacturers Association fully supports the Government's efforts to replace the existing legislation. It warmly welcomes the fact that the Government are introducing controls to reduce, if not eliminate, the activities of brokers and traffickers. So I wish to start my remarks on that positive note.

I see the Bill as an important step, as many right hon. and hon. Members have stated, towards closing the loopholes in the arms trade. I am delighted that Oxfam and the Red Cross have made similar statements. In fact, with other NGOs, they have stated that they are particularly pleased with the Government's determination to control the activities of brokers and traffickers.

The detail of the Bill makes a commitment to overhaul and modernise the legislative framework governing strategic export controls. That is long overdue. As the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) said in her impassioned speech, women and children throughout the world who have spoken to her have asked for one thing only—for controls that will give them the opportunity to live in their lands in peace. The Bill is one small but significant step along that road.

I am delighted that the Bill incorporates so many of the recommendations of the Scott report. Again and again, the report emphasised the need for increased transparency and accountability in export controls. That is clearly provided in the Bill.

Furthermore, the Bill introduces new powers to control arms trafficking and brokering. Clause 5 is most important because it introduces powers to control intangible technology transfers and the provision of technical assistance overseas. We are beginning to take measures that will persuasively lead other Governments along the road that they should travel to achieve control over the illegal trafficking of guns.

When we pick up our newspapers, we read again and again of the stark and unappetising results of gun trafficking. Today, a report in The Guardian described the

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aplomb of Leonid Minin who is reputed to be a millionaire gunrunner and has, apparently, recently delivered 113 tonnes of small arms from his native Ukraine to west Africa. We know exactly what will result. Although everyone in the House would say, "But we're British, we wouldn't do that", we know that if there are profits to be made, there will always be someone unscrupulous enough to make them.

Leonid Minin is being prosecuted by an Italian court and may be convicted. However, what is not reported is the straight fact that the trade in small arms is the scourge of sub-Saharan Africa. That trade entrenches unscrupulous regimes in power. It arms legions of child soldiers—at present, it is believed that there are 120,000 such young soldiers. The trade fuels insurrection and civil war. It is high time that we realised what those unscrupulous gunrunners are doing.

Africa-watchers say that gun running could rank with the AIDS epidemic or debt as one of the most debilitating factors hampering Africa's development. This measure is one small step. It begins to give us the belief that we can ensure security and peace for some people—hopefully all people—across the world. A responsible and legitimate arms trade is the crucial key to ensuring security and peace.

Many hon. Members have spoken about the current United Nations conference on the illicit trade in small arms. Many have referred to the fact that the President of the United States is evidently persuading his delegation to block the main proposal. It is extremely disheartening that the gun lobby in such a large country—one of our partners, which I cherish as part of NATO—should want to take that stand. It is an outrage and I hope that we are all prepared to make it clear to our American friends that it is wholly unacceptable. Of course, the reports may be wrong. Perhaps the conference will not end up with an empty statement of intent, but with something that is more legally binding.

In this place, we shall end up with something that is legally binding. We shall take positive action because we shall ensure that the Bill receives its Second Reading and that it is successful. We shall start to establish a responsible, transparent and accountable system of export controls—a regime that the world will applaud. I hope that it will achieve the peace that many, many of us dearly seek. I warmly welcome the Bill.

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