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9.24 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): I agree with all the earlier remarks about the Bill being overdue but very welcome. The Select Committee on Defence and the Quadripartite Committee called for such a Bill, but clearly legislation has to be drafted carefully, and we look forward to finding out how it will develop beyond Second Reading. It is crucial to recognise that the Bill brings together various different aspects, some of which are complicated and many of which have been mentioned.

Not only did the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) and I go to Sierra Leone together, but we have a history of competitiveness in such issues that goes back 20 years or more. I agree with him about the right of countries to national defence. I also agree that it would not be helpful to state that no arms sales should take place anywhere and thus that every state, whatever its size, should be encouraged to develop its own indigenous

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armaments industry. Small countries, those threatened by big neighbours and those outside alliances have a right to import weapons to preserve their territorial integrity and their national self-defence, but we cannot and should not have a policy of allowing arms sales to project power, or to try to change the nature of regimes or the balance of power in regions. That is why we need to be cautious.

The terrible situation in Afghanistan today is a direct result of the misguided policies pursued by the Conservative party in this country and the Reagan Administration in the 1980s. Those policies have led to an absolute surfeit of armaments in that region and terrible death and destruction, as well as the imperialist policies pursued by—

Dr. Julian Lewis: Brezhnev.

Mike Gapes: I was getting there—just wait. Those policies were also pursued by the misguided, pre-Gorbachev regime in the Soviet Union.

We need international measures, and clause 4 includes provisions that will take account of the joint action agreed by the European Union. That inestimable organisation has played an important role in co-ordinating European attitudes. Collective European action is important because we shall then perhaps have more weight in international councils when talking to the United States and in trying to persuade the US that it should also co-operate in such issues. It is a bit ironic that the Bush Administration talks about unilateral reductions in its nuclear weapons programme while not being in favour of entering into multilateral international agreements to limit weapons. That is a contradiction, and we must continue to pursue such matters with the American Administration.

My final point is that it is important that the Bill will make provision for extra-territoriality. Without such provisions, we shall not be effective. Reference has been made to Ukrainian arms smuggling, and to the fact that those arms go to the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone through Burkina Faso, and there are similar examples in other parts of the world. If we do not have effective extra-territorial provisions that apply to European Union countries and others, we shall never get to the essence of the problem: the brokers, the dealers and their criminal activities. International action is needed, but we must start with what we can do in this country to strengthen that policy. That is why I very much welcome the Bill.

9.28 pm

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire): I congratulate the Minister on his re-emergence. It is not often that an hon. Member comes from the Back Benches to the Dispatch Box, goes back to Back Benches and then returns to the Dispatch Box, and only time will prove whether that happened by luck or skill, or whether the hon. Gentleman's ability was recognised again. I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) that the phrase "back from the dead" was a little unkind, and the parallel with the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) is hardly one that I should wish to develop.

I had better play safe by declaring an interest, even though I do not think that I have one. As I do not know what the secondary legislation will be, I should declare an interest because I know how paranoid the House is about the issue of interests.

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We have heard a clutch of very good maiden speeches that augur well for the future. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) rightly warmly praised his predecessor, Tom King, for his long and distinguished service to the House. My hon. Friend also rightly spoke about the importance of local industry and touched on the dangers of building on flood plains. That problem is not exclusive to his constituency and it is one that we should adequately and urgently address.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) took the high-risk strategy of praising his football club. That normally produces howls of derision, and it nearly did so in this case, but his remarks fell into place when he mentioned his predecessors, Enoch Powell and Nick Budgen. His speech bodes well for the future and I look forward to his carrying forward the Wolverhampton, South-West policy of individualism. That will regularly get him into hot water, but it will be entertaining for everyone else.

The hon. Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) is unfortunately not present, but I am glad that she was generous to her predecessor, Mo Mowlam. We all had affection for Mo when she was in the House and we still do. The hon. Lady made a positive speech. Although I did not sign up to everything in it, that is the privilege of an uninterrupted maiden speech. I am sure that there will be more to come from that source in the fullness of time.

The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) spoke affectionately of Giles Radice—a Wykehamist, if I remember rightly—and his struggles to try to keep the Labour party away from extremism in the past. We welcome that contribution, too.

I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) to the band of Conservative Members in Hertfordshire of whom I am a humble and insignificant member. I welcome his powerful speech and the tribute that he paid to his predecessor, Bowen Wells—a true friend of mine—and to the work that he did. My hon. Friend's speech led on to the importance of freedom, and that point should be stressed in Committee when the time comes.

Like other Conservative Members, I offer the Bill a warm welcome. The Conservative Government established the Scott inquiry, which, almost five years ago, concluded that our system of controls over defence equipment exports was inefficient and, out of date and should be replaced by modern procedures appropriate to the post cold war era. We accepted that view in July 1996 and welcome the Government's decision to follow that advice. The Bill is necessary.

As Ministers will appreciate, however, we have some specific concerns about the Bill, and I shall mention some today and some in Committee. It is serious and an abuse of parliamentary democracy that we do not have secondary legislation before us while the Bill is being discussed. It is amazing that we shall go into Committee in a mad rush a week tomorrow and the chances are that we shall not have the secondary legislation before us then.

Secondary legislation will make up the teeth of the Bill. We will not know how it will work or what it will do until we see it. We are signing up blind and that is a serious error and a slap in the face for the Quadripartite

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Committee, which strongly recommended that the details of the secondary legislation should be in place even before the Bill was debated on Second Reading.

The Minister may argue that the rush to Second Reading and into Committee is the result of the Government's wish to show good intent to the United States Government in line with the memorandum of understanding that was signed by the Secretary of State for Defence. However, if that argument is used, I merely point out to the Government that the past four years would have been better spent working out the secondary legislation than worrying about other "vital" matters such as the future of hunting. I wish that we had the secondary legislation so that we could discuss it.

The Secretary of State came to the House with many warm words, but it was a lot of spin and not much substance. She produced distressing examples of what weaponry can do, and the House sympathises with those cases. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) agreed that they were serious and sad, but when he asked about British involvement, an answer was not forthcoming. The right hon. Lady made a virtue of the fact that the response to the Quadripartite Committee's report was announced this morning, but it is not good enough to produce it just before a Second Reading debate on the subject. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) made that point effectively and forcefully.

The Secretary of State told us how clause 5 will bring controls to brokering and trafficking. I hope that it does, but she was a tad short of the details on how it will work. No doubt it would be embarrassing to give those without referring to the secondary legislation. The right hon. Lady mentioned that the Defence Manufacturers Association welcomes the Bill, but she omitted to follow up its concerns and those of other organisations about the bureaucracy, increased costs and practical operation of the Bill. I hate to support the Liberal Democrats, but the Secretary of State definitely dodged the question that the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) asked about how brokers with a UK passport who operate abroad might be tackled. We heard nothing on that. The right hon. Lady also said that clauses 2 and 4 will stop electronic transmissions, but again she was short on the detail of how they will do so.

I am not able to address all the points that were made—they were, in the main, pertinent and relevant—but if I had to sum up the debate I would say that it was sincere. There was not too much political posturing and the views were genuinely held. I pay tribute to the House for that.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) referred to the importance of industry. That has even wider implications because we might be facing a manufacturing recession. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling made the broader point that, unless we are careful, our actions could have an impact on university research programmes, on whose intellectual information we rely to drive the nation forward. He also gave a powerful example to drive home the difficulties of forcing aspects of the Bill on overseas companies. The right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) raised Oxfam's concerns, which I hope the Minister will address.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot rightly said that the 1939 Act has not done too badly for the past 61 or 62 years, but that it is in need of modernisation. He

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also spoke of the importance of defence in creating a country that is secure from external attack. If one accepts that that is the first duty of any Administration in any country, then it is a powerful argument in defence of our defence industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) correctly emphasised the delay in the delivery of the Bill. The remark,

was apposite at that time with regard to Labour Members. I support what he said about enforcement. I hope that the Committee will have a short time to discuss that.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East rightly drew attention to the lack of secondary legislation to guide our affairs and reinforced the Oxfam and NGO arguments that were introduced by the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston.

It is difficult in a short time accurately to set out the Opposition's view and our concerns. We share the Secretary of State's view that the existing controls on the physical export of defence equipment are no longer appropriate, but I do not subscribe to the view that the Government have a good record of operating those controls. They have failed to meet their targets for processing 70 per cent. of standard individual export licence applications within 20 days: last year, the figure was only 57 per cent. Their record on appeals has been described in the Chamber as even worse.

Defence manufacturers have expressed their concerns, and they told me last week that some applications have taken between two and a half and three years to be processed: that is unacceptable by any standards. The costs have had to be absorbed by manufacturers. Other organisations that sell equipment overseas have been subject to such delays. I declare an interest in the machine tool industry, in which companies that make equipment have suffered from delays in the handling of licences.

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