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Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West): Can my hon. Friend tell me whether that power has ever been used?

Nigel Griffiths: Yes. I assure my hon. Friend that the power has been used. It is one of the criteria that I as Minister and my predecessors have taken into account. I will send him the section from the annual report that we produced that shows a number of licences that have been revoked for that purpose. I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to explain that clearly to the House. It is a real power: a power that has been used, not a power that has perhaps lapsed or is ineffective. The key is that the Secretary of State possesses the necessary powers. The Bill itself does not need to include detailed provisions about that matter, and I invite hon. Members not to press the new clause.

New clauses 4 and 6 on prior parliamentary scrutiny provide for the Government to take advice from a parliamentary Select Committee on export licence applications in advance of licensing decisions. The Government's response to the Quadripartite Committee in July this year set out the reasons why we believed that such a system of prior scrutiny would not be right in principle, and could not be made to work in practice without having a significant adverse impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of the export licensing process. The Government have made it clear that they see Parliament's role as one of scrutinising decisions after they have been taken and inputting it into policy, not taking part in the decision-making process itself.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil): I am intrigued by the impact that prior scrutiny would have on the efficiency and good working of the export licence department. My colleagues in the Select Committee on Trade and Industry have considered the matter over the previous two Parliaments and will probably return to the issue in this one. Over the years, we have found it very difficult to see what additional problems could be visited on the poor civil servants in that department. Perhaps my hon. Friend could be explicit as to which sections, which areas and which difficulties are likely to create extra work for those poor civil servants who have been grossly burdened over the years. The fact is that the improvements have increased efficiency. I would like to know how there will be a regression in the service as a consequence of prior scrutiny.

Nigel Griffiths: I would be happy to take my hon. Friend on a tour of the department to give him a number of examples, but to answer his point directly, it is vital that there should be no delays when decisions are taken

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on licences. We have set targets to clear decisions in 20 days, but as he and the House know, consultations will take place, especially on those licences where we are determined to ensure that there is no risk of diversion of end use, where we are determined to avoid an embargo, and indeed where circumstances have changed in the country. We are determined to ensure that the input from colleagues at the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and indeed the Department for International Development are firmly taken into account. Having considered the Quadripartite Committee's evidence, we have concluded that further delays would be introduced. I do not have to tell my hon. Friend about the necessity of convening a Committee and supplying papers to its members so that it could meet to consider them. It is interesting that very few legislatures have any form of prior parliamentary scrutiny. My hon. Friend nods in acknowledgement. I have some criticisms of those that do. It is vital that Parliament has the ability to hold the Government to account and in my remarks I do not mean to underestimate either the concern or the need to ensure that there is proper scrutiny.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): My hon. Friend mentioned other Parliaments. The largest arms exporter in the world is the United States and it has a system of prior scrutiny, which some of us have had an opportunity to study at first hand. If the largest arms exporter in the world does not find it a problem, why should this Government?

Nigel Griffiths: I know that my hon. Friend has real concerns about this. Let me refer her to some of the key briefings that we have had on this matter. One of them freely acknowledges that the United States has prior parliamentary scrutiny, but says that enforcement is ineffective in far too many cases. That is one of the key problems of the American system and anyone who prays it in aid.

We want an effective system and that is why we have taken key decisions in the Bill to ensure that we have the most practical and tough regime. Parliamentary scrutiny at the appropriate stage is important. Our annual reports on strategic export controls have opened up the Government's export licensing policy and brought about unprecedented scrutiny and debate. I know that hon. Members have widely welcomed the reports and that industry and other non-governmental organisations have been complimentary.

I am pleased that the Bill will make the publication of an annual report a statutory requirement. In view of all that, I ask hon. Members not to press their new clauses. For the reasons that I gave, I commend new clause 2 to the House.

Mr. Key: It is not my intention to oppose Government new clause 2, but I need to concentrate on it for a few minutes because it has changed significantly the wording and the Government's message in this legislation. I need to understand exactly what the Government mean.

In Committee, there was an interesting exchange between the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) and the Minister. The hon. Lady said:

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The Minister replied:

That is significant because new clause 2 refers to paragraph 4D of the schedule. Paragraph 4D says that regard shall be had to

New clause 2(2) says

I ask for clarification because there seems to have been a change. In the interests of their legislation, the Government needed to change the wording.

4.15 pm

I drew attention in Committee to the European Union June 2000 agreement on the control of technical assistance related to weapons of mass destruction, and pointed out that it embodied important principles. In paragraph 45 of command paper 5091, technical assistance is defined thus:

The hon. Lady knew that the EU had included people in its documentation and that the Bill, as drafted at that time, did not. However, the new wording seems to include people. If that is so, I warmly welcome the fact, but must therefore assume, unless it is explained otherwise, that that covers the problem of mercenaries.

I perceive that although we signed up to that EU document, there is a gap in the Bill concerning mercenary activity. The Foreign Enlistment Act 1870 prevents British subjects from serving against countries with which the UK is at peace. However, there has been no successful prosecution under that Act since its introduction more than 130 years ago.

The Government's lack of power to regulate mercenaries was demonstrated in December 1989, when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the international convention against the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries. According to the former Foreign Office Minister, the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd), whom I am glad to see in his place, the Government had no plans to sign the convention. In a written answer in 1998, which I do not for one moment expect him to remember, he said:

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Then we had the Legge report on the Government's handling of the situation in Sierra Leone and the activities of Sandline International. At that stage, the Foreign Office promised:

That was in the second report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, session 1998-99, on Sierra Leone, Cmnd. 4325. The Green Paper has yet to emerge.

On 6 April 2001, in a written answer at column 298W, the then Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle), whom I am also delighted to see in his place—I would not for one moment expect him to remember what he said all that time ago either—expressed his regret that the Green Paper expected in November 2000 had not been published.

I then raised the matter with the Home Secretary during a statement on terrorism a few weeks ago. Since then, we have been told that the Foreign Office is making some progress on the matter. On 29 October, the Financial Times reported:

My hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) has received a written answer this afternoon from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that said that progress was being made and that it hopes to have something to report soon.

We all want to address the problem of mercenaries; we are agreed on that. Is this an opportunity for mercenaries to be brought into the scope of the Bill? The Minister was clear in his courteous and detailed explanation why they were not included previously. My sole purpose in raising the question is to get an answer in this debate to the query about mercenaries.

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