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Dual-purpose items are another aspect of the debate. Turkey, for example, has a licence to make Land Rover vehicles. Most people think that Land Rovers can do anything, but they may not appreciate that the vehicles have a dual purpose as a weapons base. If we had a problem with Turkey, how could we revoke that licence? Turkey is a NATO member and has many other ties to the United Kingdom. Would the Government be able to revoke its licence? The Minister may be able to sort out the issue, but I do not think that he can. I think that he will discover that the United Kingdom would be placed under enormous pressure by Land Rover and those using those vehicles to continue the licence. I believe that some of the new clauses in this group would provide for greater scrutiny in granting overseas licences. One cannot license a dual-purpose piece of kit in one way and then revoke the licence in another. For the House not to have the chance to scrutinise such matters is a great shame. We should be able to do so.
Ann Clwyd: This afternoon, I have listened to a lot of sensible comment and heard a lot of nonsense as well. I do not see where the export of art comes into the Billperhaps I have missed something. Hon. Members: "It is there". Oh is it? I find it strange that art comes into an arms export Bill. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister can explain.
I rise in the spirit of assisting the Bill and the Minister. All of us who served on the Quadripartite Committeewe expect to do so in futureheard all the arguments over a period of months. With my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil (Mr. O'Neill), I visited Sweden and the United States. We were less impressed by the Swedish system of
For many years, I sat in the Chamber listening to arguments in support of the export of arms to Iraq. If the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) had been a Member of Parliament at the time, he would have been as frustrated as many of us here today were then. We knew that exporting arms to Iraq in the 1980s and through to 1991 was a ridiculous thing to doeveryone knew the political and human rights situation in that country. I strongly believe that if Parliament had been given the opportunity to vote on the export of those arms, they would never have been exported.
Wisdom does not rest solely in Whitehall. My hon. Friend the Minister should see that our suggestion might serve him in future as a means of getting himself off the hook. All Governments make mistakes selling arms to certain countriesLabour Governments are no exception. Under the Conservative Government, the great scandal was the sale of arms to Iraq at a time when all informed Members knew that the regime could not and should not be sustained.
Forty Back-Bench Members drawn from all three major parties served on the Quadripartite Committee, which encompassed four Committees, as the House knows. After months of careful examination and visits to two countries that operate a system of prior scrutiny, they concluded unanimously that it was both possible and highly desirable to establish a system of prior parliamentary scrutiny in this country. It is worth noting that the Quadripartite Committee included former Defence Ministers.
Initially, we were disappointed by the negative response from the four Secretaries of State, but when the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), appeared before the CommitteeI think it was at his last appearancehe said that the Government were listening and that there was an open door. He gave us the strong impression that the Government would support our recommendation. We took on board some of his concerns and objections and in March we offered a refined proposal to the Government. That is the background to the amendment.
The introduction of prior scrutiny would enhance ministerial accountability and would improve the system of checks and balances in the arms export licensing regime. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) mentioned Indonesia. I was much involved in questioning the Conservative Government on the export of arms to Indonesia. They ignored human rights abuses that were taking place in East Timor, Jakarta, Aceh, Irian Jaya and many provinces of Indonesia. There was the attempt by East Timor to assert itself as a separate country.
Despite the repeated assurances that were given to the UK Government over the years that UK-supplied equipment would not be used in East Timor, of course it was used. It was used in the water cannons that were used on the streets of Jakarta to spray the students who were demonstrating with red dye so that they could
As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood said, the Government continued to supply spare parts. I remember well a conversation with the then Foreign Secretary, when we asked what his reasons were. He said that he had legal opinion. We also had legal opinion, and the opinions did not coincide. We have never had sight of the then Foreign Secretary's legal opinion, as my hon. Friend said, not even in the Select Committee. We believe that that opinion could have been challenged. If it had gone to some form of judicial review, the Government would have been in a spot of bother.
One of the powers of the United States is the ability to pull the plugs at any time. I am pleased to hear the Minister say that it is possible to revoke licences if circumstances change. However, would anyone in the House now be sending arms to Israel, for example? If Members had been asked whether they would agree to send arms to Israel, I do not believe that more than a handful would have agreed that it was a good idea. Nevertheless, two export licences were issued for components for combat helicopters and related technology to Israel in 19992000. Two open individual export licences are currently in force for the same equipment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ochil mentioned the objections that the Government had to prior scrutiny. The legal advice that we have had is clear. It is that there is no constitutional impediment to prevent Parliament legislating so as to give itself a role in scrutinising arms export licences. Sub-delegation of the decision-making function need not be an issue as long as explicit reference is made in the Bill to the fact that such a role would be advisory only. The wording in new clause 6 is careful. It makes it clear that the role will be advisory only.
Much progress has been made in opening up the UK export licensing system to parliamentary and public oversight. However, it is entirely retrospective; it is taking place after licences have been granted. There is obviously a role for a parliamentary Committee to scrutinise export licensing decisions before they are granted so as to provide advice to Ministers in difficult cases.
We are talking of only a few contentious licences, not 12,000. We are talking of perhaps 80 to 100 in a year, and perhaps even fewer. The Government spelt out their objections to the first report of the Quadripartite Committee, but they subsequently moved the goalposts. They objected to a certain aspect of the recommendations, but when we responded, the goalposts were moved again. Many of my hon. Friends have knocked the question of commercial confidentiality on the head. We are constantly shown commercially confidential material; it has not leaked from the Quadripartite Committee, for example. Representatives of the defence industry have admitted that commercial sensitivities typically concern pricing data and detailed technical specifications. Beyond requiring information on approximate value, where there are concerns about impacts on sustainable development, that type or level of information would be largely irrelevant to a Select Committee giving prior scrutiny to contentious arms licences.
If prior scrutiny causes undue delays, as some argue, as well as damage to the defence industry and harm to bilateral relations, why do the United States Government not feel that it is an issue? As I said earlier, the United States is the largest arms exporter in the world. Whatever the presidency, it is mindful of its defence industry, bilateral relations and operating efficiently. If prior scrutiny is not a problem for the United States or Sweden, I do not understand why it should be a problem for us. I hope that, in due courseperhaps even tonightthe Minister will clarify his reasons for believing that the United Kingdom is a special case.