Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): Why was the Bill turned upside down as a result of our worries? Why did my hon. Friend not respond by simply reinserting "sustainable development" in the schedule, which is where it was in the draft Bill?
Nigel Griffiths: That was discussed fully in the House of Lords. "Sustainable development" is now on the face of the Bill, which is what was recommended by my hon. Friend and others. We think that that is the right place for it, as does Lord Scott, who did not want it to be in the schedule.
Let me now explain why the Government believe the House should agree to the Government amendment to Lords amendment No. 17 and oppose amendment No. 1. The Government's original amendment, represented by amendment (a), introduced important changes. We proposed to make the reference to sustainable development explicit by including the text in amendment (a). The fact that that addition to the Bill has much more than merely symbolic significance is demonstrated by the Government's proposal to amend the Bill to say that future Secretaries of State must give guidance about
Nigel Griffiths: The Lords amendment opens up an unfortunate loophole in terms of what its consequences would be, which I will come to in a moment, if my hon. Friend will bear with me. I will give way to him again if he wishes to pursue the point.
Liberal Democrat Members were concerned that the words in the amendment "if any" might allow a future Government simply to decide to ignore such important issues as sustainable development when considering export licence applications. I do not share their concern, but I do share their aim, which is why we tabled our original amendment.
The hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) may still have some concerns. Perhaps he will still assert, as his colleagues in the House of Lords have asserted, that the Government's wording would allow a future Government simply to ignore relevant sustainable development issues. That is not so. I can assure the House that under the Government's original proposal, now represented by amendment (a), it would not be possible
Ann Clwyd: Since my hon. Friend prays Lord Scott in aid, does he also agree that Lord Scott is in favour of prior parliamentary scrutiny, a matter that the Government have obviously turned their face against?
Nigel Griffiths: I am not sure that it is quite as straightforward as my hon. Friend states. Unfortunately, this debate is not about prior parliamentary scrutiny. I believe that measures on that were not ruled by the Speaker to be competent for debate today.
I have explained to the Opposition, and it was explained to the Opposition in the House of Lords, not only that their concern on this issue was unnecessary, but that what they have proposed instead would be profoundly damaging. Let me explain that in the light of the question that was put to me earlier.
In the House of Lords, it was explained that under the EU code of conduct and under the UK's consolidated criteria on arms exports, the Government have pledged that the criteriaI quote from the criteria here
All Governments need to be able to take justifiablemy emphasis on the word "justifiable" is deliberatedecisions that there is no need for sustainable development or indeed any of the other schedule consequences to be considered in certain cases. I believe that it is common ground in the House today that there are export licensing cases where it would not be relevant or appropriate to consider sustainable development: for example, the export of a single military vehicle to a developed country such as Canada. The same would be true of any relevant consequences. For example, it would not be relevant or appropriate to consider the regional stability implications of the export of a single parachute to France. I assure the House that even exports of single items still require consideration if the export is of licensable goods.
The effect of the Liberal Democrat amendments would be to impose a straitjacket on the administrative regime, forcing Government Departments to give some consideration to sustainable development and to every single schedule table implication of every single export, no matter how irrelevant certain implications might be either to individual exports or to categories of exports.
Norman Lamb (North Norfolk): Is it not the case that if the Government have their way, all they will have to do is consider the issue of sustainable development and, if they see fit, reject that criteria and move ahead to grant an export licence? Has that not happened under the
Nigel Griffiths: It is not true to say that Ministers could take a cursory look at sustainable development issues and then move on to grant a licence, or not, as the case may be. They must consider sustainable development implications and show that they have done so if there is any future inquiry or appeal against a decision. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman has accurately summed up how this matter will be handled.
Mr. Berry: I am trying to get to grips with why the Lords amendments should be changed. They refer specifically to guidance stating that regard should be had to issues relating to sustainable development. Why could not that guidance specifically exclude, for example, certain exports to certain countries? I do not see what is wrong with the Lords amendments at all if the guidance is appropriate.
Nigel Griffiths: Let me clarify it for my hon. Friend. Earlier, I mentioned a loophole; I should have made it clear that the amendments would make it impossible for the Government to give effect to certain international agreements according to their actual terms. These are the even more serious and damaging effects of the amendments, which would impose a brand new duty on the Government that could conflict with the Government's existing commitmentgiven to this House and to our European partnersto consider all strategic export licence applications against the consolidated criteria. This new duty would also take precedence over the EU code of conduct on arms exports, thus potentially requiring us to take an approach to licensing decisions within the UK different from that adopted in the rest of the EU.
Nigel Griffiths: Sustainable development is fairly clearly set out in our documents and is detailed in the annual report in terms of any licences that are granted or refused. There is no secret about how the Government analyse and assess sustainable development. The problem that we have with the amendments is that they would give us the obligation of a higher legal status than the consolidated criteria and the EU code. That would put us out of step with our EU partners and possibly make it impossible for the UK to abide by the EU code. That is the effect of amendments Nos. 1 and 17, unamended.
Tony Worthington: I was interested to hear the Minister's response to the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge). He said that what sustainable development would mean would be clear from the occasions when sustainable development was the ground
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): Surely the acid test for the Bill, and for the efficacy of the various amendments, is simply this: is the Minister saying that, under the Bill as it stands, the Tanzanian air traffic control system export would not happen again?