Export Control Bill

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Mr. Gerald Howarth: It would be unfortunate if the hon. Gentleman were inadvertently to mislead others about the position of the Conservative party on the Bill. It is not that we consider it hasty in the sense that it was part of the Gracious Speech. It is over-hasty in the sense that the Government are seeking to rush it through in four or five days of sittings in Committee, divided by the parliamentary recess, when the real meat of the Bill—in the words of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable)—is in the orders, which have not been laid before the House.

The Chairman: Order. Before the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) resumes his speech, I would like to draw his mind back to the amendment under discussion.

Mr. Savidge: I stand corrected.

In drafting the amendments that I have tabled, I have been influenced by the concerns expressed by various non-governmental organisations although, to pick up on a remark by the hon. Member for Aldershot, I would not claim to fit his description of the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge): the NGOs' representative on earth. I notice, from reading the NGOs' statements, that they welcome not only the Bill, but the Government's attitude to the matter since 1997. They also welcome the opportunities for consultation that the Government have given.

The amendment expresses one of several residual concerns. It is largely a probing amendment because, although I believe that sustainable economic development is a vital issue, I am not sure that it sits neatly with the other issues determining the criteria for not accepting exports on the grounds of adverse effect. Those issues are national security; regional stability and internal conflict—the tragedy of the fatalities caused by civil wars; weapons of mass destruction; international law and human rights; and terrorism and crime. Sustainable development is in some ways qualitatively different from some of those issues.

However, sustainable development should be properly considered in dealing with export licences. I seek reassurance on that as a member of the Select Committee on Environmental Audit, and I am deeply conscious of the fact that the Government intend that sustainable development should be the underlying and overarching objective of all Government policy. That is supported by all parties in the House. In many cases third world debt builds up so tragically because of arms sales to countries that could ill afford it.

I will ask the Minister to reassure us that proper provision will be made for sustainable economic development in dealing with exports.

Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater): I take the hon. Gentleman's point. However, when he says technology, does he mean information technology? I am interested in a broader brief than merely weapons. I ask him to quantify the sort of goods that he means by sustainable development of a country.

Mr. Savidge: I am sorry, but I do not understand. The hon. Gentleman said that I used the word technology, but I did not. Oh! I used it in the amendment, which contains the words,

    ``or when the technology was transferred''.

I apologise; I thought that he was referring to what I said. I used that wording in the amendment because the Bill refers to the range of possible technologies. It refers to transfer via IT and technology of various forms, including military.

The main purpose of the amendment is to raise an issue that is part of Government policy. We want to reduce third world debt and to ensure sustainable development. I want assurances that the Bill and its application will adequately cover that.

I apologise; I shall have to be away by 5 o'clock.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): This is probably the most important part of the Bill. Twice today I have been referred to as the NGOs' representative on earth. If we asked the NGOs about that, I suspect that they probably would not agree with that definition of my role. If the hon. Member for Aldershot were in his place, I am sure that he would say that I was about to address the bleeding hearts issues. Those issues affect people in developing countries, and disproportionately affect the women and children.

``Sustainable development'' is a terribly important phrase, and was in the draft Bill. For technical reasons, it has been removed, because some people think that the schedule of purposes now covers sustainable development. If so, why not say so? In the proceedings of the International Development Bill, all the Ministers pushed that phrase hard. Whenever I tried to make an amendment or talk about tied aid, for instance, I was told that sustainable development encompassed everything and had to be in the legislation. I was told that I need not worry because it was in that Bill. Everything was judged on sustainable development.

Why can the phrase not appear in this Bill? It seems as though the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. Perhaps this is an example of non-joined-up government. The International Development Bill came from the Department for International Development, but this Bill has come from the Department of Trade and Industry. One of the big problems with the Government is the lack of joined-up government, which they talked about so much and put into practice so little.

Sustainable development means that every export—arms, technology transfer, technology assistance or whatever—must be assessed for the effect that it will have on the people and the economy of the relevant country. That means that one must not, for instance, cumulatively add to exports to a country. I am terribly sorry that we were not in our place at the beginning of the sitting.

Mr. Kevan Jones: The use of arms per se is not a sustainable course of action. If we were to agree to the amendment, it would limit the use of arms in defending the country to which they were exported.

Dr. Tonge: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Sustainable development can include the need for arms to defend a country. A good example at the moment is Rwanda, which is one of the poorest countries in the world and is just emerging from genocide and civil war. We condone the fact that it is spending money on arms because it needs to pursue and defend its interests in the Congo and the north of the country. Some poor countries need arms, and one must take that into account.

Cumulative exports to a particular country can affect its sustainable development, and that is why we will retable the amendments on Report. We must examine the debt that a country may get into because of spending on arms. We should examine the export credits that may be given for the export of arms to a country, and how the huge sums of money will be paid off, if they are ever to be. If a country is spending too much on arms, funds are diverted from health and education, which are the only two measures that will improve both the lives of people in the country and the country's economy. As we know, primary education, particularly for girls, is the factor that improves the economic performance of a country over the medium and long term more than any other. Many studies have shown that.

We must address sustainability and sustainable development. It is crucial that those words appear in the Bill and I appeal to the Minister because I cannot see why that should not happen. If the phrase was added, everyone would feel much happier and would feel that the Department of Trade and Industry is interested in development and doing something about the world's poorest countries.

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North has said that he wants to leave at 5 pm. May I prevail upon the hon. Gentleman to remain until the amendment has been dealt with?

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham): I shall speak briefly so that I do not compromise the hon. Gentleman's timetable too much.

We support the good, appropriate amendment, which has two essential points: one is procedural and one about substance. The procedural point is that unless the concept of sustainable development is written in the Bill, it could be lost in future. If the concept is merely in guidance, it would be easy for future Governments and Ministers to lose it. I am sure that the present Government and Minister have no intention of losing it because we have an exceptionally effective Secretary of State for International Development who is respected by all parties. She fights her corner and is strongly committed to overseas development and will not lose any arguments in Whitehall. However, many Secretaries of State for International Development have been invisible and ineffective and, for the future, the Bill should be structured so that the development aspect would be effectively heard in any major arguments in Whitehall about big arms transactions.

5 pm

My second point is about substance, and the intervention by the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) was valid. My colleagues and I are not arguing from the standpoint that there are no such things as desirable arms exports or arms industries. In the past, many developing countries have been highly militarised and have developed successfully, for example Israel in its early years and South Korea. Developing countries, such as China and India, invest heavily in the arms business. One can argue at length about both countries, but they have substantial economic growth and arguably substantial social progress. There is no fundamental inconsistency between involvement in the arms trade and sustainable development. However, in general there are many reasons for believing that arms exports, especially in large volume, can compromise the development of many countries. As my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park said, the argument is not a bleeding hearts argument, but has been argued over the years by the International Monetary Fund, which is highly critical of the way in which developed countries implicitly subsidise and support their arms exports. It makes the point that, for many developing countries, importing arms is associated with the acquisition of debt and not a wealth-generating asset. It says that, of all the forms of trade in which developing countries can engage, the arms trade is the least productive from a development point of view. That is why the development issue should be made explicit in arguments about the relative merits of exports. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North is right to want the amendment written into the Bill.

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