Export Control Bill

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Mr. Howarth: May I ask the Minister to deal with a point that I raised? I am not sure whether he has addressed it. What is the status of someone who is not a British subject, but who is nevertheless instrumental in facilitating this trade of which we disapprove? Is the Bill intended to encompass such people?

Nigel Griffiths: Yes, my understanding is that the intention is to encompass them. If they came to the United Kingdom for any purpose, they would be caught.

Let me be clear on that—I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman's point and would like to retract what I just said. It is the UK citizen who is instructing that foreign national who would be caught by the legislation, not the foreign national himself or herself.

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Dr. Tonge: I am pretty disappointed by what the Minister has said. It sounds as though he is saying that it is all too difficult and would not really work. The implication is that we cannot introduce a law that might not be efficient, even though the United States of America—

Nigel Griffiths: Has an efficient one?

Dr. Tonge: We are living in times when we need all sorts of measures to tackle these problems, and it seems to me that we are not trying hard enough.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): Clearly everyone agrees that we need to take the action necessary in response to the 11 September attack. However, is the hon. Lady not in danger of suggesting that we should make a meaningless gesture that we know will not be effective, just to demonstrate that we are doing something?

Dr. Tonge: No. I am thinking about the comic sketch—does anyone know it?—in which they say, ``Now is the time in war to make a futile gesture''. This is not a futile gesture; it is something that I feel very strongly about. If United Kingdom citizens are trafficking arms or drugs anywhere in the world, they should be covered by this law and we should do something about them. I am not prepared to withdraw the amendment.

Nigel Griffiths: I respect the hon. Lady's sentiments. However, is she telling us that the chief constable in her constituency should divert police resources to a wild goose chase—round the world to North Korea, for example—to arrest someone who, perhaps, left Britain with her or his parents when aged one or two, has never been back and never intends to come back? My constituents and, I suspect, most other constituents would not want that to be done when the outcome is likely to be resistance by the other country to extradition, and fruitless and expensive court battles. We would divert attention from those who might—as the hon. Lady suggested in her example—be nipping off to the Caribbean and coming back. First and foremost, those are the people we want to get hold of. Under present legislation, we have been unable to do so effectively.

I am sorry that this intervention is slightly lengthy. Surely we should have in place the practical measures that many of us have longed for for many years, rather than a raft of completely impractical ones that cause us to end up with a regime that is criticised by key NGOs concerned with the issue as being hopeless and ineffective.

Dr. Tonge: I simply ask the Minister why this can be operated in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the Chemical Weapons Act 1996, the Sex Offenders Act 1997 and in landmine legislation but not in the Export Control Bill. Answer comes there none.

The Chairman: Order. The Minister was intervening before the hon. Lady came back with a further question. Is it the hon. Lady's wish to press the amendment?

Dr. Tonge: Yes.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 1, Noes 10.

Division No. 3]

Tonge, Dr. Jenny

Baird, Vera
Griffiths, Nigel
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Marris, Rob
Pearson, Mr. Ian
Savidge, Mr. Malcolm
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Tynan, Mr. Bill

Question accordingly negatived.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Key: We have aired several concerns about the clause and will not oppose it. However, I want to flag up worries that have been expressed to us by industry, especially by those most directly affected by the clause. They are concerned, again, at the vague words used, such as ``acts'' in line 30 of page 4. What is an act? They are worried that it might mean anything from placing an order to making a sales pitch, or simply agreeing to go to a trade exhibition. The word is extremely vague and I am not sure that the problem will be dealt with in secondary legislation either.

I give the example to flag up the fact that although the industrial concerns affected by the Bill by and large accept the need for clause 5, they have some reservations that it is right for the Opposition to express.

Mr. Howarth: I wish to support the reservations that my hon. Friend expressed. I also want to reassert the point that the Committee must be under no illusions: however tightly the Government try to draw legislation to encompass those who traffic in illegal weapons and so on, there is a grave risk that the people caught and hampered will be engaged in legitimate activity, and that those who are the targets of such measures will still get away with impunity. As the hon. Member for Richmond Park suggested, they will be beyond the reach of UK law.

The Minister accepted that such people would not be touchable until they came back to UK soil. He is right, and I do not think that there is another way around it. Look how long Ronnie Biggs was capable of sweating it out in Brazil after the great train robbery. We have a limited opportunity to deal with the criminals, and I am concerned that the controls on trade in controlled goods will impose considerable burdens on industry.

The dummy orders, which were delivered to us at the end of last week, are relevant as they set out the controlled goods. To be perfectly candid, having glanced through them, I have no clue what azidomethylmethyloxetane is and nor, I suspect, does 99.99 per cent. recurring of the population of the UK. We are simply incapable of interpreting the documents. Do Ministers feel that they have covered the ground comprehensively? I am sure that some wretched chemical has been omitted, probably because someone cannot spell it. The documents are extremely extensive.

Like my hon. Friend, I have spoken to the Defence Manufacturers Association, which has not had the chance to go through the dummy orders. It did not even know that they had been published. Throughout our proceedings on the Bill, we have criticised the Government about the fact that we have debated controls on the trade in controlled goods without having a definition of what controlled goods were. We now have those definitions, but only at the end of the summer recess, and no one has had a chance to go through them.

I am disappointed that the Government have failed to produce the dummy orders—that is probably a good description of them—until now, and that they do not appear to have made them available to industry in time for it to comment. The Committee has not had time to receive such comments, so we have not been able to feed them in and hold Ministers accountable for the orders on the concerns that are certain to be raised by industry.

I hope that you will agree, Mr. Benton, that it is entirely appropriate that my criticisms of the Government should be levelled now, and that Ministers should make themselves available to answer them. They cannot make themselves available to the Committee now because of the 12-week consultation process. In my view, that is constitutionally improper.

The dummy orders came out on Friday. They are an integral part of the legislation. The Committee has had an opportunity to assess the dummy orders, yet they are couched in language that most of us will fail to comprehend; and the industries to which the orders will apply, and against which substantial and draconian penalties will be imposed if they transgress the orders, have been unable to comment or to let us have their views. We are therefore about to give the Government a blank cheque on the control of trade in controlled goods provided under clause 5.

Mr. Ian Pearson (Dudley, South) indicated dissent.

Mr. Howarth: It is no good for the Whip to shake his head. It is constitutionally outrageous that we should have come to this pass. The Government have had the whole summer in which to bring the dummy orders forward. The Opposition made it perfectly plain—I believe that if they had any concern or respect for Parliament, Labour Members would feel the same—that we were to debate the Bill in advance of having the meat of it. That is why we dealt with the clauses in the order set by you, Mr. Benton, because it enabled us to deal with those matters last.

I register the strongest possible protest that we should have been dealt with in that way. I realise that the Government now have other things on their mind, but they could have brought the dummy orders out long before now, allowing industry to consider them during the summer so that we would now have its comments. As it is, we have been presented with 50 pages of detailed regulation that most of us are unable to understand and over which we cannot hold the Government to account. I must tell the Minister that that is not acceptable.

Nigel Griffiths: I warmly commend the clause to the Committee. It allows for the introduction of controls over trafficking and brokering. At present, we have no power to impose controls on trafficking or brokering except when they are needed to implement binding commitments to the UN. It is vital that the Government should have the power to control trafficking and brokering in goods the export of which is subject to control, particularly to help prevent the supply of arms to regions of instability or conflict.

We intend to use the power first to impose controls on the supply and delivery by persons in the UK, or UK persons abroad, of arms to any embargoed destination. We intend to impose similar controls on the supply and delivery of long-range missiles and equipment for which we have evidence that they are used in torture, the export of which we have already banned to any destination.

Secondly, we intend to introduce controls on trafficking and brokering between overseas countries of all military and paramilitary equipment the export of which is controlled. That will involve a major expansion of the licensing regime. We believe that it is justified to help prevent the UK being used as a base from which to supply weapons to regions in or on the brink of conflict, while allowing legitimate trade by British defence companies to continue. I assure the hon. Member for Aldershot that whatever his postal arrangements, the dummy orders were available on Wednesday, and my officials were, rightly, in contact with the Defence Manufacturers Association on that day to alert it to that fact, having ensured that Members of Parliament had access to the orders first.

12.45 pm

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