Export Control Bill

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Mr. Key: The issues raised by the hon. Gentleman occupy a great deal of time and concern among a wide range of people in our constituencies. I am sure that all hon. Members present have received correspondence on the matter from individual constituents and groups—pressure groups, non-governmental organisations and others.

I quote two examples of such representations, one of which was forwarded to me by my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) from the St. Mary's justice and peace group in Chippenham. Mr. Edmund Johnstone writes that there

    ``is no mention of overseas development in the Schedule. A clause is required which takes into account negative effects on overseas development. Such a clause did appear in the draft Bill published earlier this year.''

I should be very grateful for a brief explanation as to why that clause disappeared from the draft Bill and whether Mr Johnstone is correct. Like the St. Mary's justice and peace group, many people are encouraged by much of the Bill. However, they are concerned about the manufacture of products overseas, which is the subject of new clause 2, and about the general lack of controls.

I have read an interesting letter from Hilary Fenten on behalf of the Settle Northern Friends peace group, which the Quakers in Settle founded to support the work of the Northern Friends Peace Board. It refers to the need to control production under licence overseas, and to unilateral arms embargoes. In its helpful answer to a parliamentary question by the hon. Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon), which has been circulated to members of the Committee, the Department states:

    ``The Government will press for international embargoes to be imposed on countries in conflict''

as a result of the consultations that they have undertaken. That is important.

On the substance of new clause 1, we are surely all in favour of monitoring. That is exactly what Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff do at diplomatic missions overseas; they are aware of what is going on. Journalists, pressure groups, NGOs, tourists and remote sensing from space all help the Government to monitor end use up to a point. The intention is there.

Occasionally, mandatory monitoring is imposed by the United Nations. The inspection regimes for weapons and production facilities in Iraq are an ideal—perhaps I should put that word in quotation marks—answer to the problem posed by the hon. Member for Twickenham. We try hard to monitor end use; it is in everyone's interest that we should.

As to the United States' policy on extraterritoriality, there were fierce arguments in the House a few years ago about extraterritoriality and its unintentional impact on third parties. The United States' insistence on imposing extraterritoriality was not popular and impacted on our constituents and their jobs for the strangest reasons. There were incidents involving Cuba, with which the United States has always had a delicate relationship. There were bad consequences for British companies and their work forces, so I am not happy with the concept of extraterritoriality.

The hon. Gentleman came up with the old canard about Hawks in East Timor, but he does not have to take my word on the issue. Whenever the then Secretary of State for Defence, Lord Robertson was challenged from the Labour Back Benches, he reminded the House that Hawks were not operational in East Timor. Indeed, the manufacturers said that they did not have the range to get there from their base.

One of my major problems with new clause 1 is that it would be impractical without building in contractual obligations on the part of the exporting company to insist that the end user provided for inspection by a British company. I am not sure how that would work in practice; indeed, I do not think that it could be done. The new clause would also place another expenditure burden on the Government, and I would prefer that those resources were made available for other commitments, including international aid.

Although new clause 1 encapsulates the worries of many people, it is impractical, and we shall have to hear what the Minister says. If he cannot convince us, we shall have to consider what to do.

Vera Baird: I invite the Minister to consider the practicality of introducing a clear system for end-use certification and monitoring of exports in the Bill. Some of the huge concerns on the subject have been made clear and have reached the most far-flung regions of our debate.

I welcome the fact that the Government have made it clear that they are further considering the possibilities of arms being diverted to undesirable users when licensing applications are assessed, and that the Government have put in place additional procedures to avert that problem. However, the Government will not be convincingly sure whether end-user undertakings have been broken without post-export checks and if they continue to rely on guarantees of self-evidently variable quality. An explicit reference to end-use monitoring in the Bill would not only enormously strengthen its purpose, but send a clear signal that the problems associated with end use were taken seriously.

I suspect that the Government might say that end use is monitored through some informal and ad hoc mechanisms, including reports from NGOs and the media. Perhaps those mechanisms obviate the need for more than is currently available, but I suggest that an effective end-use control system must be based primarily on monitoring by the Government, with NGOs fulfilling a complementary role.

I do not want to get hopelessly bogged down on the subject of Hawk jets and Indonesia, but it is an important, germane and accurate example of a situation in which much information was readily available, not to the present Government, but to the previous Conservative Government. Either they were unaware, I say charitably, of the information about the use of Hawk jets in East Timor, or they rejected or ignored it. The information came from diverse sources.

I feel that I should briefly rehearse what was said in July 1996 when the information, which had been in the public domain for some time, began to take the form of evidence in court proceedings at a trial held on the topic in the north of England. Jose Ramos Horta, now a Nobel laureate and then the Foreign Secretary in exile of East Timor, testified that many documents were available from the Roman Catholic Church in East Timor, with which he was in frequent contact, stating that British-built Hawks supplied under British Aerospace's first contract with Indonesia had often been involved in air attacks against the East Timorese.

The journalist John Pilger gave evidence that he had clandestinely entered East Timor in 1993 and had not only seen Hawk jets on many instances, but grown to appreciate the local population's familiarity with the sound that they made as they attacked. Professor Paul Rogers from the department of peace studies at the university of Bradford testified on a point similar to that made a moment ago about range. He made it clear that the first batch of four aeroplanes sent by British Aerospace under its second contract with the Indonesian Government went to the Bandung squadron, which was well in range of and spearheaded the airborne attacks against what was described as counter insurgence in East Timor.

Mr. Key: Why does the hon. Lady think that Lord Robertson misled the House of Commons when he was Secretary of State for Defence?

10.30 am

Vera Baird: That is not what I am suggesting at all. I am putting forward hugely valuable evidence, and I invite the Minister to think that it will help make the point that I shall come to in a moment. The evidence was given in court and merits that respect. Indeed, it was given a great deal of respect by the fact finders on that occasion. In that situation, if the evidence is true, end-use guarantees were being wholly disregarded. That information came through the Church, the NGOs and the experts whom I have quoted, and it was disregarded.

The Chairman: Order. I am rather tardy in pointing this out, but there was a reference to Lord Robertson's having misled the House. I must ask the hon. Member for Salisbury to withdraw it. Lord Robertson has the same protection as hon. Members and it would be appropriate for the phrase to be withdrawn.

Mr. Key: Of course, Mr. Benton, I shall follow your ruling and withdraw it. However, I was not alleging that Lord Robertson had misled the House; I was inquiring why the hon. Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) thinks that he told the House what he told the House, with which she disagrees. I do not think that Lord Robertson would ever have misled the House of Commons. That was my point.

Vera Baird: I applaud the hon. Gentleman's dexterity. It seemed plain to me that he was alleging the misleading; I certainly was not. May I conclude my real argument, which is important? The multiplicity of information that came concretely into evidential form on the occasion that I mentioned was from diverse sources, upon which the Government would, no doubt, now rely. In July 1999, the chief of the Indonesian defence staff admitted that Hawks had been used, although he declared that they had merely been used to fly over Dili in an intimidatory way. We had end-use guarantees and we had information that they were not being kept; nothing was done about it and in the end a confession was made that that information was correct and that the exercise of having end-use guarantees had been worthless for the large number of people killed in East Timor.

How different the situation would have been, had the then Government been obliged to collect the information themselves and to monitor all the allegations as they were made.

I pray in aid the practical example that was given earlier of the United States' very powerful, very careful scrutiny of end-use monitoring in suggesting that—despite the best endeavours of the Bill and despite the Government's efforts to tighten up licensing with an eye on end use—the extensively quoted example could occur again today if there is not a really substantial and practical system of end-use monitoring. I invite the Minister to reflect on that.

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