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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Nigel Griffiths): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) on securing the debate on my refusal to grant a licence for Pyser-SGI to export a night vision monocular and a night intensification module to China. I have a reputation for putting prepared speeches on hold, so let me thank him for giving me the opportunity to explain to the House the steps that I have taken to ensure that we have one of the most robust export licence regimes anywhere in the world.

Our export licensing commitments are clear. We assess each export licence application on a case-by-case basis against the consolidated EU export licensing criteria and our own national arms export licensing criteria. We take fully into consideration the circumstances prevailing at the time. In addition, we reserve the right to impose our own stricter criteria in line with Government policy. If it is judged that an export is inconsistent with any of the criteria, the application is refused.

We take the criteria very seriously. The case was refused under criterion 1, which covers international embargos and, on appeal, also under criterion 2, which refers to the possibility of internal repression. There is an EU embargo on arms to China, which we in the UK interpret as including the export of any goods that might be used for internal repression.

The manufacturer made the following statement in its letter of 13 September:

Let me explain why that is, in fact, possible. The night vision monocular can be strapped to a helmet to free hands for other tasks, and the night intensification module can be fitted to a camera to provide night vision capabilities. Of course, as the right hon. Member said, the items can be used legitimately, but they can also be used to enhance significantly the capabilities of internal security forces to conduct repressive night raids on civilians. It is frankly disingenuous for anyone in the business to claim otherwise.

I am pleased that the world-class reputation of our police services ensures that they are training other police forces and achieving improvements in other countries. However, providing night vision equipment along with that is not the same as providing shirts, uniforms and
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boots. Let me be clear: although the case was refused initially only under criterion 1, had the embargo not been in place the clear risk that the goods would be used for internal repression would have led me to refuse the export under criterion 2 of the consolidated criteria, which also relates to internal repression.

I shall set out why the goods were refused an export licence, even though an export licence was given for the temporary export of a limited sample of the goods to accompany the exporter to an exhibition in China for demonstration purposes. The terms of a temporary export licence are strict: they usually require the goods to remain in the possession of the exporter at all times, and usually seek guarantees of their return to the UK For those reasons, temporary licences do not raise the same issues as permanent ones—and exporters know that. We make it clear at all stages to all exporters, including the right hon. Member's constituents, that the granting of an export licence so that they can demonstrate their goods never guarantees that a permanent export licence will be granted. The exhibition in question was open to non-Chinese customers, so there was no reason to deny a licence to exhibit.

Last year, the DTI's export control organisation held 14 regional workshops and four seminars to raise exporters' awareness of our controls. With permanent exports, as the goods will remain in the destination country unsupervised, the end use and end user of the goods must be carefully considered, together with the nature and capability of the goods and other relevant factors. Our foremost commitment is to ensure that exports are managed responsibly and in line with the UK's national and international commitments. I know that the right hon. Member shares that commitment and does not wish to advocate that trade interests should override matters of human rights and proliferation. The Government's serious concerns about the human rights situation in China have been made clear. When my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary briefed Parliament's Quadripartite Committee on 12 January, he stated that although the human rights situation in China has certainly eased, we are in no way satisfied that it is now fully acceptable.

To assist exporters in assessing whether they should devote resources to securing overseas contracts, the Government openly provide as much information as possible to help them to undertake risk assessment on where to target their resources. The FCO website contains extensive detail on current policy restrictions and country-specific concerns, including the fact that the goods in question are contained on the EU list of dual-use equipment, which might be used for internal repression. The right hon. Member's constituents can have been in no doubt about the matter. I have ensured that the export control organisation's website now contains breakdowns of refusal rates and processing times by destination.

The right hon. Member has raised the case directly with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Foreign Secretary. He asks the valid question whether our regime is more strict than that of other countries. Let me tell the House that every
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EU member state is committed to considering export licence applications against the binding EU code of conduct on arms exports or against any EU or UN embargoes. To ensure that no country grants a licence without realising that such a licence might have been refused by another member state, we have an EU-wide denial notification system, which ensures that refusal in one state is noted in every state. If the right hon. Member has further evidence about specific identical equipment having been supplied to the end user in China—I understand that he might have more details—that can be investigated.

Sir John Stanley: During my speech, I quoted from the sales literature that referred directly to sales of LUCIE-NVT night vision binoculars carried out with the approval of the French Government. I quoted the documentary evidence.

Nigel Griffiths: The right hon. Member is right. He quoted the evidence. I asked whether we can have it, and I am sure he will supply it to us.

Sir John Stanley: The evidence from which I quoted has already been supplied to the Minister's Department and was in the appeal documentation submitted to his Department by Pyser-SGI.

Nigel Griffiths: I am grateful to the right hon. Member for mentioning that. The evidence was therefore taken fully into consideration. His letter to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary of 11 January has helped to inform this debate. I have, however, made it clear where we stand. Our refusal must be noted by other states. If they have chosen to take a different course of action, they must answer for that, as I must answer to the House for our actions to date.

Since 1997, we have refused 58 standard individual export licences to China. That figure does not include many more export requests that never reached the licensing stage because the advice would have been given that they would certainly be refused. The case raised by the right hon. Member is an important example that highlights the effectiveness of the UK's export licensing system. We are working with our EU partners to make the system even more effective because we see the code of conduct as a key element in controlling defence exports.

The right hon. Member told my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in the letter that I mentioned a moment ago:

The Government do not entirely accept that judgment, and I make no apology for taking appropriate measures to prevent the supply of equipment which we judge may be used for human rights abuses. I hope that the right hon. Member shares my view.

Question put and agreed to.

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