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22 Feb 2007 : Column 152WH—continued

22 Feb 2007 : Column 153WH

The question of arms fairs arose from the fact that although the brokering of torture equipment is illegal, we received evidence that at the 2005 Defence Systems and Equipment International arms fair in Docklands, TAR Ideal Concepts Ltd, an Israeli company, was openly advertising the supply of electro shock batons and leg irons in its brochure. When that was exposed, it was asked to leave. That was exposed not by our enforcement arrangements, but by Mark Thomas. Why do we so often have to rely on investigative journalists to expose breaches in some of our arms export control legislation?

I understand the difficulties of enforcement and I am sure that effort is put into it, but I believe that the advertising literature at the arms fair in Docklands is approved by a Department, so why could such a situation occur? Why could Global Armour, a South African company, offer electro shock weapons in its brochures at the same event? It cannot be that difficult to police arms fairs. I hope that in future they will be policed more effectively. Enforcement is an issue even when the policy is clear. We have a clear policy on trade in torture equipment and so forth.

Sometimes the policy is not clear and it is impossible to know exactly what is happening. I shall cite one such example that we raised in the report: exports to Israel. The Committee is confused, but I have never understood it and I shall explain why. In evidence to the Committee, the Government confirmed that the policy on exports to Israel has not changed since 2002. We are told the policy is that:

I shall not go into the details about why the Government do not accept those assurances any more, but that is the policy. Our report invited them to explain the policy. The Government’s reply simply restated the policy and said that they examine everything on a “case-by-case basis”. Indeed, the Government are brilliant at responding to any seriously good question that is intended to get to the essence of their policy on arms exports, by saying, “We rigorously examine each application on a case-by-case basis.” Of course they are supposed to do that, and I am not suggesting that they should not, but can we please know what the policy is?

Do the Israeli Government have one pile of weapons over here, which they say they can use in the occupied territories without any problem? Do they say, “These weapons are ours, because we got them from Germany”? Do they have another pile somewhere else and say, “These are the Brits’ weapons. They’re funny, the Brits. Apparently, we can use these weapons in some circumstances, but not others. We certainly can’t use them in the occupied territories. So don’t mix these two piles of weapons up”? Is that what actually happens? A simple yes or no from my very good friend the Minister at the end of the debate would suffice. We would just like to know what is going on.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I share my hon. Friend’s frustration on this matter. Will
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he invite the Minister to go a little further in his reply than some of the parliamentary answers that we have had on the issue? Last year, there was a massive upswing in the death toll in Gaza and there was the invasion of Lebanon, and many thousands of people were killed or injured. When we asked whether UK-supplied arms or components were used in those conflicts, the same answer came back: there were no reports.

However, we did get confirmation that Israel was using F-16 fighters in Gaza and Lebanon, and we know that those fighters use head-up display units supplied from the UK. We asked whether such units were being used in those F-16 fighters, and the answer was:

When the Minister sums up, will he tell us where UK-supplied components and arms were during those conflicts? Secondly—

Janet Anderson (in the Chair): Order. I urge the hon. Gentleman to keep his interventions fairly brief.

Richard Burden: I am finishing my intervention now, Mrs. Anderson. My second question to the Minister is this: what information did the investigations produce and has it affected any export applications since?

Roger Berry: That was an excellent intervention, which I entirely endorse, and I look forward to the Minister’s response. These are serious matters, and my hon. Friend’s point neatly brings me to the next question.

Peter Luff: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will recognise that many of us think that Israel has a robust right to defend herself and should be enabled to do so against the real threats posed, for example, by Iran. At the same time, she should be encouraged to respond more tactfully sometimes to the aggression that she experiences from others. That would reduce the need for Labour Members to ask questions such as those that we have heard.

Roger Berry: I welcome that intervention.

The issue mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) raises the question of the extent to which the Government are prepared to monitor end use. What matters above all else in the arms trade is end use, or what military equipment ends up doing. Whom is it used against? In defence of whom is it deployed? End use is everything; it is the only thing that matters.

The Committee has therefore consistently argued—it has been unanimous on this across the parties—that an effective arms export control policy must take end- use monitoring seriously. This year, we again recommended that the Government establish

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The United States has the Blue Lantern scheme, and other countries try to monitor end use.

We cannot understand why the Government have rejected our recommendation again this year, on the grounds—yes, hon. Members will have guessed it—that

assessment on a case-by-case basis—

Of course the assessment carried out at the time of the application for an export licence is critical, and the Government are right to emphasise that it is fundamental to get that right, but that does not deal with the monitoring of end use. The Government can grant export licences rigorously and on a case-by-case basis only where they believe that the end use will carry no risk, but they cannot guarantee that there will be no diversion—that none of the arms licensed to an appropriate end user will not be diverted.

There have been examples of diversion, and the reason why the Government no longer take Israeli Government assurances on arms exports into account is that UK equipment has been observed being used in the occupied territories. All that the Committee is saying is that we should take end-use monitoring more seriously because of the problem of diversion. It is not an alternative to rigorous case-by-case assessment of licence applications at the point of application, but additional to that assessment in sensitive areas.

I have just two final points, because I am aware that many hon. Members wish to speak. On a happier note, the Government can thus far take enormous credit for the international arms trade treaty. I remember when the campaign to establish the treaty was launched in the House in 2003. Amnesty International and other non-governmental organisations organised the launch; I hosted it and a Minister spoke at it. There is now a consensus that, however good the Government are at controlling arms exports from the UK, and however good the European Union is at doing so through EU arrangements, the ultimate objective must be an international regime to control the arms trade. The treaty is therefore necessary and important.

The report identifies several features that we would like incorporated into the treaty, although given the time that I have left, I shall not go through them in much detail. One is that the treaty should cover trade in all conventional arms, including dual-use goods, and that there should be an effective and transparent monitoring and enforcement mechanism. Again, the monitoring and enforcement of the policy is central.

I should add that I am grateful to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for providing members of the Committee with an informal oral briefing on 7 February, and I congratulate FCO officials on the progress that they are making on the arms trade treaty. I am pleased to say that one of the things for which they are pushing is, interestingly, the effective monitoring and enforcement of the treaty. That is great news and we celebrate it. We have been saying that the issue should be given greater priority in the UK, and we are pleased to hear that the Government believe that it should also be given greater priority internationally. In all seriousness, however, I applaud the Foreign Office for its work on the issue. It is to be commended because it is essential to preventing lives from being lost as a result of inappropriate arms trading.

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My final point relates to this year’s review of the arms Export Control Act 2002. It is five years since the Act was introduced and three or four years since it came into operation, and there is to be a review this year. The Committee has argued that that gives us an excellent opportunity to take stock and look at the loopholes or deficiencies—however one wishes to describe them—in the current procedures, and I have referred to some of them. In particular, we face the challenge of increasing globalisation in the defence industry, so this is an excellent opportunity to look at whether further changes need to be made.

The Government have kindly welcomed the input of the Committee, which has been seeking views since the autumn from those with an interest in the matter. We shall have a couple of works outings over the next couple of months, including one to the Export Control Organisation in March and one to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in April. We shall be able to explore some of the issues on our works outings, and what we see on the ground might influence our views about the review of the legislation.

The Government have given the Committee the draft terms of reference for the review. It appears to be wide-ranging and I welcome that, but I hope that in some areas—perhaps the more controversial ones, in which the Government are not convinced by the Committee’s views—they may consider some independent research. There are issues on which year after year, unanimously, on a cross-party basis, we have identified problems. If the Government still do not accept our arguments, there are some areas, such as those that I have mentioned this afternoon, on which independent research would be helpful.

In conclusion, the Government have made progress in recent years and the Committee has acknowledged that. I have outlined some of the concerns that remain and my colleagues and other hon. Members present will no doubt refer to others. However, the concerns that I have mentioned are serious, not marginal. I may on occasion have lapsed into humour; I sometimes try to do so when I am becoming slightly hysterical about the absurdity of circumstances—but these are serious matters. The points that I am raising are not about just tweaking bits of the Act. In areas such as arms brokering and trafficking, the loopholes, in the Committee’s view, must be addressed. I hope that the review of the 2002 Act this year will enable those and other serious loopholes to be plugged as soon as possible.

3.21 pm

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Kingswood (Roger Berry) who, once again, has given thoroughly effective leadership to the Quadripartite Committee in carrying out its important and complex annual scrutiny of the Government’s policy on arms exports. I shall cover three subjects, two of which the hon. Gentleman has already dealt with, but I hope that I can give one or two additional perspectives on them, as well as introducing a new dimension.

I should like to start with the international arms trade treaty. As has been said, there is perhaps a slightly worrying degree of mutual admiration between
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the Quadripartite Committee and the Government on that subject. I now risk adding to that by welcoming the entirely spontaneous and voluntary decision of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to offer to the Committee its draft submission to the UN Secretary-General in response to his request for Government views on what the content of the international arms trade treaty should be. That was an excellent initiative by the FCO and the members of the Committee have been very glad about that opportunity.

Perhaps I can take this moment to put on the public record two issues that relate to the treaty, which are I think very important. First, the Quadripartite Committee concluded at paragraph 186 of the report that

I am glad to see from the FCO’s submission that it is the British Government’s intention to try to extend the treaty to cover dual-use items. I fully appreciate that it is an extremely complex, commercially sensitive and difficult area, but we managed to cover dual use in the EU context, and I therefore hope that it will be possible to cover it in the worldwide international arms trade treaty. I do not suggest to the Minister that it should necessarily be a make-or-break issue. There may be points, when we have had the negotiation, at which we must settle for half or two thirds of the loaf on the basis that that is better than none, but I welcome the Government’s efforts to get dual use included, and I very much hope that they will succeed.

The second issue that I want to raise is one to which I drew attention in an earlier debate in this Chamber on the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs on east Asia. We covered issues of proliferation, particularly with respect to North Korea. We always use the expression “arms trade treaty”, but often we lose sight—I do so myself—of the crucial issue of trying to interdict movements of weapons that are internationally criminal or that violate international treaties, when those weapons are actually in transit.

When those weapons are in transit by air it is relatively easy, in theory at any rate, to seal them off when the aircraft comes on to a runway or landing strip. That can be sealed if the host country is willing. When they are in transit on land, again, it is relatively easy to interdict them, but there is a huge loophole in international law when weapons, or components of weapons, are being transited by sea. That fact was brought out in the FCO’s response to our east Asia report:

What applies to ballistic missiles and their components, and similar technology, applies to the whole gamut of conventional arms also.

I should therefore like to flag up to the Minister and the Government the fact that there is a huge legal loophole and that, in this world of global terrorism and global illicit trafficking of weapons and components, we must address the issue of trying to interdict those
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shipments when the ships carrying them are outside territorial waters, where they are subject to no legal control whatsoever at the moment.

The Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Kingswood, raised the issue of trafficking and brokering with great force and in a very compelling way. The issue that was transparently clear to the Quadripartite Committee and pretty well every other party outside the Government is that the present Government policy is nonsense. It does not stack up. Extraterritoriality—the ability to prosecute, in the United Kingdom, UK residents who commit trafficking and brokering offences that would be criminal if they were carried out in the UK—applies to so-called instruments of torture.

I recognise that officials have made a valiant effort in the relevant statutory instrument to define instruments of torture. We have descriptions of leg irons, shackles and types of handcuffs, and so on. However, in reality, no comprehensive definition of instruments of torture is possible. Almost anything can be used as an instrument of torture. As we know from the accounts of survivors, the victims of Nazi torture were subjected to having their flesh being burnt with lighted cigarettes. Appallingly, today, the torture instrument of choice in Iraq appears to be the electric drill.

At the other end of the scale, the Government are applying extraterritoriality to long-range missiles with a range in excess of 300 km. What is the sense of a cut-off range set at 300 km? Again, that policy makes no sense, and that was brought home vividly when I asked a question of the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the right hon. Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt). The exchange took place before the Committee on 3 April 2003 and was reported in paragraph 112 of the evidence in the first joint report of 2002-03. I asked the Secretary of State:

She turned to the official alongside her, Mr. Glyn Williams, and replied to the Committee:

That was the end of her reply. The reality is that there is no logic, sense or justification for setting a range cut-off date for extraterritoriality in relation to missiles.

The hon. Member for Kingswood has referred to trafficking and brokering. I do not believe that that involves torture equipment to any significant degree, because there is no money in that and the people involved are interested only in money. It does not occur with long-range missiles because, by and large, that is Government-to-Government business. It occurs, as the hon. Gentleman said, with automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, man-portable missiles and so on. The Government have conceded the principle—I commend and congratulate them on that—but they seem unwilling to concede the practice.

It is sad and regrettable that the Government in their reply simply parked the issue in the 2007 review and said that


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