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22 Feb 2007 : Column 171WH—continued

My colleagues and I decided that we might try to investigate the issue a little further. As the problem clearly seems to be whether cases are actually reported
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to the Government for prosecution, we asked how the Government deal with unreported cases. What do they do to ensure that they are monitoring and investigating what is happening? Again, we received an answer on 13 September:

Given the risks that are involved with this trade, I believe that many of us would find that a rather worrying response. A risk assessment surely is not sufficient when we consider the consequences of the illegal arms trade.

Trying to investigate still further, we went to the Department of Trade and Industry:

I suspect that many people in this Chamber will be interested to learn that:

The chances of being caught for travelling without a ticket on the London underground are considerably higher than for illegally exporting arms from the UK.

Those are the issues around enforcement. Many other important issues have been well discussed in this debate, but those examples begin to illustrate why we are concerned that enforcement is low on the agenda. It is not receiving the vigour that it needs, yet it is one of the two pillars of an effective arms export control system.

We are also concerned about Government cuts. As we know, I assume as part of the Gershon review, the staff at the Export Control Organisation are under review and are likely to be reduced, despite the fact that in 2004 the Government received a report from their consultants that the present numbers would always operate close to the limit of their capacity. The consequence of the loss of that small number will be a significant risk of failing to provide the necessary minimum level of service. The operation is already near the bone. I have listed the work that it can do, its enforcement powers are limited, and it now faces further cuts. We find that exceedingly worrying.

We have talked about end use, and I shall talk about it from a different angle. We have talked about the review of end use as a necessary part of the enforcement mechanism, but the system seems to involve informal reporting on end use from defence attachés in our embassies. I understand—perhaps the Minister can clarify—that the removal of defence attachés, at least from some key embassies, is being considered. If that is true, what are we doing to our informal system, when we do not have a rigorous formal system in place? Will the Minister address enforcement seriously today and when he enters the review process, which is welcome, in May?

The Quadripartite Committee is doing a superb job of providing parliamentary scrutiny, but as someone who is not a member of the Committee, I have a sense
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that if it were in another country—perhaps the US, or somewhere such as Sweden or Belgium—it might receive a far steadier and more detailed flow of information to use in the scrutiny process. I know that the Government’s heart is in the right place; they have often said how important it is to have detailed annual reports. Can they update us on where they have been going with that process? I understand that in 1996, there were technical difficulties in providing information and I am not sure how far we have advanced.

I move on to an issue that has been well-covered in the debate: extraterritorial jurisdiction of brokering and trafficking, which is the loophole and the weakness in the 2002 Act. As a party, we are extremely concerned about the scope for the re-export of inappropriate arms—third-party arms transactions that would be illegal were they carried out directly from the UK—and the trend among UK companies to move arms production from the UK offshore to places with lighter licensing regimes. Others have given excellent examples of all three. The Chairman of the Quadripartite Committee talked about Land Rover and the 110 military vehicles that turned up in the Andijan massacre and were used by Uzbek troops in attacks on protestors and civilians. Others have referred in passing to BAE Systems and its subsidiary, BAE Land Systems South Africa, which openly sells military vehicles into conflict areas. Such sales would be heavily questioned if the vehicles were directly exported from the UK. We have been given a series of examples.

The Chairman of the Quadripartite Committee reminded the Minister of a strong element of the Labour Party’s 2001 manifesto, which was to pursue arms brokers and traffickers wherever they were located. Will the Minister update us on his thinking on that and, too, on the fact that we do not have the capacity to pursue those companies wherever they go, which has become a running sore in the 2002 Act?

I want to see re-export clauses in licences for production agreements. I shall not be pedantic about the exact mechanisms, but the will has to be there to ensure that, throughout the chain, the appropriate standards and criteria are observed. If we do not do that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) said, the taint that will remain around our domestic industry will be unacceptable. If that taint remains and grows, rather than disappearing and being removed in a way that gives confidence that criteria are being observed, it will become increasingly difficult for companies to operate. Public opposition to them will grow unless the taint is challenged and removed.

In arms control, consistency is important. I do not want to rub it in about BAE Systems and al-Yamamah, but there is a sense that friends get treated differently simply because they are friends. In his intervention, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), who is no longer here, talked about UK components—head-up display units—in US F-16s that have been sold to Israel. In that case the licence was given with the knowledge that the aircraft would end up being sold to the Israeli Government. That bending of the rules in order to keep up a friendship, in this case
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with the United States Government, makes people believe that there might be a double standard. Nothing could put more at risk the sense of integrity around arms exports than a sense that there is some sort of double standard and that we will allow a friendly third party to do something that we would not do ourselves. It is important that that consistency should be established throughout the process.

The hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) mentioned the role of finance, which is crucial. It can be seen in the alleged corrupt selling of BAE’s air traffic systems to Tanzania, as questions have been raised about the financing that enabled that transaction to take place. Many major arms control transactions involve a degree of financing, and the review must take that on. Surely the standards that are being applied to the companies ought to flow through and be applied to the financial institutions that are the enablers of many of the transactions. I ask the Minister to include that in the review.

The passionate speech made by the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) described more clearly than I ever could the unacceptability of extraterritorial rules that apply to long-range missiles and weapons of torture but not to small arms, light weapons and ammunition—those instruments used in conflicts in the developing world. The hon. Member for Amber Valley and my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon, both of whom have such experience in international development issues, are well aware of and have described the conflict that tears apart the poorest countries in the world, which makes misery and takes away hope and development opportunity from the poorest people on the globe. The conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone—although that is in a more hopeful phase—Uganda and Sudan have depended on the availability of small arms to fuel conflicts and to allow conflict to continue. If small arms are not controlled and we cannot get a grip on such trade, I see no way in which we can bring peace and opportunity to some of the people who need it most.

I spent some time on the Department for International Development portfolio, rather than the DTI portfolio that I am on now, and in virtually every area of suffering, conflict and small arms are an essential element of the ongoing agony that people live with. We must ensure that sustainable development is recognised as fully as possible in the criteria in the Export Control Act. I know that it is in there—everyone welcomed the mention of sustainable development as a criterion—but many of us feel that it is not applied to the same standard or given the same importance as other criteria. In the review, that could be changed. For example, it could be included in the table of relevant consequences contained in the schedule to the Act. Various other amendments could ensure that sustainable development had a much higher profile when considering arms export licences.

The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling spoke of cluster munitions. I do not need to take up time by adding to what he said. I was going to speak extensively, but he spoke well and completely. The review of the Act gives the Government a real opportunity to make a substantial change to their
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historic policy. I know that, in their hearts, many Ministers would allow that.

There is a growing recognition that cluster munitions are basically land mines delivered from the air, that their failure rate will always be high and that there is no recognised military application for them. They are essentially a weapon that targets and destroys civilians, but the military use for which they were originally designed has long been redundant. The review of the Act will give the Government an opportunity to take a stand and a lead. The Minister will know that a number of countries met in Norway recently to formulate a new version of the prohibition on land mines. To see that moving forward would be fantastic.

Getting our house in order is crucial because we have to act also on the international stage. This is not a debate about international arms treaties, so I shall mention the subject only in passing, but for the Minister and the Government to have an effective and powerful platform, we must be seen to be totally effective on our home ground. We need the Government to help promote the European Union code of conduct on arms exports, upgrading it into an enforceable common position. It now exists in draft form and it has been widely welcomed, but it is not high on the agenda of the German presidency and it does not seem to be on the agenda of the Portuguese presidency. It needs a champion to get out there and take it forward. Having an effective and enforceable common position at EU level could make a fundamental difference—one that the United Kingdom cannot make alone.

Again on the international arms trade treaty, my party was delighted that, in October 2006, the United Nations voted overwhelmingly in favour of a resolution mandating the start of negotiations, and it congratulated the British Government on playing a leading role in ensuring that the mandate was successfully passed. However, that is only the beginning. In the process of negotiation so much can be lost, and a Government who have ensured that their home ground is as strong, as viable and as invulnerable to challenge as it can be will surely take the leadership, having a more powerful position in the international arms trade treaty. I hope that we hear from the Minister on that matter, and that it will be kept in mind in the review that lies ahead.

4.43 pm

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): It is a delight, Mrs. Anderson, to participate in this debate. On behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition, I welcome the report and I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingswood (Roger Berry) on juggling four Departments so well and keeping them in check.

The debate has given us a fantastic opportunity to scrutinise the work of the Committee and its report. Before turning to the details, however, I will share with the House my reactions to the contributions that have been made. It has been an interesting debate so far.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) spoke eloquently on a number of issues, but he touched heavily on cluster bombs. I fully concur with many of his comments. He may be aware that about 6 per cent. of cluster bombs
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fail to ignite. I hope that the Minister will consider whether anything can be done. We are not going to reach the stage where all cluster bombs are removed from the battlefield. As a former member of Her Majesty’s armed forces, I have come across many areas where we have taken casualties in that respect. The problem will be there for a long time to come, even if we ban them ourselves.

The treaty might consider making the collecting of mines that have not exploded the responsibility of the organisations or military bodies that dispersed them. That might be a step forward in helping to remove the problem. It could result in a new generation of cluster bombs that would be easier to collect in the aftermath of war. It would at least be a stepping stone towards the elimination of those ghastly bits of military hardware.

The hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) called for a wider audience for this subject. Perhaps the result of the review that the Minister is about is to initiate could be debated on the Floor of the House rather than in Committee. More right hon. and hon. Members would thus be able to participate and learn about the important measures that are taking place. We have a long way to go and the greater the number of hon. Members who are involved in the debate, the better.

The right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) touched on the air traffic control system to Tanzania. I fully agree with what he said. It seems bizarre that we should have sold a bit of kit worth £28 million when something a quarter of the price would have worked. We must also bear in mind that the state of the air force in Tanzania equates to 10 Bell Huey helicopters, nine MIG aircraft and one Cessna light aircraft. That does not justify a £28 million air traffic control system. Legal it may have been, but whether it was morally correct is questionable.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) completed the debate by showing that there is cross-party support for working together on an international arms trade treaty. We should take the opportunity of that cross-party support to review what regulations, if any, need to be changed on the home front.

I welcome the revision of the European Union code of arms exports, as it will strengthen the code. Arms control will be effective only if other countries are as rigorous in their controls as we are. I agree with the conclusion of the Quadripartite Committee that the code should ensure

both across the EU and beyond.

I have a number of questions. If the Minister is not able to respond today, I ask him to write or to put his replies in the Library, so that others can benefit from them. In line with Cabinet Office guidance, the Government plan to review the regulations under the Export Control Act 2002 in May this year. What progress has been made on the terms of reference for that review, and when do the Government plan to publish a consultation paper? When will the Government’s review into that Act be complete? Again, I ask that we are given the results on the Floor of the House.

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What recent discussions has the Minister had with his European counterparts to revise the EU code on arms exports, and how does he plan to reach a consensus with those EU member states that have blocked the revised version of the code? What plans does he have to conduct a review of the effectiveness of the principles governing arms transfers agreed by the conference for security and co-operation in Europe?

The 2002 Act is the backbone of our discussions on the report and the international arms trade treaty is a vision for the future. The Opposition are pleased that, last October, the United Nations voted to begin work on drawing up an international arms trade treaty. Although the UK already has a rigorous arms export control regime, which I support, and although our country’s defence exporters are responsible people, the treaty is a step forward. It will ensure that suppliers of arms are made accountable and will not contribute to brutal and destabilising wars around the world.

We are pleased that major weapons manufacturing countries, such as Britain, France and Germany, voted to begin work on the treaty, as did the emerging arms exporting countries of Bulgaria and Ukraine. However, I have some concerns about the treaty. I am sure that the Minister is aware that a few arms exporters either voted against the treaty or abstained. America, for instance, said that it wanted to rely upon existing agreements, and Russia and China, which are also major arms manufacturers, abstained. We need to assure arms exporters, such as Russia and China, and emerging manufacturers that a treaty would not aim to damage the arms industries.

There are an estimated 639 million small arms and light weapons in circulation. If we were to spread those evenly among everybody, there would be one for every 10 people on the planet. That places the challenge facing us in perspective. The report concludes that a treaty must be founded on existing humanitarian and human rights laws and cover trade in all conventional arms. Does the Minister believe that the effectiveness and rigor of the existing UK arms export control regime is a suitable model for the UN treaty? If not, how would he change the Export Control Act 2002?

The report claims that a transparent mechanism for monitoring and enforcement is required—as reiterated by hon. Members. The Minister must also ensure that a treaty is enforced by other signatories because a treaty will only be as good as the signatures on it. What about the states that refuse to sign a treaty? What discussions has the Minister had with the US, Russia, China and other counterparts on the international arms trade treaty? What plans does his Department have to ensure that the plans for an international arms trade treaty do not collapse? What representations have the Government had from arms manufacturers on the proposed treaty?

Moving on to the detail of the report, first, on sanctions and embargoes, I agree with the Committee’s comments that the Government need to clarify the status of the arms embargo on China. On page 80 of the report, concerns are expressed about how that has been implemented. I would be grateful if the Minister could say whether, despite our strong trade links with China, there are still concerns about the arms embargo.
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How will those concerns manifest themselves when we try to ensure that China makes progress and joins an arms trade treaty?

Sir John Stanley: Would my hon. Friend agree that following the destruction of an out-of-date weather satellite and the successful testing of an anti-satellite system by China, there is now an even stronger determination, particularly in the US, to ensure that the arms embargo is sustained?

Mr. Ellwood: My right hon. Friend makes an astute point. The ground-based missile fired on January 17 that took out a satellite moved us into a new generation of arms warfare. I was surprised that there was little response in the media, from the Government, or from the Unites States on the fact that that moved us into a new chapter. I concur with my right hon. Friend’s comments and am interested to hear what the Minister says about China moving into an area that we have not seen before.

I understand why the Government and other EU countries are unclear about the arms embargo on China. For example, Britain’s trade deficit with China was, for the first time, more than £1 billion last February; it has been even higher in the months since then. The report on east Asia from the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs published last year concluded that

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