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27 Mar 2008 : Column 144WH—continued

Criterion 8—sustainable development—is close to the Minister’s heart but I shall make only a brief point on it to allow other Members to contribute. In response
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to the Committees’ recommendation that the criterion 8 methodology—how precisely the Government seek compliance with it—should be published, the Government said that they would consider publishing the final version following a revision of the incomplete or preliminary version that we were given. The NGOs have raised the matter since then. Has the review of the criterion 8 methodology been completed and will the Department for International Development publish it? The Minister gave evidence about the criterion 8 methodology to the Committees and we welcomed its direction. However, to the best of my knowledge, we have not yet received the final version.

My final point is on cluster munitions. I do not want to require the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) to contribute, but he showed an enormous and important interest in the issues of cluster munitions and extraterritoriality when the Committee considered them. The issue was raised during the debate last year, not least by the right hon. Gentleman, and by the Committee subsequently in questions to Ministers in light of the ongoing Oslo process. The report congratulates the Government on their support for a ban on so-called dumb cluster bombs and on their commitment to withdraw the UK stocks with immediate effect. The Government have said that they wish to retain so-called smart cluster munitions, but the Committees have argued that that would be justifiable only if the Government could demonstrate that there was no operational alternative.

I do not want to go into the details of which weapons I am talking about, but are the Government sticking to their position that, as of today, no acceptable operational alternative can be found to the smart cluster bombs that they have hitherto insisted on retaining? The issue is important not only because cluster munitions have caused enormous damage to men, women and children all over the planet, but because progress on an international ban on cluster munitions under the Oslo process is urgent. In May, which is very close, a treaty of some kind will be signed in Dublin. I welcome the Government’s support for the Oslo process but—I am speaking personally—I am concerned that they seem to be pushing for exemptions that could weaken the treaty. I hope that I am wrong, and I hope that the Minister will tell me that the Government will not seek limitations in the treaty that will weaken it or create loopholes.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree in relation to smart cluster bombs that the military operational imperative must be balanced against their known failure rate, as failures represent the sowing of anti-personnel mines, which are banned under the Ottawa convention? After the Foreign Affairs Committee’s visit to the minefields in southern Lebanon, which were sown by the Israelis during the war there, the senior UN mine clearance people, headed by the United Nations Mine Action Service, advised us:

Given the number of bomblets that are detonated, or rather meant to be detonated, a failure rate of even 5 to 10 per cent. represents a very large number of lethal bomblets lying around on which men, women and children can blow themselves up.

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Roger Berry: I agree. My views on cluster munitions go beyond those of the Committees. Although the right hon. Gentleman must speak for himself, I suspect that what he just said goes beyond what the Committees have said, but he is absolutely right. In a personal capacity, I have met the Secretary of State for Defence and other Ministers to discuss the issue. I remain unconvinced that there is a case for the Government to retain their so-called smart cluster munitions. I do not think that a good military case has been made at all, and the implications in terms of civilian casualties are so great that I strongly support the tightest possible international ban on cluster munitions.

I am also aware that thus far the text will allow for the introduction of exemptions. I am simply passing on to the Minister my personal view—I suspect that it is shared by other Members—that we do not want exemptions; we want a complete ban on the use of cluster munitions. The ban on anti-personnel land mines involved a similar argument, as the right hon. Gentleman said. The Government led the way on that issue, and I hope that they will do the same on this one.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I commend my hon. Friend on yet another good report. It is an annual event, and he performs admirably. If he does not mind, I shall talk through him to the Minister. Surely my hon. Friend agrees that we cannot afford to repeat what happened at Oslo, where the British representative was left—to put it mildly, as anyone will know who has read the text—effectively trying to perform what could only be described as the last-ditch defence of the Alamo. It did not do Britain’s reputation on the matter any good. More than anything, because there is clearly a split among Ministries, the least that the British Government could do is to come up with a cohesive and defensible line. One hopes, as my hon. Friend says, that we would go for a wholesale ban, as it is completely contradictory to do otherwise.

Roger Berry: I agree with my hon. Friend. The Government deserve credit not just for what they have done but what they are doing. They are playing a significant role in seeking to secure an effective international arms trade treaty. Again, I praise them for that—one of the reasons why we need an international treaty is to deal with the arms trade—but I do not believe that their efforts will be enhanced if they are seen to backslide on the Oslo process in relation to cluster munitions. I could not possibly speculate whether one Department has a different view from other Departments; that is an internal Government matter. I would be astonished if there were not one message. Seriously, though, I believe that the Government should sing a consistent song on cluster munitions and on other international measures to control the arms trade.

We must never forget that arms export controls are all about end use, nor that the arms trade is a global business requiring global political responses. The more we can agree responses and controls at the European and international levels, the better. This is not an era in which individual countries can sort out such problems on their own any more than they can sort out problems arising from globalisation, or indeed reap its benefits. They can, however, set examples, so an international agreement should be sought, but failing that, there is a duty to act unilaterally to make progress where possible.

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The Government deserve credit for the progress that has been made. Let us be perfectly frank: the position on arms export control policy and its transparency and accountability are light years ahead of what they were 11 years ago at the time of the Scott report on arms to Iraq—and to Iran, as we discovered. This country has made enormous progress in bringing the arms trade under some kind of effective control and scrutiny, and the Government deserve credit for that, but there are still concerns.

It is important that we try to secure full extraterritorial control of brokers. It is important that we take licensed production overseas seriously and introduce the kind of measures now being considered. It is important that we engage in end use monitoring where that is clearly necessary. It is important that enforcement should mean enforcement. There should be no incentives for anyone to say, “It’s more economical for my business to break the law and pay the fine.” That cannot be right, and it cannot be right to allow the plethora of cluster munitions around the world to increase. I hope that the Government’s final response to the welcome review of the 2002 Act will enable those and other serious loopholes to be plugged as quickly as possible. It is not melodramatic to say that lives depend on it.

3.7 pm

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow again in the wake of the hon. Member for Kingswood (Roger Berry). Once again, with much efficiency and great capability, he has taken the Committees on strategic export controls through another year of scrutiny of this complex but extremely important policy area.

I shall deal with just two policy areas, one of which the hon. Gentleman referred to and the other of which he no doubt did not have time to include in his remarks. I shall start by putting the issue of extraterritoriality into simple terms. It is the key issue of how far the UK criminal law should be extended overseas to ensure that British traffickers and brokers of arms transactions do not escape British criminal law by carrying on overseas transactions that would be criminal offences, if they were carried out within the UK.

The principle of extraterritoriality is no longer contentious. While we were working to produce the latest report, the Library kindly researched the issue, and the fruits of that research are published in the annexe to our report. Hon. Members will see that there are 25 separate items of existing legislation that extend extraterritoriality in one sphere or another. Interestingly, that legislation goes back some 150 years. Our distinguished Victorian predecessors, when they passed the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, apparently became the first Parliament to extend extraterritoriality to bigamy, which I am sure hon. Members will endorse as an excellent decision. That has continued through 24 other separate pieces of legislation, right up to the Terrorism Act 2006.

The difference between the Committees and the Government is therefore no longer one of principle; indeed, the former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the right hon. Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt) conceded the principle of extending extraterritoriality to the trafficking and brokering of
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arms five years ago. Sadly, although she conceded the principle when she introduced her legislation, she did not concede about 99.9 per cent. recurring of the substance. At one end of the scale, she extended extraterritoriality to instruments of torture, while at the other end—certainly in terms of range—she extended it to long-range ground-to-ground missiles with a range of more than 300 km. As we all know, however, virtually all trafficking and brokering of arms takes place in other categories of weapons and munitions, all of which escaped the initial provisions that the Government laid down five years ago.

I acknowledge that the Government have made some significant progress, and I applaud them for that, but we have not gone as far as the Committees would wish. We made our consistent position quite clear in a previous report, when we said:

In the document that they published in February, entitled “Review of Export Control Legislation (2007): Government’s Initial Response to the Public Consultation” the Government extended extraterritoriality to small arms, light weapons, man-portable weapons—MANPADS —some but not all cluster munitions and unmanned air vehicles or UAVs. Given that the Government have made those concessions, the Minister may feel that it is somewhat churlish to press for more, but I have no hesitation at all about doing so. As I see it, the Government have ended the anomaly of conceding the principle without offering anything of substance, but they have ended up with an even more glaring set of anomalies, given the weapons that have now been brought within the ambit of extraterritoriality and those that have been left outside.

I have combed through the initial decision document, and I want to highlight some of those anomalies. Extraterritoriality will, for example, be extended to man-portable weapons, but it will be excluded from vehicle-portable weapons. Extraterritoriality will be extended to dumb cluster bombs, but it will be excluded from smart cluster bombs. Extraterritoriality will be extended to mortars up to 75 mm in calibre, but it will be excluded from mortars over 75 mm in calibre. Extraterritoriality will be extended to unmanned military aircraft, but it will be excluded from manned military aircraft, both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Extraterritoriality will be extended to surface-to-air missiles, which are primarily defensive, but it will be excluded from air-to-surface missiles, which are primarily offensive. Extraterritoriality will be extended to surface-to-surface missiles of more than 300 km in range, but it will be excluded from surface-to-surface missiles of less than 300 km in range. I will not take up more of hon. Members’ time by going through the anomalies, but hon. Members will understand—certainly if they go through the document—that it is not difficult to compile a list of scores more of the anomalies that are being created by the Government’s position.

Like the hon. Member for Kingswood, I ask the Minister why the Government have not accepted the Committees’ recommendation. What is the case for not doing so? The Government have got themselves hooked on a most appallingly difficult series of anomalies by
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proceeding in the way in which they have. I cannot believe that they do not accept the desirability of the principle that we advocate of extending extraterritoriality so that the arm of the British criminal law can reach British traffickers and brokers overseas who are involved in transactions that would be criminal offences in the UK. Surely the Government believe that that is an immensely desirable principle, and I cannot believe that they do not understand the desirability of extending it in that way. I do not for one moment believe that they want to connive in British persons evading criminal jurisdiction, so why do they not accept the Committees’ recommendation? The case is overwhelming. The Government have published what they say are their initial decisions, but they have not reached their final conclusions, even at this late moment. Again, I urge the Minister and his colleagues in the Government to accept in full the recommendations of the Committees on strategic export controls.

The second issue that I want to raise is the continuation of the EU-China arms embargo. The hon. Member for Kingswood said that this was not the day for controversy over anything relating to the EU, but there are slight differences within the EU on this issue, and I have no qualms about raising it even today. The Committees’ position is extremely clear. In our report, we said:

Those in the EU who campaigned with considerable vigour last year for the lifting of the EU-China arms embargo must be extremely relieved that their campaign has not been successful. If it had been—given what has happened in Tibet over the past two or three weeks—they would be subject to considerable criticism and derision, which would fully justified in the light of the events that have been reported to us.

Mr. Drew: I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would also include the fact that there is now categorical evidence that Chinese arms are arriving in ever greater numbers in Darfur, which is obviously escalating the crisis there.

Sir John Stanley: Yes, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, I shall refer in a few moments to that point, which he has rightly raised.

To return to the relationship between what has been going on in Tibet and the EU-China embargo, we all recognise that if any category of persons could be absolutely guaranteed to carry out a demonstration or protest peacefully, it is Buddhist monks. I am full of the deepest admiration and respect—I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House share this feeling—for the Tibetan Buddhist monks who have come out to demonstrate entirely peacefully in Lhasa and elsewhere, in the past two or three weeks, in the certain knowledge that as a result they face the appalling features of the Chinese prison and torture system. I have the utmost, highest admiration for those monks and their moral courage and physical bravery.

I note that some of the monks who have now disappeared—including, it has been reported, teenagers as young as 15—visited the Sera monastery in Lhasa.
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Hon. Members may be interested to know that two years ago I had the good fortune to go with members of the Foreign Affairs Committee to the Sera monastery. I sat on the couch next to the abbot and looked across the room to the wall facing me. There, staring down at me, was a portrait of Chairman Mao in a Buddhist monastery. That spelled out everything about the way in which the Chinese, as a matter of deliberate and sustained policy, have done all that they can to eliminate, as far as possible, Tibetan identity, including language, culture and the sense of being Tibetan in religion. That policy, coupled both with what has been going on in the rest of China—its appalling rate of capital punishment, its prison system, the one-party state and the absence of freedom of expression—and with events overseas and Chinese Government support for regimes such as those of Burma and, as the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) has mentioned, Sudan, make an overwhelming case for the maintenance of the EU-China arms embargo.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): The response to the Committees’ report states:

Does the right hon. Gentleman have any idea—because I do not—what the Government mean by

in the light of the litany that he has just given?

Sir John Stanley: The hon. Gentleman is on to an acute point, and I shall come to that very question shortly.

I find the EU’s position on the maintenance of the EU-China arms embargo worryingly woolly. The latest statement that I have on it is what was said at the end of the 10th China-EU summit last year in Beijing on 28 November. The relevant few sentences from the joint statement issued at the end of the summit read:

More worryingly still, some leading members of the EU have been even softer on the maintenance of the EU-China arms embargo. I noted that President Sarkozy was in China on a visit shortly after the summit concluded. On 5 December the Chinese Xinhua news agency reported that President Sarkozy had, during his visit, demanded the removal of the embargo. Happily, the President chose not to repeat that demand in the Royal Gallery yesterday.

The British Government position is somewhat opaque, but, as has already been stated, their response to the Committees’ report reads:

I come to the point that the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) anticipated: I do not think that that is a good enough statement of the Government’s position. It is completely opaque. In policy terms it is meaningless, and the Government owe the Committees,
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the House and the wider British public a clearer view of the circumstances in which they would feel it was right to lift the embargo.

The Minister may feel that he needs more time to reflect more carefully on what has been said, but I hope that he will respond to the debate by telling us what specific conditions—domestic human rights conditions and foreign policy requirements—the British Government believe the Chinese need to fulfil to get the EU-China arms embargo lifted. We are entitled to answers to those questions, and I hope that the Minister will, either at the end of the debate or subsequently in writing to the Chairman, give a fuller explanation of the Government’s position.

In conclusion, I want to reinforce what the Chairman of the Committees has said about the invaluable contribution made by their staff and—if I am allowed to mention them—the officials of the four Departments involved. Of course, the members of the Committees take full and total responsibility for the report, as I am sure the Minister will take full responsibility for his annual report and the Government’s response. Between us, we have established, by dint of a great deal of hard work and a high standard of professionalism, a degree of rigorous and transparent scrutiny of arms exports from this country, which is a credit to the British Government and to the British Parliament.

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