Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, as I understand it, it is the convention of the House that the Peer who has introduced the debate merely thanks the speakers and then sits down at the end of the debate.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, I say with great respect to the noble Lord that having been in this House for years--nearly 25--I fear that that is not so. The debate lasts until nine o'clock. I am not suggesting that my noble friend intends to speak until nine o'clock, but in terms of the traditions of the House, that happens to be the position.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, I apologise if I have in any way infringed the traditions of the House. I thought that there was time to comment briefly on the debate out of courtesy. I shall finish simply by saying that I am grateful for the contribution made on the subject of innovation by my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford. She speaks from wide experience of the subject. The unparalleled experience of these matters held by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, was revealed in his speech. He illustrated the dangers that

20 Jan 1999 : Column 667

will arise from our total political isolation and lack of influence if we are not part of the main direction in which Europe is proceeding. As I said, I apologise if I have transgressed the rules of this House, about which there seem to be two views. I thank all the speakers who have taken part in the debate. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Arms Trade

8.30 p.m.

Lord Hylton rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their policy for preventing worldwide proliferation of small arms and controlling the actions of military companies.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, by way of introduction to this Question after a day of somewhat notable debates, I note that in warfare some things seem to remain constant. For example, during the Hundred Years War of the late Middle Ages the basic unit consisted of three men: the mounted knight or lancer, his man-at-arms to protect him, and a squire to look after both. Today in Lebanon or Chechnya there is still the three-man unit: the bombardier with rocket-propelled grenades, the sniper for long-range protection, and the submachine gunner for closer protection. All their weaponry is light and portable. Indeed child soldiers can carry it into battle. In most of the small wars around the globe the casualties are caused not by missiles or heavy artillery, not by aircraft or ships, but by rifles and machine guns, sometimes supported by mortars and grenades.

At the time of the recent hostage taking in the Yemen, it was estimated that some 50,000 Kalashnikov rifles were in private hands in that country. In Southern Africa there are thought to be about 4 million illegal weapons, some of which are now being used in a crime wave in the Republic of South Africa. In Albania in 1997 up to 1 million small arms suddenly became available. I am glad to say that these facts are well recognised by governments. The United Nations Secretary-General has said,

    "It is now vital to stop the cynical trade in small arms to unstable countries".

In June 1997 the European Union launched its programme for preventing illicit trafficking in conventional arms. This was followed in November by a convention of the Organisation of American States. In April 1998 the UN ECOSOC Crime Prevention Commission called for a binding worldwide convention. In June the European Union agreed a code of conduct on arms exports. In the following months the United Kingdom was among the 21 nations who supported the Oslo Common Understanding on Small Arms and the Brussels "call for action"--supported by no fewer than 98 governments--on sustainable disarmament for sustainable development. I emphasise this call for action because it shows that the connection has been made between internal and external fighting and the sustained

20 Jan 1999 : Column 668

development so essential to meet the needs of the 25 per cent. of the world's population suffering acute poverty.

Given the wide measure of international agreement which I have just mentioned, it might be thought that I am pushing on an open door. My reply is that a heavy responsibility rests on this country because it is one of the larger exporters of armaments in the world, a point well made by Mr. Matthew Parris in The Times of 16th January. Our overseas arms sales reached £5.5 billion in 1997, with much of that going to Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. I am sorry to say that those are all countries with deplorable violations of human rights.

I maintain that we have no cause for complacency. That is why I ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will go beyond the terms of the Department of Trade and Industry's White Paper of last summer. Will they oblige United Kingdom based arms brokers to register, and will they require licences for third party and third country deals? I urge them to refuse licences for transactions which breach the EU code of conduct and to impose criminal sanctions on unlicensed dealing. Then there is the question of UK companies supplying military services and mercenary personnel. When will the official review of this matter be completed? After all, it has been outstanding for nearly a year. Can the Government indicate whether they are likely to follow the model provided by South African legislation? As your Lordships may know, that legislation bans such companies unless they can show good cause for their continued existence. I accept that companies which respect human rights, behave ethically and provide good quality training or protect valuable commodities, for example diamonds, may have justification for existing.

Further, will the Government scrutinise, in the light of the EU code, licensing agreements made by British companies for the overseas production of arms and military equipment? In my view licensing agreements should be subject to the same controls as direct exports. A notorious recent example of a licensing deal was the agreement for the production of assault rifles in Turkey arranged by Hechler and Koch, a subsidiary of British Aerospace. Another example is the Pains Wessex company which is owned by a quoted company, Chemring Plc. Will the Government seek to tighten up and to increase the transparency of the EU code? Will they use the first annual review of the code in June of this year to work for the publication of member states' reports and to ensure that these are sufficiently detailed? Will they propose that Europe as a whole should follow the example of Sweden by arranging parliamentary scrutiny of the arms trade and in particular of arms brokering and production licensing? Will they welcome the establishment here of a parliamentary arms export and control committee?

Will the Government propose resolutions in the European Development Council and the OECD development assistance committee so that development aid, whether bilateral or multi-lateral, may include security projects, for example the collection and destruction of weapons and ammunition, especially in post-conflict situations? I understand that good work of

20 Jan 1999 : Column 669

this kind has already been done in Mali in West Africa. I hope that other speakers will consider the control of the final use of exported arms. I suggest only that there should be a common EU policy of a stringent kind on this matter.

I turn now to particular cases. I have in mind southern Africa and the Russian Federation. Will the Government support the action plan made by those governments belonging to the Southern Africa Development Community to cope with the large quantities of surplus arms which are the result of conflicts in Mozambique, Angola, Zaire, Rwanda, Burundi and South Africa? Will they and other Commonwealth countries continue to provide training for all relevant agencies in the region, particularly the police, customs, border guards, army and judiciary, with special emphasis on co-operative cross-border programmes.

With regard to Russia and its military exports, I am grateful for the positive tone of the letter that the right honourable lady, Miss Joyce Quin, sent to me from the Foreign Office on 17th December last. I am sure that we all feel for Russia as it struggles with major economic problems and a very large crime wave. May I ask, however, whether the Government will intensify their discussions with the Russian Federation on arms exports, particularly small arms and ammunition? Will they put this matter and the future conversion of Russia's military industry onto the agendas of the OSCE, the Council of Europe and perhaps also the G8?

In conclusion, I would like to pay tribute to IANSA, the International Network on Small Arms, which is made up of some 150 NGOs worldwide. It is moving world opinion in the right direction and I trust very much that our debate tonight will contribute to this movement.

I hope that I have opened up this subject. I look forward to the views of subsequent speakers, whom I would like to thank in advance. I trust that we shall have a very positive response from the Government.

8.41 p.m.

Lord Judd: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is to be thanked for having raised this significant issue so firmly in the House. His consistent concern with humanitarian issues is exemplary.

At the outset of my own remarks, I should of course declare an interest. I am a former director of Oxfam and currently a member of the Oxfam Association. For the past 15 months I have been chair of trustees of International Alert and I work professionally with Saferworld, the think-tank and research charity concerned with international security issues. What I have to say is largely based on that experience.

When I completed my service as director of Oxfam, I was preoccupied with the effects of conflict. We wanted to get on with the long-term challenges of sustainable economic and social development, but repeatedly we were being diverted by conflict and its consequences. In the world as a whole, more than 50 per cent. of our work was conflict-related; in Africa it was more than 70 per cent. In the Second World War, some 50 per cent. of war-related casualties were

20 Jan 1999 : Column 670

civilian--a dreadful statistic--but in conflicts across the world today it is some 90 per cent; and 90 per cent. of that 90 per cent. is as a result of small arms. Congo, Sierra Leone, Angola, Sudan and indeed Yemen starkly make the point.

The vicious and cynical use of small arms in the repression of the human rights to which the Government are powerfully committed, is also amply documented. It needs no further illustration in this debate.

For all of us concerned with arms control and disarmament as essential elements in a lasting security policy, strategic weapons of mass destruction--be they nuclear, chemical or biological--must remain of central concern. But we cannot escape the reality that it is, as the noble Lord has emphasised, small arms which are today killing, maiming and bereaving many thousands of the innocent. Recent international measures on landmines have shown that, when the will exists, effective action can be taken. The time is surely overdue to follow the humanitarian response to landmines with equally determined action on small arms.

The Government are to be congratulated on the steps they have already taken. It was their leadership during their presidency of the European Union which made the European Union code of conduct on arms sales a reality. They were also one of the 98 governments to which the noble Lord has referred, which in October 1998 supported the Brussels "Call for Action" to encourage "sustainable disarmament for sustainable development".

Within the European Union, a joint action on combating the destabilising accumulation and spread of small arms and light weapons was agreed last December. The European Union is also supporting the Southern African Development Community Action Programme on Light Arms.

Further afield, there is already talk of extending the European Union's code of conduct to Europe beyond the European Union. There are initiatives within the US to introduce a US code and at the UN to strengthen the global commitment. All this is encouraging, especially the United Kingdom Government-inspired code of conduct. The questions I raise are therefore in the context of a glass half full and filling rather than of a glass half empty and emptying.

First, in order to identify what is going on and why, and where there may be potentially dangerous accumulations of light weapons, and in order to ensure the accountability of governments for what they approve, transparency is obviously essential. It is therefore commendable that the UK Government have agreed to publish their annual report on strategic exports. This will set a good example to governments elsewhere and considerably facilitate intelligent analysis and discussion. I wonder whether my noble friend could this evening indicate when the Government will in fact publish that report. She will, I am sure, recognise that it has been expected for some time.

Secondly, there is the issue of licensing, recently highlighted in an Oxfam report. This is when an arms company in one country issues a licence to a company in another country to produce its weapons. Often the export controls in the second country are at a lower

20 Jan 1999 : Column 671

standard than in the first country. Furthermore, factories in the second country can all too easily continue to produce weapons after the original agreement has expired. As a result, many weapons designed and initially produced in countries with strict export controls flow to sensitive destinations from countries where they are produced under licence.

As I understand it--this has already been mentioned by the noble Lord--Heckler and Koch, the once-German manufacturer of small arms ranging from automatic rifles to sub-machine guns, is now owned by Royal Ordnance, which in turn is owned by British Aerospace. Heckler and Koch sub-machine guns and rifles have, I believe, been produced under licence in Turkey, Iran, Burma, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and elsewhere. In January last year, as the noble Lord said, it was reported in the defence industry press that the Turkish-licensed facility will be producing 200,000 Heckler and Koch rifles for the Turkish army over the next 10 years. This raises the question of what will happen to existing weapons which are to be replaced. Disturbingly, there were reports last July that the Turkish company had signed an agreement with the Indonesian Police to supply 500 Heckler and Koch sub-machine guns. Obviously it is highly unlikely that either the UK Government or the German Government would have granted a licence for the direct export of these guns to Indonesia under current policy and regulations. But no such approval was required, and the EU code of conduct does not cover such licensed production.

I recognise that this is a highly complex problem, but it does seem to represent a serious loophole in the new European Union policy. I wonder whether my noble friend can assure us that, in order to ensure consistency, it is a challenge the Government will address. Will the Government, for example, ensure that deals to license arms production overseas have to pass the same checks, including reports to Parliament, as have to be passed for direct exports? Will they insist that what are in effect exports via licensed production overseas must require UK Government export licences? And will the Government consider what action can be taken to curb the production of arms from factories where licensed production agreements have expired?

This brings me to brokering. Arms deals can be organised by companies or individuals in the European Union which result in the transfer of arms, security equipment and services from third countries without the weapons touching European Union soil. The European Union code of conduct does not cover this either. Apart from recent problems over the Sandline saga, Bulgaria and Sierra Leone, I think of how Isle of Man-based Mil-Tech brokered arms deals from Albania and Israel to Rwanda in mid-1994. Within the last month it has been reported by the Sunday Times that two British companies, Sky Air Cargo and Occidental Airlines, have allegedly been shipping AK-47s from Slovakia to rebels in Sierra Leone. The DTI, in its recent White Paper, put forward limited proposals to impose controls on the brokering of controlled goods to countries which are the subject of European Union, OSCE, UK or UN

20 Jan 1999 : Column 672

embargoes, and also to control the brokering of equipment used in torture, anti-personnel landmines and weapons of mass destruction. But it seems to me that, with the majority of brokered deals involving light weapons, these armaments should be specifically covered. If, during its presidency of the European Union, Germany takes steps to deal with brokering, can my noble friend reassure us that this will have the support of the UK Government?

During the Cold War, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe amassed huge stockpiles of weapons, including large quantities of light weapons. Sadly, these have fuelled too many conflicts around the world, sometimes by legal, frequently by illicit, trafficking. Bulgarian, Czech and Polish arms have gone to Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Somalia, Croatia, Cambodia and other grim destinations. As we embark upon enlargement of the European Union, will the Government and their partners use the pre-accession negotiations to strengthen controls in candidate countries before enlargement takes place? Will existing EU members seek ways to enhance the capacity of candidate states to combat illicit arms trafficking? In addition, will the European Union, including the UK itself, be doing everything possible to encourage and help Europe beyond the United Kingdom to follow the example of the code of conduct?

I have referred to the European Union joint action. This underlines the significance of initiatives to promote demobilisation and reintegration of former combatants and to remove weapons from society and reform the security sector. It seems that the funding for this is expected to come from the CFSP budget. But are the resources available from this quarter sufficient for such a potentially enormous task? Would it not be possible for the European Union's development budget to make a contribution without breaching the existing principle that all arms and security issues should remain firmly within the competence of member states? Is it not possible to work for a declaration by the European Union Development Council that it is appropriate to use development assistance for the security issues which have to be addressed if development is to be effective and sustainable?

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has introduced a subject with immense ramifications way beyond small arms alone. Last Saturday I was greatly impressed by a significant article in The Times on ethics and the arms trade. It was by Matthew Parris. I commend it to all who may not have had an opportunity yet to read it. It said:

    "There are military risks. Last year in a letter signed with other retired military men, General Sir Michael Rose issued a warning against exports to regions of tension and instability. 'Our own armed forces', he said, 'are endangered by irresponsible exports.' Nor is the commercial case as strong as it looks. Our economic performance has been crippled for half a century by the ludicrous share of the West's defence expenditure with which we have burdened ourselves: a better explanation than most for Britain's fall behind the Continent in the postwar economic race. If what we buy for ourselves costs us dear, what we sell to others may be costing more than it yields: 44 per cent. of Britain's government-funded research goes into the military; in Germany the figure is 13.5 per cent., in Japan 5.5 per cent. We underwrite arms exports by £1 billion a year--a subsidy of £12,500 per defence job. Of the £1.7 billion owed to Britain, £800 million is for unpaid arms bills".

20 Jan 1999 : Column 673

I do not always agree with Matthew Parris and I do not endorse all his conclusions in that article. But I do respect his willingness to challenge. It is important in a democracy. He ended his article with these words:

    "We let shipbuilding die because it wasn't commercial; we stopped the slave trade because it was wrong; the arms trade is commercially doubtful and morally wrong. A world to come will look back on munitions shipments to primitive places as we look back on slave shipments from primitive places, amazed that sane men could justify this".

While I believe that, in an imperfect world which still cries out for effective collective security, there must be a place for a responsible arms trade, Matthew Parris nevertheless presents a challenge, even if journalistically oversimplified, which will not go away. It will return to haunt us in one form or another until we have convincingly faced up to it with the right policies, economically and ethically. Greatly to their credit, the Government have begun to do this. I, for one, wish them well and all success in the logical development of the action which now has to follow from their declared commitment.

8.53 p.m.

Viscount Brentford: My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for introducing the debate, perhaps I may tender my apologies for missing the start of his speech, having underestimated the amount of time by which the previous debate was going to run short. I sincerely apologise.

It is estimated that there are some 4 million illegal small arms weapons swilling around in South Africa at the present time. When I read that, my mind turned to the question of how many there are in Northern Ireland. However, I am not going to be drawn into that question today. As we know, there are enormous numbers of small arms swilling around in the former USSR. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has already made that point. From there, they go on to the world market. The Ukraine has been supplying not only mercenaries but also arms to the rebels in Sierra Leone. That seems to be the implication of what I have been reading in the media.

The former Yugoslavia is another problem area. I have heard it said that Germany had armed the Croats; Russia had armed the Serbs; and the USA and Turkey had armed the Moslems. So not only are illegal arms swilling around in the market; nations have to take responsibility for their actions as well.

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a formal Army presentation. It was most impressive, very professional and fascinating. One of the Army officers there made the point to me that the arms trade was closely linked with the drugs trade. I wonder whether we can adequately control the arms trade without trying to tackle more strongly the drugs trade as well.

I happened to watch a James Bond video a short time ago. I think the film was called "Living Daylights"; the hero was played by Timothy Dalton. I am not sure about the name as I was not thinking about the arms trade at that time. In the film the arms dealer would not hand over the arms until he had received a large load of opium from Afghanistan. As far as the writer of the

20 Jan 1999 : Column 674

script, who I am sure was not Ian Fleming, was concerned, the arms trade was undoubtedly linked to the drugs trade. That adds a complication to this issue.

A much more satisfactory way of dealing with illicit arms was put to me a year ago by one of the Bishops in Mozambique where a scheme for literally turning guns into ploughshares had been set up. He said that if anyone brought in a weapon to a church in Mozambique to be destroyed, he would be handed back a relevant farm implement to enable him to change from being an illegal soldier to a cultivator of the land. That is an extremely practical way of destroying unwanted illegally held weapons.

The regional action programme (RAP) for southern Africa, which was sponsored by DfID as part of the EU programme on combating illicit trafficking in conventional arms, certainly gave me a good deal of encouragement. I wonder whether there are other such RAPs, supported by DfID and/or the European Union. Are others planned for areas of the world where illicit arms are swilling around? There could be advantages if this idea from southern Africa can be translated into other fields, although it may be that the circumstances are not appropriate.

The southern Africa RAP recommends training programmes for all the agencies involved. I am not clear whether DfID and the European Union support that training programme. Training, not only for the lawyers and police but also for customs officers, is a highly significant element in trying to control the small arms trade. I hope that we are continuing our support for that southern Africa enterprise. It recommended the physical destruction of stockpiles of weapons, but that costs money. Again, I wonder whether we are supporting financially the destruction of those stockpiles.

Kalashnikovs may not have the glamour status of an atomic bomb, and much more seems to be taking place in relation to the non-proliferation treaty for atomic weapons than for small arms. However, I am not sure what difference it would make to me whether an atomic bomb exploded beside me or a bullet from a Kalashnikov entered my head. I suspect the result would be fairly similar, and I should move into the next life equally quickly and probably with the same amount of almost negligible pain if the bullet was accurate. I hope that the Government will be able to give us some encouraging information about their contribution to the implementation of that RAP and the other measures that they are taking towards the control of small arms.

If we pay now for the destruction of weapons, I suspect that we shall save larger sums in the future through not having to deal with the results of large numbers of weapons being in circulation. There are so many areas of the world where fighting is presently continuing because people can get hold of illicit weapons. If we can destroy those weapons now, the cost will be infinitely less than having to deal later with unbridled numbers of weapons in circulation. I look forward to the noble Baroness's reply.

20 Jan 1999 : Column 675

9.1 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton has kindly provided us with this opportunity to address the Government during their period of meditation, before they translate their response to the Scott Inquiry, the White Paper, Strategic Export Controls, into legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, spoke so succinctly and forcefully on this subject that I hesitate to repeat and underline many of his remarks. Like the noble Lord, I have spent years working with aid agencies and can well understand why they are campaigning on this issue with increasing vigour and effectiveness. If you do humanitarian work, you see at first hand the effects of uncontrolled small arms and deadly weaponry. You tend not to be impressed, as some are, by the contribution of these arms to British exports and jobs when you know that they feed the demands of guerrillas, terrorists or irregular national armies, many of which include untrained and undisciplined soldiers. As an aid worker you often come into direct contact, as I have, in hospitals, refugee camps and rehabilitation centres with the effects of ill-used, illegally held weapons which maim innocent civilians and turn young children into demons. No one, surely not even an arms dealer resident in Hove in the United Kingdom, would want to enlarge the theatre of irregular war in places such as Sierra Leone or southern Sudan, where mutilation, kidnapping and reckless killing have become a way of life--much assisted by imported weapons.

This is not new. In southern Sudan and Uganda local disputes among traditional groups that were previously settled with spears have long been transformed by the availability of small arms. But it is spreading. Where there are mineral concessions and other rich pickings, as we know from Africa, arms are never far behind. According to Oxfam, since 1995 the UK has supplied weapons to 42 countries where it works, 27 of them in Africa. Child soldiers are involved in the majority of these conflicts, many against their will. It is now known that during the genocide in Rwanda in May 1994 Hutu militia were using small arms supplied by Mil-Tec even after the imposition of a UN embargo.

The outright condemnation by politicians of unlicensed small arms, even under an ethical foreign policy, is about as pointless as a passer-by telling small boys not to throw stones or paper darts. Anyone can pick them up or manufacture them. Because of the role of brokers and multiple end-users it is of course impossible to control the arms trade, and it is not easy for governments even to monitor an unregulated market.

Yet there are ways of influencing companies, increasing public awareness, tightening controls and developing codes of conduct which can help to avoid the most obvious criminal behaviour, or at least this country's part in it.

We should be glad that it is officially no longer UK policy to permit the export of arms for internal oppression or torture, or for the kind of external aggression sometimes regarded as self-defence. We can assume that in future this even rules out the White

20 Jan 1999 : Column 676

Knight theory, the support of so-called good guys like President Kabbah unless there is a cast-iron United Nations mandate for it.

But it is a far cry from policy to practice when you know that, on one rough estimate, Britain is exporting a quarter of the world's small arms and that companies like Heckler and Koch are quietly, under present legislation, supplying large quantities of G3 rifles and MP5 sub-machine guns all over the world.

I believe that there is popular support for the new policy set out in the White Paper, Strategic Export Controls, last July. It is directly in line with recommendations arising from the Scott Report and the Pergau Dam saga, and with those events in mind it will be interesting to hear whether the Conservative Front Bench now supports it. Largely as a result of the atrocities daily served up on TV news, and successful campaigning by NGOs such as Oxfam and Saferworld, the public are genuinely more concerned today about the spread of deadly weapons and Britain's role in the illegal arms trade. The handguns and landmines legislation were both products of this popular concern. The anguished search for a means of decommissioning much nearer home, in Northern Ireland, has also concentrated all our minds.

Those are some of the reasons why the Government have responded so positively to the NGOs in joining the Brussels "Call for Action" by 98 governments last October and supporting a range of international measures, notably the EU code of conduct of June 1998 and the EU programme for preventing traffic in conventional arms the previous year. All this is to be applauded. But there is some disappointment among the NGOs about the implementation of the code of conduct, and in particular the forging of a common policy on licensing, confidentiality and annual reporting. Does the Minister expect to see the development of a common EU reporting policy and licensing system in future or will it be left to member states?

The collaboration of NGOs and governments is worth mentioning as it has been critical to successful practice in the field. South Africa is a good example, a country trying desperately to control the circulation of its 4 million illegal weapons, many coming from neighbouring civil wars and supplied by the former regime. It is a terrible irony that this new nation has had to suffer such a deadly boomerang from apartheid, boosting the illicit trade in small arms and causing the crime rate to soar.

DfID and the European Union sponsored a seminar involving several southern African governments, organised by Saferworld and the South African Institute for Security Studies which has led directly to a regional action programme. I think I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that this is now supported by the British Government. These NGOs were recently commended by the South African Foreign Minister at the UN as a means of building public support for the South African Government's efforts. It is now essential that the UK and other European Union countries follow this up with technical assistance, training and perhaps an improved licensing system to control small arms. Can the Minister

20 Jan 1999 : Column 677

confirm that the Government will continue to support this programme over a period of years? The destruction of stockpiles, another action recommended under the plan--perhaps similar to the UNDP's arms bonfire in Mali in 1996 known as the flamme de paix--is also important.

Although our Government are doing these things, they are not yet the angels in the campaign. Countries such as Norway and Canada have taken more initiative than the United Kingdom has. Norway organised the International Agenda on Small Arms and Light Weapons statement endorsed by the UK and 20 other countries in Oslo last July. Norway and Canada sponsored the ECOSOC ministerial briefing at the UN last September at which the Norwegian Foreign Minister launched the UNDP trust fund set up to control, collect and destroy small arms in areas of conflict. Knowing our country's economic interest in small arms and their value to us, are we restrained by economic motives? If we can take a lead in the Security Council in condemning weapons of mass destruction, as the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, mentioned, can we not be in the forefront of the campaign against the arms trade?

This will mean that we need to learn a little more from our Belgian, German and Swedish neighbours about, for instance, end-use controls. In this country, for example, we have at least four different departments--DTI, MoD, FCO and Customs--each developing their own database, even though the Trade and Industry Select Committee recommended two years ago mutual access and the primary use and expansion of the DTI database. In Belgium and Germany any country on the receiving end of sensitive exports must give an assurance that they will not be re-exported, and follow-up checks are carried out to ensure that the goods are correctly transported and delivered. Surely these matters could be a preliminary to the legislation upon which we are embarking?

I have the following questions for the Minister, which I expect will already be familiar to her. First, as regards end-user certificates, can we not follow the example of Sweden and Belgium in using embassies to authenticate documents and prevent forgeries?

As regards brokering, the controls suggested in the White Paper refer to secondary legislation. Is there any reason why all arms brokering to embargoed destinations cannot be made criminal under primary legislation?

As regards production agreements, under the White Paper there is little control or monitoring of licensed production unless the UK is exporting equipment or technology. Why cannot licensed production be subject to the same checks as exports and require export licences?

Finally, what is being done to improve the existing database and increase the level of parliamentary scrutiny, perhaps preserving confidentiality in the case of sensitive items on the Swedish model, or alternatively through the creation of a Select Committee?

I pay tribute to the Oxfam researchers, especially to the authors of two authoritative reports published last year, Small Arms, Wrong Hands and Out of Control,

20 Jan 1999 : Column 678

both of which have informed the debate today. I conclude with a quotation from Oxfam's director, David Bryer:

    "Until and unless the UK gets its own house in order it is unlikely to be able to influence events elsewhere".

9.14 p.m.

Lord Rea: My Lords, other noble Lords have described vividly how small arms have been the main cause of civilian deaths in the many conflicts that have set back development in the nations of the South in recent years. In Kosovo this week we have seen how even in Europe in the hands of an unprincipled power they can cause quite unacceptable human suffering and grief. But as they are manufactured by many nations, not simply the major industrial powers, the problem of controlling trade in these weapons may be thought by realists or those of a cynical turn of mind to be insurmountable, especially considering the links with the drugs trade referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford.

However, as my noble friend Lord Judd pointed out, a significant start has been made in building the framework of a control policy. No one suggests that the production and supply of weapons should be banned, which is perhaps a recognition that, in the right hands and responsibly used, there is still a legitimate requirement for some of them. In an ideal world that would not be the case, but we are a long way from that. The problem is that even among nations which nominally adhere to their own national as well as internationally agreed control measures, such as the United Nations arms register and the recently agreed EU code of conduct on arms exports, there are instances of breaches in the spirit and letter of the agreements. The United Kingdom is no exception. It may be held that such agreements are somewhat Utopian as less principled governments who export or re-export weapons will ignore them or make only token attempts to comply.

Luckily, Her Majesty's Government do not take that view; nor do most responsible statesmen in Europe and many other countries, pushed largely by their own constituents who are now becoming much more aware. If regulations can be made to work in the major arms-supplying nations, that in itself will cut down the numbers going to irresponsible or repressive end-users and lay the basis for workable regulation of the trade worldwide.

I said that the UK was no exception to those nations which flout arms control agreements. By that, I do not mean that the Government deliberately break self-imposed rules--at least not now--or international agreements, but rather that the inadequacy of the current regulatory system allows the UK to supply such weapons to undesirable potential users without the full knowledge of Ministers or Parliament. Other noble Lords have made reference to all four of the main ways in which that is done, such as by licensed production overseas, by brokerage of deals that take place outside Britain and by the use of misleading end-use certificates or failure to insist upon one, falsification of those certificates or failure to act upon them by the recipient.

20 Jan 1999 : Column 679

The fourth is inadequate description of military equipment in export licences. The category of the weapon is given but not the quantity or the precise definition.

Page 22 of the report Small Arms, Wrong Hands referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, deals with export licences and states:

    "This limitation of suppressed data and aggregation of data prevents these information sources giving any more than a very generalised picture of the small arms trade, and it would appear that this has been achieved by design rather than mistake".
There appears to be a degree of concealment of the true nature of British arms exports, possibly from Ministers and certainly from Parliament, often under the aegis of commercial sensitivity.

Arms exports are profitable for manufacturers and dealers and help handsomely to minimise our balance of payment deficit. However, the same Oxfam report states that even China is more open in providing information about some of its small arms sales than Britain, and that at times more can be found out about UK exports of small arms from an American database than in the United Kingdom. The White Paper Strategic Export Controls published in July by the DTI, which has been referred to by a number of noble Lords, proposes changes that will require legislation to improve control. At this stage perhaps I may ask my noble friend if she can inform the House when legislation or proposals arising from the White Paper are likely to see the light of day.

The report on the desirability of increased parliamentary scrutiny is not forthcoming. Page 9 of the White Paper, Strategic Export Controls, states:

    "The Government does not consider that there should be parliamentary scrutiny of individual applications ... Parliamentary scrutiny before licence decisions are taken would inevitably slow down the process of decision-making ... Any process involving publication of individual applications ... would mean identifying companies and the nature of their planned or actual export business which would be likely to harm their competitive position".
Increased parliamentary scrutiny need not involve publication of commercially sensitive material.

It is worth referring further to the Swedish system mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. I have given notice to my noble friend that I was going to suggest this. Sweden has had confidential prior parliamentary scrutiny of potentially sensitive export licences since the mid-1980s. No commercially sensitive information is ever made public. There are two bodies: the Export Control Council, and the National Inspectorate of Strategic Products. The council has 10 political appointees from all the major parties, chaired by the Inspector General of Military Equipment. The council is advised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defence which both participate in meetings. It assesses only sensitive exports, chosen according to guidelines which can be updated according to changes in the international situation. The system is deemed to be fair by manufacturers and parliament alike. The UK has similar confidential parliamentary scrutiny of the intelligence services without, so far as I am aware, any danger to

20 Jan 1999 : Column 680

national security. I shall be interested to hear my noble friend's views on the Swedish system, and whether it could be considered as a model for the UK.

We have already taken a lead in setting up the European Union code which is only a start towards what is necessary. To echo the director of Oxfam--I did not know that he had said it--we should set a good example to the European Union and other countries by getting on now with putting our own house in order.

9.22 p.m.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for initiating the debate today. The noble Lord picked a fine day on which to have this short debate. His timing is impeccable. The importance of the issue must be reflected in the fact that the leader of my party today announced his resignation; we had an extremely important debate on the euro; and I believe that there was a short Statement earlier which, I have to admit, I missed. However, it is unfortunate that those events have also taken place today because the debate is extremely important.

One of the problems in winding up a short debate is that the subject is often extremely well researched by those who speak. Many of the points I had wished to raise earlier have been covered in some detail. I refer to brokering, licensing--a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Judd--and end-use control, an issue on which I wish to conclude my speech. The Minister will be happy to note that I have only one question of which I am giving her warning as I should like an answer.

Perhaps I may refer to my personal experience of small arms. I have to declare an interest; I am a coward. I think that anyone who has ever had a weapon pointed at his head finds that his stock of courage deserts him. The first time that I was threatened with a rifle was in Mozambique. I was returning from Malawi on the way to Zimbabwe. We got out of the trucks, which we had been told not to do, because it was so hot. A Mozambiquan soldier walked over with an FM rifle. The magazine was on and the safety catch was off. It is amazing how you notice these small things! He stuck the rifle up my nose and said, "Cigarette". In Malawi I had decided to give up smoking because I thought it would kill me and now someone was asking me for a cigarette. I had got rid of them all. It was one of the worst experiences of my life and I desperately hoped I had a packet in my pocket which I could give him. The fact that he was high on cannabis did not help. I said in my best Portuguese, "No cigarette" and after a while he wandered off. It was a levelling experience. I believe that no one when threatened with a gun can claim anything but utter terror.

I mention Mozambique in particular because the war was so bloody and fraught with atrocities and has destabilised the whole region. Guns were pumped into Mozambique. I remember working in South Africa and being offered an AK-47 as a favour for £10. That was the cost of such a weapon. It is a high price in South Africa, but in general terms it is not. The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, spoke about swapping arms for ploughshares. It is interesting to note than an AK-47

20 Jan 1999 : Column 681

at that price would cost about the same as a mattock for someone trying to reclaim their land in Mozambique. That is a frightening thought.

The spread of small arms is also affecting the region. The number of armed robberies in Malawi has gone through the roof. It was an incredibly safe and friendly country, but has suddenly become dangerous on the streets due to the spread of arms from Mozambique because those who have given up fighting have decided to sell their weapons.

I have come across small arms in a number of other countries. I had the privilege of monitoring the elections in Sri Lanka and came across an interesting situation in the north. I was in an area in the islands where no one else was monitoring. One political party was armed and was using the guns against anyone who opposed it. It was not surprising that there was hardly one vote for any other party in the region.

I have also visited Yemen where the traditional daggers have been replaced by AK-47s. Because of the weakness of the central government it is almost inevitable that the tribesmen use them in a way which could not happen in any other country. It is almost an initiation to give anyone over the age of 10 or 12 an AK-47 to carry around.

The real dangers of small arms can be associated with three examples that I wish to give tonight. Small arms should be associated with disease and poverty, which are the real danger. It is not the tanks because when they run out of fuel they break down and their wrecks can be seen everywhere, but small arms can carry on for ever. The examples I would like to give are Sierra Leone, Kosovo and Angola. There has been a proliferation of small arms in Sierra Leone. The rebel army was on the point of defeat only a few months ago and was almost wiped out. Somehow it got arms from nowhere. Suddenly it has been trained and it is well armed. With horrific results it cornered ECOMOG troops in Freetown and that can be seen most clearly. The cost of that can be shown by the cost to development. I should like to cite a matter raised only yesterday by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in another place, Mr. Robin Cook, when answering questions on Sierra Leone,

    "Finally, Britain remains much the largest national donor to Sierra Leone of reconstruction aid and humanitarian assistance. Since the restoration of President Kabbah, Britain has committed more than £20 million in assistance to Sierra Leone. HMS Norfolk has now been stationed off Sierra Leone to provide humanitarian support and assistance. I can today announce to the House that the Government will be urgently releasing another £1 million of humanitarian assistance for the people of Sierra Leone, and logistical support for ECOMOG".--[Official Report, Commons, 19/1/99; col. 707.]
I believe that that accurately sums up what has taken place in Sierra Leone; that is, the failure of the West to defeat the rebels who have no real aims or ambitions, apart from taking power. They distrust everyone, even themselves. The questions must be asked: where did they get their training from, where did they get their arms from and why are foreign mercenaries turning up among their number? This goes back to the issue of Sandline and whether support for Sandline, although distasteful, should have been extended earlier in the year so that this threat could have been countered. I raise this

20 Jan 1999 : Column 682

point only because it seems that it is becoming more and more difficult for us to commit troops of our own and that perhaps the only alternative is to use mercenaries in that way.

The second example I should like to put forward is that of Kosovo. The ceasefire, has, in one respect, backfired. Arms are pouring through the border from Albania. The KLA is able to re-arm itself and is financing this by means of drugs and prostitution.

The third example is that of Angola. Until recently, UNITA was on the point of defeat. Unfortunately, it has used the ceasefire to re-arm itself with extremely sophisticated weapons using that country's diamond resources.

These examples have been given for one reason only: that they have been supplied by companies and outside agencies which are all too willing to supply any group. I wish to mention that there may be a deeper issue behind many of the conflicts taking place, especially in Africa; that is, that there may be an element of agent provocateurism. Areas where peace could be brought about have been destabilised where companies from outside--I believe that many companies in the West might be responsible for this--are looking to their own profit margins and are prepared to re-arm groups who wish to go back to war.

I raise that issue because there are still questionmarks over where the guns and ammunition came from to supply Rwanda and Uganda in their march into Zaire. That is obviously one of the reasons that so many wars are taking place in Africa.

I come to the end of my speech and have one question to ask. Many questions have been asked about brokering, licensing and end-use. Which department in the British Government covers end-use control? I believe that that is one of the issues which should be covered and monitored by the Department for International Development. I believe that the DTI has a role in scrutinising arms exports, but I also believe that there was talk recently of a joint committee to be set up in the House of Commons to be made up of members of the DfID sub-committee, the DTI sub-committee, the Foreign Affairs sub-committee and the Treasury sub-committee. They were to combine to look at that issue. What has happened to that committee?

9.35 p.m.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, in a curious way, I am starting at exactly the point that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, left off. It is with absolutely no disrespect whatever to the noble Baroness that I say that I am interested and in a way surprised to see her answering this Question because this seems to me to be a subject which could have been handled equally well by the DTI, the Foreign Office or the Ministry of Defence. I suspect that the teams of civil servants went off and had a quiet game of liar dice and the noble Baroness's team lost. I am not in the least surprised, because the Ministry of Defence team were probably trained by the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert. In that context, I must express to him my deep gratitude for the assistance and brief that he has given me with regard to

20 Jan 1999 : Column 683

this debate, because I consider that so much of it is a matter for the Ministry of Defence. However, as we know, any Minister answers for the whole government and I look forward to hearing the noble Baroness's reply.

In opening, I should pay tribute to the Garda for the work it has done in co-operation with the RUC in unearthing weapons which were exported possibly from this country and possibly from America, with particular emphasis on the haul of heavy machine guns captured last week. Those are small arms even if they are heavyweight small arms capable of bringing down a helicopter.

Last year, your Lordships had the opportunity to discuss the Ottawa Convention and the proposal to ban the use of landmines. Is the Minister able to forecast a date when that convention will be ratified by a sufficient number of nations for it to come into force, because, within the meaning of the words, landmines are small arms and should surely come within the confines of the subject of this debate. Certainly they are not weapons of mass destruction, for which the potential manufacturers and exporters are small in number and relatively easily identified. It is not easy to make a positive identification of what a small arm is. That may be why there has been a delay in making much progress.

Between the extremes of WMDs and small arms come tanks, artillery, aircraft and other weapons which are covered by the United Nations Conventional Arms Register. Manufacturers of those are also comparatively easy to distinguish but we are not specifically concerned with them this evening.

To fill the gap between large and small, the United Nations set up two or three years ago an "expert group" to look into the problems of small arms of all kinds. That group did a lot of work with the intention of developing a register on the pattern of the Conventional Arms Register. Its particular intent was to register heavy machine guns and mortars, weapons which require some technology but which are not ranked with the weapons and artefacts which are on the current register. Such weapons are above the sort of rifles and automatic side arms which can be made in almost any workshop in almost any part of the world. Therefore, control of them is immensely difficult and unsophisticated weapons they may be but they will kill with the best.

When that United Nations group reported to the General Assembly last year, it had achieved little of long-term benefit. The Germans had put a lot of work into it and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had done some work. I hope that the Minister may be able to tell your Lordships about that.

However, it does not look as though the subject was taken too seriously here. The key figure seems to have been Mitsuro Donowaki, a special assistant to the Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs. With due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, today's debate looks to be part of what is known to be an organised attempt to get this problem back on the world agenda. In the gracious Speech the Government undertook specifically to work to strengthen the United Nations. This is an

20 Jan 1999 : Column 684

instance where they should implement the gracious Speech. It may well be an occasion where the Government could pay tribute to Mr John Major, who, as Prime Minister, played a considerable part in getting the main register established.

In arms proliferation it is the simple piece of equipment which provides the volume and that is something that this country does not produce much of. A number of noble Lords have mentioned Heckler and Koch. It is the only real small arms business in this country. There are one or two other instances where arms firms have applied for export licences and it has not helped anybody to say that there have been delays or refusals to grant them. But surely it is better for us to produce the stuff where we may have a better chance of controlling it than to have it produced by other countries. One specific contract has now left Britain and gone to FN Herstal, which was then a subsidiary of the French-owned GIAT and is now in Belgian provincial government hands. We are losing out on exports and the proliferation goes on.

In any debate on small arms, attention must be drawn to ammunition. For the defence of this country it is immensely important that there should be an adequate home-based supplier and that the Ministry of Defence should not be dependent on foreign manufacturers. To keep such an operation viable, a complementary export market is essential.

The DTI's export control organisation states that the aim of the UK export control policy is to,

    "protect the UK's national and security interests effectively and with the least possible disruption to legitimate trade".
The aim is to avoid as far as possible unnecessary bureaucracy by a system of partial self-regulation. Thus the aim has been to divert the consideration of export orders from the individual order to an assessment of the manufacturer and the nature and destination of his goods. As a result, the number of export licence applications dropped from 100,000 in 1988 to 17,000 in 1994. The drop in work caused by the reduction in orders to be processed is obvious, though the Civil Service may not have mentioned it as it is not a great believer in Parkinson's law. That does not mean that there is a corresponding drop in the numbers of small arms exported; but it means that there is greater control, which is almost as important.

In the Strategic Defence Review, much attention was paid to defence diplomacy. The first "specific military task" of the Defence Diplomacy Mission is given as,

    "arms control, non-proliferation and security building measures".
It is with that single phrase in mind that I am surprised that the task of replying to this debate--I say this with apologies--has been given to the noble Baroness. I appreciate that she answers for the whole Government and that she has the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, beside her to hold her hand, but it is not quite the same thing. Nevertheless, what are the immediate plans of the Government to implement this clause in the Strategic Defence Review?

Also what are the Government's plans for the stationing of defence attaches--this too came in the SDR--in foreign and Commonwealth countries? We

20 Jan 1999 : Column 685

know that several, in particular Bangladesh, have been withdrawn. The SDR says,

    "We will be working with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to ensure that we have the right number of attaches in the right places to ensure our defence and security goals".

What has been done? Defence attaches are the people who know what the arms are, who know what is getting into the countries. They are vital to any attempt to avoid undesirable weapons proliferation but it looks as though their numbers are being reduced. Is there a new specification for attaches and can they be used for the type of work for which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is looking?

There has recently been much discussion in government circles about the extent to which Britain should be the policeman of the world. We adopt policies that seem to be fashionable at the moment; we are intervening in Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Iraq and anywhere else one can think of at all times and places where there is a crisis. If this is the case, if this is our policy, and if this is the way we will behave, then arms proliferation and its control is our business. However, if we no longer carry the white man's burden, and are responsible for our own affairs only, it is probably the case that this Government, as the Conservative Government before it, are doing a pretty good job. I hope that when the noble Baroness replies, she will clarify such matters and tell your Lordships how far world-wide proliferation of weapons is our affair.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for giving us an opportunity to address such an important and complex subject.

The Government are committed to combating the illicit trafficking of small arms, to responsible and transparent policy on legal transfer of small arms and to the removal and, where possible, destruction of surplus weapons where their existence is a threat to peace and stability. We are working closely with the UN and other regional organisations to promote and effect these policies.

As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, very rightly emphasised, co-ordination in this area is a special problem. Your Lordships will be interested to hear that we have recently established an inter-departmental committee, chaired by the FCO, to develop small arms policy and to ensure coherence of UK action in this area.

As both the noble Lords, Lord Redesdale and Lord Burnham, expressed surprise that the FCO is answering this debate, I shall say this in parenthesis. As someone who spent over 20 years in Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service and the FCO I find it not at all surprising that the FCO takes the lead in answering on a topic such as this, which involves many departments of Her Majesty's Government. The DTI and the MoD have been mentioned already, but Customs and Excise and many other arms of government are also involved. On an international issue such as this, which involves severe and difficult foreign policy problems and aspects, it is crystal clear to me that the FCO should take the lead.

20 Jan 1999 : Column 686

In his opening speech the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised a number of pertinent questions on tackling small arms proliferation and matters that affect the export control policy more generally. In the time allowed I shall do my best to answer his questions and those from other noble Lords. On any point that I have to leave because of the pressure of time, I shall write to noble Lords.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked whether the Government will require registration of UK arms brokers and licensing of their deals, with a licence being refused for transactions breaching the EU code of conduct. That was considered in the preparation of the DTI White Paper, but the Government concluded that it would be better to focus on the need to control specific trafficking and brokering activities.

My noble friend Lord Judd gave a precis of the White Paper's proposals on extending HMG's power to control trafficking and brokering. The White Paper does not favour wider controls on the grounds that those involved in such activities will have to comply with export control laws in the country from which the goods are supplied. Furthermore, enforcing controls on trafficking and brokering is much more difficult than enforcing controls on exports from the UK. But, as with all the White Paper proposals, the Government will review them in the light of comments made by respondents to the White Paper as well as those made on this issue by the House of Commons Select Committee on Trade and Industry in its December report on strategic export controls. My noble friend Lord Rea also mentioned this White Paper. I can tell him that it is being considered by the Government, but that we are doing so in the light of the responses that are coming in.

I turn now to the point made by my noble friend Lord Judd concerning Germany's plans to raise the issue of brokering during its presidency of the EU. The Government look forward to discussing such matters with Germany and all other member states in the coming six months and thereafter. I must thank my noble friend Lord Judd for his very kind comments about the steps that the Government have taken to date in tackling small arms proliferation. In particular, he mentioned our role in securing a code of conduct on arms exports during our EU presidency. I have to say that the Government see this as a major development in this area. I should add that this point was also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton.

My noble friend Lord Judd, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and other noble Lords made reference as to whether licensing agreements made by UK companies for overseas production of arms and military equipment should be scrutinised in the light of the code of conduct and be made more transparent. They also asked whether any action could be taken to curb the production of arms from factories where licensed production agreements have expired.

The code of conduct addresses the issue of illegal exports from EU member states, but it does not address the question of licensed production per se. Curbing the production of licensed equipment in a third country would involve the extension of extra-territorial powers.

20 Jan 1999 : Column 687

Her Majesty's Government attach great importance to ensuring that UK exports are not diverted or re-exported to undesirable end-users, in line with national criteria and the EU code of conduct. This question was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and also one or two other speakers.

I should add here that I shall try to answer all the questions raised, but I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I do not always include every speaker involved. In fact, many of the questions tonight were raised by several noble Lords.

The European Union code of conduct sets out factors to be considered by member states in assessing the risk of diversion. Work is in hand to consider how to strengthen the monitoring of the end use of defence exports in line with our commitment to prevent diversion to third countries and to ensure that exported equipment is used only on the conditions under which the export licence has been granted. We have compared notes on national practices with both our EU partners and Wassenaar arrangement partners. We have also exchanged information on end-users of concern.

Thorough assessment of licence applications is key to minimising the risk of diversion. The safest way of preventing diversion is not through post-export monitoring but by refusing to issue an export licence if such concern exists. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked whether HMG could use embassies to check out end-user certificates. It is very important to target resources effectively, but I can say that, on occasion, UK embassies or high commissions are used to check the authenticity of the documentation which companies use in their export licence applications.

The Government are currently considering the view of the House of Commons Trade and Industry Committee that the question of controls on the licensed production of arms and dual-use goods be addressed within the Wassenaar arrangement. A UK company does not require an export licence to allow production of its goods in another country. However, if, in order to enable the production to go ahead, the company concerned needed to supply controlled equipment, technology or software from the UK, it would need a licence. The export of more specialised components of controlled goods is also controlled.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, questioned whether the Government would tighten up and increase the transparency of the EU code of conduct on arms exports. My noble friend Lord Judd asked when the Government's first annual report on strategic export controls will be published. Some EU member states already publish annual reports on their arms exports and the Government are committed to doing likewise. We have said that we shall publish the first annual report on the state of strategic export controls and their application as soon as possible. I am afraid that I am unable to give a precise date of publication this evening. However, the UK will seek to use the first annual review of the code's operation to consider further the scope for encouraging all member states to adopt a similar level of transparency.

20 Jan 1999 : Column 688

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked whether the Government would establish a parliamentary arms export committee and cited the example of Sweden. My noble friend Lord Rea spoke at length of the Swedish model in another connection. As someone who has served in the diplomatic service in Sweden for over three years, I am well aware of some of the excellent parliamentary scrutiny practices of the Swedish parliament. However, it is not always possible to transplant these practices into our Parliament which has quite a different tradition. However, we are well aware of the practices and we shall, of course, try to adopt best practice wherever we can. The Government have not proposed that there should be parliamentary scrutiny of individual applications either before or after the decision on whether to grant a licence has been taken. However, we would expect parliamentary Select Committees to take an interest in the details that we shall publish in the annual report.

I turn to development in connection with tackling the small arms problem. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and others asked whether the Government would propose resolutions in the European Development Council of the OECD Development Assistance Committee to enable development aid to include security projects. The Government recognise that security and stability are important preconditions for sustainable development. The White Paper on international development stressed the importance of measures to limit the means of waging war. This includes support for measures limiting the proliferation of small arms. A number of noble Lords have raised the possibility of using EU development funds to finance security projects in this context. This is a difficult issue from a legal point of view, as my noble friend Lord Judd implied. We are making progress, however, in advancing the principle that wherever possible development assistance should contribute to the prevention of conflict. The November 1998 Development Council agreed conclusions to that effect.

Time is pressing and I shall have to write to noble Lords to deal with many of the other questions which they raised. However, I shall mention private military companies. We and our EU partners have always made clear that we unequivocally condemn the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries. We are concerned about the spread of mercenary activity. As regards private military companies, we are still examining the complex issue of regulation. Military companies which carry out their business within the law are generally not a cause for concern. Our principal concerns relate to those companies which are involved in the supply of military equipment or other controlled goods and services in breach of the UK's national commitments on the supply or the offer to supply mercenaries or related military services. Allegations of breaches of UK export restrictions are vigorously investigated, and prosecuted where appropriate. We continue to study the effectiveness of measures taken by other governments to curb mercenary activity. We shall discuss these difficult issues with the UN special rapporteur on mercenaries, Sr. Ballesteros, when he visits the UK later this month. His programme will

20 Jan 1999 : Column 689

include meeting my honourable friend the FCO Minister of State, Mr. Lloyd, and meetings with those in other interested government departments.

In conclusion, I assure the House that the Government are giving the issues of small arms proliferation and the activities of private military companies our close attention. We are committed to moving international policy forward in these areas. I very much welcome having had an opportunity to discuss these matters and to hear the valuable views expressed by your Lordships this evening. It has been a useful and informative debate.

Lord Judd: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I wonder whether she could clarify one point. I believe I understood her to say that the position of the

20 Jan 1999 : Column 690

Government and the Department of Trade is that it is difficult to deal with licensed production abroad because that interferes with the sovereign rights of the country in which that is happening. But surely to control the process of licensing by companies based in this country is completely within the jurisdiction of this Government?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, due to time constraints I could not give as full a reply as I wished on the whole question of controlling end use and surveillance and checking. I think it is best if I write to my noble friend on this matter. I shall, of course, copy that reply to other noble Lords.

        House adjourned at one minute before ten o'clock.

20 Jan 1999 : Column 689

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page