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Lord Skelmersdale: I am not sure whether or not that is a technical point. I did not speak on Second Reading but, having listened to the whole debate on the proposed new clause before Clause 7 and the potential amending Amendments Nos. 48B and 48C, I understand very well why the phrase "state that regard shall be had" is so important in the minds of those supporting Amendment No. 48B.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 52 and 54, which are part of this group dealing with guidance. Amendment No. 52 touches on a point mentioned by my noble friend. It is tabled because we are not happy with the idea that the guidance, even though it is to be laid before Parliament, should be published,
The Minister is aware of my strong concern in relation to the Employment Relations Act 1999; namely, over the power given to the Secretary of State to amend regulations by Act of Parliament, which is fair enough, or by another regulation, which is also fair enough. But the words "or otherwise" are addednothing else, just those words. The Minister has not yet been able to give a satisfactory explanation of what "otherwise" might be. There are enough problems with the Government trying to sideline Parliament as it is, without our giving them licence to do so by leaving in the clause the vague wording,
Amendment No. 54 is the crux, the most important part, of what is needed to make ministerial guidance open and transparent. My husband has a framed cartoon on the board table in his office. It depicts the chairman saying to the assembled directors:
Lord Rea: I have not been present for the whole of this debate because I was listening to no fewer than three health Ministers briefing me about the National Health Service Reform and Health Care Professions Bill which will come up in about 10 days' time and in which I shall be involved.
I share the anxieties expressed by my noble friend Lord Judd about the words "if any" and about how they might be misused in future by a successor to my noble friend the Minister. Yesterday, we learnt that Tanzania is to go ahead with the controversial project for a rather grandiose air traffic control system. The Minister concerned said that no corruption had been involved. I suggest that "corruption" was not the main issue. It was that firms in this country had been able to apply heavy pressure to get the Tanzanian Government to agree to this inflated scheme, and that the Department of Trade and Industry had put no impediment in their way. The words "if any" might allow a future Minister to do exactly the same with a similar project. I look forward to hearing what my noble friend has to say in answer to all these pleas.
Lord Avebury: I entirely agree with what has been said throughout the debate, especially with the remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that what matters is not so much the language on the face of the Bill but the intentions of a future government and how they intend to carry these matters into effect. All that we can do is to deal with the wording as we find it and to try to pin down the present Government in so far as we can to the principles, particularly those enunciated by my noble friend Lord Redesdale; namely, that we want to see hard and fast progress made on the questions of sustainable development, human rights and regional stability.
The reason for our anxieties has been expressed by a number of Members of the Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Rea, has just referred to the case of the £28 million scheme for Tanzania, which is well outside the relationship between the spending on that particular scheme and the development needs of the country. As regards the sale of weapons to India and Pakistan and to South Africa, I agree with everything that has been said. Those sales represent a material diversion from the development needs of the countries concerned.
I gave the Minister notice of a further question relating to the guidance that may be given in relation to Clause 4(1), which provides that trade controls can include the prohibition or regulation of the movement of "goods of any description". I want to refer in particular to the activities of British firms in moving weapons from third countries to prohibited destinations such as UNITA and the RUF.
Two British companies were associated with Mr Victor Bout, who has been mentioned in recent news reports as having conveyed large quantities of weapons to both those destinations. Will the guidance that the noble Lord intends to issue under the terms of the new clause include reference to the activities of companies engaged in the transportation of weapons from third countries to destinations such as I have mentioned which are prohibited?
The two companies about which I wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, have both ceased to be associated with Mr Victor Bout, but in very recent days. It is a matter of great anxiety that it is possible for companies to engage in activities that are contrary to the principles of the United Nationsto assist in the transfer of weapons into sensitive areas of the world where internal conflicts are taking place. I hope that the guidance will make it clear that such activities are prohibited and that licences will be required for either the insurers of companies transporting weapons into destinations such as that, or any other connection with air freight for such sensitive destinations.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: Perhaps I may begin by saying to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield that we totally agree about the principles of the Bill. We believe that sustainability is a criterion that should be applied to arms sent to countries where that may have an impact on the sustainability of the economy. There is no disagreement about that. We believe absolutely in that principle. What we are talking about are technicalities relating to that.
The remark made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that I might be approaching the Bill rather like a wine waiter asked to put forward a bottle of Coke was rather offensive, when it is well known that I am strongly committed to the principles behind the Bill, as indeed are the Government. I approach the matter as a wine waiter asked to put forward a the most delicious bottle of Château d'Yquem I can find. It do it with enormous enthusiasm and commitment to what I believe is an extremely important Bill.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: I accept the noble Earl's apology, but there is nothing dismissive in our approach to the issue. There are good reasonsalthough the noble Earl may not agree with themwhy we think that "if any" should be there.
In response to the right reverend Prelate, there is no point in having such debates if the Government do not listen to and take account of the points that are raised. To criticise us for producing the amendments at the last moment is to denigrate the process of debate. We are debating the Bill because we want to listen to views that are put forward. If we think that those views have validity, we are prepared to go to a great deal of trouble to amend the Bill, because we want to get it right and ensure that it meets the objectives that we all share. That is the right way to approach such a Bill.
I entirely understand the reasoning behind Amendment No. 48B and I have sympathy with the intention of helping to ensure that future governments could not seek to exclude consideration of sustainable development or other issues listed in the schedule from the export licensing process. However, the amendment would have a number of unfortunate consequences, which I believe those who have tabled it do not intend.
The problems that lie behind our difficulties with the proposal are ones that we wrestled with when we prepared our own amendment. We believe that the terms of our amendment provide the necessary assurances that a future government could not simply decide to ignore important considerations such as sustainable development and human rights. I shall enlarge on that point shortly, but first I shall describe the difficulties that the amendment presents, focusing on the two most serious issues.
First, one consequence of the amendment would be to require this and future governments to consider sustainable development and schedule issues whenever they exercised licensing powers under the Bill. It may seem easy to take out "if any", which is a natural reaction when looking at the amendment, but there are difficulties. As noble Lords are aware, the Bill does more than control just arms and other military equipment and technology. For example, the Bill allows the Government to introduce controls on exports in pursuit of international or EC obligations. It would not necessarily be for the UK, in these circumstances, to decide what considerations were or were not relevant when taking export licensing decisions.
Let me give an example. At a point in the future, the international community might decide to control exports of widgets, on the grounds that they were a risk to health. The UK Government of the day might choose to implement that international obligation to
The amendment would force the Government to have regard to the schedule table and sustainable development considerations in all export licensing cases, even in a situation in which they were not legally entitled to give any consideration to those issues when taking export licensing decisions.
Another serious difficulty is that the amendment would fetter the Government's ability to give guidance that said that in certain cases consideration of sustainable development and issues in the schedule table were not relevant. The Government need to retain that flexibility, as there may be cases in which it would not be relevant or appropriate to consider sustainable development or any other issue. That is why the reference to "if any" in the Government's new clause is needed.
For example, our new clause will require the Government to lay before Parliament guidance on the general principles to be followed when exercising licensing powers on objects of cultural interest. The Government do not envisage that sustainable development or consequences in the schedule table, such as development of weapons of mass destruction, are likely to be an issue with regard to objects of cultural interest. The guidance issued by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will state that, in general, no consideration will be given to such issues when exercising licensing powers on cultural objects, as such considerations would be neither relevant nor appropriate.
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