Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Gerald Howarth: Can I tease from the right hon. Gentleman an answer that the Secretary of State was unable to give? He knows a great deal about such matters and he referred to the proliferation of AK47—Soviet—weapons, so can he shed any light on whether British nationals are involved in that trade? In addition, does he know of any similar British equipment that might form part of such an horrific trade?

Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman attributes to me expertise that I do not claim, but he makes an important point. I will touch on it later in my speech if he allows me to do so.

We are dealing with the reality of wars in the developing world. Only a decade ago, some people were using spears and bows and arrows, but we are now in a world of automatic and semi-automatic weapons. That is extremely worrying, so it is right that the trade in them should be controlled.

As we all recognise, the victims of the trade are civilians—ordinary men, women and children. On our travels, many us have seen orphans and orphanages in Africa, Asia and elsewhere. Much suffering is caused by this unnecessary arms trade, so I welcome the view of the right hon. Member for Wells that the Bill should receive the scrutiny that it requires. It is far too easy for people to get access to those weapons. If we can tighten the controls, so much the better. We have seen too much suffering in the past 10 years and we must stop it. If we make a start today—as I believe we can—consistent with discussions in New York, the international community can only welcome that.

9 Jul 2001 : Column 557

The United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, said that the death toll from small arms in most years greatly exceeds the toll of the atomic bombs that devastated Nagasaki and Hiroshima. That is a compelling point. Even those who work in the industry are honest and decent enough to want to address that reality. I have no criticism of hon. Members on either side of the House who have to deal with problems in their constituencies. They should have the support of the whole House when they address the more sensitive issues, such as jobs that conflict with stopping the arms trade for humanitarian and other reasons, which we might consider a reasonable approach. It is not an easy issue.

Of course, there has been too much suffering and displacement and there have been too many deaths, injuries, human rights violations and obstructions of humanitarian aid. If the Bill helps to reduce that suffering, it must be welcome. We need to break the cycle of violence, or people will be reluctant to surrender their weapons, which we must encourage them to do in a practical way. There is a responsibility on nation states, which the Government are accepting, to ensure that weapons do not end up in the wrong hands, as they so often do. The Bill is a big step in the right direction.

My right hon. Friend the present Leader of the House made a major contribution as Foreign Secretary in what he said to the House about the Scott inquiry and the compelling conclusions that he reached. Given that he was dealing with problems that had arisen during the previous 18 years, his contribution in those four short years should be acknowledged rather than decried, and I am happy to do that in his absence.

I welcome what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said. Most voluntary organisations and non-governmental organisations share her view. However, they have probing questions for the Government, which I am sure she will want to address. I want to raise only two of the many points that concern Oxfam. The organisation says:

It goes on to say:

I am sure that the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) will take that on board. Oxfam accepts that we can make the improvements and that the basis for that is right.

On sustainable development, to which we are all absolutely committed, the organisation says:

9 Jul 2001 : Column 558

I put that on the record so that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary can reply to it, if he feels so disposed. I want also to underline the fact that it is the view of an important organisation.

The right hon. Member for Wells referred to parliamentary scrutiny, which was dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The Bill takes us much closer to our goal, although I do not know whether such scrutiny can be conducted before decisions are made. Certainly, we all want to know as much as possible about exports, especially of arms. We want to know where they are going, how they will be received, who will receive them and how they will be used.

As I said, I have some probing questions. What will the Bill do to solve the problems faced by British shippers? Returning to the point made by the hon. Member for Aldershot, we all remember the delivery of arms to Saddam in 1998 by Occidental Airlines, which was co-owned by a UK citizen, and we want to deal with such problems.

There is also the issue of unlicensed production overseas. The Bill does not include powers to enable the Government to require companies to impose controls on their customers regarding the manufacture of arms overseas under UK licence. Many hope that in secondary legislation the Government will take full responsibility for extending licence production controls beyond embargoed destinations. Many end-users fail to observe international human rights and humanitarian law and operate in countries without arms embargoes. Oxfam has led the way in asking the Government to use the opportunity afforded by secondary legislation to tighten end-user controls. In Oxfam's view, the increased use of overseas posts in risk assessment does not go far enough, and results in end-users monitoring subject to ad hoc checks rather than to a proper regulatory system. What thoughts does my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary have on that matter?

Dr. Julian Lewis: I share the right hon. Gentleman's belief that there is not much point in restricting trafficking and brokering if weapons end up with people who we do not believe should have them. I, too, have been following the contributions of Oxfam and other groups, and it is not clear what effective sanctions could be recommended if that result were to be outlawed. In the groups' recommendations, I have seen only the suggestion that licences could be revoked. Surely by then, however, it would be too late?

Mr. Clarke: It may not be, but I am glad that the hon. Gentleman asked that question, because that is what I want the debate to be about. If the Government take it on themselves to revoke licences which they consider to have been used inappropriately, I, for one, will support them. Indeed, I would have advocated that during my speech.

Ann Clwyd: Is my right hon. Friend aware of the situation in the United States, which has very clear guidelines indeed? Apart from prior scrutiny, which obviates some of the difficulties surrounding sending weapons to countries with dubious human rights records,

9 Jul 2001 : Column 559

all contracts exchanged between the United States and the countries to which it exports arms include an opportunity to revoke the agreement without penalty.

Mr. Clarke: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has done outstanding work on those matters. I very much value her experience and knowledge of the United States; the House has benefited from her contribution. Again, we must take that experience on board.

In response to my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), if the Government feel that it is necessary, they should unashamedly exercise their right as a Government to revoke export licences, as I have sought to advocate. If people are aware of that, we will make much more progress. I am therefore grateful for the interventions of my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman.

I shall end by referring to the role of the Department for International Development which, I am sure, is very much in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I am sure, too, that, during our discussion of the Bill, consultation will continue. I shall give a final quote from Oxfam which I am certain my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will find helpful. Oxfam encapsulates the role that I want for the Department for International Development and says:

That is an important point, and I look forward to the response of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. It is excellent that the DTI and the Department for International Development are working together because, in our desire to ensure that we continue to make the best contribution that we can as a trading nation, exercising our responsibilities to the developing world, sometimes we come into conflict.

Today, we are seeking to erase at least part of that dilemma and some of those difficulties; we are doing so at a time when international bodies, such as the conference in New York that I mentioned, are seeking to do precisely the same thing. For those practical reasons and because of the inspiration that the Bill is giving all those who deplore the arms trade, especially in developing countries, and all the damage that that trade has done, I welcome the Bill and wish my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary godspeed in getting it through its various stages.

Next Section

IndexHome Page