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Mr. Gerald Howarth: Will my hon. Friend comment on Sir Richard Scott's recommendation that there should be a default system whereby, if a licence is not issued within a certain period, the application should be deemed to have been successful?

Mr. Page: That idea should be adequately investigated in Committee. Unfortunately, I am concerned that the draconian time reduction in the Government's programming means that there will not be enough time to develop that argument, which is perfectly legitimate and should be available to our manufacturers as a form of recompense.

We seem to be envisaging the Bill as a catch-all—a considerable extension of bureaucratic controls. The Government are confident that the measures will have only a modest bureaucratic impact, but that view is not shared by the Defence Manufacturers Association or the Society of British Aerospace Companies, both of which believe that there will be a significant rise in the number of inquiries made of the Department of Trade and Industry. We recognise that the Department is only a postbox for inquiries, which go on to be dealt with by the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign Office.

There will also be a rise in the number of export licence applications. Last week, the SBAC estimated that there could be a fourfold increase in licensing activity.

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The measures will represent a significant additional burden for large firms. For small and medium-sized businesses, it could be too much to bear. The CBI has made known its concerns about the difficulties that the extra work could cause. I am afraid that the cost to our companies will be high. We can see that the red tape machine inside the Government is alive and well, and producing.

I must take issue with the costs in the explanatory notes. The estimate that implementation of the measures will cost £800,000 in the first year, and £500,000 in subsequent years, is not only low but absolutely ridiculous.

Time has beaten me, and I am prevented from tackling all the issues that I wanted to mention, including the enforcement difficulties posed by electronic transmission, the question of what records have to be kept by companies to protect themselves and what will happen to employees working overseas. No doubt, some of that will come out in Committee. As I said at the beginning of my speech, the Bill is necessary: whether it is sufficient or goes too far is another matter. No doubt time, and the Committee stage, will tell.

9.44 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Nigel Griffiths): The Export Control Bill is the product of four years' work and is the culmination of a series of great improvements that will ensure that the United Kingdom has one of the most effective, comprehensive, open and transparent export control regimes in the world. Today, we heard a number of quality contributions from right hon. and hon. Members; there were five exceptional maiden speeches and several embarrassing references to myself—it is not so much "The Mummy Returns" as "The Minister returns".

We want to create a world climate of non-proliferation. We have demonstrated our commitment to non- proliferation by greatly reducing our holdings of nuclear weapons. We have signed and ratified the comprehensive test ban treaty and, clearly, we have made significant changes to the export control regime since coming to power in 1997. Five memorable maiden speeches were given in the House today, the first by my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), who spoke eloquently and warmly of our colleague Mo Mowlam and the fact that the constituency had produced two successive women MPs. We hope and trust that Redcar has produced two exceptional MPs.

The hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell- Grainger) paid a fitting tribute to his predecessor, Tom King, and his towering role in the House. The hon. Gentleman listed manufacturing success stories and spoke about tourism, farming and flooding; he will be a doughty fighter, I am sure, for his constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris)—or perhaps I should say my hon. Friend the Member for the city of Wolverhampton, South-West—showed an immediate and impressive grasp of Second Readings in the House. He, too, praised the much admired work of his predecessor, Jenny Jones—especially her work on abolishing the death penalty. His mention of his local paper, the Express and Star, will, I am sure, mean that he will be given a long honeymoon.

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My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) demonstrated his keen knowledge of his constituency and made a relevant contribution to the debate. He also demonstrated his detailed knowledge of the many companies involved in defence projects, and brings to the House a wealth of experience from the manufacturing sector. Last, but certainly not least, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk), paid tribute to Bowen Wells, a much respected Member of Parliament who chaired the Select Committee on International Development. In a wide-ranging maiden speech, which covered the defence and aviation sectors, the hon. Gentleman's remarks on the need to challenge Government are well timed; I hope that he devotes his parliamentary career to that cause.

It was a pleasure to listen to all those speeches and many others. Several thoughtful comments have been made by colleagues, and I should like to deal with them as they arise in the Bill. Before doing so, however, I shall take up several points made by members of the Quadripartite Committee and others. Many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), asked about prior parliamentary scrutiny. As she will acknowledge, we have introduced more scrutiny in the past four years than there has been in the past 50 years of the operation of the Import, Export and Customs Powers (Defence) Act 1939.

The Bill ensures that, for the first time, annual reports are required to be published by statute. For the past three years, each report has been more informative than the last, mainly in response to comments from the Quadripartite Committee and organisations like Saferworld, Amnesty and Oxfam. The reports themselves now allow much more effective scrutiny after decisions have been taken. We shall soon report our conclusions on prior parliamentary scrutiny to the House in our detailed response to the Quadripartite Committee report.

The right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat- Amory) alleged that the Government had done nothing on export control for four years. I have to ask him what he calls the weighty documents that have been published. There are 668 pages, many of which detail the firm action that we have taken. Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that we have banned the import, export, transfer and manufacture of all forms of anti-personnel land mines, as has been mentioned, as well as the export and trans-shipment through the UK of torture equipment? We have also published national criteria against which UK export licence applications are judged, and have worked with our EU colleagues to develop an EU code of conduct on arms exports, which we consolidated into our national criteria in October 2000.

We have taken many other measures, and it was uncharacteristic of the right hon. Member for Wells not to give credit to the Government and my right hon. Friend the new Leader of the House of Commons, the original architect of so much of the drive to modernise. We published the White Paper on the legislation in 1998. In the light of the many comments that were made, we have gone significantly further than its proposals on trafficking and brokering, which have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The right hon. Member for Wells suggested that the Bill might place an excessive burden on British industry. We are working closely with industry and others to ensure

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that we achieve targeted and effective controls without overburdening legitimate business. Let us consider the industry's constructive and positive attitude to the Bill. A recent CBI press release states:

We are sure that that will prove possible.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the time taken to provide the response to the Quadripartite Committee and was concerned that it was published only this morning. The response to the Committee's line, which was set out in the report published on 9 April, has been published within the two-month period that is conventional for a Government response to such reports. We will respond to the Committee's other report as soon as possible.

The right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) spoke about the performance of the Department of Trade and Industry on licensing. I assure the House that all applications are processed expeditiously and with care. The whole House will realise that some cases cause particular concern and raise especially difficult issues, and therefore take longer to process.

Many hon. Members asked for proper and even better checks to be made by our overseas staff in embassies and consulates abroad. All that takes time. Concern was expressed about the fact that in 2000, 57 per cent. of processed standard individual export licence applications were within target. The figure has so far risen to 62 per cent. this year and we are working to improve it still further.

The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) asked why the Bill did not deal with licensed production overseas and said that its absence would leave a gaping hole in UK legislation. Following consultation on the Bill, the Government have concluded that specific measures in primary legislation are not the best way of dealing with licensed production. We set out in the consultation document a range of options, of which primary legislation was only one.

It is simply not true to say that there is a gaping hole in our export control legislation. The Government already control the export of technology needed to set up such production overseas, as well as the export of production equipment and components especially designed for military use. We continue to believe that the surest way to prevent diversion is not to let the technology or other equipment out of the UK in the first place. We must certainly not let it get to any place where we fear that products may be diverted for illegal purposes.

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