Previous SectionIndexHome Page

1.30 pm

That in itself will always be a significant influence on any Government exercising powers over that short period. I also point out that any order introduced under new clause 1(2) that was approved by Parliament within the 40-day period could not remain in force for more than a year without the further express approval of both Houses of Parliament.

To sum up, I consider that the Bill is a significant and desirable improvement on the existing legislative framework for export controls. That framework does not provide for any proper parliamentary scrutiny of secondary legislation, but the Bill does. As I said in Committee, it is important that we have the right tools for the right job. Accordingly, where the fundamental objectives of the Bill are involved, we have provided for the affirmative resolution procedure. We have also provided for scrutiny by the negative resolution procedure in all other cases.

Given what I have said, I hope that the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) will withdraw amendment (a), and amendments Nos. 30 and 31.

8 Nov 2001 : Column 386

I shall speak to amendments Nos. 36, 32 and 33 together, as they address similar issues. Amendments Nos. 36 and 33 would ensure that orders could be imposed to prevent an adverse effect of a type specified in any of the criteria of the European Union code of conduct on arms exports. I assure the House that the schedule of the Bill will allow us to impose controls on any goods or technology that we need to be able to control in order to meet our obligations under the EU code of conduct.

Like other member states, we impose controls on military items. Dual-use items, of course, are subject to control under the European Community regulation. Such items are the goods and technologies whose export we need to control in order to meet our obligations under the EU code of conduct. They are the goods and technologies that the schedule allows us to impose controls on, but it would not be appropriate to refer to the code in the schedule, as the amendment would require. The purpose of the EU code, and of our consolidated criteria that incorporate it, is to set out the basis on which licence applications are assessed. That is different from the purposes for which controls may be imposed.

I can best illustrate that by referring to the criterion in the code that refers to the risk of diversion to undesirable end-users. That risk is an extremely important factor in making any licensing decision. However, the risk of diversion is not associated with any particular category of goods or technology. So allowing diversion to be included as a factor for which orders could be imposed would theoretically allow the Government the power to control any goods of any description whatsoever.

It is not the purpose of the Bill to enable the Government to be able to control any goods whatsoever. Using the power would also conflict with our commitments to international and EU trade arrangements.

Amendment No. 32 would introduce into the schedule a reference to the risk that goods might have one of the consequences listed in the table contained in the schedule through cumulative effect. I believe that those of my hon. Friends who tabled the amendment had the primary intention of ensuring that the Bill allows the cumulative effect of arms exports on the sustainable development of recipient countries to be taken into account in licensing decisions.

I shall address the issue of cumulative effect more generally. The schedule describes the purposes for which the order imposing export controls or transfer controls can be made. The function of the schedule is to govern the making of orders that specify the goods and technology, or classes of goods and technology, that are to be subject to export controls.

Paragraph 4 of the schedule allows controls to be imposed on types of goods without reference to quantities. A particular item of equipment—a machine gun, for example—may be brought under control, and an export licence would be required for any exports of machine guns, irrespective of the number of guns that it is proposed to export.

There is nothing in the Bill, or in the current orders, that would prevent the Secretary of State from considering the number of other goods of that type—or of other types of arms exported by the recipient—when reaching a decision on an export licence application, where that is a relevant consideration. Such considerations form a normal part of the assessment of whether the proposed end use is

8 Nov 2001 : Column 387

reasonable, and in assessing the degree of risk, for instance, of diversion or of aggressive use against neighbours.

Similarly, decisions on individual licences are considered under the criterion on a case-by-case basis. The cumulative effects of the purchase of arms by recipient countries may well be a relevant consideration in the assessment of a licence application under criterion 8.

As many hon. Members will be aware, criterion 8 of the consolidated EU criteria obliges Ministers taking decisions on export licences to look carefully at the compatibility of any proposed arms export with the technical and economic capacity of the recipient country. In view of that explanation, and of the explanations that I shall give later, I hope that, in due course, those of my hon. Friends who have tabled amendments Nos. 36, 32 and 33 will agree to withdraw them.

I turn now to amendment No. 38. This would clarify the phrase "weapons of mass destruction" and ensure that it refers to

I believe that the amendment is unnecessary and that it could be counterproductive, as I shall explain. The amendment would restrict the purposes for which orders could be imposed to activities related to nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. However, it is possible that other current, and future, weapons could cause mass destruction but would not fall into any of those categories.

For example, radiological weapons constructed of conventional explosives combined with radioactive material are not considered to be nuclear weapons, but they could of course have devastating results. That is why the phrase "weapons of mass destruction" allows the possibility of controlling activities related to such weapons, or to any other types of such weapons that may arise in the future.

I hope that the explanation satisfies those hon. Members who tabled amendment No. 38, and that they will agree to withdraw the amendment in due course.

I shall speak to amendments No. 39 and 34 together, as they address similar issues. The effect of each amendment would be to allow the risk of there being an adverse effect on the sustainable development of a country to be the purpose for which the orders could be made imposing controls on goods and technology. In addition, amendment No. 39 would allow the risk of there being an adverse effect on the economic capability of a country to be a purpose for which such orders could be made.

We believe that the amendments are unnecessary, because the concerns that appear to lie behind them are already fully addressed elsewhere in the Bill. Sustainable development concerns are already taken fully into account under the consolidated EU criteria and the national arms export licensing criteria, which we announced to Parliament on 26 October 2000. The criteria were framed by EU member states precisely to cover the range of issues that ought to be addressed in licensing decisions, and they included the issue of sustainable development.

Criterion 8 of the consolidated criteria obliges member states taking decision on export licences to look carefully at the compatibility of any proposed arms export with the technical and economic capability of the recipient country. It further states that any Government must take

8 Nov 2001 : Column 388

into account whether the proposed export would seriously undermine the economy or seriously hamper the sustainable development of the recipient country.

All the consolidated criteria will remain the basis for export licensing decisions under the legislation. To remove any doubt about that, we have made explicit provision in clause 7 for all the consolidated criteria—including criterion 8 on sustainable development—to continue to be taken fully into account when decisions are made about export licences.

Moreover, as I explained in connection with amendments Nos. 36 and 32, the schedule will allow us to impose controls on any goods or technology that we need to be able to control in order to meet all our obligations under the EU code of conduct. Adding the provisions of criterion 8 to the schedule is not necessary because we are able, under the Bill as it stands, fully to take into account all the criteria, including the criterion on sustainable development. Clause 7 underlines, for the first time in legislation, the status of the consolidated criteria.

In conclusion, for the reasons that I have outlined, I urge the House to accept the Government amendments.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): I suspect that we are in for a long afternoon on a highly technical group of amendments. We shall have an extremely important series of debates this afternoon. All the hon. Members who are present have track records and experience in such matters, so this series of debates will be very well informed.

The Opposition have broadly welcomed the Bill, as have British industry, non-governmental organisations and many individuals, but all of us have certain reservations, hence the large number of amendments. Of course, because we broadly agree, detailed scrutiny is even more important, and that will be the House's function this afternoon, following on from very interesting debates in Committee. It was unfortunate, of course, that half of Standing Committee B's sittings took place in July and the other half in October, because the intervening period allowed a number of changes, one of which was for myself to be parachuted into my current position, which was a great pleasure. I suspect that various changes occurred on both sides of the Committee.

Grateful though I am to the Minister for his courtesy and to his officials for theirs, it was something of a surprise to discover on Tuesday that the Government had rewritten a very large proportion of the Bill. The Minister has very courteously explained why they did so, and he wrote to hon. Members on 6 November, sending official Government notes on the amendments that he was proposing. However, in all my 18 and a half years as a Member, it was the first occasion on which I can recall such a sweeping rewrite to primary legislation so close to Report and Third Reading—a mere two working days.

That lack of time made things very difficult for a lot of people. For instance, it made it very difficult for the Clerks to get the business in order and for the Opposition parties to adjust to the proposed amendments, because it was suggested that certain clauses should be deleted, but many of us wanted to propose amendments to those clauses. We therefore had to work out where those bits of the Bill would be by the time Thursday arrived. It was

8 Nov 2001 : Column 389

very difficult for the public and the non-governmental organisations, charities and pressure groups to follow all the changes.

We all now recognise what the Government have done, and I repeat that I am grateful to the Minister for his courtesy and his explanation of the changes. I am also grateful to his excellent officials in the Department of Trade and Industry, who have been sitting at the end of telephone lines waiting to offer help. I certainly took the Minister's advice and used that facility, and I am very grateful to him because it certainly helped us to make a more coherent response to the changes that the Government had announced. It would be helpful, however, if the Minister could explain why they decided to propose this very big change at the last minute.

I understand the Minister's argument—I follow his logic, and I accept it—but I am bound to ask why he and his officials did not think of the change some months earlier; it would have been helpful if they had. Flattered though we all are that the Minister suggested that the change had something to do with what occurred in Committee, it really would be a first if we had such a large proportion of a Bill rewritten on those grounds. In addition to his courtesy in explaining why he has proposed the change, it would be much appreciated if he could have another go at saying why it had to be left quite so late.

Next Section

IndexHome Page