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1.45 pm

On new clause 1 and the related amendments, much of the debate in Committee focused on the orders that would be laid before the House and whether that should be done under the affirmative or negative procedure. That is a touchstone argument, and it has arisen time and again. Indeed, paragraph 4 of the DTI's explanatory notes to the Bill, which we all received, state:

I acknowledge that the Government have gone a long way in seeking to meet those criticisms, and we are very glad that they have, but they have not gone nearly far enough. That is why I decided that we must pursue the issue a little further.

I shall briefly explain what the amendments that I have tabled would do. The Minister has given us a summary, but under the proposed change, temporary orders would require prior affirmation by the House before they could take effect. The Bill, as drafted, makes provision for Parliament to approve temporary orders, but only within 40 days of their taking effect. The Secretary of State could conceivably issue a temporary order to have effect for less than 40 days, which would escape parliamentary scrutiny, so the importance of such secondary legislation would not be recognised.

Of course, the Quadripartite Committee was a tremendous innovation in itself—four Select Committees worked together on this extremely important Bill. We all welcomed that remarkable achievement, as we did its report; it helped us to understand one another. The work of Select Committees is often compartmentalised and

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there is inevitably a lot of overlap, and I am glad to see Government Members nodding. I hope that that innovative procedure will be used again.

The Quadripartite Committee says in its report:

Quite so. In Committee, we therefore proposed a number of changes in the guidance on parliamentary approval, but the Government rejected them.

There is a fundamental point at stake, and we must insist that Parliament should retain more control than it will be allowed under the Bill. Furthermore, the concern was expressed in the other place by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that the Secretary of State will be given unusual discretion to impose temporary orders under new clause 1(2). We all understand what the Minister said about emergencies, and we do not doubt that, but I have never yet encountered a situation in which the Government have found themselves unable to make the necessary emergency moves, if necessary by introducing primary legislation.

On one occasion during my time as a Member, an emergency Bill passed all its stages in the House in three minutes, so I do not accept that the Government cannot move quickly if they really need to do so. We propose that new clause 1(2) should be amended so that any temporary order must first be subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament, in the same way that Parliament must approve any changes proposed by the Secretary of State to the schedule of purposes.

As the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) said in Committee, that is not an ideological or policy issue; it is about parliamentary prerogatives and control over the Executive. The House is now going through a very interesting phase, to say the least—it is losing authority to the Executive, and I should like to resist any further losses.

The other amendments follow the first. As was pointed out on Second Reading on 9 July, the Government would be able, under the negative resolution procedure, to decide whether Parliament would be able to debate export control orders. We want to amend the Bill so that any orders—except temporary orders—made under clauses 1, 2, 4 or 5 are subject to the delayed affirmative resolution procedure. That requires a complementary amendment.

Governments often give a standard response to any suggestion. They say that the time of Parliament would be wasted and that the business of the House and the Government would be slowed down by the consideration of minor procedural or technical changes. That is not a substantial argument and, when changes are significant, Parliament must be given the opportunity to consider them. We must also consider what is or is not significant.

There was a good debate in Committee in which the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) moved excellent amendments on orders. He said:

When he wound up the debate, he said:

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That was significant moment. On the basis that a Minister would, on Report, take the opportunity to repone the issue, a Labour Member said that he would withdraw his amendment. However, the Government have not done what he suggested. The Minister has merely told us that he will reject our amendments. We must take that fact seriously.

It was an extraordinary moment, because I do not recall a similar instance in any Standing Committee on which I have served. A Labour Member sought to withdraw an amendment, but I said that we should not and insisted on a Division. Everyone who had spoken in favour of the amendment, including the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North, had to vote against it. That was no doubt an interesting experience for all the Labour Members concerned.

We are considering amendments that are so complex and diverse that I am sure that we shall have a long debate on this group. However, I wish to comment on the definition of sustainable development.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): Before the hon. Gentleman moves on to his next point, will he consider the point about urgency? I have considerable sympathy for what he says about parliamentary scrutiny. It is fundamental and, if I catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, I hope to speak to one of the new clauses that touches on the subject. However, the need for the Government to be able to act with extreme urgency is a real issue. I can think of circumstances in the past when the Government had to act against goods that had not previously been subject to controls but, if they had been exported, could have affected the lives and well-being of British forces. Does he accept that, under those circumstances, the Government must act and must be seen to act immediately? It would be difficult to support any provision that would prevent them from being able to do that. Will he explain why my view of his amendment is misplaced?

Mr. Key: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that interesting and instructive intervention. The House would be very interested in hearing from him how he resolved such problems when he was a Foreign Office Minister. Clearly Governments face such problems, so perhaps he could tell us how they responded when he was a Minister. My contention is that they can always find a way of doing something. In emergencies, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence might be able to act under the royal prerogative.

Emergency legislation is available to the Government and they can use it without the need to return to the House. However, it would help the debate if the hon. Gentleman, who has considerable experience on this matter, explained what happened in, say, the case of Sierra Leone—where there might have been such examples—or Rwanda. I look forward to hearing from him later.

I do not want to hog the Floor, because many Members wish to speak on this complex subject. I have explained why I think that we should press our amendment. The Government have failed to come forward with any further

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suggestions despite the invitation of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North to do so. I shall listen with great interest to the remainder of the debate,

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Technically the debate on this group of amendments is taking place on the question of whether new clause 1 be read a Second time. I will call the hon. Gentleman to move amendment (a) formally at the appropriate time.

Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): I am pleased to take part in this debate on an important Bill. I enthusiastically support it except in one respect. I wish to speak to amendments Nos. 32, 33 and 34. Amendments No. 32 and 33 deal with the same theme, but amendment No. 34 is slightly different in its purpose.

Amendments Nos. 32 and 33 would bring our legislation automatically into line with the European directive on sustainable development. The gap between the EU directive and the Bill derives from the fact that the Bill does not cover sustainable development whereas the EU code of guidance does. My amendments would ensure that, if the code of guidance is changed, it would automatically be incorporated into British law. If, with our consent, the EU thought that other grounds existed to make it necessary to forbid the sale of arms or other services, we would not need to introduce primary legislation in the House.

Amendment No. 34 would simply ensure that sustainable development is covered by the Bill. The Minister owes us an explanation—[Interruption.] If the Minister will listen, I shall repeat my view that he owes us the explanation that was not forthcoming either from the Secretary of State on Second Reading or from other Ministers in Committee. We need to know why sustainable development as a ground for banning an export was dropped from the Bill.

In an earlier phase of Government thinking, both the EU code of guidance and the Bill agreed that sustainable development should be a consideration. It was accepted that we should not give approval to activities that would increase poverty, and that provision was in the Bill. However, without explanation the Government removed it from the Bill, which means that the export of arms and inappropriate technology cannot be banned on the basis of sustainable development. That is odd.

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