Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Tony Worthington: Is not the situation even worse than that? Sustainable development was included in the draft Bill, but the Government decided that it should not become a ground on which exports were banned. In fact, the European Union code of guidance on sustainable development is utterly worthless because it cannot be

8 Nov 2001 : Column 399

taken into account at all as the result of the Government changing their mind between the draft Bill and the present Bill.

Dr. Cable: The hon. Gentleman makes the point eloquently and better than I did. I sincerely hope that the Minister will listen to his own Back Benchers. He may feel that we are creating difficulties for the sake of doing so; I assure him that we are not. I am sure that he will hear strong, sincere opinions from them, and I hope that he will take account of them.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): I always find the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) convincing; perhaps he should not have been quite so modest. I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington). Indeed, I was persuaded to put my name to amendments Nos. 32, 33 and 34, which he and my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown) tabled. Echoing the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), it is important that the matter is aired.

I raise that with some trepidation because, whenever I am puzzled or in intellectual difficulty, almost invariably I go to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths), the Minister for advice. Almost without exception, he removes my doubts. I am sure that that reputation will be consolidated today.

It is in that questioning mode that I express to my hon. Friend the great concern that exists about the sustainable development issue in the context of a Bill that is otherwise extremely welcome. We are seeking to help my hon. Friend remove what seems, in the absence of any other explanation, to be a flaw.

2.30 pm

Sustainable development is extremely important. The spirit of the Scott report suggested that Scott was far from happy, because in his view the purpose of export controls was not set out in legislation. That is what the amendments seek to achieve. I am a little surprised that that needs to be done from the Back Benches. From the draft Bill that was considered previously, our understanding was that sustainable development would be part of the final Bill to be put before the House. I am not entirely sure why it was taken out of the eight criteria considered by the Government.

Admirably, all the other export criteria in the draft Bill, such as the need not to export weapons that could be used for internal repression or human rights abuses, have been included in the final Bill. That is both right and welcome, but it raises the question why there is at present a gap between those on the Front Bench and many hon. Members on both sides in respect of sustainable development.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie explained clearly that if we accept the Bill as it stands, we are being asked to rely not on legislation—not on the schedules—but on guidance. We have seen in the past where guidance has taken us, not least during the Scott inquiry. We want to move forward more positively than that.

Under the Bill, if there were a change in policy, Parliament would not have a say. That becomes particularly worrying when we consider that we may not

8 Nov 2001 : Column 400

always—optimistic though I am about the future—have Ministers of whatever political party who are of the calibre of my hon. Friend. If those Ministers change their minds, where does that leave us in terms of legislation? Not, I suspect, where we want to be. As has been pointed out, the EU code is entirely advisory. We want to make matters clearer and the provision mandatory.

Reference has been made to the excellent debate in the House yesterday on the Second Reading of the International Development Bill. Not only is sustainable development at the heart of that admirable Bill, but it was mentioned time after time in speeches in that debate. Most importantly, sustainable development appears in the Bill. It is not for me to speak for the Department for International Development, which we all agree is an excellent Department, but there seems to be a hiatus between the thinking of the Department of Trade and Industry as reflected in the Bill, what we heard in the debate yesterday, and what appears in the International Development Bill. In support of my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie, I am seeking to close that gap.

The Government have been highly persuasive in assuring the House of their commitment to sustainable development, but it seems contradictory that sustainable development is the only one of the consolidated national and European Union export criteria that is not in the Bill.

I read carefully what my hon. Friend the Minister had to say in Committee, through which he piloted the Bill with great confidence. He said:

That is excellent, but we would still like to see it in the Bill. In that same column, my hon. Friend gave some legal arguments. As we have heard today, however, those appear to have been contradicted by Matrix chambers. Many of us would, perhaps, give more weight to Matrix chambers than to, say, Matrix Churchill. In any event, that legal definition that I put to my hon. Friend must be clarified today, because the absence of such a definition would detract quite unnecessarily from what is otherwise an extremely comprehensive and positive Bill.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): I apologise to the Minister for coming into the Chamber mid-way through his speech. I can only say in my defence that I have come hotfoot from having some dental work done. I earnestly hope that the novocaine has now worn off and that I shall not slur my words. I am conscious that a number of hon. Members wish to speak in this debate, so I shall adopt that most worrying of parliamentary phrases: "I intend to keep my remarks quite brief." I shall make only three points.

First, it is legitimate to register concern about the considerable degree of rewriting of the Bill that has taken place in a comparatively short space of time. As a broad rule of thumb, it does not inspire confidence when a Department suddenly has to turn round and rewrite so much of its Bill so late in the day. That gives a number of us pause for thought, and it is worth placing it on the record to reinforce the point that was made earlier on this side of the Chamber.

8 Nov 2001 : Column 401

Secondly, I share the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) about the further trend towards the erosion of the powers of parliamentary scrutiny and influence, be that through the ever-increasing stream of European directives and regulations with which Parliament has to deal, or through the growing tendency of Ministers to ask for powers which negate the requirement for future areas of policy in their domain to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. Our amendments simply seek to retain a greater degree of parliamentary scrutiny over important measures, and they are genuinely worthy of consideration on that basis.

Thirdly, I want to make a brief point about the industry that the regulation, as amended, would affect. The defence industry, which employs more than one third of a million people in this country, is—on one level at least—an important guarantor of our security. On a day when so many hon. Members are, quite rightly, wearing poppies, it is worth remembering that, had there not been a defence industry in 1940, this debate would not be taking place at all. I urge fellow hon. Members to keep that at the back, if not at the forefront, of their minds as we continue our deliberations this afternoon.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): I want to speak briefly about the amendments relating to sustainable development.

The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) said that Members were present who were very experienced and knowledgeable in regard to these matters, and had taken an interest in them for some time. I have to say that I am not one of those Members; I am new to the Bill, and relatively new to this subject. It strikes me, however, that it is not necessary to think too long before reaching the obvious conclusion that it cannot be right to sell arms to countries that have no means of affording them other than depriving their own people of budgets that sustain the basics of life, such as health and education.

I wanted to speak because some of my constituents have expressed their concern to me. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will help me to explain to them why sustainable development is the only one of the consolidated national and European Union export criteria not to be included in the Bill. He has said that the question is unnecessary, having been fully addressed elsewhere in the Bill; but if that is the case, why not underline it by including sustainable development in the schedule of purposes? That would remove any doubt, it would wipe away any concerns, and I think that it would answer questions raised by other Members about the difference between the draft Bill and this one. I feel that, of necessity, the concept of sustainable development must embrace that of the cumulative impact. The latter is surely implicit in the former.

Perhaps my hon. Friends can also help me to explain to my constituents how we can rely on the EU code of conduct when it has no legal force. That, in fact, is one of our reasons for proceeding with the Bill. The Government have done an awful lot by helping to drive the code through when none existed, but we are going further today, and I think we need to go further than the code of conduct.

8 Nov 2001 : Column 402

I shall ask a final question. If an export or transfer order can be made only for the purposes elaborated explicitly in the schedule, why are we excluding sustainable development from it? Does it not follow that we shall be unable to make such an order?

I should be very grateful if my hon. Friend could help me explain those points to my constituents.

Next Section

IndexHome Page