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Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tony Baldry: No. The Government have provided scant time for the debate. The hon. Gentleman must make his own contribution. My hon. Friends on the Front Bench want to move on to other amendments, and the House has been given a pathetic amount of time for the debate.

Although the F680 assessment does not represent an approved licence, only a handful of the 10,000 or so applications that are assessed each year do not produce an export licence. Moreover, although the Ministry of

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Defence may assure us that the F680 procedure is being reviewed to allow for "consultation" with the Department for International Development on future assessments under it, we have to question whether "consultation" will mean as much as "consideration" in the Bill.

If the status of sustainable development is not affirmed early in the defence export process, it is imperative that "consideration" of sustainable development is undertaken as much as possible later in the licence process.

Much of the measure is welcome. The Government have somersaulted so often that it is difficult to know where they stand. I do not gainsay the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key). It is good news that sustainable development is included in the Bill. However, the jury is still out on whether the Government have any intention of ensuring that the true spirit of sustainable development is invoked in the measure's implementation. The test will come and we shall ascertain in due course whether the Department for International Development and other Departments are given a fair and reasonable say in defence export licensing. If they are not, Ministers can be confident that hon. Members from all parties will raise the issue again.

6 pm

Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill): First, I want to assure the Minister of my support for the principal purposes of the Bill, which is welcomed on both sides of the House. The need for a modern, comprehensive approach to the control of exports—particularly arms—is overwhelming and long overdue. Recent events in Palestine and Kashmir have again shown the need for proper restraints to be in place.

We have also accepted that, in deciding our criteria, it is not sufficient simply to state that arms exports should not have an adverse effect on a region's peace and stability. In too many cases, countries have spent millions of pounds on expanding their armed forces and providing them with sophisticated weaponry, while making little investment in basic health and education facilities for their own citizens. Armed conflict may come at a later date, by which time the size and strength of military forces can lead to rapid and horrendous consequences.

That is why I also welcome the fact that the Government have now accepted that the principle of sustainable development should be an integral part of the decision-making process, particularly for exports to developing nations. In order to reassure our constituents, church groups and many non-governmental organisations about the Bill's ability to prevent abuses, I strongly urge the Government to consider accepting a definition of the concept that is both meaningful and capable of assessment.

Armed conflict remains the greatest hindrance to eradicating the scar of poverty from our world and preventing the unnecessary deaths of millions. In many cases, the global market in arms has led to increasing instability in conflict zones and, directly and indirectly, to the loss of life. Sadly, the United Kingdom has not been exempt from participating in this grim and tawdry business.

I note that, when the Bill was discussed in the other place, the Government agreed to review their criteria for sustainable development. It is vital that the definition of that concept is fully compatible with that used by the

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Department for International Development and by the Department of Trade and Industry's own Export Credits Guarantee Department—a case that has been eloquently stated today by my hon. Friends the Members for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington), and for City of York (Hugh Bayley). As my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie correctly said, it would be absurd for an export licence for arms sales to be granted after an application for export credit had been rejected on development grounds, despite both processes claiming to have considered the impact on a country's sustainable development. The Export Credits Guarantee Department's own statement of business principles clearly states that exports must not harm sustainable development, and that includes having regard to debt sustainability. Any application to the Department for exports to the world's poorest countries must pass a "productive expenditure" test.

I had the privilege of serving on the Committee that scrutinised the International Development Act 2002. That measure provides the first legal definition of sustainable development, and I am surprised that the Minister did not mention it today. It states that such development must be


Does the Minister not agree that it would be strange to have two Departments—or even two sections of the same Department—working with different definitions of the same concept at the same time? I trust that he will be able to give the House a commitment that his intention in the review is to achieve joined-up government and a definition that is as clear, comprehensive and unambiguous as that applied by other sections of the Government.

There is a great deal of support for the Bill, and it would be very sad if the Government were unable to offer a clear and comprehensive approach to sustainable development at the same time. That would not require any changes to primary or secondary legislation. A simple commitment from the Minister today would reassure many hon. Members that the Government are truly committed to sustainable development, and to one definition of that concept.

Mr. Llwyd: I shall be as quick as I can, bearing in mind that other hon. Members wish to speak. Following, as I do, the hon. Members for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) and for Banbury (Tony Baldry), there is not a lot that remains to be said. I shall, however, make one or two points.

The sustainability issue appears to have gone in and out of the Bill like a squirrel going in and out of a hole in a tree. It seems strange that we are having this debate today, bearing in mind that the Bill has much to commend it. I understood the point made by the hon. Member for Kingswood when he rightly said that there is much in the Bill to support, and that he had difficulty understanding why we were having the debate. I share that concern; I cannot understand it either.

If we proceed this evening to overturn the Lords amendments, the Bill's provisions on sustainable development will surely be extremely weak. We would merely be placing a duty to give consideration— "if any"—to sustainable development. That would be an

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even weaker provision than that in the current system. The Government's original argument was that an explicit reference to sustainable development in the Bill was not needed because the Bill would give the Secretary of State the power to issue guidance.

In this context, the Bill referred specifically to the consolidated criteria that are used by the responsible Government Departments to determine whether individual export licences should be granted. I am thinking specifically of criterion 8, which covers sustainable development and was the subject of an exchange at the beginning of the debate. It is patently obvious to all, however, that the current system is insufficient, because of the decision to grant an export licence in the Tanzanian case. I shall not dwell on that example, because there are others here who are far better qualified than I am to speak on that issue. I shall, however, highlight one or two brief points.

As we know, the World Bank commissioned independent civil aviation experts to look into the Tanzanian deal, and its report has just been published. It has condemned the sale, describing the system in question as a complete waste of money. The experts concluded that Tanzania could have bought an off-the-peg system for about a quarter of the price agreed with BAE Systems, that the system actually purchased had "dated technology", and that Tanzania does not have an air force of its own anyway. We also heard about the debacle between the Department for International Development and the Department of Trade and Industry, a misunderstanding that leads us to think that government is not always joined up. If the Government are serious about sustainable development, the findings of the World Bank must surely be an embarrassment to them.

In The Guardian on 15 June, a DTI spokesperson said that the World Bank report would make no difference to the Department's attitude towards the deal. He also stated:


I regret having to repeat those words, and when I take into account what the Minister says about the criteria now being urgently reviewed, I have to ask when that review will commence. If the gentleman at the DTI takes part in it, I do not hold out much hope for the future.

The ICAO report has been mentioned, and there seem to be 100,000 reasons why the Tanzanian debacle sets a bad example, as the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie said earlier. I hope that the Government will reconsider their stance on this matter. I am another boring lawyer, but I do not intend to dissect the amendments. Suffice it to say that it is patently obvious to anyone, lawyer or layman, that the Government's proposals will water down the concept of sustainability. I regret that, but, whichever side of the argument one comes from, it is the obvious conclusion to draw. I repeat that there is much in the Bill to commend it, and it is regrettable that we are having this debate today.


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