Export Control Bill

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Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howarth: I shall with pleasure give way to the former pupil of St. Edward's school, Oxford, who is now the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, which used to be represented by the fantastic Enoch Powell.

Rob Marris: Will the hon. Gentleman specify four industrial organisations that relate to objects of cultural interest, as the Bill also covers such matters?

Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman makes a useful maiden intervention. I recognise that it will be difficult in some circumstances to define which industrial organisations are the relevant ones. The Bill ranges so widely across every aspect of industrial and commercial life that naming all the relevant organisations would produce a list much longer than the Bill itself. It is not sensible to specify all such organisations. I accept that an element of discretion would be introduced by the word ``relevant'' and that deciding which organisations were relevant would be a matter of interpretation. I am trying to think of an organisation that might represent cultural interests. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can assist me. What organisations does he have in mind?

Rob Marris: I can think, for example, of the Arts Council, although I remind the hon. Gentleman that he moved the amendment. I do not suggest that the Bill should specify bodies such as the Arts Council. I merely wanted to point out that it is not an industrial or commercial organisation—those are the two adjectives used by the hon. Gentleman in connection with relevant organisations—and to ask the hon. Gentleman to specify four such organisations relating to cultural matters.

Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. I am not sure that the Arts Council, a Government organisation, is necessarily a cultural organisation of the kind that might represent the owners of historic works of art or other historic artefacts such as vintage aircraft, in which I have a keen interest. I take his point that the use of the word ``industrial'' might be limiting. I would welcome an amendment from him to delete that word. I apologise if the amendment is not perfect—as both he and the Minister know, the Bill has been so rushed that there has been precious little time since Second Reading for proper scrutiny or for the preparation of amendments. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire, who leads for us, was busy in the Chamber on Friday—when the amendments had to be tabled—debating the important matter of small firms.

In a spirit of good will, I am happy to accede to the helpful suggestion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), and to accept his minor change, as is my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire. I am sure that the Minister will accept the amendment in principle, but will note that the terms in which it is couched are defective. If the Government consider that the amendment is worthwhile but that the terminology is not correct, will the Minister undertake, if the amendment is withdrawn, to have it redrafted by officials to ensure that it complies with legislative requirements so that it can be considered on Report?

I see the Minister smiling. He clearly has enormous sympathy with my point. That is a good start, as it will do nothing but good for his second advancement in Government, and there is a strong argument in the Government's self-interest to include a properly worded amendment.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I wonder whether the hon. Member for Aldershot was born with a silver bullet in his mouth, rather than a silver spoon. We all know that he is thinking about the arms industry. The amendment to consult with relevant industrial organisations is intended to give the arms industry an added advantage—a little more consultation, a little more contact with the Secretary of State—so that it can put its oar in early. That is unacceptable. We could say that all industries, not simply the arms industry, are relevant, but would we ever get anywhere? Who is to say what the relevant organisations are? Some might say that the Church of England should be consulted too, and that cultural relevance should be considered, as well as the relevance of the arms industry. Certainly the non-governmental organisations would have to be considered, and we all know how many of those there are.

The amendment is totally impractical. It would not work. I suggest that it was tabled simply to advantage the arms industry. We could not support it unless it included all other relevant organisations, but no one would ever be able to determine which were relevant and which were not, and far too many organisations would be involved.

Dr. Cable: I want to echo my hon. Friend's remarks: there is a wider issue about other organisations. For instance, if we were dealing with an arms export control order to a politically sensitive country, would it be possible for Amnesty International to have prior consultation alongside the arms industry? I do not think that the hon. Member for Aldershot envisaged that question. If his interpretation of the clause is sufficiently elastic, he may sympathise with it.

A more important point concerns the role of Members of this House. One of the most important debates on the Bill will be about prior consultation of Parliament and, alongside our amendments, some helpful amendments have originated on the Labour Benches to try to entrench prior consultation.

The hon. Member for Aldershot envisages a situation in which arms manufacturers would have prior consultation, but elected representatives who represent the work force would not. From what I remember of his comments on Second Reading, he was not well disposed to prior consultation through Parliament, which is crucial. If he were willing to support the grass roots feeling from several parties for prior parliamentary consultation, a request for industrialists to be part of the consultative process would be fairly anodyne and I would not feel too strongly about it. However, we would find it difficult to sympathise with a serious suggestion that only the manufacturer should be consulted, cutting out from the process not only NGOs but elected representatives.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: I have some problems with prior consultation, but my remarks were not solely about the defence industries. The hon. Gentleman is out of date to suggest that I am in favour of the consultation of the management but not the work force, given that these days the work force work so closely with management in our major defence industries, especially through trade unions. They have a common interest, so management speaks for the work force on such issues. As regards the narrow interests of the defence industries, there is no question of them and us.

11.30 am

Mr. Page: I am wounded, because I was responsible for the drafting of the amendment. The cavalier abandonment of its purity by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot has wounded me. I expect nothing less from the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge); that is the way life is. On reflection, I admit that the amendment may not be the perfect, polished jewel that I originally envisaged, and it may need a little professional polishing before it becomes as it should be and is added to the Bill.

I see no problem with views such as those of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West being accommodated in a suitable adaptation of the amendment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot said, I think that the Minister will say that he will table suitable amendments on Report, especially after he has heard the compelling and rational arguments that I shall advance. If so, I should be only too happy to withdraw my amendment.

On Second Reading, the Government made considerable play of the extent of the consultation that they had undertaken since the publication of the White Paper and the draft Bill earlier this year. I welcome that; I would like such consultation to happen more often, so that when legislation reaches Committee, most areas of doubt and query are ironed out. Of course, the big area of doubt with this Bill is that we do not have the secondary legislation, so we cannot fully examine the impact and direction of the Bill. However, we are where we are.

The Secretary of State claimed that business had had the opportunity to comment on the draft Bill before it was formally presented to the House. The Government said that they had listened to what people said and made several important changes. I welcome that; it is a correct and legitimate route for drafting legislation. However, as a former DTI Minister, with part of the portfolio now held by the Minister, I am aware that the word ``industry'' goes wider than the arms industry. I invite every member of the Committee to read subsection (1). It states:

    ``The Secretary of State may by order make provision for or in connection with the imposition of export controls in relation to goods of any description.''

That includes everything—food, medicines and any form of small business that can be exported for the first time. It gives the Minister carte blanche to introduce orders on goods of any description. The Committee will surely agree that that is a fairly wide and extensive remit.

The Secretary of State's rather roseate view of the Bill is not completely appreciated by all parts of the defence industry—which probably pleases the hon. Member for Richmond Park. On 29 March, the Defence Manufacturers Association told the DTI that it was not convinced that the draft Bill would do much to improve the performance of the export licensing system, a change that the defence industry regards as important. I agree with that view. The way in which the existing system works is nothing short of disgraceful, and it affects not only the defence industry. For instance, I have declared interests in the export of machine tools, and the handling of export licences for that industry is not of the quickest.

The Defence Manufacturers Association also said that there should be adequate consultation on the proposed secondary legislation promised by the then Secretary of State, and said:

    ``It is essential that all such detailed consultations do take place on all aspects of the proposed secondary legislation, and that industry is given an adequate opportunity to play a part in this process.''

The Society of British Aerospace Companies told me on 5 July that it wished to

    ``reiterate . . . just how essential it is that industry is thoroughly consulted before the introduction of secondary legislation.''

I would be prepared to bet the Minister 10p—I do not want to make the bet too large, or he might take me up on it—that he will say that the amendment is unnecessary, that we have a really lovely Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and that she is a genuine lady who will, of course, talk to everyone and not rush forward with an order. He will tell us that there will be proper consultation and that it is unnecessary to include a provision in the Bill. He will put his hands somewhere near his wallet and say, ``Trust me because I am a politician.''

Of course I trust the status quo, but Secretaries of State at the DTI have a pretty poor record in terms of survivability—not only under this Government, but under previous Governments. We are now on our fourth DTI Secretary of State in four and a half years, and during their glorious and successful 17-year reign, Conservative Governments managed to get through about 11 or 12. Becoming Secretary of State at the DTI is, therefore, a high-risk strategy. As the wheel turns, the Secretary of State will move to bigger and better things and will be replaced. As it turns even further and the Conservative party comes back into government, there could be a Conservative Secretary of State. Being a Conservative, he might not be so kind and generous; he might be ruthless, hardnosed and unfeeling. Unfortunately, Hansard cannot record irony or sarcasm properly, and my comments at this point should perhaps be put in inverted commas. None the less, despite the ministerial assurances that are no doubt coming, it is right that the Bill should provide for consultation with the correct industrial organisations.

 
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