Export Control Bill

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Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend is making a good point, but should he not go further? The Minister has suggested that European organisations of some sort can impose law on the export of weapons from this country without consultation. If so, should the consultation on those laws not be even greater than on laws passed by this place? If those Europeans have some say over our exports, my goodness, we must consult with the industries concerned.

Mr. Howarth: I entirely agree. Therefore, it is even more important that the amendment is made, so that we send the clearest possible message to our European partners that we will brook no overbearing superiority by the European institutions, especially the European Commission, on our actions on the subject, and that we will not accept the limitation on Britain's freedom of movement.

As the Minister has made such an extremely important announcement about what he calls an unfortunate consequence of accepting the amendment, and as that consequence severely limits the rights of the British Government or Parliament to pass laws as we think fit, it is important that the House should consider the matter. On the basis that we will revisit the matter on Report, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Page: I beg to move amendment No. 35, in page 1, line 3, after `description', insert

    `and shall have the powers by order to revise existing controls on the export of goods'.

If I thought that the previous amendment needed polishing, I fully admit that amendment No. 35 is a little rough. It is intended to give the Minister the opportunity to explain and expand on the position taken by the Government on this aspect of the Bill. The explanatory notes make it clear that they intend that

    ``existing controls on the export of goods will be reviewed and (where necessary) revised under this power.''

The notes are most helpful on that point.

The Department apparently intends to use the powers to consolidate existing secondary legislation on export control—especially, as the Minister mentioned in his letter to the Committee, the Export Goods (Control) Order 1994 and the greater part of the Dual-Use Items (Export Control) Regulations 2000, made under the European Communities Act 1972. The secondary legislation thus envisaged will specify the goods or classes of goods that will be subject to export control. Further secondary legislation on strategic export controls should be made under powers contained in the Bill.

The power to review and revise those existing controls is important. As we have said so many times, those provisions are the teeth of the Bill. The framework before us is simply the stage on which the players will operate. The Committee should therefore be extremely concerned with that power. I believe that it would be better for the Secretary of State's power to review and revise existing controls to be explicitly stated in the Bill. Indeed, the Quadripartite Committee stated:

    ``We recommend that Orders under the Act should be first exposed in draft and in confidence to the Quadripartite Committee and, if then made and laid, the Government should undertake to use their best endeavours to find time for a debate if the Committee so recommended.''

That would broaden the examination and inspection of the orders that are to be made. I have heard no objection or complaint about that from the industries involved, but the huge problem is that vast areas of industrial and commercial activity have no idea just how far the Bill's powers will stretch. As much as possible should be done to ensure that the orders are relevant and that they take account of the particular interests of industries concerned.

The amendment would ensure that the Secretary of State took a consistent approach to the duty of controlling the export of goods and to reviewing and revising existing controls. The obligations to be imposed on exporters by the new secondary legislation and the provisions of the old should be consistent and uniform with the provisions of the old.

Nigel Griffiths: The amendment simply seeks to provide the Secretary of State with powers to revise existing export controls. Under subsection (1) the Secretary of State may revise existing export control orders, and in making new export control orders under that provision he must, of course, have regard to the provisions of the schedule.

Clause 3(3) provides that the schedule does not apply to orders made under clauses 1 or 2 that revoke or amend provisions of earlier orders, or that re-enact provisions of earlier orders, except when existing export controls on goods and technology are being strengthened or when controls are being imposed on goods or technology not previously controlled. Put more simply, the powers available to us enable the Government to make changes to existing export controls. Given that the Bill already contains provisions for changes to be made in new and existing export control orders, the amendment is not required and I invite the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire to withdraw it.

Mr. Page: I thank the Minister for his answer. I appreciated that the amendment contained either duplication or tautology, but I was seeking to draw out the background to his position, which I am grateful to have had. He did not respond to the recommendation in the report of the Quadripartite Committee that draft orders be given to it for examination in confidence and, if necessary, debated in the House or in Committee.

12 noon

Nigel Griffiths: I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the Government's response to that suggestion. It said that the Government were content to show draft orders to be made under the Bill to the Committee whenever time allowed.

Mr. Page: I thank the Minister for that answer. I did not go down that route because the qualification about time allowing means that we would be drawn into debate about whether there is sufficient time. The Bill already suffers from the problem of insufficient time—there has been a rush into Committee, followed by an unnecessarily long break. The Government have had several years in which to prepare it, yet we are now pushing it forward.

If a similar situation were to occur at this stage, the Government would argue that there is no time available to prepare secondary legislation. How many times will the Government argue that there has not been sufficient time for the Quadripartite Committee to look at draft orders in confidence? That is why I raised the matter. I hoped that the Minister would be able to provide a fuller and more generous response to that recommendation. Nevertheless, half a loaf is better than none, so I welcome the acknowledgement that orders will be put in draft to the Committee. It will then be up to the Committee to press the Department to examine the draft orders as soon as possible. In the light of the Minister's response, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Nigel Griffiths: The clause is a vital part of the Bill. Subsection (1) gives the Secretary of State powers to make orders imposing controls on the export of any goods, and to make provisions about matters connected with the imposition of export controls. Without clause 1 it would be impossible to repeal key sections of the Import, Export and Customs Powers (Defence) Act 1939. We all agree that the 1939 Act is seriously deficient in its approach to the control of exports. However, without it, or without clause 1 in its place, it would be impossible to control the export of military goods, which can cause so much damage in the wrong hands.

The clause is also essential in that it provides powers for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to reproduce and update the provisions for the control of export of cultural objects. This control ensures that all such objects manufactured and produced more than 50 years before the date of exportation are controlled to all destinations. The effect of that is to allow for ``national treasures''—objects of major cultural significance to the UK—to be identified, and to provide the opportunity to retain them in the UK. In due course, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will lay before Parliament an order to replace the Export of Goods (Control) Order 1992, which currently controls exports of cultural objects. The new order will not significantly change the controls, but will consolidate and update provision for the control of export of cultural objects under a new Act.

Subsection (2) defines export controls as meaning, with respect to goods,

    ``the prohibition or regulation of their exportation''—

including objects of cultural interest—

    ``from the United Kingdom or their shipment as stores.''

The powers set out in subsection (3) allow controls to be imposed on the export of goods wholly or partly on the grounds of the uses or possible uses to which the goods may be put, as is done at present under the Dual-Use Items (Export Control) Regulations 2000, as amended, which apply the EC Council regulations known as the dual-use items regulations. That also extends to information recorded on or derived from the goods to be exported. The provision therefore has the effect of patrolling the export of technology in a physical form, such as a computer disk, or on paper. Under the 1939 Act, controls are imposed on certain technology, including the technology needed to develop, produce and use military equipment, and that power is replaced by the clause. It also reflects controls already directly applicable under the EC dual-use items regulations.

It is our intention to use the clause to consolidate existing secondary legislation on export controls, namely the Export of Goods (Control) Order 1994, as amended, which was made under the 1939 Act, and the greater part of the Dual-Use Items (Export Control) Regulations 2000, made under the European Communities Act 1972. That is why subsection (4) makes provision for supplementing controls imposed by Community regulations on the export of goods, for example by providing for the enforcement of such regulations. That should ensure that all future secondary legislation and strategic export controls can be made under powers contained in the Bill rather than under different pieces of legislation. We anticipate that the resulting legislation will be easier to understand for those who must comply with it. This subsection will also enable my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to supplement any directly applicable Community measures that control the export of cultural objects.

Subsection (5) clarifies the nature of the goods subject to export control, including vessels, vehicles and aircraft, whether or not they contain cargo or passengers.

I urge the Committee to agree that the clause stand part.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

Purposes of orders under section 1(1) or 2(1)

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