Export Control Bill

[back to previous text]

Dr. Cable: May I pursue the Minister a little? For those of us who are not constitutional lawyers, the issue is a bit of quagmire. Our understanding of the clause is that the Minister can dilute the controls for technical assistance or brokerage. The export of goods is provided for under the schedule, but the Minister could apply a much looser regime to technical assistance if he was so minded. I want to be clear that we have understood that correctly, because the amendment is designed to rectify that omission.

I should say a little about why the issue is important. If the Minister is a Minister of good will who is determined to stop the export of unacceptable technical assistance to unfriendly and oppressive regimes—I am sure that that is his motivation—the issue is not a problem. However, a Minister who is otherwise minded could use the provisions differently. Let me give an example from my own experience, on which I drew on Second Reading.

In the mid 1970s, the Samosa regime in Nicaragua faced disturbances and the beginnings of the Sandinista uprising. The Labour Government of the time faced the issue of how to deal with the regime. Clearly, there was a reluctance to supply Samosa with weapons. However, a request came from the Nicaraguan authorities for the President's son to have military training in this country—he was to go to Sandhurst to make friends and contacts. The request went through, partly because it was seen as much easier to wave through a bit of technical assistance than it would have been to wave through equipment. One can see that the relevant provisions could be abused under a Government who wanted to treat fairly benignly overseas Governments who were perhaps questionable.

At the heart of the amendment is the issue of how we treat knowledge. If we go back to the Scott report, we find that the supergun was just a pipe, which is a completely useless piece of equipment unless it is accompanied by knowledge and transfer technology, which are more crucial. If legislation is laxer in its treatment of the transfer of knowledge than it is in its treatment of equipment, it is defective. According to one phrase, knowledge is sticky, tricky and leaky. Once one hands it over, it sticks and one cannot get it back again. If one hands over a piece of equipment, one can retrieve it and destroy it, but one cannot destroy knowledge. Knowledge is also tricky because it can be manipulated and developed, and it is leaky because it is easy to pass on. The control of knowledge and technology, which is what technical assistance is about, is, in many respects, much more crucial to arms export control than is the control of equipment per se. That is why we want to understand why the Government have such difficulty with our amendments. As we understand it, we are merely trying to upgrade the level of control over technical assistance and brokerage to the level that currently applies to equipment.

Nigel Griffiths: Subsection (2) is intended to limit the range of goods or technologies that could be included in orders. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it gives discretion to the Secretary of State to vary the orders. The controls under clauses 4 and 5 are subject to negative procedure and any change is fully reported in the annual report, which the Committee will consider later in its proceedings. None of that can be done and kept secret. It is likely to be the subject of public discussion and comment, and any Secretary of State would have to consider that.

Dr. Tonge: I am sorry to intervene again, but I still do not understand—I find the subject very difficult—why paragraph 1 of the schedule mentions only export controls and transfer controls. Why are the other things, such as the transfer of technology and controlled goods, not mentioned? Why are only those two included?

Nigel Griffiths: The transfer of technology is dealt with in clause 4, which we will shortly consider.

Dr. Tonge: Yes, but why are such matters not included in the schedule? I appreciate that they are mentioned in the Bill, but they are not mentioned in the schedule, which makes one suspicious that there is a dark agenda somewhere.

Nigel Griffiths: I can assure the hon. Lady and the Committee that there is a perfectly legitimate explanation. It is not necessary to list them in the schedule.

Dr. Cable: We are a little baffled by the procedural complexities in this area. There is no point in our proposing an amendment unless we have clarified the matter. We may well refer to the matter when the Bill is discussed on the Floor. There are some important issues of principle hidden away in the procedures, but we do not wish to press the amendments.

Dr. Tonge: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

        Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Pearson.]

        Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes to One o'clock till this day at half-past Four o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Benton, Mr. Joe (Chairman)
Baird, Vera
Cable, Dr.
Gray, Mr.
Griffiths, Nigel
Howarth, Mr. Gerald
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Joyce, Mr.
Laxton, Mr.
Liddell-Grainger, Mr.
Marris, Rob
Page, Mr.
Pearson, Mr.
Savidge, Mr.
Starkey, Dr.
Tonge, Dr.
Tynan, Mr.

Previous Contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 17 July 2001