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Session 2001- 02
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Standing Committee Debates
Export Control Bill

Export Control Bill

Standing Committee B

Tuesday 17 July 2001

(Afternoon)

[Mr. Joe Benton in the Chair]

Export Control Bill

Schedule

Purposes for making orders under section 1(1) or 2(1)

4.30 pm

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire): I beg to move amendment No. 42, in page 9, line 36, after `effect', insert

    ``damaging to the interests or security of the United Kingdom''.

I am speaking to my amendment a little earlier than I anticipated. It is self-explanatory. None of us would want anything to happen that would damage the interests or security of the United Kingdom. The point of the amendment is that the export of arms or technology should be prohibited if the interests of the United Kingdom and its allies might be damaged, but that they should not be prohibited if hostile or potentially hostile powers were fuelling regional or local conflicts to the detriment of British interests. The British Government should be free to export arms to parties or countries engaged in such conflicts. That should be possible without the prohibitions that the Government have made it possible to ignore, despite appearing to have embraced them. The amendment focuses on the Government's obligations.

What would happen if the European Union expressed a view contrary to the view that this country wanted to act on? The Minister worried my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) earlier, when he referred to the possibility that EU direction could prohibit us from certain courses of action. Could the European Union block the consequences of the relevant provisions of the schedule, regardless of the course that the United Kingdom wanted to take?

On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot spoke about the number of jobs in our arms manufacturing business, the skills and expertise involved in it and its importance to the country's exports. I know that a number of hon. Members are concerned about the focus and direction of armaments sold overseas. However, we should have a strong armament business for the country's security.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that other members of the European Community are not friendly states?

Mr. Page: I am not saying that at all. In reply to an earlier question, the Minister indicated that actions that this country wanted to take could be either blocked or redirected by the European Union. I was alluding to that. I do not understand how the hon. Gentleman gained the impression that I was suggesting that another EU country might not be friendly. However, in certain circumstances any of them could take a view that we might find unhelpful or not in harmony with the aims of this nation.

I return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot, who spoke about the importance of our arms manufacturing base, of exports and of jobs. Any Government forget at their peril that their primary task is to ensure the security of the realm. If they do so, they tread on dangerous ground. How the security of the realm might be affected is open to a wider-ranging debate than this. You would pull me up and redirect me, Mr. Benton, if I took that path.

If we have a strong and positive industry, correctly controlled by licensing, we shall correctly supply the type of equipment that may be used. Others, who might not be as ethical and responsible as we are, will be kept out. However, if we allow our manufacturing to become weak and we are unable—for whatever reason—to supply, less responsible and less ethical countries will enter the supply market and the controls will drift away.

The Secretary of State spoke on Second Reading about the horrific events in Africa. We all know the disastrous and undesirable consequences that flow from the fact that the world is awash with Kalashnikovs made by nations that do not have the controls that we have and given to nations without the responsibility that we have. We do not want to see our country so sidelined that the opportunity for such activity to occur is increased.

The amendment is self-explanatory. I hope that the Minister will agree that it should be incorporated into the Bill, or explain in detail where my points of concern are covered.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Nigel Griffiths): The amendment would limit paragraph B of the table to adverse effects on peace, security or stability in any region of the world or within any country that would also damage the interests or security of the United Kingdom.

We see for the first time a key fault line between the parties. It is not over Europe. The consequences of the treaty of Rome and of the noble Baroness Thatcher's having signed the Single European Act in 1985 are well known to all of us, and we live and abide by them in terms of regulations and the like.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): May I place it on the record that my noble Friend was prepared to encourage members of her party at that time to sign up to the Single European Act because she was advised and was under the firm impression that it was designed to give effect to a single market in goods and services? It was then, of course, outrageously abused by our European partners, particularly by the European Court of Justice. However, I reassure the Minister that I voted against our signing that Act.

Nigel Griffiths: I think that the whole Committee knows how easily influenced the noble Baroness was, what a weak person she was and how easily the wool was likely to be pulled over her eyes—I don't think.

We believe—it is a distinct difference between us—that, because of possible concerns about peace, stability and security in other countries or regions of the world, it is right to be able to impose export controls, irrespective of whether it would be damaging to the United Kingdom's interests. The ability to impose export and other controls in order to avoid an adverse effect on the UK's national security is already provided for in paragraph A of the table. An amendment to provide for export controls to be imposed in order to avoid damage to the security of the United Kingdom is therefore not necessary.

The amendment also refers more generally to

    ``the interests . . . of the United Kingdom''.

We consider that all the interests of the United Kingdom for which it might be necessary or desirable to make orders that impose controls on exports or transfers are already covered in the table—including, in paragraph E, the risk that goods or technology might be used elsewhere in the world to carry out or to facilitate the carrying out of acts of terrorism or serious crime.

The hon. Gentleman may have in mind the reference in the consolidated criteria to the fact that

    ``the Government will . . . continue when considering export licence applications to give full weight to the UK's national interest'',

including the potential effect on the UK's economic, financial and commercial interests, the potential effect on the UK's relations with the recipient country, the potential effect on any collaborative defence production or procurement project with allies or EU partners, and the protection of the UK's essential strategic industrial base. However, those are considerations properly to be taken into account in the licensing decisions, rather than reasons for which export controls should be imposed on particular items of equipment. Therefore it is not appropriate to amend the schedule of purposes for which orders may be made under clauses 1 and 2. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Howarth: I want to be sure that I am under no misapprehension. Paragraph B of the table refers to:

    ``An adverse effect on peace, security or stability in any region''.

I presume that an analysis of whether the export of technology into a region was ``adverse'' would be entirely a matter for the Government of the day, and that it would not be the subject of an order of the House.

Nigel Griffiths: I can help the hon. Gentleman. He is right; of course it would be. That is why we are putting the annual report on a statutory basis; it will list key decisions and the criteria for reaching them, and ensure that they are open to public scrutiny.

Mr. Page: I have often wondered about the reasons for the signing of the Single European Act, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot for explaining how it came to pass. I confess that I did not know until now, but at my advanced age life has become a lot clearer.

I thank the Minister for his explanation of the amendment's effect. As my hon. Friend said, the word ``adverse'' is subject to the interpretation and judgment of the Government, and perhaps that is as it should be. I thank the Minister for his explanation and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.45 pm

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): I beg to move amendment No. 10, in page 10, line 15, at end insert—

    `Sustainable development

F. An adverse effect on:

    (a) the economy of any country; or

    (b) the sustainable development of the country to which the goods were exported, or the technology was transferred.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 31, in page 10, line 15, at end insert—

    `Sustainable development

F. An adverse effect on the sustainable development of the country to which the goods were exported, or the technology was transferred.'.

    ╠Mr. Savidge╠: I warmly welcome the Bill. I am rather surprised at the Opposition's attack on it as being over-hasty. Five years has already elapsed since the publication of the Scott report, and nine years since the Matrix Churchill scandal. It is 10 years since it was pointed out that the law that we were working with was somewhat dodgy and more than 60 years since that law was passed, in 1939. The 1939 Act states that it was enacted because of the ``present emergency''. It was scheduled to expire when that emergency came to an end. I have, at times, had the feeling that Conservative Members live in a sort of time warp, but I am surprised that they are not aware that world war two ended quite a while ago. The Bill, rather than being over-hasty, is more than half a century overdue.

 
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