Export Control Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Page: The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North has shown us the dangers of coming to a Committee with a set of opening remarks that one does not adjust according to the circumstances. His was a classic case. I say to him and to the Committee—I shall say it time and again—that Conservative Members are not against the Bill. We welcome it. We want it in place. In fact, when we were in government, the Conservative party set up the Scott inquiry. We have already expressed our regret that it has taken so long to reach this stage. We would have preferred the Bill to be debated in sequence, instead of fragmented for two or three months while we all go away with our bucket and spades. I look forward to our return to Committee in October.

I should have been happy to table amendment No. 10 or amendment No. 31. However, when I went to the Table Office, they had already been tabled. I did not see the point in overegging the pudding, knowing that those who had tabled the amendments would advance their arguments effectively. The NGOs have experienced such matters and their arguments, queries and worries must be properly taken on board. I am asking, how do the Government decide what is a balance between the requirement of security and the defence of the realm, and sustainable development of an economy to ensure that a country is driven forward and does not become an over-militarised state? Who will make that judgment?

We can all produce examples of when countries have suffered because the defence of the realm was not their first requirement and when other border countries had behaved in a wrong and, dare I say it, almost criminal fashion. Because certain countries had not been defended, we have seen their economy and any form of sustainable development put back years, if not decades. I should be interested to know how the Government will handle such matters. The NGOs make important points but, as I say about this country, the defence of the realm must be the premier objective.

Nigel Griffiths: I take the amendments seriously. I shall deal with them in detail and, I hope, with clarify and brevity. The effect of the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Twickenham would be to make a risk that exports of goods or transfers of technology of a particular description would have an adverse effect on the recipient country's sustainable development. It would make that risk a reason for which an order imposing export or transfer controls could be made.

The amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North would have the same effect, but, in addition, it would make a risk that exports of goods or transfers of technology of a particular description would have an adverse effect on the economy of any country, a reason for which an order imposing export or transfer controls could be made. I do not regard arms control as a bleeding heart issue. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said so movingly on Second Reading, we see the matter as a bleeding men, women and children issue.

An important aspect of the consolidated criteria for arms exports is, of course, the obligation under criterion 8 of the United Kingdom legislation, derived from the European Union code of conduct on arms exports, to take into account whether a proposed export would seriously undermine the economy or seriously hamper the sustainable development of the recipient country. We have always made it clear that our national criteria and the EU code of conduct on arms exports, which we played a key role in drafting, accepted in full and consolidated last autumn, would remain the basis for export licensing decisions.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): Why, if that EU code of conduct remains the basis, can it not be incorporated into the Bill?

Nigel Griffiths: It is a matter of clarity and convenience. Obviously the Bill reflects the codes that we consolidated, but we are treating this code as published guidance under the Bill that the Government must take into account when making licensing decisions.

Dr. Tonge: Surely the EU code of conduct is not legally binding. It is advisory, and the Government can be advised by it, but it is not binding. However, if it were incorporated into the Bill it would be binding.

Nigel Griffiths: Even if a future Government tried to withdraw guidance continued under clause 8(4), the EU criteria would continue to apply until specifically altered by the EU in its common foreign and security policy formation. It would therefore remain a relevant consideration for a Government to take into account. Indeed, if it were ignored, a judicial review of a licence ground refusal could conceivably result.

Dr. Tonge: The Minister must realise that much argument resulted when the Government gave permission for the repair of guns for Morocco, which borders Western Sahara. That contravened clause 8 of the European code of conduct, and nothing happened as a consequence. The provision is not legally binding.

Nigel Griffiths: I shall not refer ex tempore in Committee to a particular case. Under the Bill, the consolidated criteria are to be treated as published guidance that the Government must take into account in making licensing decisions. The Bill confirms and underlines the status of consolidated criteria, all aspects of which are important. Criterion 8 derives from the EU code of conduct on arms exports, and we are firmly committed to it. Hon. Members want to prevent a future Government from withdrawing from consideration of sustainable development as part of the export licensing process. They are ignoring the fact that we signed up to the EU code of conduct. We shall not withdraw from it, and a future Government will have to be bound by clause 8(4). The EU criteria will still apply unless the provision is altered or withdrawn by the EU, and I see no prospect of that. The amendment is therefore unnecessary, and I invite my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North to withdraw it.

Mr. Savidge: I thank my hon. Friend for his assurances on the EU code of conduct, although I ask him to consider whether the Government would make the matter slightly more explicit in the Bill. Given his assurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Dr. Tonge: I seek your advice on procedure, Mr. Benton. The two amendments are similar, and we do not want to withdraw ours.

The Chairman: The two amendments are grouped together. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North asked leave to withdraw his amendment, but I am advised that, because I allowed the hon. Lady to speak, I must put the Question on the amendment to the Committee.

Amendment negatived.

Dr. Cable: I beg to move amendment No. 32, in page 10, line 15, at end insert—

    `Diversion

F. A risk that the equipment will be diverted within the buyer country or re-exported under undesirable conditions.'.

    The amendment draws attention to the problem of weapons diversion and would include that in the Bill. The problem is generally acknowledged by those who have examined the arms export trade. In respect of major strategic weapons and Iraq, it is widely recognised that Jordan, probably unwittingly, was used as a destination for illicit Iraqi weapons, and case studies have been conducted by hon. Members into other abuses. For example, the Chairman of the International Development Committee spent some time inspecting the abuses that occurred as a result of the British investment in the Philippines that was used to evade controls and trans-ship weapons to Indonesia. As an example of brokerage, in the past week we have seen Burkina Faso used as a preferred destination for weapons that were subsequently diverted to Liberia and Sierra Leone. The diversion of weapons is a recognised phenomenon that the export control system should take into account. The amendment will help that process.

I would be surprised if the amendment presented a problem. In international trade policy there are many examples of rules of origin being used to track ultimate destinations. There are complex rules of origin in trade policy on imports when Governments, including ours, are in protectionist mode. There are rules about exporting textiles to the European Union, which require the exporting countries to produce certification to demonstrate that the full content of clothes, for example, was produced in the country of origin and has not been trans-shipped. Such schemes are commonly employed in the generalised system of preferences, where exporters must produce certificates that demonstrate that the origin is genuinely in the manufacturing country.

The principle of tracking trans-shipments and using proper certification processes to stop abuse is common on the import side of trade. All we are asking is that the importance of the problem of trans-shipment and abuse of origin, particularly in the case of armaments, should be recognised and taken into account as an important part of the export control process.

Nigel Griffiths: The amendment would insert into the schedule a reference to the risk that equipment will be diverted within the buyer country or re-exported under undesirable conditions. The wording of the amendment reflects criterion 7 of the consolidated national and EU criteria, and the hon. Gentleman may have proposed the amendment to ensure that the risk of diversion remains a key consideration in export licensing decisions.

I hope that I can explain why the amendment is inappropriate and unnecessary. The schedule describes the purposes for which orders imposing export or transfer controls can be made. Under clause 3(6), licensing decisions must have regard to the possible consequences of exports or transfers of the kind mentioned in the table mentioned in paragraph 4 of the schedule. The function of the schedule is to govern the making of orders that specify classes of goods and technology subject to export controls. No quality inherent in a particular item of equipment or technology can make it likely to be diverted to undesirable end use. That is why it is inappropriate to include a reference to diversion in the schedule to govern the purposes for which particular items of equipment can be brought under control in orders made under clauses 1 and 2.

However, I assure the Committee that the risk of diversion within a buyer country or an undesirable re-export to another country is and will remain a key consideration in our export licensing decisions. We always made it clear that our national criteria and the EU code which we consolidated last autumn would remain the basis for export licensing decisions. Clause 8 makes it clear that the consolidated criteria are to be treated as published guidance under the Bill and that the Government shall have regard to that guidance in reaching licensing decisions.

The Bill confirms and underlines the status of the consolidated criteria, all aspects of which are important. The Bill does not change the status of particular criteria. In the light of that assurance and my explanation why the amendment to the schedule would be inappropriate, I hope that the hon. Member for Twickenham will withdraw it.

5.15 pm

 
Previous Contents Continue

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