Export Control Bill

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Mr. Key: We agree with British industry and many other outside organisations such as charities and NGOs that the law in this area needs to be revised. We all broadly welcome the revision. We have drawn attention to some of our concerns, but we believe that this is a sensible review and we support it.

Mr. Howarth: I rise briefly to echo my hon. Friend's caveats about the open-ended definition of the powers that the clause gives to the Government. The clause could provide the Government with a substantial power on which there would be a limited check. I accept the Minister's point that technology moves on. There is no point in passing legislation that will be out of date in two years' time because technology has changed. However, it is the duty of Parliament to scrutinise the Government's intentions, and I have reservations about the catch-all nature of the clause.

The Minister talked of weapons of mass destruction, and we all understand the need to be absolutely rigorous in ensuring that anything that goes to make a weapon of mass destruction is not exported from this country into the hands of those who would do us injury. However, we should also understand that the Bill's scope extends far beyond weapons of mass destruction to cover other technologies such as military pyrotechnics. I was involved with a company that made military pyrotechnics—simulated battlefield devices for training purposes.

We should not misrepresent the Bill. It is not simply about preventing weapons of mass destruction, or components thereof, from falling into the hands of people such as Saddam Hussein. It is much more comprehensive and wide-ranging, and imposes conditions on the export of a large number of components in the defence sector. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury is correct when he says that there reposes in the House of Lords a wealth of experience in these matters. It also contains some very fine minds. In the intervening period, they may be able to find a way to ensure that the Government achieve the overall objective without taking controls and powers that are so extensive that they are unaccountable in this important area.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

11.15am

Clause 4

Controls on provision of technical assistance overseas

Mr. Key: I beg to move amendment No. 51, in page 3, line 29, after `assistance', insert `or foreign military assistance'.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 52, in page 3, line 36, after `assistance', insert `or foreign military assistance'.

No. 53, in page 3, line 39, after `assistance', insert `or foreign military assistance'.

No. 54, in clause 10, page 6, line 6, at end insert—

    ``armed conflict'' means any armed conflict between—

    (a) the armed forces of foreign states,

    (b) the armed forces of a foreign state and dissident armed forces or other armed groups; or

    (c) armed groups.'.

No. 55, in clause 10, page 6, line 12, at end insert—

    ``foreign military assistance'' means military services or military-related services, or any attempt, encouragement, incitement or solicitation to render such services, except under the authority of the Secretary of State, in the form of—

    (a) military assistance to a party to an armed conflict by means of—

    (i) advice or training;

    (ii) personnel, financial, logistical, intelligence or operational support;

    (iii) personnel recruitment;

    (iv) medical or para-medical services; or

    (v) procurement of equipment;

    (b) security services for the protection of individuals involved in armed conflict or their property;

    (c) any action aimed at overthrowing a government or undermining the constitutional order, sovereignty or territorial integrity of a state;

    (d) any other action that has the result of furthering the military interests of a party to the armed conflict but not humanitarian or civilian activities aimed at relieving the plight of civilians in an area of armed conflict.'.

Mr. Key: In June 2000, European Union member states agreed a council joint action on the control of technical assistance related to weapons of mass destruction. There were important principles embodied in that council joint action. In paragraph 45 of command paper 5091, technical assistance was defined thus:

    ``Technical assistance, as defined in the joint action, means any technical support related to repairs, development, manufacture, assembly, testing, maintenance, or any other technical service and may take forms such as instruction, training, transmission of working knowledge or skills or consulting services and includes oral forms of assistance.''

It therefore encompasses both the transfer of technology by any means, including orally, and the provision of technical services.

I perceive that although we are signed up to that document, there is a gap in the Bill concerning mercenary activity. The Foreign Enlistment Act 1870 prevents British subjects from serving against countries with which the UK is at peace. However, there has been no successful prosecution under that Act since its introduction over 130 years ago. The Government's lack of power to regulate mercenaries was demonstrated in December 1989 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the international convention against the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries. According to the former Foreign Office Minister, the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd), the Government have no plans to sign the convention. He said in a written answer on 15 June 1998:

    ``We have no plans at present to sign and ratify the International Convention against Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries. We have doubts concerning its legal enforceability in the United Kingdom. We are looking at options for national domestic regulation of military companies.'' —[Official Report, 15 June 1998; Vol. 314, c. 16.]

That was back in 1998. Then the Legge report criticised the Government's handling of the situation in Sierra Leone and the activities of Sandline International. The Foreign Office then promised:

    ``To issue within 18 months a Green Paper on mercenary activity, taking account of discussions with our partners in the UN, the EU and other international fora. The Paper will address both the international and the UK context.''

That was in the second report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, session 1998-99, on Sierra Leone, Cmnd. 4325. That Green Paper has yet to emerge.

On 6 April 2001, in a written answer at column 298W, the then Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle), expressed his regret that the Green Paper expected in November 2000 had not been published. That was what I referred to yesterday afternoon in the Chamber when I intervened after the Home Secretary's statement. He generously answered by saying that he was unaware of the Green Paper. Why should he have been? He had his mind on other things. It was not, of course, a Home Office matter, and the Foreign Office was to deal with it. But then, we live in an age of joined-up government, so I would have expected the Home Secretary to be aware of the matter. I know that the Home Office is very much burdened at the moment, but it would have been nice to think that it was aware of it. Typically generously, the Home Secretary said that he would find out what was going on, and I am sure that he will, but I also had a word with his officials yesterday and asked them to make sure that the Department of Trade and Industry knew about this exchange, because while it was not my intention to embarrass the Minister dealing with the Bill in Committee the following day, I wanted an answer.

The regulation of mercenaries, private military companies and associated activities is long overdue. British mercenaries have been operating with impunity all over the world, especially in Africa, while successive Governments have stood back and wondered what to do, if anything. The presence of Britons in the al-Qaeda training camps and their involvement in terrorist attacks abroad has long been a source of complaint from foreign Governments, including the Governments of Algeria, India and Russia. However, British-based mercenary activity has been placed out in the open in the weeks since 11 September. There have been disturbing reports about the activities of groups in this country recruiting disaffected youths to fight for the Taliban. We cannot tolerate a situation in which British soldiers may be in action against fellow Britons.

The groups in question are not new, but their activities and the role that they may have played in the al-Qaeda terrorist network has been brought into focus following the events of 11 September. Two years ago the BBC and other European media organisations reported on Sakina Security Services, a company that specialised in high-risk jobs in the former Soviet Union and the civil war areas of the world. Until it was shut down, that company's website advertised a two-week course in the United States called the ``Ultimate Jihad Challenge''. It stated:

    ``The course emphasis is on practical live-fire training. You will fire between 2,000 and 3,000 rounds of mixed calibre ammunition.''

Sakina also offered training in ambushing, sniper attacks, killing with knives and shooting at, through and from a vehicle. Sakina Security was run by Muhammad Jameel, who has been linked to Sheikh Omar bakri Mohammed and Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri. Abu Hamza's son and son-in-law were among the 10 British Muslims arrested in Yemen in December 1998. They subsequently confessed that they had planned to bomb the Movenpic hotel, where US military personnel are frequently billeted, the Anglican Christ Church clinic and the British consulate. Those young men were sent as couriers to Abu al-Hassan, leader of a splinter group of Islamic Jihad, known as the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army, or the AAIA.

According to intelligence sources, both Abu Hassan and Abu Hamza have documented ties to bin Laden. According to those sources, following the bombing of American embassies in Africa, investigations were carried out in the United Kingdom into the activities of a fast food chain, mobile phone retailers and used car salesrooms, which Abu Hamza admitted formed part of funding for jihad activities.

The FBI has asked the Metropolitan police to trace an estimated 500 Britons who they suspect received training at al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. Some of those recruits are known to have been sent to fight in what are seen as holy wars in Chechnya, Kashmir, Afghanistan and the Balkans. Others may have returned home to Britain as sleepers.

We must take those organisations seriously. Although Professor Paul Wilkinson, who is director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism, is not convinced that Sakina was involved in terrorism, he is very concerned that other groups could be. He said that, given the general support for the bin Laden message, their rhetoric is pretty fearsome and hair-raising, and that it is an encouragement to people to side with the holy war in which he believes. Certainly, the skills taught by companies such as Sakina would be useful to anyone who wished to undertake terrorist activities or to fight as a mercenary.

The Government have a duty to protect the young and impressionable from being press-ganged into fighting for the Taliban. For instance, Anwar Khan, who was captured by the Northern Alliance and is believed to be in Lachiday prison near the north-east border of Pakistan, was sent by his family to a religious school in Pakistan to help him overcome his drug addiction, but was then persuaded to go to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban.

I have explained why we should no longer ignore the mercenary activities that originate in this country. Other nations in the European Union and countries further afield are complaining that Britain is lax in that regard. The Government should take this genuine opportunity to improve matters, in the interests of peace and security—not only for our own citizenry but for the citizens of other countries.

 
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