Export Control Bill

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Dr. Tonge: The Liberal Democrats welcome the amendments, and are happy to support them. We, like Conservative Members, have been worried for some time about mercenary activities. I was amazed, during the election campaign, to come across two young people in my constituency who said that they were involved with mercenary activities and who claimed to have been trained in Afghanistan. I can hardly believe that such a thing could happen in the United Kingdom.

I remind the Committee that we were promised a Green Paper on mercenary activities by November 2000; but, as the hon. Member for Salisbury pointed out, it has not yet appeared. I hope that the Government will accept the amendment as a promissory note for that Green Paper. Clearly, it would not encompass all the things that we need to say about the subject, but it would at least show the nation that the Government take mercenary activities seriously and that they will deliver the goods in the near future.

I am a little disappointed that amendment No. 55 does not mention police and security or paramilitary activity, but we may be able to correct that omission at a later stage. I was also interested to see that it includes the words,

    ``the authority of the Secretary of State''.

As I recall, the Sandline affair involved word of mouth--people understood that authority had been given. The amendment should say,

    ``the written authority of the Secretary of State''.

Nevertheless, we welcome the amendment. We hope that the Government will take it seriously, and that they will include it or a similar provision in the Bill.

Nigel Griffiths: We are all concerned about the role of mercenaries. The amendments seek to ensure that a range of activities under the heading ``foreign military assistance'' can be controlled under the Bill. I do not believe that such a change is necessary. Clause 4 is already a wide-ranging provision. It allows the Government to impose controls on ``technical'' services. That term is broad and it covers services provided by any individual or party in connection with the development of production, or the use of, any controlled goods or technology. In practice, that means services provided by anyone in connection with any military goods or technology. ``Anyone'' includes mercenaries; in answer to the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), it also includes police, security and paramilitary personnel. They are all covered under clause 4 and by the word ``services''.

That wide-ranging new power implements the EU joint action on controls on the provision of technical assistance for weapons of mass destruction and related missile programmes; it allows us to implement any requirements for controls on technical assistance imposed by international embargoes; and it provides appropriate penalties.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: The Minister recognises the force of the argument made by my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Richmond Park. However, the Committee needs to hear that the Minister has taken specific legal advice on the amendments. I think that judges will be unwilling to extend the interpretation of technical assistance as the Minister suggests. Under the present circumstances, we must make it explicit to the courts of England that they have a duty to help to eradicate terrorism. In view of my hon. Friend's remarks, will the Minister tell us whether he has taken specific legal advice on the amendments?

11.30 am

Nigel Griffiths: I hardly think that my civil servants would advise me on the matter without taking full and proper legal advice.

Aspects of the activities listed in the amendments, such as training in the use of weapons, which is a key mercenary activity, come within the scope of the clause. Powers over the transfer of technology and the trade in controlled goods allow for the control of other aspects of such activities, such as the procurement of equipment, which is another aspect of mercenary work. The wide-ranging powers in the clause will therefore deal with many of the concerns that have been voiced.

Dr. Tonge: I must dispute the Minister's claim that subsection (4) covers actual people. We are talking about people who are training to be mercenaries and to fight, perhaps with their bare hands. We are not talking about goods and services or technology of any description.

Nigel Griffiths: I should not have to tell the hon. Lady that mercenaries need equipment and technology; they thrive on it. They do not generally go around using their bare hands; they are well armed. It is clear from the examples that we have been given of websites and from advertisements that people will not train in America without the equipment that the hon. Member for Salisbury mentioned. It is important to note that people provide services, and mercenaries provide a despicable service that requires an infrastructure. We got a flavour of the infrastructure of terrorism from the hon. Gentleman's contribution.

Dr. Tonge: I must press the Minister on this issue. I said in my opening remarks that the actions of 11 September were carried out by trained men—we can call them mercenaries or whatever we like—who used their bare hands and perhaps Stanley knives. That is the point that Conservative Members are trying to make in the amendments.

Nigel Griffiths: I think that the hon. Lady said that Stanley knives were used, and the record will show that, but I do not want to get into the particulars of that tragic case when I know that the Americans and others are investigating it. However, as the hon. Member for Salisbury and the hon. Lady rightly said, private military companies and mercenaries are the subject of a forthcoming Green Paper, which will set out the options for their regulation. In the Bill, we are trying to provide the Government with powers to ensure that we can put in place an export control regime that meets the challenge posed by the modern world. That is why we are acting in concert with the European Union, the United Nations and the various international export control regimes, such as the missile technology control regime.

The controls will be introduced on technical assistance and will derive from international obligations. That is the only way to make them fully effective. If members of the Committee believe that a framework of controls such as has existed hitherto was in any way competent to meet the crisis that we witnessed during the past few weeks, they are mistaken. The reason for the changes is to try to tighten controls on armaments technology and on methods of transferring technology, and to starve mercenary groups of illegal traders and brokers involved in breaching embargoes of the necessary resources. That is what the framework is all about.

Mr. Key: When will the Green Paper be published?

Nigel Griffiths: As the hon. Gentleman will know, that is a matter on which the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office will take the lead. He raised the matter with the Home Secretary yesterday, and I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will have read his comments as well and will be happy to respond as soon as a date is known.

Mr. Key: I am grateful for the support of the hon. Member for Richmond Park, who has a long track record on the subject. I was especially interested in what she said on police, security and paramilitary activity, about which we have a blind spot in this country because we do not have a paramilitary police force, unlike almost every other European nation. If one visits Kosovo—as I have several times—one will see amazing work carried out not only by the regular and reserve forces, but by the Ministry of Defence police. Our soldiers are not policemen, but we do not have paramilitaries. The MOD police—a regular armed service—perform the function that paramilitaries would perform elsewhere.

I considered that the subject was a little wide of the mark, and that I would have pushed my luck if I had introduced it for debate. However, I pricked up my ears in the Chamber yesterday when the Home Secretary said that he would seek to reintroduce the clauses on the MOD police in the Armed Forces Bill, the passage of which was not completed due to the general election. He also said that he would go further and introduce legislation to extend the jurisdiction of, for example, the British Transport police. That is long overdue, as long as it is done in the right way.

Of course, there are drafting issues in relation to my amendment. As I have said, I am not a lawyer, but I have done my best. The Minister will not be surprised to hear that I was disappointed when he said that some provisions in the amendments were not necessary. It is astonishing for a Minister to say that it is not necessary for such legislation to cover mercenaries.

The Minister also said that mercenaries were despicable, but I do not think that they need be so. This country has a long record, lasting hundreds of years, of use of mercenaries. The private forces of the East India Company were not despicable. Some consider the Gurkhas to have started as mercenaries, and they are certainly not despicable. It is unregulated mercenaries who are despicable, and they can cause havoc. I have been motivated to urge for regulation, although I do not normally like regulation as a political philosophy. It would be of great assistance on the issue to this country and elsewhere.

The Minister was unable to answer the question about when there would be a Green Paper, but I do not blame him for that. He has had a very sticky wicket this morning, which he has played with competence; I am grateful to him for that. I am sure that the Government will reconsider the situation and I will do my best to ensure that they do. However, the Minister seems to think that his legislation conforms with and answers the Council joint action on the control of technical assistance, which I quoted at the beginning, and which, as the hon. Member for Richmond Park said, specifically includes instruction, training, the transmission of working knowledge of skills and consulting services, and includes all forms of assistance. The legislation does not conform with that. It omits the whole area and that is why I must, with considerable regret, seek to divide the Committee on this issue.

We shall return to this issue again and again and I have a sneaking feeling, reading Labour Members' body language and listening to Opposition Members' contributions, that the Committee is uncomfortable with the Government's position on the matter. It is all happening very quickly, but on this occasion I cannot give the Government the benefit of the doubt—that would be quite wrong. I want to make it clear that many people outside the House as well as inside it will be observing carefully the Government's decision not to allow the amendment.

 
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