Export Control Bill

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Dr. Tonge: I should like to echo the remarks of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North. The remarks that were prepared for the Minister so that he could respond to our questions this morning seem to have been drafted before 11 September. I get the feeling that those who wrote them have not thought, ``Hey, this is a whole new ball game; we've got to think about this in broader terms.'' As the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North said, the purpose of amendments Nos. 2 and 66 was to encompass remarks that had been made by the Secretaries of State of other Departments, and by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister. I am slightly reassured to hear that the Minister understands that, and that the issue will be incorporated in the consultation, which is becoming very technical. However, I want to impress it on him that the Committee represents a perfect opportunity to tighten things up and introduce legislation that is relevant to the current situation, for which we would otherwise have to wait months. It seems a pity to lose this opportunity. I will not press amendment No. 66, but I hope that the clause will be strengthened later in the Bill's passage.

Mr. Savidge: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 61, in page 4, leave out lines 26 to 29 and insert—

    `( ) For the purposes of this section (without prejudice to the generality of subsection (2)(b))—

    (a) the making of an agreement with another to acquire, dispose of or move goods, and

    (b) the making of arrangements under which another person—

    (i) acquires, disposes of or moves goods; or

    (ii) agrees with a third person to acquire, dispose of or move goods, are activities which facilitate the acquisition, disposal or movement of the goods.'—[Nigel Griffiths.]

Dr. Tonge: I beg to move amendment No. 67, in page 4, line 30, leave out from `controls' to end of line 32 and insert—

    `shall be imposed on all acts committed by persons in the United Kingdom and on all acts committed by United Kingdom persons wherever located.'.

The subject of arms brokering and the activities of arms traffickers is very dear to Liberal Democrat hearts. It seems to us that, using modern technology such as laptop computers and mobile phones, it is now the easiest thing in the world, if a person's activities as an arms broker are banned in, say, Surrey, for them to nip across to their house in the Caribbean or in mainland Europe and carry on their activities there.

It seems extraordinary that the Government should not want to include the activities of arms brokers—wherever they are—in the scope of the Bill. Indeed, the Government's manifesto commitment was to control the activities of arms brokers and traffickers wherever they were located. There was no intention, in the Labour party's manifesto, to limit the legislation to these shores.

If the legislation does not cover such activities, those who conduct them will simply step out of the country to conduct the brokering deals and they will be perfectly safe. German controls suffer from this weakness, applying only to people who conduct their activities on German territory. Brinley Salzmann, exports director of the Defence Manufacturers Association, in his evidence to the Quadripartite Committee, said that the German system

    ``catches the good guys and the bad guys have moved to Cyprus.''

By contrast, United States legislation controls brokering activities by US persons who operate overseas, and US officials believe—I hope that they still believe—that that has significant deterrent effect. Precedent exists for the exercise of such extra-territorial powers in the UK. For example, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 applies to people abroad, as do the Chemical Weapons Act 1996, the Sex Offenders Act 1997 and the Landmines Act 1998, so why should legislation on arms brokering not do so?

12.15 pm

There is international consensus on the fact that arms brokering is a reprehensible activity in most cases, and that concerted action is needed involving the take-up of extra-territorial jurisdiction. The negotiations in the lead-up to the July 2001 United Nations conference on illicit trade in small arms and light weapons demonstrate growing international consensus to suggest that brokering is in urgent need of international regulation, with the UK taking a lead in pushing for a legally binding convention on arms brokering—so why has the loophole been allowed to stay in the Bill?

I hope that the Minister will take the subject seriously. It calls into question the passion and seriousness with which the Government take the control of arms. I do not know why they have left out arms brokers who operate abroad. I feel passionately that the subject should be part of the Bill, and I hope that he gives us an adequate answer.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: I explicitly understand what the hon. Lady is trying to achieve. She made her case clear; she wants to ensure that UK citizens, subjects of Her Majesty the Queen, wherever they may operate, will not be able to escape the effect of the proposed law. However, I am not clear about what the clause will do to meet the hon. Lady's objectives and to deal with Her Majesty's subjects.

The clause states:

    ``Trade controls may be imposed on acts done outside the United Kingdom and the Isle of Man, but only if they are done by a person who is, or is acting under the control of, a United Kingdom person.''

``United Kingdom person'' is a defined term. Acts done by a UK citizen will clearly be caught, I should have thought, and I am sure that that is what the Minister will argue. However, I wonder what will happen to a person who acts under the control of a UK person.

In many military defence contracts, much of the negotiation is carried out using consultants and agents in foreign countries. I can think back many years to a country such as Nigeria, for example, where Britain had some important defence contracts in the 1970s and 1980s. As I recall, agents were often employed. I would like to know from the Minister whether the measure would apply to agents acting on behalf of the UK, even though they were not UK citizens. That raises rather important constitutional points. I am not sure how, constitutionally, we can exercise control over foreign nationals who carry out legitimate activities on their own territory outside the United Kingdom. It is important for the Minister to clarify whether the Government intend the Bill to extend to foreign nationals operating in their own country. If not, what is meant by

    ``a person who is, or is acting under the control of, a United Kingdom person''

where that person is not a citizen of the United Kingdom—not, indeed, a subject of Her Majesty?

Nigel Griffiths: The amendment would require trade controls introduced by the Secretary of State to apply to all acts carried out in the United Kingdom and all acts done outside it by UK persons. No exceptions would be made for particular types of activities. The Government's proposed controls under clause 5 would apply to acts carried out in the UK and to the activities of UK persons overseas. The wording that the hon. Member for Aldershot raised is intended to ensure that a United Kingdom national cannot get round the controls by instructing a foreign national overseas to act on his or her behalf. However, the controls that are being set up apply to trafficking and brokering to embargoed destinations. It is intended that they should apply to activities capable of being controlled under the clause.

The real issue is what would happen if a UK national nipped across to the Caribbean and took part, to use the example given by the hon. Member for Richmond Park, in illegal trafficking or brokering. The answer is that the minute such a person returned to Britain they would be arrested. It could not be plainer than that. I shall give another example. If that person, perhaps a UK national by birth, was living in North Korea and was trafficking or brokering in arms between North Korea and another regime in that part of the world, under the hon. Lady's amendment there would be an obligation for us to request extradition, to send someone to interview the person concerned, and thus to tie up people in a way that would be impractical.

I notice that the hon. Lady praised the United States system, and I draw her attention to the comments of the Campaign Against Arms Trade against that system. It states in one of its most recent briefings:

    ``The US has one of the strongest export control regimes in the world, with legislation making the `diversion of technologies to unauthorized uses and prohibited third parties' illegal.''

However, it states that

    ```inadequate enforcement' means that there are frequent abuses''.

We plan through the Bill to crack down on the abuses and abusers within our jurisdiction, to our maximum ability.

Dr. Tonge: I am a little mystified about an earlier remark by the Minister that extradition would be required to get at a British national who was living abroad and acting as an arms broker. I thought that we believed in extradition and wanted people who were guilty of crimes to be extradited to this country, if necessary. Surely there is a basis for that in international law.

Nigel Griffiths: I am not sure whether I chose the right example, as I do not know whether we have an extradition treaty with North Korea. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, South (Mr. Pearson) has informed me that we do not. There are many other such countries. That brings me back to remarks that I have often made in the Committee and in the Chamber, to the effect that the best way to control arms is to ensure that the maximum number of countries adhere to UN, EU and other international embargoes. That is why we devote efforts to ensuring that all countries subscribe to the sort of tough arms regime that will allow the enforcement of UN and other embargoes and will de-escalate world conflicts that have brought such misery. The tracking down of UK nationals who may be involved in illegal activities and who are either based in Britain or trading abroad and returning to Britain is one of the core aims of the Bill.

However, as I know from the briefings that I have received from NGOs, we are dealing with resourceful, cunning and deceitful people trafficking illegally in such arms and the technologies associated with them, in breach of UN embargoes and in a way that leaves behind little trace. Under the legislation, if such people swan back here from the Caribbean or, as in the example that I have provided, from North Korea—if they set foot in Britain—they can be arrested. It is important to ensure that such practical measures, which have not hitherto been available, are put in place and that such people are tracked down and dealt with. That is the important reason why we have framed the Bill as we have.

I will repeat the criticisms that have been made by others—I have no knowledge of them—of the United States. In the words of the Campaign Against Arms Trade, it is pointless having a regime such as that of the US, which includes everything that people are calling for such as extradition of nationals wherever they are and prior parliamentary scrutiny of measures, if the enforcement regime is weak. The Bill contains the necessary steps to give us among the toughest and most practical regimes in the world, so that the sorts of criticisms that are made of regimes in other countries do not apply to us.

The amendment is not practical and would not help to further the aims of the Bill. Rather, it would divert resources that I and, I believe, the Committee and the public would much prefer to be focused on and channelled into intelligence on the arms brokers and traders who may be operating offshore and using other devices to avoid being caught by existing legislation. They will be caught in an effective manner.

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