[Relevant documents: Strategic Export ControlsFirst Joint Report from the Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees, Session 200405, HC 145, and the Government's response thereto, Cm 6638; and the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees on 31 January 2006, HC 873-i.]
Roger Berry (Kingswood) (Lab): It is a pleasure to open this debate on the most recent report of the Quadripartite Committee, the Government's response to that report, and the minutes of a meeting that the Committee held at the end of January.
Roger Berry : The Quadripartite Committee is an interesting creature. As Members will be aware, it is a Joint Committee involving the Trade and Industry, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Defence Committees, all of which have an interest in arms export control policy and want to scrutinise what the Government do in that area. Many years ago, we agreed to come together as one.
I thank my colleagues on the Committee for producing a unanimous report yet again. Although most Select Committees deliver unanimous reports, there are difficulties occasionally. However, we four Select Committees have delivered unanimity. I am sure that the Minister will acknowledge that that increases substantially the weight and validity of our conclusions.
Thanks must go to our Clerks for the excellent drafting. When the report before the House was drafted, the Clerk was Steven Mark and I place on record our thanks to him. Since the general election, our Clerk has been Glenn McKee, and I place on record our gratitude for the work he is doing on our behalf.
I also thank those who have given evidence to the Quadripartite Committee, such as the representatives from EGADthe Export Group for Aerospace and Defencewhich represents the defence manufacturers. They gave us a wealth of advice and information on how the system works and have offered to give further evidence on their experience of the arms export control regime. I am sure that that will give us further insight into how the system operates.
Non-governmental organisations are very active under the UK Working Group on Arms, which comprises Amnesty International, the British American
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Security Information Councilor BASICChristian Aid, Oxfam, Save the World and International Alert. The last time we took evidence, the journalist and broadcaster Mark Thomas also contributed. Like that of the defence manufacturers, the input of the non-governmental organisations has been invaluable, and I express the Committee's gratitude for their written and oral evidence.
I also thank the Foreign Secretary, who always willingly gives evidence to the Committee, and earlier this week the Minister for Energy, who has responsibility for the Export Control Organisation, kindly gave evidence. We are grateful for that too.
There is widespread acknowledgement that in recent years the Government have made great progress in developing an effective and transparent arms export control policy. That is illustrated by the opening few sentences of the written submission to the Quadripartite Committee by the UK Working Group on Arms:
"In recent years the UK Government has taken a strong lead on arms export controls at national, regional and international levels. As well as overhauling the national export control regime, the Government was instrumental in establishing the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports . . . the world's first regional politically-binding agreement to control the transfer of conventional arms. In the last year, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been actively promoting a legally-binding global Arms Trade Treaty to control international arms transfers."
I would add that there has been the ban on the export of torture equipment as well as the Landmines Act 1998 and annualnow quarterlyreports giving details of licences granted. In sum, we have greater transparency and accountability than ever.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The Quadripartite Committee report is excellent, and my hon. Friend rightly points to our Government's progress on arms export control. However, in paragraph 17 on page 55 of the report, the Committee reveals its dismay at the
Does my hon. Friend not agree that it could, and would, be better funded if we got rid of the Defence Export Services Organisation, which provides 500 expensive civil servants freely to arms companies and is, in effect, a gratis marketing department for them? Does the fact that the long-suffering taxpayer gives them such a generous boost not stand oddly with arms control?
Roger Berry : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. On the ECO, may I simply say that not only the Quadripartite Committee but the NGOs and the defence manufacturers have expressed concerns about significant cuts in staffing? There is a worry about maintaining the effective scrutiny of licences with significantly fewer pairs of hands. As he acknowledges, the Committee, the defence manufacturers and the NGOs have loudly expressed their concerns about that. No doubt my hon. Friend the Minister will comment on staffing matters in his winding-up speech.
My list of things that have made enormous improvements contains the Export Control Act 2002, which was the result of the first comprehensive review of
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export control legislation in this field for 60 years. I just remind hon. Members of that. In a moment, I shall identify one or two areas where I am unhappy that the Act did not go far enough, but I wish to place the achievements on record because they are not generally acknowledged.
As my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) mentioned, the Committee raised a number of concernsfor example, the fact that the brokering controls have limited extraterritoriality and that offshore production can provide a way around UK arms export controls. The real issues are monitoring and enforcement.
Before I address those policy areas, I shall say a few words about the role and work of the Quad. Scrutiny is what Select Committees are all about and it is what this Committee seeks to undertake. In so doing, it aims to provide a catalyst for a wider debate about arms export control policy in the UK from which policy makers, defence manufacturers, NGOs and wider society benefit.
"The Government welcomes the high level scrutiny the Committee has applied in the area of strategic export controls. We are committed to ensuring our export licensing system remains one of the most effective and transparent in the world. We greatly value our dialogue with the Committee, and believe that its constructive criticism has helped the United Kingdom achieve this position."
I am grateful for the Government's comments. I therefore find it difficult to understand why their response also raises this issue: because we ask a lot of questions, it costs the Government a lot of money to reply. The next paragraph on page 2 states:
"The Government would like the new Committee to be aware that its necessary duties add significantly to the running costs of the Government's export controls. The staff time involved in answering the Committee's requests is quite significant. The Government hopes that the new Committee will try to balance these costs with the level of scrutiny that it feels is necessary".
I have served on Select Committees in the House for the past 14 years. I can recall no other Select Committee ever being advised by a Department, let alone by four Departments, to be careful about how many questions it asks because it is difficult to find the pairs of hands to answer them. As my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire has pointed out, given that the Department that has found it quite easy
David Taylor : I endorse my hon. Friend's comment, which underlines what I said at the start: if we as a Government, and the taxpayers at large, are being asked to fund 500 civil servants in the Ministry of Defencein DESOto promote the very arms sales that another
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arm of Government is trying to ensure are going to appropriate regimes, it defies belief that the comment in the Government response should be expressed in those terms. It does not add up at all.
Roger Berry : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. My point is even more basic: to the best of my knowledge, no other Select Committeehon. and right hon. Members will correct me if I am wronghas been told, "Please be careful how many questions you ask because of the resource implications of answering them."
The ECO, to which we direct most of our questions, recently reduced staffing by about a third over two years. As a group of four Select Committees, we have a unique scrutiny function. Our work involves examining Government policies and analysing issues that arise from them. The end product of the controls system is thousands of individual licensing decisions, each of which could be very important. It is no great secret that we test only a small proportion of those because we do not have the resources to do more, dearly though I wish we had. Digging into the detail is part of our job. It is no more cost-neutral than the work of any other Select Committee. With the greatest respect, I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government to stop complaining about answering our questions when, on the other hand, they welcome our "high level scrutiny".
I shall move on to one of the key policy issues relating to trafficking and brokering. I mentioned that one of the great achievements in recent years was the 2002 Act. A major step forward in that Act was bringing trafficking and brokering under control to some degree. As the Committee and I see it, the problem is that the actions of UK citizens as traffickers and brokers are regulated abroad only if they are brokering long-range missilesmissiles that travel more than 300 mtorture equipment or trade to embargoed destinations.
UK citizens who broker deals from abroad in other areas are not covered. Therefore, missiles that travel for fewer than 300 m, man-portable air defence systems, small arms and rocket-propelled grenades are not covered. Automatic light weaponsthe small arms that are used in so many areas of conflict in the worldare not covered by the extraterritoriality provisions of the 2002 Act. That is a major mistake. Every minute, a man, woman or child on this planet is killed as a result of the use of weapons. Some 500,000 people a year die from the use of small arms. UK citizens who broker small arms from outside the UK are free to go about their work without seeking any licence whatever from the UK Government.
Small arms are the current weapons of mass destruction on our planet. When the Government review the 2002 Act, as they will next year, I hope they pay due attention to extending to brokering and trafficking full extraterritorial controls, so that those parts of the arms trade that are subject to control are comprehensive. There should not be partial controls such as the ones that we have on long-range missiles, torture equipment and embargoed destinations.
The 2002 Act was a missed opportunity. It could have been a comprehensive regulation, but it was not. As the Committee has pointed out on more than one occasion, that was particularly disappointing because the
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Government's 2001 general election manifesto commitment was clear. I promise that this will be my final quote:
The Government have done a fantastic job on this issue compared with the previous Government, so it pains me to say that there is only one way that that manifesto commitment can be understood. Sadly, the Government have yet to live up to it.
I ask the Minister for an assurance that when the 2002 Act is reviewed next year, the full extension of extraterritoriality will be considered. I am confident that our Committee will make a robust case in support of that position, and I hope it will be seriously considered.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend is making a compelling case. I and a number of other Members are desperately worried about cluster munitions. I am of the view that they should be banned outright, and that they are no different from land mines, but I know that the Government have a different view. That is an area where there is a need for robust controls. In this regard, the relationship with the European Union is interesting, and Belgium has announced that it intends to ban the use of cluster munitions. It would pain me to know that our country was in any way responsible for the export of such munitions.
Will my hon. Friend use that as an examplenext year perhapsto look at what this country does? We signed up to the Ottawa convention on land mines. Does he agree that we should be following that through by at least ensuring that we do not export weapons of terrible cruelty that we could do something to control?
Roger Berry : I have a great deal of sympathy with the point my hon. Friend makes, but the question should be directed to the Minister, in respect of Government policy on this matter. If the Chamber does not receive an entirely satisfactory answer this afternoon, the Quadripartite Committee will certainly look into it.
On brokering, may I mention an experience that I and some others had on a recent evening when we met a group of students from Lord Williams's upper school in Oxford? I had previously visited the school, because some of its students are engaged in a project on the arms trade, and they interrogated me. They then sat in on the last sitting of the Quadripartite Committee, and a few of us had the pleasure of meeting them outside the Palace of Westminster on Monday afternoon.
Those students have, via the internet, been able to set themselves up as arms brokers. They have managed to secure thumb cuffs, wall cuffs and a sting stick. For Members who are not familiar with these matters, a sting stick is about 2 ft long and made of stainless steel, and it has what look like nails sticking out of it. It is a ferocious thing. If people started hitting others with a sting stick, they would quickly recognise what an instrument of torture is.
Those school students were able, via the internet, to set themselves up as a brokering company and obtain those three items. Interestingly, none of those items falls within the list of items of torture equipment. The Government rightly banned the export of torture
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equipment very soon after they were first electedin 1997, I believe. A list was announced in the House of items that the Government regarded as instruments of torture, such as stun guns and large handcuffs. That the three items the students secured are not on that list is one issue. Another is that people can simply log on to the internet, create a website and broker such items.
As I knew that the students had invited me and my colleagues along to see those thumb cuffs, the wall cuffs and the sting stick, being a good law-abiding citizen I sought advice from the police. Interestingly, I was told that under no circumstances should the sting stick be removed from its secure case on College green. It is a delightful paradox that school students can buy such items over the internet, having established themselves as brokers, and that they are not breaking the law. No law was broken. The law would have been broken if the students had opened the box and shown me the sting stick. The students did not open the box, but I saw the sting stick. This situation is very weird.
In relation to brokering, the first conclusion should be that we must have a register of brokers. The Department of Trade and Industry's ECO does a lot of outreach work; it goes around telling companies and business people how to comply with legislation. That work is important and I am not mocking iton the contrarybut if we want to control what brokers do, I suggest that we need to do rather more than offer a few outreach courses. The way to know who those people are is to require them to register. Therefore, I think a register would be appropriate.
It is odd that the nasty things that some of us saw on Monday evening can be obtained by brokering on the internet, but that the police would immediately arrest anyone who had such a thing in their possession. Can we not sort out the brokering controls? In particular, there needs to be a way to update the list on torture equipment, or to have a catch-all provision. Do the Government have plans to update the list of items that are restricted by virtue of being torture equipment? Will they propose a catch-all provision? Given that the European Union has been discussing the question of the control of the trade in torture equipment, can the Minister assure the House that the provisions that result from that will be at least as strict as the ones that most sensible people want in this country now?
I shall now discuss offshore production. It is a commonplace to observe that we live in a globalised world. One aspect of that is that UK companies, like those of other countries, are increasingly involved in arms production in other nations. That takes place in various ways, such as through joint ventures, where part of the production takes place in another country, as well as subsidiaries and licensed production. Currently, those activities take place outside UK arms export controls. Without wishing to accuse every arms manufacturer of seeking to avoid arms export controls, it is clear that if the UK has stringent controlsas it doesthere is an incentive for them to carry out the relevant bit of the production overseas.
Members may recall the Andijan massacre in Uzbekistan in May last year. Land Rover Defender military vehicles were used by Uzbek troops during that massacre. The Committee raised that with the Government; we wondered where those vehicles came from. The Government's response was that Land Rover
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in the UK exports flat-pack civilian Land Rover Defenders to a Turkish company, Octar, which assembles them and adds its own components to make a military vehicle. On the basis of the evidence we have received, it appears that such vehicles were given to Uzbekistan by the Turkish Government, and were used in the Andijan massacre.
The Government are rightly committed not to export arms to countries or individuals who might use them to abuse human rights. Therefore, the relevance of this case is perfectly clear. The Government have informed the Committee that the UK has no power to control the export of civilian specification Land Rovers. Oxfam has informed usback to the websites again, I am afraidthat Octar's website shows that it manufactures Land Rover Defenders under Land Rover licence.
The Committee has been given photographs, which we have passed to the relevant Minister, showing Land Rover and Octar jointly displaying at the Defence Systems and Equipment International, or DSEI, arms fair last year. I am sure that the enforcement authorities are looking into the connections between Land Rover UK and Octar, but whatever they are the issue is very simple. Anyone vaguely familiar with the arms trade knows perfectly well that exported civilian vehicles can often be transformed into military vehicles without an enormous effort10 per cent. more production will turn them into military vehicles.
It is self-evident, therefore, that if we are concerned about where vehicles end up, we should be asking questions of those who export from the UK to areas where vehicles might be so transformed. However, there is no such control. On the other hand, had an application been made for a licence to export vehicles from the UK to Uzbekistan, I am quite confident that ECO would have refused it. We now have a European Union embargo, so as of today a licence would not be granted. Somebody somewhere therefore acknowledges that this is a serious matter.
I make no allegations about Land Rover, and I have no idea how much it knows or what websites it checks out, but I simply make the point to the Minister, and to the Government more generally, that this example shows how UK arms export controls can be bypassed. The conclusion I draw is that licensed production arrangements should contain specific re-export clauses to prevent exports to destinations of concern. If we do not have such clauses, our export controls will be severely limited in an increasingly globalised world.
Let me briefly give one further example. I happened to be in Chennai, in India, last week with the Trade and Industry Committee. By chance, the Committee Chair arranged for us to go to Ashok Leyland, where we were told that the company exports military vehicles to Africa. It said that it had wanted to sell to another country but was not allowed to do so. When I asked, the company confirmed my suspicion that that country was Sudan, which is, of course, subject to an EU embargo.
The Committee was advised that Ashok Leyland was prevented from exporting to Sudan because the company is 51 per cent. UK ownedit is, of course, part of the Hinduja group. The good news here is that the extraterritorial controls in the 2002 Act apply because
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Sudan is an EU embargo destination and a UK citizen or two is involved in the company. However, if Ashok Leyland India had, for example, wanted to sell armoured vehicles to a country that was not subject to an embargo, the UK would have had no control over the sale whatever, despite the fact that the company is 51 per cent. UK owned and a UK citizen or two has, I understand, a very direct link with it. So, the good news is that the 2002 Act worked and prevented that specific export to Sudanindeed, I congratulate the Government on thatbut I am worried about the loophole in relation to other destinations.
I know that my colleagues want to contribute, so the final issue that I want to mention is the enforcement of arms export legislation. Clearly, the first thing that we need to do is to get the legislation right. The second is to ensure that we have proper enforcement, and the Committee hopes to take further evidence on the issue from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, which is responsible for policing and enforcing the legislation.
When it comes to the enforcement of arms sales legislation, the only thing that mattersit is not simply the most important thingis end use. As the arms to Iraq scandal taught us, what matters is who gets the arms and what they do with them. The licence application might have said that the weapons were going to Jordan, but they ended up in Iraq. At the time of the Iran-Iraq war, the Trade and Industry Committee looked at how Iran got weapons. The export licence might have said Singapore, but it really meant Iran. All that matters, therefore, is that we have total confidence that the end-use information on our export licence applications is accurate andbecause that is not enoughthat we check that information.
There is no point the DTI ticking the box and saying, "They say this is going to our friendly neighbour Austria," or, "This is going to our dear old friend Singapore." From some statistics, it seems that Singapore has the largest navy, air force and army in the world. We must ensure that there is a degree of end-use monitoring to check that arms end up where they are supposed toin safe hands, not the wrong places. I simply urge the Minister to give us some information on how the Government go about end-use monitoring.
David Taylor : When the Minister answers that question, will he also reply to my point about the future of DESO? It is not only inconsistent, but illogical and immoral, that an arm of the Government is working in parallel, and indeed in conflict, with the ECO, not least because it need have no regard to whether there are continuing conflicts, human rights abuses or pressing development needs in certain countriesits only objective is to maximise profits for arms companies. Is that not a disgrace? Should it not be shut down?
I would like an assurance from the Minister that every effort will be made to ensure that we have an effective system of end-use monitoring. As I said, end use is the only thing that matters in relation to the arms trade. There are, however, other enforcement issues. As we all know, the brokering of torture equipment is, thankfully,
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prohibited under the 2002 Act, but the Committee received evidence that TAR Ideal, an Israeli company, was openly advertising electroshock batons and leg irons in its brochures at last year's DSEI arms fair in London. Those items are specifically restricted under Government policy on torture equipment.
Although the company was asked to leave the arms fair when its activities were exposed, it was not our enforcement authorities who exposed them, but Mark Thomas. To take another example, Mr. Thomas gave evidence that Global Armour, a South African company, was offering electroshock weapons in its brochures at the same event. Although ECO has produced guidance on arms fairs, I would be grateful if the Minister told me what enforcement measures are used in relation to such events. My understanding is that brochures had to be submitted and that somebody somewhere was supposed to check them. Why was it left to an investigative journalist to spot a breach in UK law?
My general point is that I want to be reassured that the Government are putting enough resources into enforcing arms control legislation. When we tell people, "It's a legal requirement that you have a television licence," it is a bit like saying, "It's a requirement that you have a licence to export arms," except that it is not quite as serious. However, when we tell people, "You must have a TV licence," we do not say, "Oh, that's fineheigh ho. We'll wait until Mark Thomas pops round and discovers that you don't have one."
We have vehicles going up and down the roads, streets and avenues checking that people have a TV licence and that all is well. All I ask is that the Government pay similar attention to the enforcement of the requirement to have a licence to trade in arms as they do to the requirement to have a licence to watch TV, get married or hold a raffle. I do not think that that is unreasonable, although I have put it in a slightly light-hearted way.
I have tried to find out how many people are employed at Revenue and Customs to enforce the legislation, but I am afraid that I received an answer to a parliamentary question along the lines of, "I'm afraid we cannot work this out, because obviously people are multi-tasked. People are doing different things." It must be possible to find a full-time equivalent number. I cannot believe that it is that difficult, although if it takes a long time for the Government to reply I would hate resources to be taken away from the business of controlling the export of arms. In all seriousness, I just want reassurance that such enforcement issues are being dealt with seriously. Our Committee, the NGOs and the defence manufacturers have all raised those issues.
There is one other issue: the international arms trade treaty. I welcomed earlier the fact that within 12 months of the launch by Oxfam, Amnesty and others of a campaign for an international arms trade treaty, the Secretary of State announced, in September 2004, that the UK Government were committed to that. I have referred to several instances of what I regard as loopholes in the arms export control regime, and of course one key loophole is the possibility of simply getting on a train and going somewhere else to do business. The case for an international arms trade treaty is the attempt to secure international agreement to control the arms trade. It is a difficult task, but there is a clear logic to it.
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Again, I welcome the fact that the Government have been leading in that field. The Quadripartite Committee strongly supports an international arms trade treaty, as our report states. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister said a little about what progress has been made. I gather that about 40 countries are involved, which is probably double the number of a year ago, so I know that the Government have made progress, but I would be grateful for clarification.
I would also like some comment on whether we are likely to be at the lowest-common-denominator end of aspirations as to what the treaty might include, or nearer the UK, and indeed US, end of controls. I would appreciate any comment on how the treaty would be policed, and the Minister might want to advise us on how the emerging arms manufacturerssuch as India, China, Malaysia, Brazil, South Africa and Chilefeel about signing up for an international arms trade treaty. It is important that they come along.
My final point was to be about staffing in ECO and Revenue and Customs, but I think that that has been covered, thanks to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire. This is a serious matter. Key decisions are being made, and I admire the work that people are doing, which is very important. ECO has a very difficult, arduous and important job to do and I reiterate my gratitude for all that it does, but it must have the resources to ensure that it can scrutinise licences properly.
There is a fear, which I hope the Minister will say is unfounded, that there are now more open licences, because of the pressure that results from having fewer staff. If that were true, it would be a weakening of our licensing system. I want, first, assurances that resources are available for ECO effectively to consider licence applications. Secondly, I want assurances that Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, which has a policing and enforcement function, has the resources to carry it out.
The Government have made enormous progress. The Committee has acknowledged that, as have the NGOs. What I have outlined are some concerns that remain, and I very much hope that when we review the 2002 Act next year, the Government allow us sufficient time and information to do a proper job so as to ensure that what many of us consider loopholes in the legislation can be plugged as quickly as possible.
Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): I am very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Kingswood (Roger Berry), who was an excellent Chairman of the Quadripartite Committee in the previous Parliament and deservedly was unanimously reappointed in the new one. We very much welcome that.
I want to follow the hon. Gentleman on one issuetrafficking and brokering. If I touch on some of the same points that he did, it will at least bring home to the Minister the fact that on this issue the all-party Quadripartite Committee is in absolute all-party agreement on the Government's current policy shortcomings. Before I come to those points, I want to spell out the ambit of the current legal provisions that underpin the Government's policy. I do so because finding one's way through the maze of statutory
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instruments to get at the Government's policy is not at all easy and it is important to pay close attention to where the current wording is found.
In brief, non-legal terms, the Government have confined the creation of a criminal offence of trafficking and brokering to two categories. The first is missiles of a range of 300 km. I believe that the hon. Member for Kingswood twice referred to a distance of 300 m. If that were correct we should largely have achieved our policy objective.
Sir John Stanley : The items concerned are missiles with a range of 300 km and more, and torture equipment. The answer to the question of how trafficking and brokering are defined is that they are not defined in the legislation at all. They are instead defined by particular types of transactions taking place in particular places. The details are to be found in article 3(2) of the Trade in Goods (Control) Order 2003. That is the ambit of what in broad terms we call trafficking and brokering, but the legislation provides no such definition. It defines the activities simply by categories of transaction.
As to the particular designation of the items that are caught, those are found in two separate places. The missiles are defined in the schedule to the order to which I have referred, under the heading "Certain Missiles", as:
The pointer to where to find the other items, the so-called torture equipmentand again torture is not defined anywherefirst appears in the same schedule, under the heading "Certain Security and Para-Military Police Equipment". The reader is then referred to:
"Portable devices designed or modified for the purpose of riot control or self-protection by the administration of an electric shock (e.g., electric-shock batons, electric-shock shields, stun-guns and electric-shock dart-guns (tasers)) and components therefor specially designed or modified for such a purpose."
On policy, in the extensive evidence that we took from the former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, now the Secretary of State for Health, I never understood why she took the groundbreaking step of extending extraterritoriality and accepting the principle of doing so, but then made such a mess of implementing the statutory instrument. Why was it necessary to accept the principle and then entirely miss the main weapons and equipment that are the subject of trafficking and brokering? To this day, I have not understood why she adopted the policy that she did and then walkedvery predictablyinto strong criticism from our Committee and outside organisations, such as NGOs and now even the Defence Manufacturers Association. Indeed, in the latest evidence that it gave the Committee, the association recognised that the current policy does not make much sense to its members as legal, legitimate sellers of arms of one sort or another. They are carrying out legitimate business, but are in danger of having their entire industry tainted by the activities of those acting outside the law.
Whatever the reasons for the Government arriving at the current, pretty ludicrous policy, it does not stack up. Let us first take missiles. I am not aware of any UK person being involved outside the UK in the trafficking or brokering of missiles of a range of 300 km or more. If someone has done so, they have kept it quiet, but I fancy that it would have come into the public domain long before now. I am not advocating removing that category of weapon, but the likelihood of such a thing happening is very small indeed, and I am not aware of any such case. However, I stress that I do not want that category removed.
The issue is different with torture equipment. I have sympathy with the Government and acknowledge the difficulties. It is impossible in reality to produce a list of every item that could conceivably be used for the purposes of torture. I acknowledge that straight away, and I note that the Minister is nodding. The Government have done their best; they could probably widen the list somewhat further, but they have come up with a reasonable first stab. However, it is illusory to imagine that it will ever be possible to come up with a comprehensive list of items that could be used to inflict pain.
The hon. Member for Kingswood referred to the items that had been brought to him by students. Indeed, one of the witnesses who came before our Committee just a few months ago illustrated his point by bringing a pair of thumb cuffs, with extremely nasty serrated edges. They were passed round for the members to have a look at and see for themselves the kind of items that are readily available but not within the ambit of the statutory instrument to which I have drawn attention.
I acknowledge that the issue of torture equipment is difficult, but the key failure is that the overwhelming bulk of trafficking and brokering is of items that are completely outside the ambit of the legislation that the Government have introduced. Those items are small arms, light weapons, automatic weapons and weapons that are man portableman portable missiles and man portable rockets. Such items are overwhelmingly the subject of this extremely dangerous trade, but there is no
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mention of them whatever in the secondary legislation. I remind the Minister of how relatively easy it is for traffickers and brokers to get such weapons, making them available in areas of conflict, where they could conceivably be used against our own forces and against innocent civilians all around the world.
An absolutely outstanding piece of investigative journalism was published on the front page of The Sunday Times on 8 May 2005, under the heading "Radiation rockets on sale to 'terrorists'". I do not want to gloss the piece; I shall read out just the opening sentences, because they indicate in a compelling way how the existing legislation is so inadequate:
They were offered to the reporter for $500,000 . . . after he approached a senior officer in Transdniester's secret police, claiming to represent a militant group in Algeria. The officer contacted a local arms dealer who arranged meetings with the reporter on a bridge in Transdniester and later at a hotel in neighbouring Moldova.
That story has been wholly corroborated. The Quadripartite Committee pursued it with the Government, and asked them to respond to the report. I felt that their reply was completely unsatisfactory. It began:
and went on to make comments about trying to tighten up the border between Moldova and Transdniester. I put it to the Minister that, given that we have evidence of how easy it is to get hold of radiation rockets with a huge capacity to inflict death and long-term radiation sickness, to state:
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): May I add to what the right hon. Gentleman is saying? In 2007 or 2008, the borders of the European Union will include the border between Romania and Moldova. We have interesting questions to ask about what will be happening in an EU neighbour regionit is not the only onein terms of the possible transfer of such weapons within and around the European Union.
On policy, I come to the Quadripartite Committee's recommendations. Our central recommendation, which is exactly the same in this Parliament as it has been previously, is worth reading out. It features in paragraph 156 of our report, which reads:
"The Committees recommended last year that 'the Government should reconsider which types of trafficking and brokering activity it subjects to extra-territorial control to identify more accurately those which are of most pressing and genuine concernin particular those weapons most likely to be used by terrorists or in civil wars. We recommend that trade in such weapons, including MANPADS, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic light weapons, should be subject to extra-territorial control where they are intended for end use by anyone other than a national government or its agent, and where the country from which the trade is being conducted or from which the export will take place does not itself have adequate trade or export controls consistent with the British Government's policy on arms exports.' We make the same recommendation in this Report."
There was a consistent expression of policy from the Quadripartite Committee in the last Parliament, and it is being reiterated in this Parliament. I put it to the Minister that there can surely be no objection any longer on the principle of extraterritoriality as far as certain categories of criminal offence are concerned. We have acceptedthere is all-party agreement in all these areasextraterritorial criminal legislation on terrorism, serious organised crime and sexual offences against children overseas. In all those areas, rightly, extraterritoriality has been accepted. I urge the Government most strongly to fill in the glaring gap on trafficking and brokering, and to make certain that all the main categories of weapon that are trafficked and brokered fall within the extraterritoriality provisions of this Parliament.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): I should like to begin by taking up the point that my friend and colleague on the Foreign Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley), has raised.
The Government made it clear as recently as earlier this week that the regulations that apply to UK companies do not extend to subsidiaries of UK companies in other countries; they are not monitored or checked with regard to arms exports. That is what we were told by the Department of Trade and Industry, and it prompts a further question. What happens, as the Chairman of our Quadripartite Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Roger Berry), asked, when companies have subsidiaries in other parts of the world? We need to look at such matters in detail over the coming months.
Today, I want to focus on two areas that have not really been covered. One was touched on by my hon. Friend when he referred to the arms trade treaty. I should be interested to know from the Minister where we are on this year's negotiations for an international arms trade treaty to deal with the small arms that were referred to. As I understand it, discussions are going on in Vienna and elsewhere on such matters, and there was an intention, or at least a hope, that there would be some kind of breakthrough at the United Nations General Assembly later this year. Where are we in that process, which countries have so far signed up and what problems are there in relation to some of the world's major arms exporters?
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Mike Gapes : I am grateful to have the opportunity to continue my speech, although for how long I am not sure. I was talking about the negotiations on the international arms trade treaty. As I understand it, there is the prospect of some progress this year. The hope is that 2006 will be the time when we get such a treaty.
Mike Gapes : The second major area that I want to speak about is the debate about the possible lifting of the European Union's arms embargo on China. In February 2004, the Foreign Secretary told the Quadripartite Committee that the Government were reviewing that policy. The European Union has been engaged in an interesting process over the past two years. There has been considerable pressure from some member states to lift the embargo on China. As a result of hostile reaction from many parliamentarians, including many European parliamentarians, not least the unanimous view of the Quadripartite Committee in two reportsone in 2004 and the other in 2005a large vote of 411 to 3 in the United States House of Representatives and other representations, there seem to have been second thoughts. I want to go into that in detail because it goes to the heart of one of our difficulties in having international controls over arms exports.
The European Union introduced its embargo on arms to China for good reasons following the massacre of peaceful demonstrators in Tiananmen square in 1989. Our Committee took the view that it was wrong to lift the embargo on China because the Committee's opinion in 2004 and again in 2005 was that the human rights situation in China had not improved sufficiently to reward it by lifting the embargo. At the same time, the opening up of China to the rest of the world, its 9 or 10 per cent. per annum sustained economic growth over 15 years and the fact that it has become the world manufacturing centre for toys, clothes and, increasingly, various kinds of electrical and manufactured products means that it is an important and growing part of the global economy.
Clearly, the Chinese Government now have far more influence because of their economic weight in the world and are seeking to improve their performance, not just economically, and are undergoing significant modernisation of their armed forces. The Chinese
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People's Liberation Army, which was a huge part of the communist structure, is being reduced in size and made more professional with a huge high-tech equipment programme based on modern weaponry rather than Soviet Union discards, so that China can develop its potential for a blue water navy to protect its increasing imports of steel, oil, gas and other raw materials from the rest of the world as part of its massive manufacturing boom. That is all going ahead.
We were told repeatedly that the lifting of the arms embargo on China by the European Union would have no practical significance and that there would instead be a European Union code of conduct so that in practice nothing would change. That raises the question: why do something if nothing will change in practice? The reason is that although nothing might change for the United Kingdom because we have a strict interpretation of the embargo, that is not so for other European states. Our report states in paragraph 115:
"The UK is the only member state to have published its interpretation of the embargo. It covers 'lethal weapons such as machine guns, large calibre weapons, bombs, torpedoes, rockets and missiles; specially designed components of the above, and ammunition; military aircraft and helicopters, vessels of war, armoured fighting vehicles and other such weapons platforms; and any equipment which is likely to be used for internal repression.'"
At the time of our report, the UK was the only one of the 25 member states of the European Union to have published an interpretation of the embargo. I would be grateful if the Minister would correct me if that is wrong and if since then there have been fantastic floods of interpretationsif the French and German Governments have published detailed interpretations of what the arms embargo meansor if companies such as European Aerospace and Defence Systems, which is quoted in our evidence as being keen to export various kinds of naval and other equipment to China, have been influenced by the Governments in other EU states. I suspect not.
It is clear from press releases and reports of visits by senior German and French political figures to China that the opening up of that country is perceived not simply in terms of civil manufacturing output but also as a potential large-scale export market for high-tech equipment, which the Chinese People's Liberation Army and the Chinese Government wish to have.
The report was published in March 2005, just before the general election. I believe that, as part of our representations, it has had some influence. The EU Council of Ministers meeting in June 2005 took no decision on lifting the arms embargo, even though the previous autumn, in 2004, there had been a great deal of chatter about it happening. It did not happen, and if the British Government played a decisive role at the time in stopping a change, they should be praised. Perhaps the Minister can confirm whether that was the case.
No progress was made under the British presidency in the second half of 2005. The arms embargo on China was not even referred to in any of the communiqués at the end of it. That is very good, as far as I am concerned, and as the four Select CommitteesDefence, International Development, Trade and Industry, and Foreign Affairsagreed in the last Parliament.
When we published the report, I had just been in the United States with the Defence Committee. The Foreign Affairs Committee visited around the same time. We
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heard strong views from all the American politicians whom we met that, symbolically, lifting the arms embargo was significant not just in respect of human rights and the signals that it would send but because of the unresolved, potentially explosive conflict across the straits of Taiwan. For the United States, Japan and many other countries in that part of the world, anything that destabilises or raises the temperature in that region is not good news.
It is interesting that the Chinese National People's Congress passed what it called the anti-secessionist law in the first half of 2005. Basically, it states that a Taiwanese declaration of independence would be interpreted as an act of war. Clearly, that may have had some impact on concentrating minds in the Council of Ministers, but now things are even more serious. There has been some sabre-rattling and rhetorical hostility in recent months as a result of statements made by the Taiwanese and the recent closure of an office for relations between Taiwan and the mainland. I hope that that is not the precursor to a more difficult relationship in that region.
The Foreign Affairs Committee is considering these issues at present and we have already started to take evidence on China's role in the world, its relations with its neighbours, and its economic, political, military and strategic relationship with all its neighbours. I hope that that will better inform the input from the Foreign Affairs Committee to the next report of the Quadripartite Committee.
In the time that I have left, I would like to ask the Minister to clarify the current status of the EU arms embargo. Can he clarify the position of Her Majesty's Government on the differences between the impact on China of the arms embargo, which is accepted to be patchy, inconsistent and not generally applied in any way by the EU as a whole, and of the EU code of conduct for arms exports? If it is the case that there is no difference in practice from the UK Government's position, does that apply also in respect of the Governments of France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Portugal and all the other EU 25?
In addition, what representations have been received from Governments outside the EU about the possible political and diplomatic impact of lifting the arms embargo on China? In that context, are the British Government of the view that we should be relaxed about the changes that are taking place in the region, or do they believe that any lifting of the arms embargo on China is inevitably linked to the reasons that it was first introduced, which was to do with human rights and related issues in that country?
I know that the Minister, as the Minister with responsibility for human rights and as a Minister who has been to China, closely follows the situation in the region. This is not a debate about China, and I do not wish to shift it too much to the human rights aspects, but I ask those questions in the context of the report. The Foreign Affairs Committee was in the United States two weeks ago. We had some interesting discussions there about exactly these issues. I hope that we will be able to go into greater detail when we produce our reports later this year.
To conclude, I should like to touch on a related area that is mentioned in the report. What is the general policy in respect of countries that are coming out of
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embargoes? There is a small reference in the report to the situation in Libya, although we make no recommendations. In their response, the Government referred to a so-called toolbox for countries coming out of an embargo. Can we be told what has happened to the toolbox? Is it still a box and does it have any tools in it? I understand that it was still being developed at the time of the Government's response to our report, and I should be grateful to know what has happened.
It is clear that arms embargoes and their effectiveness are fundamental issues. The United Nations is discussing possible sanctions against Iran, and there are several other conflicts in the world. The Darfur region in Sudan is one where imports of weaponry into the region of conflict play an important part in the process. In the absence of an international arms trade treaty and strong regional security organisationsthe African Union is a fledgling organisation that does not yet have real capabilities to enforce embargoesit is clear that the European Union has a big role, NATO has a big role and we, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, have a big role to ensure that we get effective measures in embargoes. When the political situation in the country changessuch as that of Colonel Gaddafi's regime, for exampleand it decides to come back to the standards of the world by moving away from secretly developing chemical weapons and aspirations to build nuclear weapons, in order to engage with the rest of the world, embargoes and sanctions are lifted. We must be clear about the circumstances under which that happens. Embargoes should not be lifted too early or in the wrong way, and we need full compliance with the consequences of doing that.
That takes me to the other area I touched on during my earlier intervention: how one member country in the international system relates to other countries. Countries have borders, coastlines and beaches. It is easy to smuggle small arms from one country to another. It is especially easy where the writ of a central Government does not run: regions such as Waziristan in Pakistan, parts of Somalia, or the areas referred to earlier of the so-called frozen conflicts of the post-Soviet world, such as the Caucasus or Transnistria.
The arms brokers are based where central Government do not run, where there are lawless regimes, mafias or corrupt warlords: people who are not subject to international sanctions. The conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia were fuelled by people of South African, Russian, Ukrainian or Belarusian nationality, flying aircraft and arms into remote airstrips to arm insurgents to fuel conflicts that led to the deaths of many thousands and millions of refugees and displaced people. That is the reality of what we are dealing with.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling for quoting the various statutory instruments, sub-paragraphs and clauses, but the reality is that we are talking about effective measures to prevent loss of life, to prevent people from being driven from their homes, to stop suffering and to make the world a better place. If we do not have international institutions that can do that, those of us who have the democratic institutions must use whatever means we can in those institutions to make the world a better place. When he replies, I should be grateful if the Minister touches on at least some of those points.
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I must say something about the quality of this report. The Committee has produced an outstanding report that has stood the test of time. It was written in 2003, and if it had been written two weeks ago, it would have been viewed as insightful and topical. Perhaps that says something about the difficulty of making progress in this area, but it also says something about the Committee's ability to focus on priorities and major issues, and to tease out those subjects on which we need to focus. This debate has been a brilliant introduction to the subject and I much appreciate the comments and discussion.
I shall focus on a few areas about which I should like to make some statements and raise some questions. The issue of resources has been a thread that has run throughout the debate. One might say that the Gershon cuts were the latest round of retrenchment for the Export Control Organisation. The Government used the opportunity of their response to the Committee's report to say that they were keeping under review the potential privatisation of parts of the export licensing process. I understand that since that date, they have said that they do not intend to privatise part of that process. I can think of nothing more inappropriate and I wonder whether the Minister can give us some absolute clarity on that issue, so that we can understand whether the matter is under review or permanently off the table.
The issue of resources goes farther than that. We read testimony from officials essentially discounting suggestions that website monitoring should be an inherent part of the activity of the Export Control Organisation. I find that hard to believe. Perhaps the Minister will take back to the ECO the discussions we have had today and the reports of the ease with which teenagers have managed to acquire instruments of torturein this case. I suspect they could have gone further, which would have been a far more shattering experience and not one that we want to know.
Times are changing. The role of the internet is changing and the way in which all kinds of purchases takes place is changing. I noted the testimony of Mr. Glyn Williams, director of the ECO, which was given last Monday. When these questions were asked of him, he said:
The checking of subsidiaries' activities seems fairly fundamental. It is a line of direction that should be at the centre of ECO activity, rather than considered peripheral or extraneous to it. The hon. Member for Kingswood (Roger Berry) suggested the registering of brokers, which is the sort of basic strategy one would inherit from role models in other parts of the Government. I hope that there will be an attempt to put them into practice.
Financing, at a time of tight resources, for an expansion of activities or for that kind of monitoring enforcement is obviously difficult. Comments have been
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made on the possible irony that the Ministry of Defence with its Defence Exports Services Organisation uses significant amounts of taxpayers' money to promote the industry, but then finds itself constrained by the taxpayer in its control of the industry. A rebalancing might seem to be in order. I would point out, too, that export credit guarantees that are available to many people in the process of arms sales could be a source of rebalancing. That would not add stress to the budget, but change emphasis and priority.
There was a lot of discussion of progress on the multilateral front. I do not want to spend time going into that because it has been well discussed, but I would simply like to make the following comment. In the various discussions of Council of the European Union regulations on trading equipment relating to torture and capital punishment, and the worthwhile and extraordinarily necessary process of developing an international arms trade treaty, speakers have recognised how difficult it is to bring on board all the countries necessary to the standard required, which we wish to see. In looking at the Export Control Act 2002 and carrying out an internal review, can I ask the Minister not to make assumptions of the weight that international treaties will carry or provide? We must ensure that we are doing the maximum as a country within the boundaries of our own law, and if we have the opportunity to make changes later because international treaties and international enforcement have moved forward, all well and good. But let us not be lax on our side in the expectation and hope that the international community will move faster than it has in the past.
There were some discussions in the context of resources about the role of the Committee. Being very new to this, I noted with some amusement the slight irritation that seemed to be in the Government's reply to the report regarding their expenditure to support the Committee's activities and to respond to scrutiny. I do not think that the reply itself could have cost much in time and energy. It was a brief, almost cursory, reply. I assume that it was done with the expectation that the Minister would be present for the debate, speak and fill out the answers much more extensively. I look forward to that.
The potential of the Committee and Parliament to serve in a scrutinising role should not be understated. It is not just a case of reinforcing current activities. My team and I would support an expansion of those roles. In countries such as the Netherlands, the United States and Sweden, parliamentarians assist in the scrutiny of key, sensitive licences. If we remember that the Quadripartite Committee's origin is essentially in Sir Richard Scott's work on arms sales to Iraq, we can see the potential for a Committee to add a great deal to the strength and effectiveness of the overall scrutiny, control and management of arms exports. I encourage the Government to reconsider that role. Where it has been effective in other countries, why should we not take that model, learn from it and maximise its use in this country?
As others have said, the focus of this debate and all Quadripartite Committee work is on end use. The Minister has heard numerous concerns about the way in which small arms, military vehicles or vehicles that can be adapted to become military vehicles seem to find their
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way with amazing persistence to trouble spots throughout the globe, even though they originate from, or their parent company is based in, the UK. Given that experience and the risk of conflict that we face in a world where low-level conflict has the hideous potential to escalate into something much larger, I hope that the Government will consider how they can act on that range of issues.
Others have spoken about Uzbekistan and the exceptional appearance of Land Rover vehicles there in the midst of conflict. I received from Oxfam a few days agoperhaps others will have seen it, tooreports about how Land Systems OMC, a South African subsidiary of the British company BAE Systems appeared to have sold by one route or another Mamba armoured vehicles to the Ugandan Government ahead of last week's controversial elections. At the same time as the Secretary of State for International Development reduced aid to Uganda because of its violation of human rights and the behaviour of its Government, we provided them with equipment to suppress Opposition parties during the country's own elections. Oxfam said:
Oxfam cites the Ugandan example and points out that the situation could not occur under US law. As a US subsidiary company, the entity would have been subject to US export controls. To be in a situation in which manufacturing through a UK subsidiary gives an opportunity, not available through a US subsidiary, to provide arms to an area that none of us should wish to see receive one additional weapon in such sensitive times must surely make us focus on how to close those loopholes. Although, like many others, I am cautious about the use of extra-territorial powers, when examining its possibilities, we must prioritise that area. Global trade has changed and the arms trade with it.
I have very much appreciated the opportunity to hear the various points of view. I look forward to the Minister's response and to the opportunity to attend many more of these debates to see where we progress. My great hope is that if I am fortunate to be standing here a year from now, the discussion will be very different and we will be adding yet more congratulations to the Government on their effectiveness at arms export control.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) would normally have replied to this debate, but he is travelling abroad on official business. In the spirit of the Quadripartite Committee, the Opposition, in their seamless way, have substituted me to reply on their behalf.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer), who was making her first speech from her party's Front Bench on these issues. I also congratulate the Committee's Chairman, the hon. Member for Kingswood (Roger Berry), on the way he opened the debate. It has been wide ranging and excellent.
Before I move on to my remarks about the Committee's report, it is worth saying that the defence export industry is good for this country. It is critical for
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supplying our own armed forces, and it creates a lot of economic wealth and jobs throughout our country. The economies of scale of exports mean that we can supply our armed forces more effectively, help to defend our allies, and use our influence as providers of defence exports throughout the world, as well as our leverage if a friendly nation becomes less friendly.
None the less, defence export manufacturers recognise that it is in our own interests to have a robust and transparent export control regime. Since we in this country have strict controls, it is also welcome if we can ensure that those with whom we compete abide by similar rules, so that our defence manufacturers have a level playing field. They recognise that we have some of the toughest export control regulations for defence equipment in the world. That is absolutely right, and the Opposition support it.
The hon. Member for Kingswood alluded to the following remarks about the Committee's work. First, one of the Government's favourite claims is that they are joined up. On joined-upness, Parliament set a good example by having a Quadripartite Committee that brings together four policy areas that play and link together. Throughout the world, we see the impact of foreign policy, international development, defence and trade and industry, so the Committee's establishment was praiseworthy and sensible, and I hope we build on it. It is disappointing that the Government are not quite as good at being joined-up as Parliament is. The report contains some grumblesI do not want to make too much of themthat the Government were not as seamless in delivering to the Committee as the Committee would have hoped.
I hope that the Minister elaborates on the steps that the Government have taken. I am specifically thinking of comments about the Export Control Organisation. The Foreign Secretary, who is the lead Minister, was asked questions about that, and he was not able to answer them. In response, he gave the impression that it was another Department's responsibility. If the Committee is to add value, the Government should ensure that whichever Minister speaks to it has done the appropriate work beforehand and can speak on behalf of all his colleaguesthe Government, not just the Foreign Office. That would be a helpful step forward that the Committee, I am sure, would welcome.
Secondly, and more importantly, the hon. Member for Kingswood made the point about scrutiny at policy level and, as I have noted, the Committee's scrutiny of a sample of individual licences. I agree with the Committee that its work on both those aspects is valuable. I am disturbed by the fact that the Government response to the report seems to warn the Committee off being too questioning and busy because of the cost and burden of answering questions.
I have never bought the idea that Members and Select Committees asking lots of questions costs the Government any money at all. Civil servants exist and they are all paid, and I would rather have them spend their time answering questions from Members and Committees than invent weird and wacky schemes for spending our money on something else. If the Committee asks more questions, that does not necessarily impose a burden on the Government at all. We should not stand in the way of a Committee that is generally acknowledged to be doing a good job of
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scrutinising policy and specific licensing applications. The Government should be doing everything they can to support the Committee's work. They should not be saying that it should be less scrupulous with a view to saving costs.
I do not want to stray off the subject, but there are worrying signs from the Government in other areas where there is a tendency to try to reduce the ability of the House to scrutinise the Government. I am thinking particularly of the Leader of the House and discussions about trying to restrict the ability of Members of Parliament to ask written questions. I hope that we are not picking up on a trend on the part of the Government. Parliament should be able to scrutinise the Government, and the Government should not try to put Parliament off. I therefore very much support what the Committee Chairman said.
The hon. Member for Kingswood also touched on the Export Control Organisation, as did the hon. Member for Richmond Park. The way we work out how to fund and staff that organisation should be driven by the objectives. We should not set the organisation objectives and then give it unrealistic budget and staffing targets. We have to decide how important something is and then fund it appropriately. It is perfectly proper for the Government to have efficiency targets and to ensure that the ECO uses taxpayers' money efficiently, but they can drive that process too far, and we have heard concerns about that. In the spirit of joined-up government, the ECO needs to be properly resourced, and we need to have a clear understanding of the resources that Revenue and Customs devotes to that work.
The hon. Member for Kingswood alluded to the work of Mark Thomas. In evidence to the Committee on 31 January, published in transcript HC 873-i, he drew attention to the regulatory impact assessment done by the ECO in 2002 of the extra costs that the new regulations would mean for Revenue and Customs. It estimated that the costs would be between £200,000 and £300,000, which seems an extraordinarily small sum. Mark Thomas drew attention to the contrast with the additional £90 million that the Government announced, rightly, just the year before to target and work on drug and people trafficking.
Those issues are equally important. If we are spending £90 million on stopping drug and people trafficking, it seems unrealistic to spend only £200,000 or £300,000 on enforcing the controls that we are discussing. After all, if we do not do things properly, defence exports could go to parts of the worldSudan was mentionedwhere we, as part of either NATO or the EU, end up having to go to sort the problems out, and at much more significant cost, which we do not want to have to do.
The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) drew attention to the arms embargo on China and the extent to which the EU code of conduct can replace it. I, too, have picked up on that issue. The Committee recommended that the Government should oppose lifting the arms embargo on China unless all EU member states give an absolute assurance that that would not lead to a qualitative or quantitative increase in their exports. We could debate the extent to which we
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would trust such assurances from all 25 EU member states, particularly given that some seem keen to lift the arms embargo.
Furthermore, if lifting the arms embargo will not lead to a quantitative or qualitative increase in exports, there does not seem to be a particularly good reason for lifting it. That echoes the hon. Gentleman's point. If lifting the embargo will have no practical effect, it does not seem to be worth doing, and even if it had no practical effect, it would certainly send an unhelpful message. We need to consider the steps that China is taking in building a professional and well resourced army and armed forces, and the impact that they may have in that part of the world. There are a number of significant issues, and a number of our allies are concerned, as to the power of China in that area.
Mention was made of the international arms trade treaty, which the Government have been working on. It is supported by the relevant non-governmental organisations, which the hon. Member for Kingswood mentioned, and by the Defence Manufacturers Association. It takes the view that, as the rules agreed internationally would be unlikely to be tougher than ours because we have one of the stronger regimes, an effective international arms trade treaty would, if anything, mean a more level playing field worldwide. Our companies, which are bound by properly tough export licences, could compete on an even playing field with countries that perhaps do not impose such sensible controls. That is worth working for.
It would be helpful, as has been said, if the Minister informed us of the level that the negotiations have reached and perhaps the future time line. One specific question is important, and this is true of all international treaties: who would sign it? A good example in that regard is the Kyoto treaty. Unfortunately, because some significant players around the world such as the US and the developing countries did not sign up to that international treaty, it will not have the impact it could have had. The same will be true of the arms trade treaty, as other hon. Members have said.
If only those who already have relatively robust export controls sign the treaty, and if we capture all the significant defence manufacturing and exporting countries but fail to capture the countries that are growing their defence manufacturing and exporting businesses, we shall only give them a business opportunity, handicap our own industries and lower the general control across the world. We will not move the situation any further forward. It would therefore be interesting to know the strategy that the Government are undertaking to maximise the number of countries that sign the treaty.
We must also consider how the treaty would be enforced, because without robust enforcement it would not be effective. As with all these things, we know that countries such as ours will follow the rules and implement the measures robustly, but we will find that the countries that give us problems are not enforcing them. Unless there is a robust enforcement mechanism that cannot be subject to a veto by the Security Council, there might be a problem, given that one or two countries that we have mentioned, and which would need to be bound by the measure, are on the Security Council and have a veto as we do.
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It would be interesting if the Minister summarised the substantive progress that the Government managed to make during their presidency of the G8 and the EU. Having looked at the communiqués and the agreements that came out of their two periods in the chair, I know that the words were relatively encouraging, but it is really a question of how much substantive action will be taken. The problem is always that we get the communiqués and they contain nice words, but we do not know by how much we have moved forward. It would be helpful to have some detail on that.
As has been said, the EU did not make any progress on agreeing an update to the EU code of conduct on arms exports. From what the hon. Member for Ilford, South said, it seems that one reason for those discussions not taking place might be that the Government wanted to keep the arms embargo on China off the agenda. Perhaps that has indeed held up discussions on the EU code of conduct. It would be helpful if the Minister outlined the plans of the Government or of the current EU presidency for making progress on the code of conduct, and when we can expect significant developments.
I have touched on the importance of and the need for enforcement. One subject not touched on in this debate, but mentioned briefly as an outstanding issue in the Committee's report, is technology transfer. The flip side to our exports is the need to ensure that there can be appropriate technology transfer from our allies to provide our armed forces with the best and latest technology. In a demonstration of joined-upness and working together, I would like to mention the joint strike fighter and joint combat aircraft. The United States Senate Committee on Armed Services is holding hearings at the moment.
Mike Gapes : I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his role as spokesman, even if it is only temporaryat least on the issues we are discussing. Does he agree that there are worrying signs of the resurgence of protectionism in the United States? The Foreign Affairs Committee certainly picked up on that two weeks ago; we were shocked by the furore about the purchase of P&O by Dubai Ports World, which was the big story in US politics. That has ramifications throughout the defence sector. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the joint strike fighter; he could also have mentioned the failure to get a waiver on the international traffic in arms regulations. The Quadripartite Committee and many others have been pushing the Defence Committee on that issue for many years, and there seems to be no progress.
In testimony to the Senate Committee, Lord Drayson stated the case for the Government well, particularly on the joint strike fighter. My hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) made a written submission to that Committee, making the same point, which is that it is no good the US Government fighting coalition, but buying only American. The US Government need to facilitate things for their allies, particularly their most dependable one, which is always able to join it on some more difficult missions. They really need to consider how they pay back their allieswell, it would be wrong to say "pay back", because we do not get involved in
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military operations for that reason, but when we are participating in such operations with our allies, it is difficult to explain to the British public why we do not get appropriate technology transfer. When we are involved in the development of some of those projects, we do not get to keep the technological kit for our armed forces up to the mark.
The Dubai Ports World episode is particularly worrying, because the ports concerned were already owned by a foreign company, P&O. They were simply changing hands from one foreign owner to another. It is worrying that the US politicians making a fuss about it seemed not to be able to distinguish between those countries in the middle east that are our allies and are supportive, and those that are not.
Perhaps it is just that there are mid-term elections coming up in the USunfortunately, there are always mid-term elections coming up, so that is not a very helpful signor simply that the knowledge of those making the fuss is not sufficiently robust with regard to those parts of the world. However, it is worrying in itself if those politicians cannot distinguish between those nations that are supportive of our foreign policy goals and those that are not. There are worrying signs of that kind, so it is helpful that the Government and the Oppositionand the various Committeescan join together and present a united front on such subjects.
On that pointcelebrating the joined-upness of Parliament, Government and Opposition in sometimes lobbying together on those issuesI draw my remarks to a close. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
The Minister for Trade (Ian Pearson) : It has been a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship during this important debate, Sir John. We have heard a number of excellent speeches. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper)the stand-in for the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown)for the effective way in which he made his points. I also welcome the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) to her new role. She made a very good contribution. Of course, my hon. Friends the Members for Kingswood (Roger Berry) and for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) always make perceptive and thoughtful comments. We are grateful for the work of the Quadripartite Committee and for the professional way in which it conducts its tasks.
First, I emphasise that the Government believe strongly in the need for robust and transparent export controls. That is clearly reflected in the effort that we have put into our domestic legislation, the Export Control Act 2002, which was the first major legislative development on the subject since 1939. We have done more than ever before to provide more and better information to Parliament and the public on the licensing decisions that we make and the policy that underpins them. The same approach underpins what we do internationally to promote a properly regulated and responsible global trade in defence equipment. We also took the leading role in pressing for an international arms trade treaty, which we want negotiated by the United Nations.
The Government welcome the high level of scrutiny that the Quadripartite Committee has applied to strategic export controls. We value our dialogue with
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the Committee and believe that its constructive criticism has played a full part in ensuring that the UK's export controls system continues to be recognised as one of the most effective and transparent in the world. The Quadripartite Committee arrangement is perhaps unique amongst parliamentary Committees, but Parliament's joined-up approach on the issue mirrors the joined-up approach that the Government have worked hard to establish across those Whitehall Departments with an interest in export controls. Export control is one of the best examples of joined-up government across Governments internationally. Our arrangements are excellent examples of the benefits that joined-up working can deliver. We fully support the continuation of the Quadripartite Committee system.
We do not always see eye to eye with the Committee on its recommendations. We will continue to take a different view on, for example, the publication of end-user details, where there are real issues of confidentiality for companies and clients, and on calls for the Committee to have prior scrutiny of licence applications. We maintain that it is for the Government to take the export licence decisions and for Parliament to scrutinise the policy and decisions retrospectively.
However, we have shown our commitment to going as far as we can to meet the Committee's request for enhanced scrutiny. We have introduced quarterly reporting on licensing decisions, as that allows for much earlier scrutiny of decisions. The data published are as current as three months old and no older than six months. We also provide the Committee, on a confidential basis, with enhanced information on countries of particular concern. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood welcomed that in his introductory remarks.
Our annual report on strategic export controls has long been held up as a prime example of open government at work. However, there is no doubt that the publication of additional and more frequent information means that we have to revisit the role, format and delivery of the annual report. The Government are committed to working closely with Parliament, non-governmental organisations, industry and other stakeholders to ensure that the report continues to address key needs while also taking into account the changing dynamics. We welcome the Committee's submissions on that subject.
I shall address hon. Members' points about organisation, resources and enforcement, and then I shall talk a little about export control policy issues, before moving on to the EU-China arms embargo and the arms trade treaty. Then I shall make my concluding comments.
Concerns have been expressed about organisational issues, but I should say from a Foreign and Commonwealth Office perspective that we have made changes to how we handle applications. We have transferred resources to bolster our export licensing team and ensure that licence applications continue to be given the priority and close scrutiny that they deserve. Performance is exceeding the targets set.
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The licensing process covers four Departments and collectively we continue to meet and surpass challenging targets for service quality and delivery. That indicates that the system is well geared to meeting the challenges now and in future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood mentioned the issue raised in the report of the resource implications of the Quadripartite Committee's questions. Perhaps our response was not as felicitously worded as it could have been. I certainly want to see the Committee doing its job properly. If it needs to ask a large number of questions, it should ask them and we should provide timely answers.
Roger Berry : I welcome that statement, which the Minister has put on the record. I am grateful. It has certainly responded to our concerns about past Government statements. I am delighted that the days of moaning over that matter have gone.
Ian Pearson : I also want to offer reassurance to the hon. Member for Richmond Park, who raised the issue of whether there were still plans to privatise the Export Control Organisation. The Department of Trade and Industry looked closely at outsourcing some ECO work, but concluded that the case for such a move had not been made. I think that that decision was right. As a Government, we are fully committed to an effective and efficient export control regime, and we will not do anything to undermine that.
In a typically robust contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) said that we ought to abolish the Defence Export Services Organisation. I tell him in all honesty that I do not think there is anything inconsistent or immoral in there being an organisation such as DESO that helps UK exporters of defence equipment. Surely all countries have the right to defend themselves. Tens of thousands of UK jobs depend on the defence export industry and having a responsible licensing system and an effective marketing organisation is entirely consistent. We need to have both.
I move on to the points raised about enforcement. I stress that Customs checks are based very much on intelligence and risk. Revenue and Customs has a dedicated team that works closely with the intelligence agencies. It evaluates intelligence, sets profiles to target consignments and destinations of concern, checks all significant allegations and intelligence and will mount a formal investigation when it suspects a deliberate breach involving a sensitive destination or particularly sensitive goods. We believe that in many cases it is more appropriate to disrupt activity before any offence is committed. HMRC has a good record of disrupting potential illicit activity. The Quad Committee will know that, because it has talked to HMRC about its work on this issue.
End-use monitoring was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood. I am sure that he knows this, but I stress again that the Government assess the end use for a particular export before granting a licence in the first place. That includes an assessment of the risk of diversion, and in a minute I shall say more about that in respect of the specific examples raised. If we believe that there is a risk that the goods will be
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diverted, we will not issue a licence. For that reason, we do not generally impose end-use monitoring requirements on particular exports.
Mr. Harper : I want to pick up on the HMRC issue. A point alluded to today was made specifically by the hon. Member for Kingswood in the article he published in the Select Committee supplement of The House Magazine. He wrote:
"Revenue and Customs rarely publish details of actions they have taken against non-compliant companies and individuals. Why is it that we learn more about alleged breaches in arms controls from investigative journalists?"
I appreciate that because of legal and court actions, there may be times when HMRC cannot publicise thingscertainly not in a timely way. However, transparency in the effectiveness of enforcement is the flip side of the coin of transparency in how the export regime works, and would make everybody more confident that a robust regime was in place.
Ian Pearson : I tried to explain that the focus of HMRC's work is targeted primarily at disruption and acting at an early stage. As a matter of rule, it does not want to go to the press and publicise such things, but it is an effective organisation. However, I pay tribute to investigative journalists such as Mark Thomasif he wants a job with HMRC, I shall see whether that can be arranged.
I move on to some of the issues raised about specific policy concerns. I was pleased that the hon. Member for Richmond Park recognised that the issue of extra-territorial controls was sensitive. Under the new legislation, such controls apply to brokering in torture equipment, long-range missiles, arms to embargo destinations and intangible transfers, and technical assistance related to weapons of mass destruction. However, we share the hon. Lady's concerns about conflicts of jurisdiction relating to extra-territorial controls. The scope for such controls, including the goods covered, will be reviewed as part of the three-year review. I give my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood the assurance he seeks: we will look again at that issue.
The Export Control Act 2002 introduced controls on the brokering of all equipment on the UK's military list, including MANPADSman-portable air defence systemsrocket-propelled grenades and automatic light weapons, when any part of the activity takes place in the UK. That represents a significant step in helping to prevent the UK from being used as a base for undesirable arms transfers. Again, I give the assurance that in 2007 we will review whether new categories of goods should be added to the restrictive goods category of the trade control orders.
A number of Members raised the issue of the export of Land Rovers to Uzbekistan and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood went into some detail. Our understanding is that the Turkish Government gifted the vehicles to the Uzbek Government under a joint counter-terrorism agreement. We believe that the vehicles were not Land Rover-approved products. As my hon. Friend rightly said, Octar, the Turkish company, added its own products and components before selling the vehicles to the Turkish Government under its own name. Under the EC dual-use regulations
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and our domestic legislation, the UK has no power to control the export of civilian-specification Land Rovers. The export of civilian vehicles converted by a Turkish company using its own technology, without UK involvement, is a matter for Turkish rather than UK export controls. If we were to seek to control civil Land Rovers, we would have to seek control of all off-road-capable 4x4 vehicles. That does not seem practical to the Government. We are willing to consider, with the Committee, ideas that it might have in this regard and in regard to the enforceable limits of our jurisdiction. I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that we will listen[Interruption.]I am just about to do so.
Mike Gapes : The Minister made reference to the European Union code, but Turkey is a member of NATO. Are there any restrictions as part of NATO agreements on military co-operation by NATO countries whereby the fact that Turkey has given equipment to Uzbekistan in this way might become a matter that could be discussed within NATO channels?
Another specific issue concerned subsidiaries. One particular case mentioned was the selling of armoured vehicles to Uganda. The situation there is that were the company in question in the United Kingdom to have taken any part in the deal, this would have been caught by the UK's trade controls. It is the same situation as I described earlier. Exports from South Africa undertaken with no UK involvement are rightly a matter solely for the South African Government and their export licensing regime.
Specifically on subsidiaries, the UK's trade controls apply to any person in the United Kingdom and any UK person anywhere in the world undertaking any act calculated to promote the overseas trade in military list equipment to embargoed destinations and the overseas trade in long-range missiles and torture goods to any destination. The provisions apply to a UK person directing a company overseas or having any part to play in such a deal. Restrictions are in place. Again, as part of the review, we will examine whether there are grounds for extending them. It would be misleading for anybody to go away from this debate without recognising that with subsidiaries there are issues when we are talking about UK nationals.
I want to finish discussing this issue and to deal with the point made by the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) about Transnistria. My understanding of that situation is that there has been no UK national involvement. As a result, it is difficult to see how the UK has any locus in being able to influence what is happening there, which, judging by his comments is illegal activity. We would like all countries to have the high standards and export control procedures that we have in the UK. We encourage other countries to raise their game, but we cannot force them to do so and there is no international mechanism to make them do so.
Roger Berry : If we are talking about a situation where a UK company deliberately sets out to flout the laws restricting arms exports by creating a subsidiary in
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another country for the express purpose of getting round the controls that the Minister rightly takes credit for, is that not a problem that needs to be addressed? In the case of Ashok Leyland, if the Government believe it is right to be able to stop the exports of arms to Sudan because there is a UN embargo, what is the logic that says it is perfectly okay and it is of no interest to us whatsoever if it flogs arms to every other country in Africa?
Ian Pearson : The short answer is that I have a great deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend says. The issue of extraterritoriality needs to be addressed. When it comes to having control of goods going to embargoed destinations and of long-range missiles or torture goods, export licences are still required at the moment.
Sir John Stanley : Does the Minister not agree that the significance of the Transdniester case was the demonstration of the extreme ease with which an individual could get into serious contractual negotiations about major mass-killer weapons?
Ian Pearson : I take that well-made point, which shows the difficulty of the task that we face globally in trying to stop proliferation of such weapons. It is a clear indication of the need for an international arms trade treaty, to which I shall refer in a moment.
I shall now discuss the points that have been raised about torture. As hon. Members will be aware, the EU regulation on the import and export of torture equipment has been adopted and comes into force on 30 July. It is directly applicable to the UK, so we will be drafting an amendment order implementing it in the UK. It is intended that we bring the provisions into force in the UK at the same time as the regulation comes into force. We are confident that the trade regulation covering torture equipment will allow us to maintain the high level of control that the UK already has in place for such equipment. We have negotiated derogations from the legislation that make it possible for us to maintain our national export prohibitions where we wish.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood raised the issue of sting sticks and thumb cuffs. We will work with other member states and the Commission to introduce additional equipment for control under the legislation, where appropriate and necessary. We have led the way in this field internationally. I can assure him that we will continue to do so.
The common position on brokering does not apply to goods controlled under the trade regulation covering torture equipment, but to arms as defined by the EU common military list. However, I can again assure hon. Members that the UK will continue to apply trade control restrictions to goods covered by the regulation. We would encourage other states to do the same. This is an issue of national competence rather than Community competence. Again, we are leading the way nationally in terms of our regulations and we want to encourage other countries to act in the same way.
We do not believe that a register for brokers is necessarily the most appropriate method of controlling brokering activity. Our approach is to license the export,
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not the individual. The UK supports the group of Government experts on brokering, which we hope will be set up as soon as possible after the UN 2006 review conference and will result in an open-ended working group with a view to establishing a fully transparent, open and legally binding brokering instrument.
I want to discuss the EU-China arms embargo, which was raised in some detail by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South. The basic situation is that a review of it was announced by the European Council in December 2003 and is ongoing. In June 2005, the European Council recalled the conclusions reached at the December 2004 European Council to continue to work towards lifting the embargo. No deadline has been set. In response to some of the questions, may I say that China has not helped itself in this regard by enacting the anti-secession law? It would be helpful if the Chinese Government were to make visible progress on human rights issues to create an atmosphere in which it might be possible for other relevant discussions to take place.
To refer to a point made by the hon. Member for Forest of Dean, we do not believe that the lifting of the embargo could lead to increased tensions in the region. The European Council conclusions of December 2004 recorded the importance of the criteria of the code of conduct in Europe's arms controls. The code includes provisions regarding stability and security in the region, and the national security of friendly and allied countries. The Government recognise that China's neighbours and others have a legitimate and understandable interest both in the effectiveness of the EU system of arms control and the stability of the east Asian region. However, the European Council underlined the fact that the result of any decision on the embargo should not be an increase in arms exports from EU member states to China in either quantitative or qualitative terms. We will not approve exports to the region if they would have a significant adverse effect on regional stability. That includes the potential for equipment significantly to enhance the effectiveness of existing capabilities or to improve false projection.
Ian Pearson : Let me explain about the toolbox first. The toolbox is a set of measures that member states will use with post-embargo destinations. Crucially, it will oblige member states to share information in detailand frequentlyabout licences that they have recently granted for any country emerging from an EU arms embargo; that is a good thing. The document is not yet agreed, but we hope that it will be soonand, certainly, before any decision is taken on whether to lift the China embargo.
Mr. Harper : I am still at a loss in respect of lifting the arms embargo. Given the reasons for imposing the embargo on China in the first place and the fact that the Minister has restated that the Government and the EU do not want there to be an increase, qualitatively or quantitatively, in arms exports, and also given that he said that the code of conduct would also prohibit that if it were going to damage the interests of our allies, I am at a loss to see what the purpose is of lifting the arms
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embargo. The Minister has explained that the European Council has stuck to its position that it wants to work towards lifting it, but I cannot see any benefit for Britain, the EU or the wider western world in doing so. Can the Minister help us to see the purpose and benefit to Britain of lifting the arms embargo on China? Why would we want to continue with that process?
Ian Pearson : The meritsor otherwiseof lifting the arms embargo are still being discussed and a range of factors will be taken into account. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that if we consider the EU code of conduct and what is likely to come out of the discussions on the toolbox, it is clear that there will still be an effective licensing regime. The European Council's conclusions were very much that they did not want there to be an increase in arms exports in quantitative or qualitative terms, and that remains its position.
Mike Gapes : I am pleased that the Minister tells me that there is progress on the toolbox. Can he tell us whether he feels that the Austrian presidency of the EU will accelerate the momentum of that progress, and whether he has a sense that the Austrian or Finnish presidencies will wish to conclude the decisions about lifting the arms embargo on China this year or will it be a longer-term process?
Ian Pearson : Some of those issues are a matter for the Austrian presidency, but I can say that there is a general desire to make progress with the toolbox. There is no timetable for making a decision on the embargo and no deadlines are set, but discussions are still going on and they will undoubtedly continue.
I welcome the Committee's support for the arms trade treaty and the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South and the hon. Member for Richmond Park. International support has been growing following the UK's clear backing of the initiative for an arms trade treaty on the trade of all conventional arms, aimed at ending irresponsible transfers. In March 2005, the Foreign Secretary gave strong backing to that and we are leading the world.
In terms of progress, we used our EU presidency to secure Council conclusions in October giving full support to such a treaty and to the launch of UN-based negotiations to that end at the earliest opportunity. That was one of many significant achievements of the UK's presidency. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta in November we secured positive language in support of work on such a treaty to commence at the UN. Commonwealth support is important because it demonstrates that a wide cross-section of countriesdeveloped and developing, exporters and importersrecognise the importance of such a treaty. These are all-important steps in building momentum. We are committed to securing a UN-based
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process and we will continue to build support for agreement to that at the UN General Assembly First Committee meeting this autumn. The UN process will ensure that all the key players are engaged, which is essential if an arms trade treaty is to work. The hon. Member for Forest of Dean stressed the importance of involving all the key players, and we recognise that. However, we should also recognise that we have a long way to go in terms of bringing everybody on board. Progress is being made and support is being built but, realistically, it will be a number of years before a treaty is in place.
We are discussing this initiative with a broad range of partners. We are committed to securing a strong treaty that includes all the major arms exporters. We are having discussions with the United States, China and Russia, as well as with others. I will make a trade visit to China next month, and one of the topics I want to raise with my counterpart will be Chinese support for an arms trade treaty.
To conclude, let me stress again that export controls are a vital part of our foreign policy. I also wish to emphasise the context in which we make decisions about export controls. In many respects, the decisions we make are a manifestation of our assessment of particular destinations and regions at the time when an application is made, but we should not lose sight of the fact that they are one strand of a much wider effort to change the behaviour of countries about which we have concernsfor example, in terms of their human rights record or their own export control policies.
This week, in addition to this debate, my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy has given evidence to the Quadripartite Committee in his capacity as the Minister responsible for the Export Control Organisation at the Department of Trade and Industry. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will again appear before the Committee on 25 April to contribute to further scrutiny and oversight. That gives a flavour of the high level of scrutiny applied to this area of policy and the importance that the Government attach to it.
Exports of military equipment is an emotive topic and we are all aware of the untold misery that the illicit or irresponsible trade in conventional arms can inflict on some of the most vulnerable people of the world, but we also accept that states have a right to invest in their own security and self-defence. I want to assure Members that the Government will continue to assess rigorously applications for export licences from the UK and to make sure that our exports continue to be a model for others. We shall also continue our efforts internationally to establish binding standards for the responsible trade in commercial arms.