HC Deb 10 June 1992 vol 209 cc304-5
20. Mr. Bowis

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what steps he is taking to deter the trade in artefacts of torture.

Mr. Needham

The export of leg irons, shackles, gang chains and certain types of handcuff which may be misused against prisoners is already controlled by my Department. We pay great attention to the human rights records of other countries when deciding whether an export licence should be issued.

Mr. Bowis

Does my hon. Friend accept that, just as it is right and proper that our overseas aid policy is geared to acceptable human rights in the countries to which our aid is targeted, the same should apply to our trade? Does my hon. Friend accept also that there is no way in which any British firm should export devices which are either designed to be or turn out to be used as barbaric forms of torture or barbaric types of imprisonment, including the leg irons to which he has referred?

Mr. Needham

Indeed, they should not. There is, of course, a difficulty whereby certain products which in normal use are perfectly safe can be misused and changed into measures of repression when they get to countries overseas. As I have said, my Department, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence keep a very close eye on this.

Mr. Alton

How does the Minister justify the sale of such equipment—not just leg irons, but entire cells which have been used for the execution of political prisoners in totalitarian regimes—in contrast with another decision by his Department to deny to the Croatian Government the use of mine detection equipment for the humanitarian purpose of clearing mines from areas where civilians are living?

Mr. Needham

I do not justify that, and I would not even attempt to do so. The point in my previous answer—I hope that the hon. Gentleman listened to me—is that much of the equipment is exported and the exporting company has no idea that the equipment may be altered and used for the purposes that the hon. Gentleman describes. In those circumstances, it is impossible for the Government to stop the export of all sorts of equipment which, for the vast majority of the time, are perfectly proper products.

Mr. Bellingham

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on his recent appointment. Is he aware that we are talking not only about artefacts of torture but about artefacts of execution? Is he aware that the Amnesty International report gives details of a set of gallows being exported from this country to a certain middle eastern country? Does he agree that that is totally unacceptable and must be stopped?

Mr. Needham

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his congratulations. As he knows, that was a single incident. Once the company had discovered it, it dealt with those involved. I agree that it is totally unacceptable to export gallows from this country.