HC Deb 13 January 1998 vol 304 cc139-40
10. Mrs. Mahon

What action he is taking to combat global illicit arms trafficking. [20422]

Mr. Tony Lloyd

The problem of illicit arms trafficking is a priority for the Government, as it is estimated to account for more than half the international trade in small arms. We have endorsed the recommendations of the report of the UN panel of experts on small arms. During our presidency of the European Union, we are developing the EU programme on combating and preventing illicit trafficking in conventional arms.

Mrs. Mahon

I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that the evil traffickers who supply regimes such as the Taleban are to be condemned. Will he make it a priority of the EU presidency to discuss how to stop illicit arms getting into Afghanistan and to examine the plight of the women of Afghanistan, who are suffering greatly?

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I recently raised the issue with the Foreign Ministers of several of the states neighbouring Afghanistan, because although there is no doubt that the arms going into Afghanistan come from somewhere, a significant number of the neighbouring states deny any knowledge or responsibility. We have to make progress on this agenda and the European Union intends to do just that: in February, Her Majesty's Customs and Excise is hosting a conference with our EU partners in order to exchange ideas on this subject and to discuss how best to move forward on a global basis.

My hon. Friend's specific point about the abuse of the rights of women in Afghanistan is one which must concern every civilised person and every civilised nation. She rightly draws attention to the fact that the Taleban can only draw worldwide condemnation for its ignorance of human rights and for the level of abuse and atrocity against its own civil population.

Mr. Ian Bruce

I am sure that the Minister will agree that the most important problem facing this country in terms of illegal arms is that of illegal arms coming into Northern Ireland. Will he tell us what his Department is doing in respect of discussions with our American friends, given that the route often used by terrorists is to purchase weapons legally in the United States and then to import them illegally into Northern Ireland?

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to discuss in detail the precise nature of the British Government's knowledge of the transmission of illegal arms—that is a basic starting point. However, it is a common position that the House condemns the illicit use of arms in Northern Ireland and the holding and bearing of those arms. As is the case with everyone, if he has specific information about the abuse of particular routes into Northern Ireland, his knowledge must be made available to the Northern Ireland Office and to others, so that we begin to crack down on those routes.