HC Deb 07 February 2001 vol 362 cc912-4
3. Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead)

What assessment she has made of the impact of the arms trade on underdeveloped countries; and if she will make a statement. [147640]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

There are very few applications for licences for exports from the United Kingdom to developing countries. Where relevant, my Department assesses whether exports would hamper the sustainable development of such a country. If we believe that they would, we object to them. However, many developing countries have bloated and ill-disciplined armed forces. Since March 1999, therefore, we have started to engage in security sector reform to help those countries to build responsible armed forces.

The Government will shortly publish a draft Bill to strengthen controls on arms exports. We are also working to ensure that the very important United Nations 2001 conference on small arms leads to comprehensive action, including the removal of small arms from the continent of Africa, where they are fuelling conflict.

Mr. Cohen

I thank my right hon. Friend for that important answer. Has she seen the new report from the Campaign Against Arms Trade which shows that, every day, that trade kills or maims 2,000 children around the world? Has she seen the Oxfam briefings on Mindenao or the Congo which state that tens of thousands of people, many of whom are children, are being killed by the small arms trade? Is not the trade dramatically undercutting her otherwise excellent international development policy?

Could we have more detail on what action the Government will take against the illegal small arms trade? Will she also use her weight in Government to press for registration and regulation of the brokers operating from this country?

Clare Short

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think that, on his last point, he will be pleased with the contents of the forthcoming Bill. There is no doubt that conflict in Africa, for example, is desperately holding back the development of that continent. In fact, 20 per cent. of its people are affected by conflict and becoming ever poorer. Small arms are the means of perpetuating that conflict. Massive numbers of small arms have already been traded and distributed across the continent, where there is also the capacity to produce ammunition.

As small arms are not coming from the United Kingdom, we want the United Nations initiative to work to ensure that arms are handed in and that exports from the Ukraine, for example, are stopped. We need the United Nations conference on small arms to be as powerful as the conference on land mines and to make a real effort to remove small arms from areas affected by endemic conflict.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

Will the Secretary of State tell the House to what extent the Department for International Development was consulted in the preparation of the draft Bill on the control of arms and arms brokers? Will she say why, four years after the Scott report, we have still not seen the promised draft Bill? Is that just laziness on the part of other Departments, or is she concerned that the Government have been influenced by the arms industry?

Clare Short

I give the House an absolute, 100 per cent. assurance that the Government have not been influenced by the arms industry. My Department has also been fully consulted on the Bill to be published shortly. It has not yet been introduced because we have had Queen's Speeches stacked with legislation that we have had to pass. We have much more good legislation to come. That is why it is very important that we be returned at the next election.

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