HL Deb 29 January 1992 vol 534 cc1308-11

2.53 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will prohibit the export of all instruments of torture and mechanical restraint.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Reay)

My Lords, the Government have received a report on this matter from Amnesty International and will respond to it after a careful study of its contents. The Government deplore the use of any equipment knowingly exported for the use of torture and other such violations of human rights. The Government already control the export of leg irons, shackles and gangchains, and recently reconfirmed that no licences would be issued for the export of those items.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and welcome its tone. Is he aware that while the Question I put down has general import it is based upon one issue which causes some anxiety? A friend of mine, Orton Chirwa, who is well known in many parts of the House and who was a servant of Nyasaland and then Attorney-General in Tanzania, was kidnapped 10 years ago. According to the Amnesty International report, which the Minister has quoted, he was kept in prison for two days and two nights handcuffed and leg-ironed in a compulsory squatting position. According to Amnesty International, those leg irons came from Britain. That is why I asked the Question. I should be glad to receive a response from the Minister.

Lord Reay

My Lords, the Amnesty International report came up with three allegations linking British firms with the overseas practice of torture. One of them concerned the manufacture and export of leg irons in 1983 by a Birmingham firm. That led in 1984 to the Government banning the export of leg irons; and last October my right honourable friend the Minister for Trade announced that he was banning the export of a certain type of large handcuff which could also be used as a leg iron. We have not been asked to add other items to the list of controlled exports.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, if it is true that instruments of torture are being made here, should not the Government consider whether their manufacture should be prohibited?

Lord Reay

My Lords, as I have demonstrated, where we have been asked to put items on the list, that has been done. We have not been asked to put on the list additional items to which special considerations should apply. Most forms of torture will be carried out by instruments whose primary purpose is entirely innocuous, even if they are imported from this country, which may well not be the case. We could only be certain that we were not contributing to torture overseas if we stopped virtually all our exports.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, when suffering from lower back pain, I sometimes employ a means of mechanical constraint called a corset, which, if maladjusted, can easily become an instrument of torture. Will the Minister tell us how one could draft a statutory instrument so as to define the permissibility or impermissibility of something for export according to how it is adjusted by its future user?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I do not think that we will consider adding corsets to the list.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, bearing in mind that there is evidence of increasing torture in a number of countries, not just the cases referred to by my noble friend, and bearing in mind the work that Amnesty International has done, not merely in bringing it to the attention of Her Majesty's Government but in securing apparent support for the convention against torture, does the Minister accept that if the Government decided to take tough action against instruments that are clearly designed for torture—not for supporting parts of the body—it would receive a warm welcome?

Lord Reay

My Lords, we have taken such action. That is exactly what we have done. Amnesty International gives three instances; in themselves they provide a rather narrow foundation upon which to make broad allegations. We are considering the report, and we shall reply to it in due course.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the Minister give an assurance what whatever measures of control are finally deemed necessary, they will be more effective than the measures of control in operation at the time that gun barrels were exported to Iraq from this country?

Lord Reay

My Lords, the noble Lord raises matters that go wider than the Question on the Order Paper.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, while welcoming what I hope is the Government's disgust at this trade, will the Minister tell the House what procedures under the Export of Goods (Control) Order 1989 people have to go through to obtain a licence? No one seems clear about that point. Secondly, will he confirm or deny that instruments designed for execution, as opposed to torture, fall outside the order?

Lord Reay

My Lords, apart from the one case instanced in the Amnesty International report, we have no evidence that there has been any manufacture or export of items designed for execution. With regard to the list of countries to which special considerations apply, a list was published in December of destinations for which export licences are subject to special considerations. That is designed to give a guide to industry. There are currently 34 countries on the list.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind the perhaps crucial distinction between instruments designed to torture and instruments that can be used for torture? After all, a pen knife, a cigarette end and a car magneto can be used for torture. But instruments designed to torture surely come within the prohibited category. I am not talking about the noble Earl's corset!

Lord Reay

My Lords, in all cases where it has been brought to our attention that items specifically designed for torture were being exported, we have taken action. In other cases where items are exported which could be used for torture but are not primarily designed for it, it is difficult to see what the Government can do.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, can the Minister say when the Government will have completed their study of the Amnesty International report? I am sure that the findings will be of great interest to the House.

Lord Reay

My Lords, the report has been presented to us within the past three weeks. It is a little early to say when we shall complete our consideration of it.

Lord Willams of Elvel

My Lords, may I Press the noble Lord on the Supplementaries that I asked? First, what are the procedures under the Export of Goods (Control) Order 1989 for obtaining a licence for something that is apparently an instrument of torture? Secondly, are instruments designed specifically for execution outside the Government's remit under the Export of Goods (Control) Order 1989?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I have answered the noble Lord's second question and I thought that I had dealt with the first. The procedures are well known to exporting firms which should have no difficulty in following them.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, while the noble Lord is considering the report, will he give attention to what appears to be a loophole in the banning of exports? I understand that last year in Miami leg irons were displayed at an exhibition under the name of Hiatt Thompson, the distributor for the Birmingham firm, Hiatt. It appears that because the United States has no ban, companies may display these wares in the United States and other countries although the ban applies to them in this country.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I am not sure that we are in a position to control what happens within other jurisdictions. I can only repeat that the export of such items is banned in this country.

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