HL Deb 24 October 2000 vol 618 cc139-41

2.56 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they intend to introduce a comprehensive system of licensing for arms brokering and trafficking.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has already said that the Government will introduce a system of licensing for arms trafficking and brokering. That will, of course, require new primary legislation. We will announce our plans for new legislation once we have completed the review of proposals in the White Paper on strategic export controls. That will include details of the controls on arms trafficking and brokering. As to when new legislation will be brought before Parliament, your Lordships will understand that that depends on the availability of time in the legislative programme.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that the speech given by the Secretary of State to the Labour Party conference on this subject was extremely strong? Indeed, he announced that the Government have decided to introduce legislation. Does he accept that we are now two and a half years down the road from the White Paper on this subject? That seems to be enough time to consult on all the implications. May we therefore hope that the consultation is now complete?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, about the strength of the speech made by the Secretary of State to the Labour Party conference. As regards the time taken since the publication of the White Paper in summer 1998, I acknowledge that that is a long time. However, a number of new issues have arisen since then: notably, the extension of possibilities for licensing, trafficking and brokering, as well as matters relating to licence production and the responses to the two reports of the quadripartite committee of the House of Commons. They are new issues which the Government have to consider in their response to the consultation on the White Paper.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the brokering and trafficking in arms, especially to third-world countries and those with authoritarian regimes, is an extremely destabilising procedure? Can the Minister assure the House that the Government will consider with great urgency the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire? This is a dangerous process.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. That is why the Secretary of State made such a strong statement on this subject. By licensing procedures, we would be seeking to adhere to the principles set out in the statement made by the Foreign Secretary in July 1997 when he expressed our antagonism about arms used for internal repression or external aggression. Clearly, arms brokering and trafficking, either by United Kingdom citizens or companies registered in the United Kingdom, could contribute to those destabilising influences. That underlines the importance of trying to put a stop to such process. However, as the noble Lord will recognise, there are huge practical difficulties in doing that.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, will the legislation include the transport of arms brokered by somebody else? Has the Minister noticed that the allegation that many of the shipments of arms for illicit use in African conflicts are said to have been shipped by companies operating aircraft registered in the United Kingdom?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Yes, my Lords. Brokering as opposed to direct trafficking involves persons acting as agents. The legislation will certainly include agents for the transportation of arms.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, are the Government satisfied that there is adequate examination and checks on end-user certificates?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, that again is a difficult area. There is no universal and consistent programme of checking end-user certificates. That is why the European Union produced its code of conduct. It is extremely difficult to check and great efforts are made to avoid public knowledge of what happens to arms after they have been exported. That was a major part of the thrust of the Scott inquiry.

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