HL Deb 19 May 2004 vol 661 cc772-5

2.59 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Salisbury asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they plan to introduce further legislation in this Parliament to control the export of arms.

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

My Lords, no further legislation is currently planned. The three orders that implemented the Export Control Act 2002 came into force only this year, on 3 March and 1 May. The Export Control Act 2002 was the most comprehensive review of strategic export controls for more than 60 years. It introduced significant controls into new areas such as the intangible transfer of technology and the trafficking and brokering of overseas military equipment. The Government are committed to review their operation after three years and will bring forward any necessary changes at that point.

The Lord Bishop of Salisbury

My Lords, while I thank the Minister for his reply, can he confirm that the pledge given at the last general election to control the activities of British arms dealers "wherever they are located" remains unmet because a broker will still be able to transact a deal that is illegal in the United Kingdom simply by crossing the Channel? Furthermore, in view of the fact that this country is the second biggest arms exporter, are Her Majesty's Government ready to take a lead in brokering the efforts to agree a more comprehensive global arms trade treaty?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, we believe that we have fulfilled the 2001 manifesto commitment. There is the question of how far we extend the control of trafficking and brokering. We took the decision that this would apply where there is general international condemnation of particular action, because we think that extra-territorial jurisdiction in other circumstances is extremely difficult to administer. Obviously, trafficking and brokering controls are most effective when they are imposed on a multilateral basis. That is why the UK was the driving force behind the common position on arms brokering under the EU's common and foreign security policy, agreed in June 2003. That obliges all member states to introduce national controls on arms brokering. On that basis, it is very much more difficult for UK brokers to evade the controls by crossing a UK border.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate's Question refers to arms exports in general and not simply to those from the United Kingdom or by UK citizens. What steps have Her Majesty's Government taken to give teeth to the OSCE's code of conduct on arms exports, which was agreed as long ago as 1993 in Budapest, particularly to persuade countries in eastern Europe such as Ukraine and Belarus, which are serious violators of the code, to observe its terms? Could not the international community agree that where illicit weapons are recovered from theatres of conflict, they are examined for serial numbers to see if they can be identified back to the countries of origin?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the UK Government support the goal of an international instrument. That is why we believe that the proposals for an international arms trade treaty are to be welcomed as a contribution to this debate. Of course, we have to make certain that enough of the major arms exporting countries support such proposals, because if it is to make sense it has to have that support. In principle, we very much support that initiative.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, is the defence establishment still blocking proposals for the DESC—the Defence Exports Scrutiny Committee?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, we have covered this matter at considerable length in previous debates. I have no reason to suppose that the situation has changed, although I am not certain that I would agree about who is blocking what.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, can the Minister tell us how the Government are exercising end-user control over approved military exports? In particular, will they insist that old weapons are destroyed when new ones are supplied?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, there is clearly an important question in terms of where arms are diverted to different destinations through particular countries for which a licence is given. Where there is any clear risk that a proposed export will be diverted to another end-user, then the licence will be stopped. A licence is now required under the new trade controls to transfer ownership of military goods between overseas countries, so there is a further block there.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the arms industry contributes substantially to United Kingdom exports and jobs, and that it is subject to a far more stringent regime than that of competing countries, which are less assiduous in enforcing compliance with end-user certificate systems?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the arms industry obviously provides a considerable number of jobs. It is subject to a stringent regime which I think is totally appropriate, given the nature of the industry.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that while the Government should take credit for having pioneered the European code on arms exports, it is now essential to have the strictest possible approach to the application of our own criteria when decisions are being made about exports? Does he also agree that following 9/11 and the reality of international instability that confronts us, we must change the culture from one in which it is okay to export arms unless there is a very good reason for not doing so to one where it is very dangerous to export arms unless there is a very good reason for doing so?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, it is of course government policy that there should be a strict application of the criteria for licences for the export of weapons. The important thing is to apply those criteria very stringently. That is government policy, and I think we should act in line with that policy rather than introducing any other criteria.

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