In the post-cold war world, conflict and the suffering arising from conflict are concentrated in the developing world. The widespread availability of small arms is feeding conflict and blocking development. The United Kingdom supports stronger international controls on the supply of such weapons and supports local programmes to destroy weapons and resolve and prevent conflict.
Next week, I will attend the United Nations special session designed to agree an international programme of action.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does she agree that one of the major problems is the lack of licensing controls on arms dealers? Can we expect her to take advantage of the forthcoming Export Control Bill to give us much tougher regulation of this unsavoury business?
Yes, I agree. There are two sets of problems. Many small arms are circulating, for example, in Africa, so we need to extract them. However, arms are also being exported—particularly from the former Soviet countries that have big arms industries—and they are not controlled. Some of those sales do not come through Britain—people are not allowed to sell arms without a licence from Britain—but they are brokered from Britain. We shall take control over that in the forthcoming Bill, and that is a very important change to clean up our act.
In the previous Parliament, four Select Committees, including the Select Committee on International Development, recommended that there should be prior scrutiny by a Committee of the House of the United Kingdom's defence sales, including small arms sales. Does the Secretary of State support that approach?
No, the Government's view is that that would not be helpful. The hon. Gentleman might know that, since our Government were formed, we have been allowed to object to a licence on the ground that an arms sales would prevent development and the proper spending of money even if the arms were not to be used for external aggression or internal repression. As yet, we cannot cumulate those sales, so the power is not as effective as it might be. That is my greatest concern, and if he could help me with that, I would be very grateful.