Exiting the European Union (Customs)

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 7:26 pm on 8th April 2019.

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Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Shadow Minister (International Trade) 7:26 pm, 8th April 2019

The statutory instrument before us today contains extremely important measures to ensure that the United Kingdom has a robust export controls regime in place after Brexit. It is needed to prevent UK exports from being used for torture activities, capital punishment or the suppression of citizens and their human rights in other countries. It is absolutely right that we ensure the continuance of this regime once we leave the European Union. Indeed, such is the seriousness of the matter covered by the draft regulations that we should take every opportunity to review and, where possible, improve our efforts in this area.

The draft regulations are set out in this draft instrument, together with measures voted on a few weeks ago in respect of an additional instrument. The Trade etc. in Dual-Use Items and Firearms etc. (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 were initially integrated into a single draft instrument tabled on 11 February and subsequently withdrawn. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm why the Government withdrew that initial draft and split the measures contained in it. If there was defective drafting, can he confirm that the Government are satisfied that the revised wording properly remedies the defects?

The draft regulations operate to ensure that goods that could be used for the purposes of torture or capital punishment are banned from export and/or import or, where appropriate, that an authorisation must be sought and granted prior to their export. That is entirely right, and it is welcome that the Government have sought to continue the existing EU regime more or less unchanged in a UK-specific context after Brexit. This is by way of a series of amendments to a recent Council regulation which, as I understand it, has not yet otherwise been incorporated in our domestic statute book. For the most part, as with a number of recent statutory instruments, the draft regulations proposed by the Government seek to ensure that references to the European Union or European Community are replaced by references to the United Kingdom, our customs territory or the Secretary of State.

However, there are amendments whose intent requires clarification, and I will come to those points shortly. Fundamentally, these provisions seek to prevent the trade in goods that may be used for torture or to administer capital punishment. How we treat our citizens, including those who have committed even the most heinous of crimes, reflects the society that we strive to be. In that respect, I am proud that it was a Labour MP who brought about the end of capital punishment in this country. As I have said before, we in the Labour party want to ensure that a robust and rigorous control system is in place in respect of dual-use items, firearms and other sensitive material. That includes any items that may be used for the purposes of torture or capital punishment. Indeed, we have called for a tighter approach to our export controls regime and for the cessation of exports to countries where there is a concern that they will be used to violate international humanitarian law. It is therefore concerning that in 2015 the Government decided to drop explicit references to the Foreign Office’s long-standing commitment to making efforts to encourage the abolition of the death penalty overseas. Although I welcome the Minister’s comments, will he confirm whether the Government have any plans to make subsequent amendments to the draft regulations once the United Kingdom has left the European Union?

Regulation 2(24) amends article 24 of the existing regulations to allow the Secretary of State, by negative resolution, to vary our schedules to add or remove items and procedures, so it is crucial that we understand the Government’s policy intention in this regard. The use of the negative resolution procedure to lift restrictions currently in place is extremely concerning. Will the Minister therefore confirm whether he is satisfied that these measures are sufficient to prevent the UK’s participation in the trade in torture goods or in drugs administered for the purposes of capital punishment, including the transfer of intellectual property within international corporate structures, such that UK-developed products might be reproduced or R&D transferred intragroup for such purposes?

Paragraphs (12) and (17) of regulation 2 remove the requirement to refer decisions made in the past three years by other EU member states in respect of these regulations. It seems entirely sensible to refer to precedents established by other countries, particularly where those countries ostensibly operate the same regime as our own. Perhaps the Minister can clarify whether the Government intend to continue to refer to any such precedents in any future decisions made by the Secretary of State. Indeed, paragraph (12) removes the EU from the list of competent bodies whose findings should be referenced, so I would be grateful if the Minister clarified the Government’s intention in that regard.

Paragraph (17) of regulation 2 removes the obligation of the Commission and member states to develop best practice approaches, alongside paragraph (31), which clearly ends the UK’s participation in the anti-torture co-ordination group. Although the Government might consider that to be necessary once we have withdrawn from the EU, it would be helpful if he set out how the Government intend to continue dialogue with our international partners, particularly in the EU, on common approaches to controlling torture goods.

Furthermore, paragraphs (14) and (15) of regulation 2 seek to remove references to the national treatment provisions in respect of the trade in leg irons, gang chains and portable electric shock devices. Again, I ask the Minister to put on the record what the Government’s intended approach to these measures will be.

Paragraph (32) of regulation 2 omits article 32 of the European regulations, which requires the Commission to publish a periodic report on the impact of these measures every five years and to include proposals for improvement. How do the Government intend to report on these measures in a UK-specific context?

Finally, paragraph (33) of regulation 2 removes the national determination of appropriate penalties provisions. I would be grateful if the Minister also put on the record what the Government’s proposed penalties for breaches of these regulations will be.