Clause 4 - Controls on provision of technical assistance overseas

Export Control – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 16th October 2001.

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Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury 11:15 am, 16th October 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 51, in page 3, line 29, after `assistance', insert `or foreign military assistance'.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 52, in page 3, line 36, after `assistance', insert `or foreign military assistance'.

No. 53, in page 3, line 39, after `assistance', insert `or foreign military assistance'.

No. 54, in clause 10, page 6, line 6, at end insert—

``armed conflict'' means any armed conflict between—

(a) the armed forces of foreign states,

(b) the armed forces of a foreign state and dissident armed forces or other armed groups; or

(c) armed groups.'.

No. 55, in clause 10, page 6, line 12, at end insert—

``foreign military assistance'' means military services or military-related services, or any attempt, encouragement, incitement or solicitation to render such services, except under the authority of the Secretary of State, in the form of—

(a) military assistance to a party to an armed conflict by means of—

(i) advice or training;

(ii) personnel, financial, logistical, intelligence or operational support;

(iii) personnel recruitment;

(iv) medical or para-medical services; or

(v) procurement of equipment;

(b) security services for the protection of individuals involved in armed conflict or their property;

(c) any action aimed at overthrowing a government or undermining the constitutional order, sovereignty or territorial integrity of a state;

(d) any other action that has the result of furthering the military interests of a party to the armed conflict but not humanitarian or civilian activities aimed at relieving the plight of civilians in an area of armed conflict.'.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

In June 2000, European Union member states agreed a council joint action on the control of technical assistance related to weapons of mass destruction. There were important principles embodied in that council joint action. In paragraph 45 of command paper 5091, technical assistance was defined thus:

``Technical assistance, as defined in the joint action, means any technical support related to repairs, development, manufacture, assembly, testing, maintenance, or any other technical service and may take forms such as instruction, training, transmission of working knowledge or skills or consulting services and includes oral forms of assistance.''

It therefore encompasses both the transfer of technology by any means, including orally, and the provision of technical services.

I perceive that although we are signed up to that document, there is a gap in the Bill concerning mercenary activity. The Foreign Enlistment Act 1870 prevents British subjects from serving against countries with which the UK is at peace. However, there has been no successful prosecution under that Act since its introduction over 130 years ago. The Government's lack of power to regulate mercenaries was demonstrated in December 1989 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the international convention against the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries. According to the former Foreign Office Minister, the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd), the Government have no plans to sign the convention. He said in a written answer on 15 June 1998:

``We have no plans at present to sign and ratify the International Convention against Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries. We have doubts concerning its legal enforceability in the United Kingdom. We are looking at options for national domestic regulation of military companies.'' —[Official Report, 15 June 1998; Vol. 314, c. 16.]

That was back in 1998. Then the Legge report criticised the Government's handling of the situation in Sierra Leone and the activities of Sandline International. The Foreign Office then promised:

``To issue within 18 months a Green Paper on mercenary activity, taking account of discussions with our partners in the UN, the EU and other international fora. The Paper will address both the international and the UK context.''

That was in the second report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, session 1998-99, on Sierra Leone, Cmnd. 4325. That Green Paper has yet to emerge.

On 6 April 2001, in a written answer at column 298W, the then Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle), expressed his regret that the Green Paper expected in November 2000 had not been published. That was what I referred to yesterday afternoon in the Chamber when I intervened after the Home Secretary's statement. He generously answered by saying that he was unaware of the Green Paper. Why should he have been? He had his mind on other things. It was not, of course, a Home Office matter, and the Foreign Office was to deal with it. But then, we live in an age of joined-up government, so I would have expected the Home Secretary to be aware of the matter. I know that the Home Office is very much burdened at the moment, but it would have been nice to think that it was aware of it. Typically generously, the Home Secretary said that he would find out what was going on, and I am sure that he will, but I also had a word with his officials yesterday and asked them to make sure that the Department of Trade and Industry knew about this exchange, because while it was not my intention to embarrass the Minister dealing with the Bill in Committee the following day, I wanted an answer.

The regulation of mercenaries, private military companies and associated activities is long overdue. British mercenaries have been operating with impunity all over the world, especially in Africa, while successive Governments have stood back and wondered what to do, if anything. The presence of Britons in the al-Qaeda training camps and their involvement in terrorist attacks abroad has long been a source of complaint from foreign Governments, including the Governments of Algeria, India and Russia. However, British-based mercenary activity has been placed out in the open in the weeks since 11 September. There have been disturbing reports about the activities of groups in this country recruiting disaffected youths to fight for the Taliban. We cannot tolerate a situation in which British soldiers may be in action against fellow Britons.

The groups in question are not new, but their activities and the role that they may have played in the al-Qaeda terrorist network has been brought into focus following the events of 11 September. Two years ago the BBC and other European media organisations reported on Sakina Security Services, a company that specialised in high-risk jobs in the former Soviet Union and the civil war areas of the world. Until it was shut down, that company's website advertised a two-week course in the United States called the ``Ultimate Jihad Challenge''. It stated:

``The course emphasis is on practical live-fire training. You will fire between 2,000 and 3,000 rounds of mixed calibre ammunition.''

Sakina also offered training in ambushing, sniper attacks, killing with knives and shooting at, through and from a vehicle. Sakina Security was run by Muhammad Jameel, who has been linked to Sheikh Omar bakri Mohammed and Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri. Abu Hamza's son and son-in-law were among the 10 British Muslims arrested in Yemen in December 1998. They subsequently confessed that they had planned to bomb the Movenpic hotel, where US military personnel are frequently billeted, the Anglican Christ Church clinic and the British consulate. Those young men were sent as couriers to Abu al-Hassan, leader of a splinter group of Islamic Jihad, known as the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army, or the AAIA.

According to intelligence sources, both Abu Hassan and Abu Hamza have documented ties to bin Laden. According to those sources, following the bombing of American embassies in Africa, investigations were carried out in the United Kingdom into the activities of a fast food chain, mobile phone retailers and used car salesrooms, which Abu Hamza admitted formed part of funding for jihad activities.

The FBI has asked the Metropolitan police to trace an estimated 500 Britons who they suspect received training at al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. Some of those recruits are known to have been sent to fight in what are seen as holy wars in Chechnya, Kashmir, Afghanistan and the Balkans. Others may have returned home to Britain as sleepers.

We must take those organisations seriously. Although Professor Paul Wilkinson, who is director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism, is not convinced that Sakina was involved in terrorism, he is very concerned that other groups could be. He said that, given the general support for the bin Laden message, their rhetoric is pretty fearsome and hair-raising, and that it is an encouragement to people to side with the holy war in which he believes. Certainly, the skills taught by companies such as Sakina would be useful to anyone who wished to undertake terrorist activities or to fight as a mercenary.

The Government have a duty to protect the young and impressionable from being press-ganged into fighting for the Taliban. For instance, Anwar Khan, who was captured by the Northern Alliance and is believed to be in Lachiday prison near the north-east border of Pakistan, was sent by his family to a religious school in Pakistan to help him overcome his drug addiction, but was then persuaded to go to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban.

I have explained why we should no longer ignore the mercenary activities that originate in this country. Other nations in the European Union and countries further afield are complaining that Britain is lax in that regard. The Government should take this genuine opportunity to improve matters, in the interests of peace and security—not only for our own citizenry but for the citizens of other countries.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

The Liberal Democrats welcome the amendments, and are happy to support them. We, like Conservative Members, have been worried for some time about mercenary activities. I was amazed, during the election campaign, to come across two young people in my constituency who said that they were involved with mercenary activities and who claimed to have been trained in Afghanistan. I can hardly believe that such a thing could happen in the United Kingdom.

I remind the Committee that we were promised a Green Paper on mercenary activities by November 2000; but, as the hon. Member for Salisbury pointed out, it has not yet appeared. I hope that the Government will accept the amendment as a promissory note for that Green Paper. Clearly, it would not encompass all the things that we need to say about the subject, but it would at least show the nation that the Government take mercenary activities seriously and that they will deliver the goods in the near future.

I am a little disappointed that amendment No. 55 does not mention police and security or paramilitary activity, but we may be able to correct that omission at a later stage. I was also interested to see that it includes the words,

``the authority of the Secretary of State''.

As I recall, the Sandline affair involved word of mouth--people understood that authority had been given. The amendment should say,

``the written authority of the Secretary of State''.

Nevertheless, we welcome the amendment. We hope that the Government will take it seriously, and that they will include it or a similar provision in the Bill.

Photo of Nigel Griffiths Nigel Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

We are all concerned about the role of mercenaries. The amendments seek to ensure that a range of activities under the heading ``foreign military assistance'' can be controlled under the Bill. I do not believe that such a change is necessary. Clause 4 is already a wide-ranging provision. It allows the Government to impose controls on ``technical'' services. That term is broad and it covers services provided by any individual or party in connection with the development of production, or the use of, any controlled goods or technology. In practice, that means services provided by anyone in connection with any military goods or technology. ``Anyone'' includes mercenaries; in answer to the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), it also includes police, security and paramilitary personnel. They are all covered under clause 4 and by the word ``services''.

That wide-ranging new power implements the EU joint action on controls on the provision of technical assistance for weapons of mass destruction and related missile programmes; it allows us to implement any requirements for controls on technical assistance imposed by international embargoes; and it provides appropriate penalties.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot 11:30 am, 16th October 2001

The Minister recognises the force of the argument made by my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Richmond Park. However, the Committee needs to hear that the Minister has taken specific legal advice on the amendments. I think that judges will be unwilling to extend the interpretation of technical assistance as the Minister suggests. Under the present circumstances, we must make it explicit to the courts of England that they have a duty to help to eradicate terrorism. In view of my hon. Friend's remarks, will the Minister tell us whether he has taken specific legal advice on the amendments?

Photo of Nigel Griffiths Nigel Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

I hardly think that my civil servants would advise me on the matter without taking full and proper legal advice.

Aspects of the activities listed in the amendments, such as training in the use of weapons, which is a key mercenary activity, come within the scope of the clause. Powers over the transfer of technology and the trade in controlled goods allow for the control of other aspects of such activities, such as the procurement of equipment, which is another aspect of mercenary work. The wide-ranging powers in the clause will therefore deal with many of the concerns that have been voiced.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

I must dispute the Minister's claim that subsection (4) covers actual people. We are talking about people who are training to be mercenaries and to fight, perhaps with their bare hands. We are not talking about goods and services or technology of any description.

Photo of Nigel Griffiths Nigel Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

I should not have to tell the hon. Lady that mercenaries need equipment and technology; they thrive on it. They do not generally go around using their bare hands; they are well armed. It is clear from the examples that we have been given of websites and from advertisements that people will not train in America without the equipment that the hon. Member for Salisbury mentioned. It is important to note that people provide services, and mercenaries provide a despicable service that requires an infrastructure. We got a flavour of the infrastructure of terrorism from the hon. Gentleman's contribution.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

I must press the Minister on this issue. I said in my opening remarks that the actions of 11 September were carried out by trained men—we can call them mercenaries or whatever we like—who used their bare hands and perhaps Stanley knives. That is the point that Conservative Members are trying to make in the amendments.

Photo of Nigel Griffiths Nigel Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

I think that the hon. Lady said that Stanley knives were used, and the record will show that, but I do not want to get into the particulars of that tragic case when I know that the Americans and others are investigating it. However, as the hon. Member for Salisbury and the hon. Lady rightly said, private military companies and mercenaries are the subject of a forthcoming Green Paper, which will set out the options for their regulation. In the Bill, we are trying to provide the Government with powers to ensure that we can put in place an export control regime that meets the challenge posed by the modern world. That is why we are acting in concert with the European Union, the United Nations and the various international export control regimes, such as the missile technology control regime.

The controls will be introduced on technical assistance and will derive from international obligations. That is the only way to make them fully effective. If members of the Committee believe that a framework of controls such as has existed hitherto was in any way competent to meet the crisis that we witnessed during the past few weeks, they are mistaken. The reason for the changes is to try to tighten controls on armaments technology and on methods of transferring technology, and to starve mercenary groups of illegal traders and brokers involved in breaching embargoes of the necessary resources. That is what the framework is all about.

Photo of Nigel Griffiths Nigel Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

As the hon. Gentleman will know, that is a matter on which the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office will take the lead. He raised the matter with the Home Secretary yesterday, and I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will have read his comments as well and will be happy to respond as soon as a date is known.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

I am grateful for the support of the hon. Member for Richmond Park, who has a long track record on the subject. I was especially interested in what she said on police, security and paramilitary activity, about which we have a blind spot in this country because we do not have a paramilitary police force, unlike almost every other European nation. If one visits Kosovo—as I have several times—one will see amazing work carried out not only by the regular and reserve forces, but by the Ministry of Defence police. Our soldiers are not policemen, but we do not have paramilitaries. The MOD police—a regular armed service—perform the function that paramilitaries would perform elsewhere.

I considered that the subject was a little wide of the mark, and that I would have pushed my luck if I had introduced it for debate. However, I pricked up my ears in the Chamber yesterday when the Home Secretary said that he would seek to reintroduce the clauses on the MOD police in the Armed Forces Bill, the passage of which was not completed due to the general election. He also said that he would go further and introduce legislation to extend the jurisdiction of, for example, the British Transport police. That is long overdue, as long as it is done in the right way.

Of course, there are drafting issues in relation to my amendment. As I have said, I am not a lawyer, but I have done my best. The Minister will not be surprised to hear that I was disappointed when he said that some provisions in the amendments were not necessary. It is astonishing for a Minister to say that it is not necessary for such legislation to cover mercenaries.

The Minister also said that mercenaries were despicable, but I do not think that they need be so. This country has a long record, lasting hundreds of years, of use of mercenaries. The private forces of the East India Company were not despicable. Some consider the Gurkhas to have started as mercenaries, and they are certainly not despicable. It is unregulated mercenaries who are despicable, and they can cause havoc. I have been motivated to urge for regulation, although I do not normally like regulation as a political philosophy. It would be of great assistance on the issue to this country and elsewhere.

The Minister was unable to answer the question about when there would be a Green Paper, but I do not blame him for that. He has had a very sticky wicket this morning, which he has played with competence; I am grateful to him for that. I am sure that the Government will reconsider the situation and I will do my best to ensure that they do. However, the Minister seems to think that his legislation conforms with and answers the Council joint action on the control of technical assistance, which I quoted at the beginning, and which, as the hon. Member for Richmond Park said, specifically includes instruction, training, the transmission of working knowledge of skills and consulting services, and includes all forms of assistance. The legislation does not conform with that. It omits the whole area and that is why I must, with considerable regret, seek to divide the Committee on this issue.

We shall return to this issue again and again and I have a sneaking feeling, reading Labour Members' body language and listening to Opposition Members' contributions, that the Committee is uncomfortable with the Government's position on the matter. It is all happening very quickly, but on this occasion I cannot give the Government the benefit of the doubt—that would be quite wrong. I want to make it clear that many people outside the House as well as inside it will be observing carefully the Government's decision not to allow the amendment.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

If the amendments, including amendment No. 55, were to be included in the Bill, how would that be more efficacious than the failed 19th century Act to which the hon. Gentleman referred?

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

It should be very clear that the details that are laid before the hon. Gentleman bear absolutely no relation to that earlier Act. However, the hon. Gentleman is doing his best to support the Government's insupportable position. I commend him for his loyalty—no doubt he will have a job quite soon. However, that does not alter the fact that the Government are omitting to take advantage of an opportunity, which will be widely noted both inside and outside the House. I therefore seek to divide the Committee on the matter.

Photo of Nigel Griffiths Nigel Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

I am happy to make a final attempt to persuade the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment by answering some of his points directly. I can assure him that all aspects of the EU joint action can and will be implemented under the Bill through the powers under clause 4 on technical assistance and those under clause 2 on technology transfers. I have just heard that an announcement on the publication of the Green Paper is expected in the House soon.

I did not say that the control of mercenaries was unnecessary. My point was that the Government have been holding consultations on the issue, but that it is not a matter for this Bill. This is not the Bill for regulating mercenary activity; it is a framework for ensuring that we have proper control of the export of arms and the technologies associated with them for the 21st century, which is why the wording is as broad as possible. I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment and wait and see what the Green Paper on mercenaries proposes. He should look to that for proper legislation on mercenary activity.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

The ``not me guv'' answer will not do. I regret very much that we have seen so little commitment. As for inviting us to wait a little longer for the Green Paper, that takes the biscuit, and I am afraid that it does not change my mind in seeking to divide the Committee.

Photo of Mr Bill Tynan Mr Bill Tynan Labour, Hamilton South

If the amendment were successful, would that mean that we would not require a Green Paper on the issue of mercenaries?

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

If there had been any suggestion from the Minister that he was prepared to take the amendment away, consult widely on it or do whatever he liked with it, but with a commitment to come back with a firm proposal to include mercenaries in the Bill, I would have withdrawn the amendment. However, he did not and he has missed his chance.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 10.

Division number 2 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 4 - Controls on provision of technical assistance overseas

Aye: 5 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.