[Janet Anderson in the Chair] — Strategic Export Controls

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:43 pm on 22nd February 2007.

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Photo of Roger Berry Roger Berry Labour, Kingswood 2:43 pm, 22nd February 2007

I welcome that intervention.

The issue mentioned by my hon. Friend Richard Burden raises the question of the extent to which the Government are prepared to monitor end use. What matters above all else in the arms trade is end use, or what military equipment ends up doing. Whom is it used against? In defence of whom is it deployed? End use is everything; it is the only thing that matters.

The Committee has therefore consistently argued—it has been unanimous on this across the parties—that an effective arms export control policy must take end- use monitoring seriously. This year, we again recommended that the Government establish

"a pilot programme of end-use monitoring focusing on cases where it has identified some degree of risk...when considering an application".

The United States has the Blue Lantern scheme, and other countries try to monitor end use.

We cannot understand why the Government have rejected our recommendation again this year, on the grounds—yes, hon. Members will have guessed it—that

"there is no substitute for a rigorous assessment"— assessment on a case-by-case basis—

"of any proposed export at the time of application."

Of course the assessment carried out at the time of the application for an export licence is critical, and the Government are right to emphasise that it is fundamental to get that right, but that does not deal with the monitoring of end use. The Government can grant export licences rigorously and on a case-by-case basis only where they believe that the end use will carry no risk, but they cannot guarantee that there will be no diversion—that none of the arms licensed to an appropriate end user will not be diverted.

There have been examples of diversion, and the reason why the Government no longer take Israeli Government assurances on arms exports into account is that UK equipment has been observed being used in the occupied territories. All that the Committee is saying is that we should take end-use monitoring more seriously because of the problem of diversion. It is not an alternative to rigorous case-by-case assessment of licence applications at the point of application, but additional to that assessment in sensitive areas.

I have just two final points, because I am aware that many hon. Members wish to speak. On a happier note, the Government can thus far take enormous credit for the international arms trade treaty. I remember when the campaign to establish the treaty was launched in the House in 2003. Amnesty International and other non-governmental organisations organised the launch; I hosted it and a Minister spoke at it. There is now a consensus that, however good the Government are at controlling arms exports from the UK, and however good the European Union is at doing so through EU arrangements, the ultimate objective must be an international regime to control the arms trade. The treaty is therefore necessary and important.

The report identifies several features that we would like incorporated into the treaty, although given the time that I have left, I shall not go through them in much detail. One is that the treaty should cover trade in all conventional arms, including dual-use goods, and that there should be an effective and transparent monitoring and enforcement mechanism. Again, the monitoring and enforcement of the policy is central.

I should add that I am grateful to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for providing members of the Committee with an informal oral briefing on 7 February, and I congratulate FCO officials on the progress that they are making on the arms trade treaty. I am pleased to say that one of the things for which they are pushing is, interestingly, the effective monitoring and enforcement of the treaty. That is great news and we celebrate it. We have been saying that the issue should be given greater priority in the UK, and we are pleased to hear that the Government believe that it should also be given greater priority internationally. In all seriousness, however, I applaud the Foreign Office for its work on the issue. It is to be commended because it is essential to preventing lives from being lost as a result of inappropriate arms trading.

My final point relates to this year's review of the arms Export Control Act 2002. It is five years since the Act was introduced and three or four years since it came into operation, and there is to be a review this year. The Committee has argued that that gives us an excellent opportunity to take stock and look at the loopholes or deficiencies—however one wishes to describe them—in the current procedures, and I have referred to some of them. In particular, we face the challenge of increasing globalisation in the defence industry, so this is an excellent opportunity to look at whether further changes need to be made.

The Government have kindly welcomed the input of the Committee, which has been seeking views since the autumn from those with an interest in the matter. We shall have a couple of works outings over the next couple of months, including one to the Export Control Organisation in March and one to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in April. We shall be able to explore some of the issues on our works outings, and what we see on the ground might influence our views about the review of the legislation.

The Government have given the Committee the draft terms of reference for the review. It appears to be wide-ranging and I welcome that, but I hope that in some areas—perhaps the more controversial ones, in which the Government are not convinced by the Committee's views—they may consider some independent research. There are issues on which year after year, unanimously, on a cross-party basis, we have identified problems. If the Government still do not accept our arguments, there are some areas, such as those that I have mentioned this afternoon, on which independent research would be helpful.

In conclusion, the Government have made progress in recent years and the Committee has acknowledged that. I have outlined some of the concerns that remain and my colleagues and other hon. Members present will no doubt refer to others. However, the concerns that I have mentioned are serious, not marginal. I may on occasion have lapsed into humour; I sometimes try to do so when I am becoming slightly hysterical about the absurdity of circumstances—but these are serious matters. The points that I am raising are not about just tweaking bits of the Act. In areas such as arms brokering and trafficking, the loopholes, in the Committee's view, must be addressed. I hope that the review of the 2002 Act this year will enable those and other serious loopholes to be plugged as soon as possible.