[Janet Anderson in the Chair] — Strategic Export Controls

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:47 pm on 22nd February 2007.

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Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley 3:47 pm, 22nd February 2007

I am pleased to speak in the debate, and I too pay tribute to our Chairman, my hon. Friend Roger Berry. He manages to chair what could be considered an unwieldy Quadripartite Committee effectively, and he opened the debate with a clear analysis of the main points in our report and the issues that we want to raise. I am also grateful to our Clerk for the support that he provides.

I am pleased to follow Sir John Stanley. Although I have come here with lots of bits of paper, which I shall refer to, I shall be neither as clear my hon. Friend nor as forensic in my analysis and questioning as the right hon. Gentleman. He gave an excellent speech, and I particularly endorse his questions about cluster bombs.

As a relatively new member of the Committee, I shall provide some impressions as to why my experience on it during this period has been so fascinating, interesting and important. Before I entered the Chamber, I spoke to a senior—and, to me, respected—female Member of Parliament, who, when I described what I was going to speak about, was not as clear as I might have expected in knowing of the Committee's existence and of its work. She was impressed by the extent of what we are doing and by how fascinating it is, but that is perhaps a lesson for members of the Quadripartite Committee and for Ministers that we should talk more about what we do.

Two things have really crystallised some of the issues we raised during the past year. The first was the group of school pupils that I met from Oxford, and the other was to see the situation from the other end as one of the international monitors of the first democratic elections for 40 years in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I went twice last year, and it really brought home to me some of the issues of arms trading: smuggling; the connection between brokers, business and militias; state control, or lack of it; the use of natural resources; and the complicated connections between those areas that make this such a difficult subject to get a handle on or gain control over.

I emphasise again the critical issue of brokers. We must ensure that we do something about that and bring the whole range of weapons within the process. There has been an arms embargo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for many years, but that makes one realise just how important brokering is, and how important it is to include the whole range of weapons. The weapons we are talking about include small arms, Kalashnikovs and grenades—those at the smaller end of the market. If we are not dealing with that, we ought to be.

I may refer later to "Blood Diamond", the film that has been out recently. It has had mixed reviews—some say that it is honourable, others say that it is too glib—but it highlights a lot of the issues for people who would not necessarily know about them. Leonardo DiCaprio plays, I think, an Australian who is a broker trading diamonds for guns. He turns out to be a good guy at the end, but perhaps the film will bring home to a wider public some of the issues and complications. We are not covering the way in which weapons get into countries through small-time brokers by ensuring that they are registered, or by getting some sort of grip on that process. This huge trade causes massive trauma, dislocation, death and horror to countries such as the DRC and others. The film that I have referred to is set in Sierra Leone, which has the most horrendous history of arms use in conflict and of arms coming into the country. It is essential that we extend what we are talking about to include brokering and the range of weapons covered.

On 14 February, I was heartened to read that the Secretary of State for International Development had said in an interview in the Financial Times that there would be a forthcoming review of the Export Control Act 2002, which would examine whether UK controls on international arms brokers who act as go-betweens in weapons deals should be extended. I welcome that review, but like my colleagues, I say that the only thing that we need to do is examine the reports and recommendations of the Quadripartite Committee. They comprise a quite sufficient review, and I hope that Ministers will take on board our recommendations, which are fairly clear.

If the Minister wants to consider something else, he can look at the December 2004 report by the all-party parliamentary group on the great lakes region, which looked at arms flows in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. It highlights many of those issues, so if the Minister wants a bit more evidence than that provided by the Quadripartite Committee, he can consider it as well. I hope that Ministers will endorse our recommendations. It is critical that they do that, and it is extremely important to ensure that those issues are included in the international arms trade treaty.

I mentioned that I was very struck by meeting the school pupils from Oxford—I cannot remember the name of the school. Anyone who saw the Mark Thomas television programme would have seen a 16 or 17-year-old pupil calmly phoning up, after getting a contact through the internet, to say, "I am the finance director of this company", then going on through a bargaining process to buy weapons. It was a chilling experience to see how easy it was for someone, who must have sounded very young on the phone, to order such awful weapons. I was slightly alarmed to see that my hon. Friend the Minister for Science and Innovation was displayed holding an horrific Chinese sting stick weapon in front of the television cameras on College green, because I thought that we may be getting him into trouble.

The programme also showed pupils in Ireland, where different controls operate on either side of the border. As I recall, it also alleged that the Republic was looking at what more it could do on arms control issues, which brings in the international dimension that we need to take on board. For me, it brought home the fact that such potential gaps in our controls exist, and I am concerned that it has taken an investigative journalist to begin probing them. I hope that the Committee's recommendations will be taken on board by the Government, although we recognise the huge difficulties in clamping down on this horrendous trade.

I have referred to the all-party parliamentary group report on arms flows in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. I went there last year for the extremely important elections. There is now the potential for peace in one of the most conflict-stricken regions of the world—a huge country in the centre of Africa, which had six neighbouring countries traipsing over it. It was Africa's world war, and four million people died in the civil war there. During the period in which the report was written, while the all-party group conducted research on the way in which arms flow in and out of that country, there was theoretically an arms embargo.

In the report, we see the way in which the worst of all those involved in conflict from the neighbouring countries traded natural resources for guns in order to get weapons into the country, which then fuelled the conflict. The report highlights a number of the ways in which brokers operate in that situation. At that point, there was a transitional Government moving towards elections, and it was highlighted that in order to have a peace process, it was essential that the international community did what it could to ensure that no more arms got into the hands of the rebels in the DRC. One of the most important things was that human rights should be at the core of all Governments' export controls. We have recommended that that should be incorporated into the terms of reference of, and the whole philosophy behind, the international arms trade treaty. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of Commons, who was then Foreign Secretary, welcomed the report of the all-party group and said:

"It is clear that the flow of arms in the volatile Great Lakes region adds to insecurity and hampers international efforts to bring about a durable peace."

The group of experts also welcomed and used the report.

When I was in the DRC for the second round of elections, I was going up on the eastern side of the Congo, from Kindu in the province of Maniema. We visited a group of women who came to welcome us with wonderful Swahili songs. Some years ago, they had been moved further and further away from where they were by conflict involving one of the rebel groups, the Mai-Mai, who had burnt them out of their homes. To get the women out of their homes, that group had used the sort of weapons that come in through the processes that I have mentioned. It had raped, pillaged, threatened and caused conflict, death and trauma.

One of the problems we had in getting the children of those women educated, as part of our international goal of getting children into education, is that they are now so far away from anywhere, with hardly any transport links, that they cannot even go to school until they are of an age where they can walk the necessary distance. That is the case partly because rebel groups had obtained arms that they used to threaten and disperse people as part of that conflict. Those things are interconnected. The report states:

"arms networks are controlled by businessmen whose interests coincide with those of combatants."

Arms and ammunition are smuggled in and out, but that process is financed by businessmen. There is a connection between business, natural resources, armed militia, official militia, armies and conflict and death. It is incredibly difficult to break those links.

The way in which armed groups in neighbouring countries to the DRC were flowing in and out prevented the state from exercising control in the eastern part of the country. The report said:

"Instead, control is wielded by mafia-type organisations, private armies, businessmen and state elites from both within and outside the region."

The Congolese war economy revolves primarily around two things: the transnational trade in arms and the trade in natural resources. Deals are struck between influential businessmen, politicians and high-ranking military officers on one side, and multinationals on the other. Minerals and diamonds go out and arms come in, through deals with businessmen and the brokerage that we are discussing. It is a complex trade, and part of the problem is that the conflict is over control of the natural resources, which are used to pay for the weapons to continue the conflict. We have to try to break that connection, but if we say that we are not going to deal with brokerage—the Leonardo DiCaprio character in "Blood Diamond"—or say that it is important, we will not be able to do so. If we do not look at how the trade operates, we will not tackle the problem.

In the case of the DRC, weapons enter the conflict zone primarily from Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro through Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, often via official networks. As part of any international arms trade treaty, we will also need to give assistance to some of those interim countries to get a grip on that trade. That will be a complex task, but it is important to consider the mechanisms for that as part of the international arms trade treaty. The all-party group's report was done by a Belgian-based international think tank called the International Peace Information Service or IPIS. Although there is an arms embargo, there is evidence that the trade is continuing through eastern Europe and those other countries into the DRC. The issues that we need to take up to ensure that UK individuals and companies are not trading should also feed into the international treaty in relation to the other countries that are involved.

As we know, the issues are complex and quite hard for us to get to grips with, but it is important that we deal with them. However, I was heartened that the officials we met to discuss the international arms trade treaty took that on board. For instance, we wanted to ensure a big human rights dimension within the philosophy of the international arms trade treaty. The minimum standards to prevent arms sales might include not exacerbating existing conflicts or aiding the commission of human rights abuses, but I also suggested including the relationship between financial exploitation and the exploitation of human resources and how that is used to finance trade. It should be important that we know how the trade is financed and where the money comes from. One of the officials to whom we spoke said that the proposed inclusion of brokering in the treaty—a heartening comment—would expose the financial transactions behind many elicit transfers of arms. It important that we make those connections.

I would like those issues to be within the international arms trade treaty, as well as the connected issue of good governance. The Government are trying to give considerable assistance to the new Government and Parliament in the DRC on good governance. The issue is critical, because states must have the ability to control their own borders and natural resources. They must also have the willingness and the desire to do that in the first place, which is a problem, but good governance is important. I hope that that will also be fed into the principles of the international arms trade treaty.

In "Blood Diamond", the broker ended up becoming the good guy, going from Sierra Leone to giving evidence to something that became the Kimberley process. Under that process, everybody in this country must ensure that the diamonds that they go out to buy—even through apparently respectable sources—have not come from a conflict zone, where they might have been used to purchase weapons. I hope that everybody in this country will ensure that they know where any diamonds that they are about to buy have come from and how they have been financed. It should be a criteria in the international arms trade treaty that people know where the money comes from to do the deals in weapons, because those connections lead to such horrendous, appalling conflict and trauma.

The DRC is undergoing the first International Criminal Court trial of one of the warlords, Thomas Lubanga, who is being indicted for recruiting child soldiers, which is a horrendous problem in all those countries. Again, he could have got the weapons only through some fairly unsavoury trade. We need to ensure that the mechanisms that finance and service that trade are fed into the work that we do, and that we consider the issue of brokerage in both the international arms trade treaty and the work that we do in controlling our own citizens. I do not know whether our citizens have been involved in that evil trade. It is perfectly possible, but at the moment we do not necessarily have the will-power, knowledge or commitment to try to take that on board, difficult as it is.

I am pleased to have been a member of the Quadripartite Committee. The process is absolutely fascinating, and I hope that we shall be able to do much more good work. I urge Ministers to take on board the useful recommendations in our report. I thank my fellow members of the Committee, our Chairman and our Clerk for the work that has been done. I look forward to carrying on that work in the future.