On the 10th June 2016 the Bishop of Derby, Rt Revd Alastair Redfern spoke during the Second Reading debate of Baroness Jolly’s Register of Arms Brokers Bill. The Bishop drew parallels with similar work he had undertaking in the area of supply chain transparency during the passage of the Modern Slavery Act.
The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I rise to support the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, and to make three simple points about why this such a powerful and necessary case. First, it builds upon existing legislation about licensing and export control, so we have a set of criteria and an assessment process in place so that all companies involved are scrutinised and licensed. We are doing the work that would provide the register. So the principle of identifying and monitoring arms brokers is established.
Secondly, there has been a recommendation from the House of Commons Committees on Arms Export Controls that the Government establish a register of UK arms brokers. So besides having a principle of identifying and licensing brokers, even in our own parliamentary system there has been some expert scrutiny of that principle and a recommendation that it is taken forward to a formal system of registration.
My third point comes from my recent experience of being involved in the crafting and implementation of the Modern Slavery Act, both on the Joint Select Committee and as it now unfolds. In the language of that world, which is analogous, there is the issue of what is called supply-chain transparency: how people trade and make it transparent for the benefit of all concerned, pushing back against temptations towards corruption.
We all know that there is pressure on business for low margins and quick wins. There are fast-moving economic transactions that are blurred by the complexities of crossing the boundaries of different jurisdictions. In all that complexity, there is enormous opportunity for serious crime, which is one of the most powerful economic disturbers and causes of enormous upset on the international stage. We have to have ways of being vigilant in order to identify and challenge corrupt and illegal practice and to create the space for good practice to develop. That requires, I think, public identification and registration of companies so that they can be properly accountable. When you have a registration system—as we are trying to establish with companies about employment and the fight against slavery—it allows people to name, compare and be proud of good practice. Companies can benefit by being part of a registration system and showing that they want to be models of good practice.
I am sure that arms brokers, like many industries in a complex, international world, will be subject to the temptations, pressures and opportunities that serious crime presents. Certainly, with the fight against slavery, we find that the more there can be public identification and accountability of operators, the more chance there is of consolidating good practice, identifying bad practice and pursuing those responsible for it in a proper way. I think that we owe that to our Government and our citizens, and I hope that this Bill will make good progress.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Neville-Rolfe) (Con): [extract] My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, for bringing this matter to the attention of the House today. I congratulate her on being number three in the ballot and on her thoughtful opening speech. She and I worked together on my first Bill as a Minister, the Consumer Rights Bill, and I learned a lot from her. I am also glad to see her so well supported by her fellow Peers today, and to hear in particular from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, whose comments about the principle of legislative brevity I agree with wholeheartedly—although this is in fact a rather wide-ranging Bill, as I will come to explain, with some problems. This is of course an issue which raises emotions, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, made very clear in his contribution. I am delighted that the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, is here. He rightly struck a sceptical note about the Bill, which he did from a degree of experience—both his own and that of people he has consulted……
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, whose intervention was extremely thoughtful, asked about transparency. The UK publishes details of all export and trade licences granted, refused or revoked. These are published annually and quarterly. Publishing names may have commercial sensitivity issues, but there is a degree of transparency there which I regard as very important…..
In summary, the Bill could lead to a disproportionate impact on a surprisingly wide range of industries and businesses, and introduce powers that we do not believe are needed and could entail administrative costs and problems. We prefer, as I think I have made clear, to base our approach on a system of licensing controls which takes account of relevant risks by means of a thorough pre-licensing assessment. We believe that our current system is sufficiently robust and that we have the legislative powers to take further action if the situation changes.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, whom I thank for his support, talked about the Modern Slavery Act, and the parallels there, which was really quite interesting. He talked about supply chain transparency, which is very much what the Bill is calling for. With modern slavery and arms-broking, when things are done illegally, you have the opportunity for crime, but also for people to make very big money. That is one of the issues here.
He also mentioned good practice. One thing that we would call for is for training for arms brokers in various instances, so good practice can be exemplified. My noble friend Lady Smith of Newnham talked about a fit and proper person. We should not really baulk at fit and proper people. FTSE boards are now called upon to have fit and proper people sit on them, and you cannot be a charity trustee without being deemed fit and proper. Arms brokers should not be excluded from that……
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.