Graham Stuart – 2019 Speech on Exiting the European Union (Customs)

Below is the text of the speech made by Graham Stuart, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, in the House of Commons on 8 April 2019.

I beg to move,

That the draft Trade in Torture etc. Goods (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 15 March, be approved.

I am pleased to be able to open this debate on the regulations. These regulations amend provisions of regulation (EU) No. 2019/125 of 16 January 2019 concerning trade in certain goods that could be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The EU regulation divides these goods into three distinct categories. First, I will begin by explaining to the House that the regulation prohibits the import and export of goods that have no practical use other than capital punishment or torture. These goods include, among other things: gallows; guillotines; electric chairs; airtight vaults; electric shock devices intended to be worn on the body; cuffs for restraining human beings that are designed to be anchored to a wall; batons and shields with metal spikes; and whips with barbs, hooks and spikes. These are appalling instruments of torture, and the Government have a clear position that the trade in such goods from the United Kingdom is absolutely unacceptable. Their export and import are prohibited, and the only exception to this rule is if the items are to be displayed publicly in a museum.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab)

What discussions has the Minister had with his EU counterparts, for example, about how we will enforce these regulations when we leave?

Graham Stuart

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. The aim of these regulations is to transpose the existing system, which is reliant on EU law, into purely UK law. However, he rightly identifies the issue of co-operation with other countries in the EU. We will have our own discrete regime. We have no intention of making changes to it. We will be looking to co-operate with our colleagues in the EU—and beyond—in making sure that these appalling goods are not trafficked around the world.

Secondly, the regulation imposes controls on the trade in specified goods that have legitimate uses—for example, in law enforcement—but that also carry a risk of being used for torture. These goods with potential torture application include oversized handcuffs, shackles, gang chains, spit hoods, electric shock dart guns and pepper sprays.

The third category involves those goods listed in annexe IV of the EU regulation. The annexe lists several short-acting and intermediate-acting barbiturate anaesthetic agents such as amobarbital, pentobarbital and secobarbital. These goods have a legitimate use in medicine, in research laboratories and in university chemistry departments, but they have also been approved for use—and, in some countries, actually used—either on their own or as part of a cocktail of drugs for execution by lethal injection. We will not help any country with capital punishment, and we will continue to lobby against and seek to influence countries that continue the practice, with a ​view to ending capital punishment. We do not license the export of these barbiturate products to countries that have not abolished the death penalty without an end-user assurance that they will not be used for capital punishment, and we will not do so after EU exit.

All of us will have the immediate reaction that it is terrible that the UK should ever be involved in the trade of any goods that could be used for capital punishment or torture. I am confident that we can all agree that the United Kingdom does not want to be a country that makes its living trading in such possible tools of torture. These goods have been controlled by European Union regulations for well over a decade, and the United Kingdom intends to carry on with those controls in a similar way. Let me reassure the House that exports from this country of such goods have been minimal over the past decade, averaging 10 licences per year, and we do not expect that to change. The types of goods exported under licence include handcuffs for prison service use and pepper sprays for use by the police in places such as the Crown dependencies, Australia and New Zealand. We have also licensed barbiturate anaesthetic agents for medicinal use and laboratory testing. The quantities are low, and the export value is small. We do not envisage any growth in exports of those goods after EU exit.

Let me be clear about the purpose of these amending regulations. In their absence, existing European Union law would not be effective in UK domestic law on the day we exit the European Union, and our ability to control these goods would be undermined. After EU exit, this legislation will enable the Secretary of State to control the export from the UK of the listed goods that could be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. As far as is possible, the legislation will operate as it does now, but controls on the goods will apply when they are exported from the UK rather than from the EU.

I do not believe that UK exporters want to be involved in a trade in torture goods, and I do not believe that these are the sorts of goods that UK businesses want to make, sell or export. Nevertheless, our export controls have an important part to play in promoting and ensuring global security, by controlling the goods that leave our shores. The Government have a responsibility to be prepared for any exit-day scenario, and we need to ensure that these controls continue to function properly. These exit-related regulations are just a part of the necessary legislative building blocks to ensure readiness on exit day.

The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 enables a functioning statute book on exit day by providing Ministers with the tools to deal with deficiencies in domestic law arising as a result of our exit from the European Union. These regulations thus take another step towards completing the legislative part of controlling the export of strategic goods in preparation for a no-deal exit scenario. The Department for International Trade will continue to work to provide detailed advice and guidance about export controls and trade sanctions through EU exit and beyond. If these regulations are no longer required on exit day, we expect to revoke or amend them. Alternatively, commencement could be deferred to the end of an implementation period.

I want to take this opportunity to remind the House that these regulations are solely about preparing for European Union exit and ensuring that we have a ​functioning statute book in any scenario. These amendments must happen because of EU exit, but EU exit is not happening because of these amendments. Parliament needs to ensure that the existing controls remain in place. Negotiations about the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union or the wider world are a separate matter. They play no part in this debate today. Broadly, all the provisions applying to exports from the EU customs territory today will instead apply to exports from the UK. For this reason, the Government have made every effort to provide certainty for businesses and the public wherever possible. There is no new marketing opportunity for the export of the tools of torture.

In August last year, we published a technical notice on export controls that explained our plans for post-EU exit export control licences. We will use our “Notices to Exporters”, which has 20,000 subscribers, to advise and communicate with UK businesses. We have also included EU exit advice in the export control training programme and at the annual export control symposium, as well as giving extensive advice to key sector trade associations.

I hope that the House will work in the interests of the nation to ensure the passage of this legislation, which is essential to ensuring we are prepared for EU exit and that we continue the ban on the trade in torture goods and the control over the trade in goods with the potential for torture application. I commend the motion to the House.