Press Notice 05, Session 2006-07

GOVERNMENT CONTROLS ON ARMS EXPORTS ARE IMPROVING BUT NEED CONSTANT UPDATING.

The DTI's (now the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform's) 2007 Review of Government Strategic Exports Legislation has been largely praised by the Quadripartite Committee as a constructive process that has addressed many of the issues which the Committee has raised over several years. But the challenge of increased globalisation of the defence industry, the fast pace of technological development, changing proliferation patterns and the threat from terrorists mean that any gaps in the legislation could have serious consequences for the UK. The Committee calls on the Government to use the Review to plug the holes in the controls on arms exported from the UK and to keep a tight grip on those trafficking and brokering arms between countries outside the UK.

Commenting on the Consultation Document, Roger Berry, Chair of the Quadripartite Committee, said, " The Government is to be commended for producing a thoughtful and responsive document which sets out options for improvements. I urge everyone with an interest in arms exports and in preventing weapons falling into the wrong hands to contribute to the consultation exercise and submit their views to the Government by 30 September".

The Quadripartite Committee encompasses the Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees and looks to scrutinise the work of the Government's strategic export control system and policies.

The Committee's main concern with the Review is that it ignores the fact that strategic export controls rely on Government-wide cooperation and communication. The Consultation Document does not, for example, mention how HM Revenue and Customs fits into the legislation even though it is HMRC who enforce strategic export controls. The Committee wants to see more vigorous prosecution of those who break export controls and has called on the Sentencing Guidelines Council to review the level of fines and punishment. Few cases end up in courts and the sentences imposed can be simply treated as overhead costs rather than as meaningful deterrents. Chairman of the Committee, Roger Berry MP says, " The Committee was surprised that the Consultation Document does not say more about enforcement. The penalties the authorities can issue range all the way from administrative measures such as warning letters to prosecution with a maximum of ten years jail. But in serious cases it can be very difficult to obtain evidence from abroad to put before the British courts and those cases that go to court can result in fines worth only a fraction of the goods seized. The enforcement arrangements lack a strong deterrent."

Having expressed concern about the enforcement of controls at arms fairs and exhibitions in the UK last year the Committee received further evidence from the journalist Mark Thomas. He informed the Committee of a fair he had attended where a Chinese company was openly selling items of torture - namely electronic stun guns. HMRC was not present at the exhibition. Chairman of the Committee, Roger Berry MP says, " We have serious concerns about arms fairs held in the UK and so we need to see HMRC attending more of these events - physically patrolling during opening hours, inspecting the goods being displayed and putting difficult questions to those on stalls to ensure that export controls are not being breached."

The Committee has been concerned for many years with the problems of trafficking and brokering of arms, both by people in the UK and by British nationals abroad. When the Government was drafting the legislation four years ago the Committee called the rules "an inadequate halfway house". Currently there is a requirement to have a licence for arms trading only if you are trading certain weapons, for example missiles with ranges greater than 300km. But licenses are not needed to trade in missiles with shorter ranges or in small arms, which statistically cause the most deaths. The Committee asks that the Government to require all residents in the UK, and British citizens overseas, to obtain trade control licences, or be covered by a general licence, before engaging in any trade in weapons. This way people would need a license to trade in such items as small arms.

A gap in the current legislation has been identified where businesses based outside the UK produce goods under an agreement with a UK company or has a UK company as its parent. The Committee is keen to see legislation which ensures that the goods produced by such businesses do not find themselves being exported to countries or end-users where the UK would not licence them. Roger Berry, Chair of the Quadripartite, said, " The current controls over licensed production overseas are inadequate and need to be extended to cover not just products with an easily recognisable military end use. The UK Working Group on Arms gave us the example of Turkish supplied and built Land Rover Defender vehicles being used in the notorious Andijan massacre in Uzbekistan in 2005. This graphically demonstrates the particular challenges thrown up by inadequately regulated licensed production agreements".

The report also highlights the problem with "re-exporting", where goods exported from UK are then exported again-sometime years later-to countries under arms embargo. A number of NGOs have recently reported on a proposed transfer to Burma of a military helicopter containing components and technology from as many as six European Union countries, including the UK, that threatens to undermine an EU arms embargo on Burma. The Committee recommends that it should become a standard requirement of licensing that export contracts for goods on the Military List should contain a clause preventing re-export to a destination subject to UN or EU embargo.

In conclusion, Roger Berry MP, Chair of the Quadripartite, said, " The new Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform's 2007 Review of Export Control Legislation is an opportunity to stand back and look at the changes in strategic export controls since the 1990s. As a result of the Export Control Act 2002, and the secondary legislation made under it, the UK now has generally efficient and reliable export controls. The volume and quality of information that the Government provides about strategic export controls has improved considerably in the past ten years and we hope will continue to improve."

FURTHER INFORMATION:

1. The Quadripartite Committee consists of four participating Committees that work together to examine the Government's strategic export control system and policies. The Committees involved are: Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry. The Chair for these meetings is Roger Berry MP, who is a member of the Trade and Industry Committee.

2. The Quadripartite Committee's main job is to review Government policy on licensing arms exports and licensing decisions. Each year the Government produces an annual report on Strategic Export Controls which the Committee scrutinizes, although this year the Committee will also comment on the Government's review of export control legislation.

3. For practical reasons four Members of each Committee have been nominated to attend the Quadripartite Committee, who are as follows:
Trade and Industry Committee: Roger Berry MP (Chair of Quadripartite Committee) (Labour); Mr Lindsay Hoyle MP (Labour); Peter Luff MP (Conservative); Judy Mallaber MP (Labour);
Defence Committee: Mr David S Borrow MP (Labour); Mr David Crausby MP (Labour); Linda Gilroy (Labour); Robert Key MP (Conservative);
Foreign Affairs Committee: Mike Gapes MP (Labour); Mr Fabian Hamilton MP (Labour); Mr Paul Keetch MP (Liberal Democrat); Rt Hon Sir John Stanley MP (Conservative);
International Development Committee: John Bercow MP (Conservative); Malcolm Bruce MP (Liberal Democrat); Richard Burden MP (Labour); James Duddridge MP (Conservative)

4. More information on the Quadripartite Committee's work can be found on the Committee's website at: http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/quad.cfm

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