The Committees on Arms Export Controls (formerly the Quadripartite Committee)

1 August 2006


The Commons Quadripartite Committee set up to examine strategic exports controls - that is arms and weapons exports by UK firms - today publishes a report welcoming what has been achieved in the area of strategic export control, but noting with concern a number of possible gaps in the system.

The Committee took evidence directly from Foreign Office Minister, Kim Howells, from Malcolm Wicks, the Minister responsible for licensing arms exports and, for the first time, from the Revenue and Customs departments, which are responsible for investigating alleged breaches of UK export control legislation. The Committee found there is little or no proactive policing of the Internet for companies promoting or pursuing business in breach of arms export controls:

“the Government’s response to the challenge of the Internet as an arms emporium is too passive and fails to take account of the role it now plays in promoting and facilitating commerce and exports across the world”

The Committee also had concerns about the activities of some companies at arms fairs, particularly their sales literature:

“within the defence industry there are contractors who, either through ignorance or deliberate intent, breach the rules on strategic exports and that the authorities need to seek out these breaches and the perpetrators. We recommend that, as well as providing guidance and attending arms fairs, the Government actively seeks out breaches of export controls at arms fairs”

And the Committee failed to find any arm of government regulating the electronic transfer of technical information from the UK to overseas, the so-called intangible transfers. 

The Committee also calls for two key changes to tighten controls.  The current law regulates UK persons abroad trading in missiles with a range of more than 300 kilometres as well as torture equipment, or trading to an embargoed destination. But it does not cover trading in missiles with a range below 300 kilometres.

The Committee found the rules in need of review:

“no logical case can be made for including some controlled goods within the Government’s extra-territorial control on brokering and trafficking whilst excluding others”.

The Committee also calls for registration of all arms brokers operating from within the UK.

The Committee also has some concerns about the operation of export controls on “dual-use” goods-items that have both a civilian and a military use. With tighter controls on the export of military goods there is a risk that those who cannot obtain arms by legitimate routes will turn to dual-use items.  Controls on dual-use exports are crucial because conventional dual-use items have become more important for military warfare and to prevent terrorists obtaining radiological, nuclear, biological or chemical goods and technology for weapons of mass destruction.

The Committee is not convinced that the exporters of dual-use goods are fully aware of the risk or of their obligations, or that Revenue and Customs is stopping the exporter who inadvertently, but persistently, breaches the Act. It therefore wants the Government to carry out research to establish the facts and to promote outreach to industry.  And the Committee calls for the formation of an industrial export control association to improve knowledge of the system of controls among exporters’ employees.

In the international arena, the Committee notes that changes anticipated in its final report in 2005 have not been as extensive as expected. The implementation of the revised European Code of Conduct on Arms Exports has stalled because of opposition from certain member states, (not the UK which has been a keen supporter). On the positive side, the UK Government’s Presidencies of the European Union and the G8 saw progress on strategic export controls and the Government has been actively promoting the International Arms Trade Treaty.

The Committee wishes to see all applications for licences to export arms to Saudi Arabia to be examined more carefully and transparently:

“Given the Government’s assessment of human rights in Saudi Arabia, we recommend that all applications from Saudi Arabia should be considered more carefully.”

More generally, the Committee welcomes the Government’s proposal to provide additional information about strategic exports to “countries of concern” in future Annual Reports on Strategic Export Controls and hopes that in future the Government will explain the reasons for granting licences for exports to those countries listed as “major countries of concern” in the Human Rights Annual Report.

The Committee concluded that transparency in this important area can be further improved if the Government takes two steps: on the request of the Committee to supply an explanation of a decision to grant a particular licence-under, if necessary, a security classification; and in those exceptional cases where the Government decides to attach weight to the National Export Licensing Criteria, in order to grant an export licence, it identifies the licence in the quarterly report on strategic export controls and explains the factors that justify its decision.

The Committee also suggests that Government explains its policy on export controls to Israel -which is not to allow exports of weapons, equipment or components that could be “deployed aggressively” in the Occupied Territories-and calls on it to give examples of the equipment it has refused to grant export licences to.

The Committee sees no justification for lifting the arms embargo on China and the Government should work within the EU to maintain the embargo.

Roger Berry MP, Chairman of the Committee, said: “Limiting weapons proliferation from small arms to biological agents is one of the major political issues of our time. It is quite literally a matter of life and death. Export controls are an important part of the solution.

“This Government has a good record-not only a well-deserved reputation for taking the lead in openness about licensing arms exports but also for promoting an International Arms Trade Treaty which will help tackle irresponsible arms sales. 

“There are, however, gaps in the system - for example arms advertised on the Internet and the need for consistent extra-territorial controls - and the Government needs to address these. 

“We also have concerns about the level of penalties imposed by the courts for breaches of the controls.  It cannot be right that someone who attempts to export missiles and parts for fighter jets to Iran gets a much lighter sentence than a drugs smuggler.  Both should feel the full force of the law.

“Enforcement is increasingly focusing on dual-use items.  We heard worrying evidence about an attempt to obtain hydraulic pumps from a motor manufacturer which were perfect for making flight control systems in missiles.  Fortunately in that case the exporter questioned the order and it did not go ahead.  But it highlights the problem.  We cannot control the export of every nut and bolt from the UK but we need to make exporters aware of the risks and ensure goods and technologies do not fall into the wrong hands.  The Committee is therefore calling for more outreach to industry and better enforcement of the existing controls.

“The Government plans to review the legislation in 2007 and the Committee considers that will be a good time to take stock and to make sure the controls are working properly to ensure that weapons are not falling into the wrong hands.”

Notes to editors:

  1. The Quadripartite Committee consists of four Committees that meet together to consider the control of strategic exports, including weapons. The Committees involved are: Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry. The Chairman for these meetings is Roger Berry MP, who is a member of the Trade and Industry Committee.
  2. The 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.
  3. Membership of the Committee:
    Members from the Trade and Industry Committee: Roger Berry MP (Chairman) (Labour); Mr Lindsay Hoyle MP (Labour); Peter Luff MP (Conservative); Judy Mallaber MP (Labour);
    Members from the Defence Committee: Mr David S Borrow MP (Labour); Mr David Crausby MP (Labour); Linda Gilroy (Labour); Robert Key MP (Conservative);
    Members from the Foreign Affairs Committee: Mike Gapes MP (Labour); Mr Fabian Hamilton MP (Labour); Mr Paul Keetch MP (Liberal Democrats); Rt Hon Sir John Stanley MP (Conservative);
    Members from the International Development Committee: Malcolm Bruce MP (Liberal Democrats); John Barrett MP (Liberal Democrats); John Bercow MP (Conservative); Richard Burden MP (Labour).
  4. The Quadripartite Committee will be publishing its First Report of Session 2005-06, ‘Strategic Export Controls: Annual Report for 2004, Quarterly Reports for 2005, Licensing Policy and Parliamentary Scrutiny,’ (HC 873) on Thursday 3 August at 00.01 hrs.
  5. Embargoed copies of the Report are available to witnesses and members of the press on Tuesday 1 August at 11.00am from the reception desk, 7 Millbank, London SW1P 3JA.  Embargoed copies will also be placed in the Press Galleries. Members of the press who wish to receive an electronic advance copy should contact the Media Officer - see below.
  6. Further copies may be obtained from the Stationary Office (tel 0845 702 3474) and will be available on our website at the address below soon after publication:
  7. For media inquiries and bids for interviews with the Chair, Roger Berry MP, please contact the media officer Jessica Bridges Palmer on 07917 488 447