The Committees on Arms Export Controls: Press Notice

17 July 2008

MPs call for tighter rules on arms brokering overseas

The Government must make it illegal for British citizens overseas, as well as everyone living in the UK, to trade in any form of arms or weaponry between overseas countries without a licence, says the combined Committees on Arms Exports Controls (formerly the Quadripartite Committee) in its annual report today.

The Committees are urging the Government, in completing its current Review of Export Controls, to extend its existing rule covering the trade of certain “high risk” items to all goods and technologies on UK’s Military List, which covers military, security and para-military goods, software and technology and arms, ammunition and related materiel.

The first two tranches of secondary legislation to emerge from the Government’s Review are welcomed by the Committees, particularly the extension of extra-territorial controls to the trade in small arms and light weapons, portable anti-aircraft weapons and cluster bombs - all deemed as high risk items which may end up in the hands of terrorists. But the third and final tranche due to be published in draft in the autumn is of particular interest to the Committees because it will define the extent and consequence of the Review.

Roger Berry MP, Chair of the Committees, says, "We welcome the ruling that any UK citizen trading overseas in high-risk light weapons should require a license but we feel that the extra-territorial provisions should cover the trade in all the other weapons that appear on the UK’s “Military List” as well. Otherwise where should we sensibly draw the line between what is high risk and what is not? It seems baffling, for example, to require a licence for the trade in small arms but not in missiles with a range up to 300 kilometres. The key issue for the Committees is the extent to which the third tranche of the legislation will cover other items on the Military List."

In previous reports, the Committees expressed concern about the effectiveness with which the export control regime has been enforced. Their concerns were increased when told that non-compliance with the UK system can make economic sense for UK exporters. The risks of detection were small as were the resulting penalties.

However, having reviewed the evidence this year the Committees are encouraged by the increase in the number of seizures, the level of penalties imposed by the courts and the increase in resources devoted to compliance. The Committees also welcome the consideration which the Government is giving to the possible use of civil penalties, which would provide an important weapon in the armoury of those charged with enforcement of export controls and, crucially, has the potential to swing the economic balance in favour of compliance.


1. The Committees on Arms Export Controls (formerly the Quadripartite Committee) consists of four Committees which meet together to consider the control of strategic exports, including weapons. The Committees involved are: Business and Enterprise, Defence, Foreign Affairs and International Development. The Chair for these meetings is Roger Berry MP, who is a member of the Business and Enterprise Committee.

2. The Committees’ 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 Committees scrutinise.

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