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PN 29 of Session 2003-04
EMBARGOED UNTIL 00.01am, TUESDAY 18 MAY 2004
COMMITTEE CRITICISES LACK OF GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY ON ARMS EXPORTS DECISIONS
The Government must be more transparent and open about its decisions to allow UK arms exports, according to a cross-party report published today by the Quadripartite Committee.
Even when there are sound reasons for granting UK firms licences to export military equipment, lack of information on where it is going, who will be using it and under what conditions, breeds public mistrust and misunderstanding, the report concludes.
The Quadripartite Committee comprises four important Commons select committees who have joined together to scrutinise how the Government controls trade in equipment and technology that can be used for military purposes.
The Committee is calling for more information on export controls to be published more promptly and regularly to enable Parliament and the public to identify decisions that may give rise to genuine concerns.
The vast majority of government licensing decisions examined by the Committee have turned out to be uncontroversial. However, the Committee asks the Government to explain why it has apparently failed to investigate claims that military equipment exported to Indonesia was used against civilians in the province of Aceh, despite Indonesian promises to the British government that this would not happen. The Committee concludes that unless the British government is willing to investigate and enforce such assurances, they "are not worth the paper they are written on".
Commenting on the report, Committee Chairman, Roger Berry MP 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.
"We need to have a constructive debate on arms exports and how the Government controls transfers of other equipment and technology that may have a military use. The information currently provided doesn't go far enough to encourage this debate.
"It is time for the Government to improve the amount and type of information that it provides about arms exports if it is to convince Parliament and the public that weapons and other potentially dangerous goods are not falling into the wrong hands.
"At the same time, British companies shouldn't be put at a competitive disadvantage because of unnecessary bureaucracy in the licensing process. This is an area of particular concern because of the swathe of new legislation which came into force on 1 May and which British companies must now abide by. This is an area that we will be monitoring closely."
Other specific conclusions and recommendations include:
On the review of EU's arms embargo on China: Because of continuing human rights abuses, the embargo should not be lifted. It should, however, be clarified.
On international efforts to control proliferation: International export control regimes need to be made to work as channels for sharing information. If they cannot be made to work, they should be rethought. A proposal for an international arms trade treaty addresses the very real problem of proliferation. If it is not the right solution to this problem, then another needs to be found urgently.
On controlling British citizens abroad: The law should in certain circumstances control British citizens engaging abroad in trade in those weapons most likely to be used by terrorists or in civil wars.
On the burden on business: If the allegations made to the Committee by industry are true, then British exporters are losing business to European competitors either because the British export licensing process is unacceptably slow and bureaucratic or because the systems of other European countries are unacceptably lax.
On enforcement: HM Customs & Excise and the Intelligence and Security Agencies must be adequately resourced to detect and prevent the illegal export of controlled goods if the country's export control system is to function effectively as a tool in the fight against proliferation.
NOTES TO EDITORS:
1. The Quadripartite committee consists of four Committees that meet together to consider controls on strategic exports, including weapons: the Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees. The Chairman for these meetings is Roger Berry MP, a Member of the Trade and Industry Committee. Details of the membership of the four Committees can be found on the parliamentary website at www.parliament.uk
2. For interview bids for Quad Chairman Roger Berry MP, contact Ad¨le Brown on 020 7219 0724
3. News Release: Quadripartite Committee No. 6, Defence Committee No. 27
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