71. This is our third and probably our last Report
of this Parliament on the subject of strategic export controls.
Thanks to the admirable determination of Ministers to publish
more details on arms export licences than ever before, we have
been able to come together from four separate committees and examine
broad policy issues, the exercise of powers in relation to particular
countries, and individual licence applications granted or refused.
We have enjoyed excellent cooperation from the departments concerned
in providing the detailed written information we have sought.
We have identified some cases where in our view mistakes or errors
of judgement have been made. We have placed in the public domain
some issues hitherto clouded in secrecy or obscurity. The Foreign
Secretary told us that the possibility of their licensing decisions
being subjected to our detailed scrutiny had already had an effect
on Ministers when making such decisions.
72. We have however concluded, after detailed consideration
and in the light of representative visits undertaken by Committee
members specially for that purpose to Sweden and the USA, that
the special nature of the authority delegated to Ministers to
license the export of arms justifies the establishment of a system
of prior parliamentary scrutiny. We recommended this in July 2000.
The Government took five months to turn down our proposals. Following
a debate in Westminster Hall in December 2000 and oral evidence
in January 2001, we have significantly revised our proposals to
meet practical objections raised by Ministers, without surrendering
the principle of prior scrutiny. Our new proposals deserve
proper scrutiny within Whitehall; but there is no reason to wait
another five months for an answer. There is every good reason
to have a system of prior parliamentary scrutiny ready to operate
as soon as committees are set up in a new Parliament.