Select Committee on European Scrutiny Third Report



Presidency annual report on the implementation of the EU joint action on small arms and light weapons and on the implementation of the EU programme for preventing and combatting illicit trafficking in conventional arms.

Legal base:
Department: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of consideration: Minister's letter of 25 October 2001
Previous Committee Report: HC 152-ii (2001-02), paragraph 10 (17 October 2001)
Discussed in Council: 25 June 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared

The Joint Action

11.1  On 16 December 1998, we cleared the EU Joint Action on small arms and light weapons in draft form.[19] Since then, we have cleared a number of measures based on it which seek to limit the spread of small arms in different parts of the world.

11.2  The Joint Action includes a number of objectives, principles and measures, including combatting the destabilising accumulation and uncontrolled spread of small arms, reducing existing accumulations to levels consistent with legitimate security needs, and helping to solve the problems which these accumulations cause. The EU pledges in the Joint Action to work towards building consensus in international fora on commitments to support these objectives.

The EU programme for Preventing and Combatting Illicit Trafficking in Conventional Arms

11.3  This programme was adopted by the General Affairs Council on 26 June 1997. It seeks to address the problems of illicit trafficking in conventional arms, particularly small arms, both within the EU and in countries affected by illicit trafficking.

The report

11.4  A first annual report on the Programme was published on 8 July 1998, and a second on 19 January 2000. The reporting procedure under the Programme has now been co-ordinated with that of the Joint Action. This is the first co-ordinated report. It covers activities undertaken in 1999 as well as 2000. In Part II, it notes that several Member States have been active in organising and participating in international conferences and that the EU took an active interest in preparations for the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in all its Aspects and endorsed Sir Michael Weston as the EU candidate to chair the Conference, which was due to take place in New York on 9 - 20 July 2001.

11.5  When we considered the report on 17 October, we asked the Government to inform us of the outcome of the UN Conference.

The Minister's letter

11.6  In a letter dated 25 October, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Ben Bradshaw) responds, commenting that he gave the UK ministerial statement at the Conference and that the UK worked actively before and during the Conference for a positive outcome. He says:

    "Given the complexity and sensitivity of the issues, the adoption of a Programme of Action that sets out national, regional and global initiatives to stem the flow of small arms to the developing world was a major achievement. The Programme of Action commits states politically to put in place export control mechanisms, and measures to ensure the traceability of small arms, to control arms brokers, and to destroy surplus weapons. It encourages regional moratoria on the manufacture and transfer of small arms and legally binding regional agreements to eradicate the illicit trade in them. There will be a Review Conference in 2006.

    "The Programme of Action does not address all the key issues but it does formalise and globalise the need and means for action to combat the destabilising accumulations and uncontrolled spread of small arms, the primary instruments of death and injury in conflicts and criminal acts worldwide. We, our EU Partners and others were unable to persuade the United States, for example, to agree to the inclusion of civilian possession and sales to non-State actors in the Programme of Action. The US has since stated it is 'strongly committed' to its universal implementation. We will, however, at regular intervals and at a senior level, continue to press the US on the need for greater flexibility in the longer term on these issues.

    "In my speech to the Conference, I announced that the UK had allocated £19.5 million over the next three years to support various projects worldwide to curb the proliferation of small arms. The Government will ensure that its work, both nationally and with the EU and OSCE, as well as NGOs, is consistent with and supportive of the aims and actions agreed by the Conference, both in policy terms and in moving forward with country- and region-specific projects."


11.7  We drew the attention of the House to the high priority attached to a successful outcome to this United Nations Conference by the General Affairs Council and we now thank the Minister for informing us of the outcome, which he describes as a major achievement. We note that, with the European Union partners and others, the Government attempted to persuade the United States Government to agree to the inclusion of civilian possession and sales to non-State actors in the Programme of Action. Although unsuccessful on this occasion, the Minister tells us that the Government will continue to press the United States on the need for greater flexibility on these issues. We support these efforts.

11.8  We now clear the document.

19  (19638) 14126/98; see HC 34-iv (1998-99), paragraph 10 (16 December 1998). Back

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Prepared 12 November 2001