Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum from the UK Working Group On Arms (UKWG)

  In amendments to the Export Control Bill in the House of Lords, Lord Campbell-Savours has proposed the Defence Export Scrutiny Committee (DESC), a new system of prior scrutiny of arms export licence applications which would be based on the workings of the Intelligence and Security Committee, outlined in the Intelligence and Security Act 1994. At the Report Stage of the Export Control Bill in the Lords last week, Lord Sainsbury raised some new concerns with the DESC and in particular its relationship with the Quadripartite Select Committee (QSC). We would like to take this opportunity to contribute to the debate and set out the views of the UK Working Group on Arms on the proposals.

  We are in favour of the most transparent system of prior scrutiny possible. The DESC proposal would not allow for the same level of scrutiny and transparency as contained in the QSC's recommendations (which provide for the possibility of a report to parliament and parliamentary debate in extremis). However, it would at least provide a first crucial step towards adequate prior parliamentary oversight and we recognise that following the model of the Intelligence and Security Committee does address concerns that the Government have hitherto raised about prior scrutiny, notably the constitutional objections.

  We understand the concerns raised by Lord Scott, and expressed by Lord Sainsbury in the Report Stage, that Parliamentarians sitting on the Committee may not be able to play a role in the QSC. We agree that this would not be appropriate but do not see that this need be problematic, as the DESC and QSC would have very distinctive roles.

    —  The DESC role would be to advise the Government on specific licences in advance of export licensing decisions and raise any concerns before decisions are made. Lord Scott expressed that his constitutional objections did not apply in case of the DESC as the Committee would not represent Parliament.

    —  The QSC would continue to have a full retrospective scrutiny function including assessing the UK Government Annual Reports on Strategic Exports, calling on respective Secretaries of State to give evidence in public and making recommendations for changes in policy and law, none of which would fall within the remit of the proposed DESC. Since its inception, the QSC has also assessed the progress of international commitments including the EU Code of Conduct and the Wassenaar Arrangement, it has been involved actively in analysing the Export Control Bill and it will be involved in assessing the forthcoming secondary legislation. The DESC, once again, would have none of these functions

  It is clear that the functions of the two committees are different and both roles are needed. In terms of reporting, the QSC would continue to report directly to Parliament playing a major role in increased transparency. The DESC would report to the Prime Minister which aids accountability and has a more limited role in terms of transparency. Were the DESC to replace the QSC, this would be a serious backward step in terms of transparency in the UK. The QSC has, and must continue to, provide an essential public forum for debate on wider export control policy. At the Committee Stage of the Bill Lord Sainsbury said, "the Government sees Parliament's role in this area as being one of scrutinising decisions after they have been taken and having the opportunity to input into policy." It is crucial that this function is not lost to Parliament. The DESC as proposed and the QSC would have distinct but complementary roles. We shall continue to follow the debate surrounding prior scrutiny with interest and would welcome the opportunity to give evidence to the QSC on this issue.

24 April 2002

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