Select Committee on Defence Fourth Report



This Report continues a five-year dialogue with Government on how it controls strategic exports (equipment and technology with a military application). We have examined a wide range of the Government's licensing decisions taken in 2002 and 2003, and have found the vast majority to be uncontentious.

The way in which the Government publishes information on these decisions in its Annual Reports has led to misunderstandings and to avoidable criticism. It is time for a review of these Reports. The information should be published every quarter so that it is provided sooner after licences are granted. It should also enable us and the public to identify more accurately those decisions which give rise to genuine concerns, and we call for the provision of more information on who the Government allows military equipment to be exported to, and under what conditions.

We are concerned about how the Government seeks to ensure that equipment is not misused by those to whom it has been provided. For example, the Government does not seem to have investigated adequately claims that equipment exported to Indonesia has been used in military operations in Aceh province in breach of assurances previously given, and possibly in violation of human rights.

The EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports is the basis for decisions throughout the Union. It is currently under review. The Government's priorities for this review are sound, but should go further. The EU's military embargo on China is also under review: because of continuing human rights abuses, it should not be lifted, but it should be clarified. The ten new member states joining the EU should be offered all the assistance necessary to ensure they are in a position to implement effective export controls in line with the EU Code.

Export controls are only an effective tool against proliferation if they are applied internationally. A further diplomatic effort should be made to ensure that international export control regimes 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 to address the very real problem of proliferation, and small arms proliferation in particular, has not attracted support from governments. If it is not the right solution to this problem, another needs to be found urgently.

The British export control system is complex and often misunderstood, even by industry. It should impose no more burdens on British industry than necessary. Changes have recently been made, but other European countries seem to have simpler systems, which appear to give their industries a competitive advantage on the export market. The British system has been made even more complicated with the introduction of controls on trade between second and third countries and on intangible (electronic) transfers of military technology. We are not convinced that the new system targets as accurately as it should those activities of most proliferation concern. We believe that 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.

HM Customs & Excise currently bring very few prosecutions for breaches of export controls. It is essential that they and the intelligence and security agencies are adequately resourced if illegal proliferation is to be stemmed.

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