Quadripartite Select Committee First Report

1  Introduction

1. The Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees began regular examinations of the Government's strategic export control system in 1999. Through this arrangement, which has become known as the "Quadripartite Committee", we have conducted ongoing scrutiny of this complex and controversial area of government policy.

2. This is the first Report in this Parliament. We wish to put on record our appreciation of the work done by our predecessor Committees in the 1997 and 2001 Parliaments, and we are pleased to take over where the Committees in the last Parliament left off. In their final Report the Committees in the last Parliament left us a list of suggestions,[1] most of which we have followed up. There are, however, as is inevitable, some changes. First, the size of the quorum of the Quadripartite Committee has increased from 12 to 15 members. This was a consequence of the increase in size of the Defence, Foreign Affairs and Trade and Industry Committees at the start of the Parliament which raised the quorums of these committees from three to four; International Development Committee remained at three. In our view 15 is too large a quorum and we wish to propose to the House that its Standing Orders should be changed to allow the Quadripartite Committee to operate with fewer Members.[2] Second, we decided this year to examine in detail the enforcement of strategic export controls and the day-to-day operation of the system of control run by the Export Control Organisation and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). In contrast to previous years, we have not been able to report on as many developments within the European Union (EU) or on the international field as our predecessors, largely due to the delays in completing the review of the European Code of Conduct on Arms Exports[3] and the focus by the Government on the proposal for an International Arms Trade Treaty, which is at an early stage.

3. In the course of this inquiry, we held five evidence sessions with: (i) the Export Group on Aerospace and Defence (EGAD),[4] the UK Working Group on Arms[5] and Mark Thomas; (ii) the Minister of State at the Department of Trade and Industry with responsibility for the Export Control Organisation and officials; (iii) the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and officials; and, for the first time, (iv) officials from HMRC and the Revenue and Customs Prosecution Office. In addition, EGAD provided an informative and useful briefing, on the record, on the detailed operation of the export control system on 25 April 2006. We also received various written memoranda from the Government, those who gave oral evidence and non-governmental organisations, including the Campaign Against Arms Trade. We are grateful to all those who gave oral and written evidence and to our adviser—Dr Sibylle Bauer—who helped us evaluate that evidence.

4. As well as the process of taking oral and written evidence on policy, we have continued to explore issues raised by particular licences; we have, for example, assessed whether there has been any inconsistency—for instance, in the issuing and refusal of licences to Israel and Uzbekistan—and whether other licence approvals or refusals for which the rationale is not obvious have been determined in accordance with the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports and the National Export Licensing Criteria.[6] This process is detailed and, necessarily, confidential. We have drawn on the information received to make points on policy issues, and will keep certain cases under review.

5. We conclude that much has been achieved in the area of strategic export control, but there is still a great deal to do. It is now ten years since the Scott Report into exports to Iraq[7] and over two years since the Export Control Act 2002 was brought into full operation. Drawing on the work of our predecessor Committees and our own experience since the start of this Parliament we intend to make a contribution to the review of the legislation which the Government has announced will take place in 2007. We conclude that this will be a good opportunity to take stock of progress since the Scott Inquiry and the enactment of the Export Control Act 2002. It will also be an opportunity to examine the effectiveness of the legislation and whether changes need to be made to meet the challenge of increased globalisation of the defence industry, the fast pace of technological developments and the threat from terrorists.

1   Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees, First Joint Report of Session 2004-05, HMG's Annual Report for 2003, Licensing Policy and Parliamentary Scrutiny, HC 145 Back

2   House of Commons Standing Order No. 124(2) (3) and (4) currently provides that for deliberating and taking evidence the quorum of each committee is two Members. Back

3   European Union Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, Council Document 8675/2/98 (henceforth "EU Code on Arms Exports") Back

4   Representatives of the defence industries, formerly the Defence Manufacturers' Export Licensing Group. EGAD operates under the auspicious of the Defence Manufacturers' Association (DMA), the Society of British Aerospace Companies (SBAC), the Society of Maritime Industries (SMI), the British Naval Equipment Association (BNEA), the Association of Police and Public Security Suppliers (APPSS) and intellect (the trade association for the UK hi-tech industry). Back

5   The Working Group is part of an international coalition of non-governmental organisations which includes Amnesty UK, BASIC, Christian Aid, International Alert, Oxfam GB, and Saferworld. Back

6   HC Deb, 26 October 2000, col 203W and http://www.fco.gov.uk/servlet/Front?pagename=OpenMarket/Xcelerate/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1014918697565  Back

7   Report of the Enquiry into the Export of Defence Equipment and Dual-Use Goods to Iraq and Related Prosecutions (The Scott Report), 1995-96, HC 115 Back

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Prepared 3 August 2006