Select Committee on Defence Third Report

1  Introduction

Background to the Treaty

1. The UK/US Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty was signed by former Prime Minister Blair and President Bush in June 2007 and published on 24 September 2007.[1] The Treaty establishes a framework for defence trade cooperation between the United Kingdom and the United States of America.[2]

2. In the UK, treaties are ratified by the Government under the Royal Prerogative, without requirement for parliamentary approval; but, by Government undertaking ("the Ponsonby rule"), treaties are laid before Parliament for 21 sitting days before ratification, to enable Parliament to consider and, if necessary, to comment on them. At our request, the Government agreed to extend the period available to Parliament to scrutinise this Treaty until 12 December 2007.

3. Since the 1990s, both Democrat and Republican Administrations have sought to reform the US arms export control system. The US Arms Export Control Act gives authority to the President to make regulations regarding the export and import of defence articles and services. The items so designated constitute the US Munitions List. The regulations are the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which cover the control of arms exports, the registration of manufacturers and exporters and the administrative procedures for obtaining licences to export.

4. In May 2000, the Clinton Administration approved the US Defense Trade Security Initiative (DTSI), which was an attempt to harmonise export licensing procedures and to shorten the time needed to process US licences for NATO allies, Australia, Japan and Sweden.[3] In January 2001, the UK and the US released a joint statement on the progress of implementation of DTSI.[4] As outlined by that statement, one of the UK's main objectives was to secure an exemption from ITAR for the export of certain equipment and services. Although proposed texts on an ITAR waiver were reportedly agreed in June 2003,[5] the US Congress repeatedly refused to approve a waiver for the UK. Opposition to granting the waiver has been strongest in the House of Representatives.

5. We and our predecessor committee supported the proposal for an ITAR waiver[6] but we now recognise that this is unlikely to receive approval in the US Congress, at least in the short term.

6. In the US, ratification of a treaty is subject to approval by a two-thirds majority in the Senate.[7] The UK/US Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty was received by the Senate on 20 September and referred to the Foreign Relations Committee. It is unclear how long the process of Congressional scrutiny will take but the UK Government is hopeful that the Senate will consider the Treaty by January 2008.[8] While it cannot be taken for granted that the Treaty will be approved by the required two-thirds majority of the US Senate, we are confident that Congressional scrutiny of the Treaty will show that it is as much in the US interest as it is in the interest of the UK.

Our inquiry

7. Because of the timetable for ratification, our inquiry has been swift. We held a two-part evidence session on 21 November 2007: first with the Defence Industries Council (DIC), the Society of British Aerospace Companies (SBAC), the Export Group for Aerospace and Defence (EGAD), the US Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), General Dynamics UK and BAE Systems; and secondly with the Rt Hon Baroness Taylor of Bolton, Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, and officials from the Ministry of Defence and the Cabinet Office. We also received written memoranda from the Government, from industry, from campaigning groups, from individual commentators and from members of the public. We are grateful to all those who contributed evidence within the tight timetable for this inquiry.

8. The Government states that its aim in signing the Treaty is:

9. In examining the Treaty we addressed three questions:

  • How will the arrangements underpinning the Treaty work?
  • Will the Treaty be effective in removing barriers to the arms trade and technology transfer from the US and in improving cooperation between the US and UK Armed Forces?
  • What consequences will the Treaty have for UK defence manufacturers and UK defence industrial policy and arms export controls?

1   Treaty between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the United States of America concerning defense trade cooperation: London and Washington, 21 June and 26 June 2007, Cm 7213, September 2007 Back

2   The United States has subsequently signed a similar agreement with Australia; see and Explanatory Memorandum on the UK/US Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, September 2007, para 8 Back

3   Defense Trade Security Initiative, Press Statement by Philip T. Reeker, Acting Spokesman for the U.S. Department of State, May 24, 2000  Back

4   Statement on UK-US Discussions On Defense Export Controls, Ministry of Defence, 18 January 2001  Back

5   HC Deb, 2 June 2003, col 39W Back

6   For example, Fifth Report from the Defence Committee, Session 2002-03, Strategic Export Controls: Annual Report for 2001, Licensing Policy and Parliamentary Scrutiny, HC 474, para 155  Back

7   An alternative approach is to seek the simple majority of both Houses of Congress, but there has been no mention of this approach being adopted. Back

8   Q 148 Back

9   Ev 27, para 1 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 11 December 2007