Scrutiny of Arms Export Controls (2009): UK Strategic Export Controls Annual Report 2007, Quarterly Reports for 2008, licensing policy and review of export control legislation - Business and Enterprise Committee Contents

5 Organisational and operational issues

The date of publication of the annual report on strategic export controls

86.  In our last Report we commented on the unsatisfactory timing of the publication of the annual reports on strategic export controls. In essence, each year we are reporting on reports which appear out of date as they are published in July, 18 months after the end of the calendar year covered by the Government's Annual Report on United Kingdom Strategic Export Controls. We recommended that, in future, the Government publish its annual reports on strategic export controls by the end of March of the following calendar each year.[126] The Government responded that as the final annual collation of data from across Government did not take place until April, it would not be possible to publish the report in March. However, it did aim to publish the 2008 report as soon a possible after April 2009.[127]

87.  We are disappointed that, yet again, the annual report on strategic export controls has not been published in time for us to include an examination of its contents in our annual report. We recommend that the Government aim to publish its 2009 Annual Report on UK Strategic Export Controls by the end of May 2010.

Form and content of annual reports on strategic export controls

88.  In our last Report we recommended that the Government include monetary information on the management and enforcement of export controls in future annual reports on strategic export controls.[128] This was because we considered the information necessary for the scrutiny of the management and enforcement of export controls. We need to know what resources are going into export control and particularly whether the resources are increasing or decreasing year on year. The Government Response said that it would "look to include" this information in future annual reports.[129] Due to the late publication of the 2008 Annual Report on United Kingdom Strategic Export Controls, after the date our Report was finalised, we are unable to comment on whether or not this information has been included.

Export Control Organisation Reports and Statistics Website

89.  The Government accepted our recommendations from previous Reports that the Government bring forward a proposal for a fully searchable and regularly updated database of all licensing decisions.[130] We received an update from the then Minister of State for Energy on 15 September 2008 on progress made on the development of the database,[131] for which we were grateful. As previously mentioned in paragraph eight, in May 2009 we were also grateful to receive an advance demonstration of the Export and Control Organisation's (ECO) searchable database. The database is located on a new website which was launched by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills on 8 June.[132]

90.  We were extremely impressed with the functionality of the database which enables the public to produce reports on licences granted and refused. We welcome that stakeholders were involved in the trialling of the database, and that the website was launched on time.[133]The UK Working Group on Arms stated that it welcomed the introduction of a searchable database, but expressed concern that information was seldom given regarding the approved end-user and end-use of licensed goods: "[t]his makes it difficult for public or parliament to assess whether the Consolidated Criteria are being effectively and consistently applied."[134] We conclude that the new Export Control Organisation Reports and Statistics website is an important step towards greater transparency of the work of the Export Control Organisation and we commend the Government for ensuring that the website was launched on schedule. We recommend that the Government publicises more widely the facility both nationally and internationally with the aim of influencing other countries to follow the UK's example.

Export Control Error

91.  The then Economic and Business Minister, Ian Pearson MP, wrote to us on 3 June to inform the Committees that, due to an error by the Export Control Organisation (ECO), a Chemical Weapons Convention (CVC) Schedule 2 chemical (Cetaflam PD.P) was exported by a UK company to Taiwan and Israel. The company had been wrongly informed that the chemical did not require an export licence. In fact, under the CWC, chemicals listed under Schedule 2 must not be exported to States that are not party to the CWC. Neither Israel nor Taiwan are parties to the CWC.

92.  Ian Pearson told the Committee that the control list containing the chemical had been overlooked by staff of the ECO and they had given the wrong advice to the company seeking to export the chemical. However, ECO has now taken steps to ensure that technical staff take special care in this area in future.[135] We note the action taken by ECO to remedy this breach of the UK's commitments and thank the Minister for bringing it to our attention.

126   HC (2007-08) 254, para 80 Back

127   Cm 7485, p 14 Back

128   HC (2007-08) 254, para 83 Back

129   Cm 7485, p 14 Back

130   HC (2006-07) 117, para 386, Cm 7260, p 38, HC (2007-08) 254, para 85, Cm 7345, p 15 Back

131   Ev 55 Back

132   See Back

133   Ev 55 Back

134   Ev 78 Back

135   Ev 110 Back

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Prepared 19 August 2009