108.In the 2016 Annual Report, the Government says that “transparency and accountability are at the heart of Britain’s approach to export controls.” ADS Group told us they believe the UK export-control regime to be “one of the most robust and transparent” in the world. However, we did hear criticisms of the current reporting arrangements.
109.Under section 10 of the Export Control Act 2002 the government is mandated to lay an Annual Report on Strategic Export Controls before the House. Each Annual Report sets out changes to arms-export policy, along with export licensing decisions and data for the preceding calendar year, including country-specific data.
110.In addition, since 2004 the government has published details of the arms export licences that have been granted, refused or appealed on a quarterly basis in what are known as “pivot reports”. Each Quarterly Report provides:
111.The pivot reports have included decisions on Trade Control Licences since 2005; and information on licences issued under the Anti-Torture Regulation since 2006.
112.Since April 2009 the government has also made available large quantities of detailed raw data on licensing applications (derived from the SPIRE system)—relating largely to standard licences. This is published online in the form of the Strategic Export Controls Database, whose purpose is explained as follows:
[T]he Government recognises that published reports do not always meet the needs of the reader. This website has been developed to allow users to create reports based on their own criteria, e.g., specific types of exports to certain destinations, over any period of time (but subject to a minimum period of 30 days).
113.The contents of the Strategic Export Controls Database have been used by bodies outside government to create more easily navigable and user-friendly outputs. On its website, CAAT provides a sophisticated interactive resource which allows users easily to interrogate and search the Database, generating bespoke output with an element of data visualisation, as shown here:
114.The reasons for providing this service are given as follows:
The data published by ECO is not accessible enough. The figures are buried in PDF documents, which must be downloaded individually from a slow and complex website. Each report takes several minutes to generate before it can be downloaded, and it is necessary to download many reports in order to get a good sense of the goods exported to a given country.
Our aim was to provide a simple, searchable web application, open to everyone, with which it would be possible to link directly to any fragment or collection of data. We also provide the raw data in CSV format for re-use by other researchers or applications.
115.In addition, as part of Project Alpha (which “conduct[s] academic research into proliferation risks”), Mr Stewart, of King’s College London, has created an online data visualisation tool using export-control licensing data to show licensing decisions by country, as seen here:
116.In response to recent requests from our Chair, the Secretary of State for International Trade has provided us with additional information regarding the licensing of exports to a number of countries. This information has taken the form of spreadsheets, some of which have been very large.
117.Replying to a letter from the Chair objecting that the format of the data provided made it difficult to access and interpret, the Secretary of State said that:
A spreadsheet seemed the most appropriate means of providing this [information] to you because it allows the data to be sorted and manipulated in various ways including by applying multiple filters to select the data of most interest.
In addition, the Secretary of State pointed out that “headline summaries for each destination as well as a breakdown by rating code and goods summary” are published in the quarterly and annual licensing statistics. And he mentioned that data is available through the Strategic Export Controls Database, which “allows users to create reports based on their own criteria”. In his evidence to us, Mr Stuart said that we could hardly object to receiving a large and complex dataset when that was exactly what we had requested: “It is vast and dense—that is the information you asked for, and that’s what you got.”
118.We heard in evidence that there are concerns about the lack of reporting in respect of open licences. As we noted in Chapter 3, Mr Feeley-Sprague, of Amnesty International, raised this point:
We get very good numeric information in SIEL export licensing about how many items of that category we are exporting. Are we exporting five shotguns or 5,000 assault rifles? Under open licensing, that quantity information is not available. If small arms and light weapons are exported under open licensing, you do not know the quantities that are exported.
119.“Significant limitations” in reporting and transparency in respect of open licences were acknowledged in 2012 by the then government. These limitations related to lack of information on:
120.Consequently, in 2012 the then government announced plans to require exporters to upload data on the usage of open licences. Control Arms UK explained to us that these were to include “a description of the items exported or transferred, the destination, value and/or quantity, and some information about the end-user.” The intention was also announced to publish this data in an “aggregated form, by destination, in the Government’s Quarterly and Annual Reports on Strategic Export Controls.”
121.Control Arms UK thought this announcement had been “very much welcome”, since the “lack of information made available to Parliament and to the public regarding equipment transferred under open licences has for many years been a glaring and unnecessary hole in the UK system.” However, the change in policy was not carried into effect in the form initially intended. Control Arms UK stated:
In July 2013, just weeks before the new system was scheduled to go ‘live’, the Government rowed back significantly what had already been agreed and announced that instead companies would be required to report only on “the country of destination, the type of end-user and the number of times the licence has been used for that country/end user type.” This information would then be made available in “aggregated form in the Strategic Export Controls Annual Report available on the Strategic Export Controls: Report and Statistics website.” The frequency of reporting was also scaled back, from quarterly to annual.
The reason cited was the need to avoid “an unacceptable administrative burden on exporters”, even though a consultation had suggested that industry did not fear such a burden.
122.Control Arms UK told us that:
[I]t is time for this issue to be revisited. The poverty of reporting with respect to open licences remains a problem […] we believe that there was widespread agreement on the need to improve reporting of open licences for military-list equipment, and an acknowledgement that this could have been managed without undue additional burden on industry. On this basis, we urge the Government to implement the original recommendations with regard to military-list items in the first instance. If there are additional issues that might complicate reporting for the dual-use sector, then these could be dealt with independently through a separate process.
123.Mr Everitt, of ADS Group, told us that “In the open general licencing, a company has to be able to provide an evidence trail of what has been shipped to whom. That evidence, by and large, already exists.” That information was not currently made public, but Mr Everitt said that industry would not object to its publication, “As long as we are not creating a separate system of reporting”, which would “merely add burden and, in most cases, confusion”.
124.Mr Stewart, of King’s College London, told us:
The UK Government attempted to introduce reporting for open licences over a year ago. I understand that the quality of the data that was being received—not for any malicious purpose, but physically how that type of data was reported—was not very high. My sense of what is happening now is that there is a hope that the new licensing system will help to capture the data in a better way, but as of today there is a kind of reporting gap, or at least a communications gap, in terms of open licences.
125.When we asked Mr Stuart about the possibility of revisiting the 2012 plans for public reporting on open licences, he said that these plans had been scaled back as “many companies [had] expressed concern that [they] would mean an unacceptable administrative burden”. Annual data on usage of open licences was “reported to the ECJU and is checked in compliance audits”. However, “we do not yet have the right digital infrastructure to support public reporting”. The Minister said he “would rather not make a promise until I [have] got the digital capability in place”. When the Chair pressed him on whether he saw “a benefit from producing more data on open licences, such as quantity and values”, he replied:
when we have new and, we hope, improved digital systems, I will see benefit in being able to publish more information generally and not only for the benefit of the Committee, along the lines you suggest, Chair, without my committing precisely to anything.
126.Ms Tooze, of BAE Systems, told us:
We are anticipating that there might be better abilities to produce reports from the LITE system. Certainly when it comes to transparency reporting, we are hoping that in due course that will interface with the CDS [Customs Declaration Service] system that HMRC is implementing […]
Andrew Cowdery, Director of Government Affairs at Leonardo, concurred, telling us that: “the interface with the information into the CDS will allow information to be generated once but used many times”.
127.Mr Stuart agreed that the interface between LITE and CDS had the potential to facilitate greater transparency:
As we have improved data and better digital systems, we should be in a position to share more, in the most appropriate way, and make sure that the scrutiny that this Committee and others wish to give to the Government can be more effectively facilitated.
128.Reporting and transparency are indispensable elements of a reliable and credible licensing regime. While we welcome the fact that the Government publishes a lot of licensing information, we find it a major failing that such information is in formats that are very difficult to navigate, interrogate and interpret. We note that it is left to a non-governmental organisation with a particular viewpoint (the Campaign Against the Arms Trade) and an academic institution (King’s College London) to present the published official data in a user-friendly format. The Government should make clear and easily digestible the information about controlled exports that is provided to parliamentarians and the public alike. This will allow non-governmental organisations to present information in a more accurate manner; and enable interested members of the public to access relevant information about arms exports more easily, without the need to resort to an intermediary. We do not believe the failure to do so is down to a lack of resources, given that a non-governmental organisation with far fewer resources than the Government has been able to create such a data-presentation platform.
129.We are concerned at the continuing lack of published data in respect of open licences. The Government should address the data-quality issues that apparently lie behind this. In light of ADS Group’s statement that it does not oppose a requirement for industry to publish what its members have exported under Open General Export Licences, the Government should also reinstate the commitment made in 2012 by the then government (which was later dropped) to gather and publish regarding open licences a description of the items, the destination, value (and / or quantity) and information about the end-user. We welcome the statement to us by the Minister that he “will see benefit in being able to publish more information” once “new and […] improved digital systems” are in place.
130.Given public concern about specific licences, the High Court’s established feeling that CAEC is the appropriate scrutiny body, and the Government’s agreement to share information with CAEC in confidence in some scenarios, a more proactive approach from the Government towards the Committees should be established. In particular, the Government should share with the Committees documentation relating to arms exports, including end-user certificates, correspondence within government, details of the exporters or brokers and the value of the exports made under open export licences, along with the rationale as to how they assess these controversial shipments.
127 HC (2017–19) , p 1
128 ADS Group (), para 18
129 HC (2017–19) , p 1
130 Department for International Trade,
131 Council Regulation (EC) concerning trade in certain goods which could be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, 27 June 2005
138 This correspondence is published on the .
139 , 25 May 2018
142 Committees on Arms Export Controls, First Joint Report of Session 2012–13, Scrutiny of Arms Exports (2012): UK Strategic Export Controls Annual Report 2010, Quarterly Reports for July to December 2010 and January to September 2011, the Government’s Review of arms exports to the Middle East and North Africa, and wider arms control issues, HC 419-I, para 88
143 United Kingdom Strategic Export Controls Annual Report 2012, HC (2013–14) , p 8
144 Control Arms UK (), para 84
145 Control Arms UK (), para 87
146 Control Arms UK (), para 88
147 Control Arms UK (), para 93
154 CDS will replace the existing Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system by early 2019 (with phased introduction from August 2018) – HM Revenue & Customs, , March 2018
Published: 18 July 2018