Memorandum from Wallasey Council of Christian
Churches, Social Responsibility Committee
1. We are writing to you as members of a
group commissioned by the Wallasey Council of Christian Churches
to discuss with our MP, Angela Eagle, the concerns of the churches
about the arms trade. This has made us very aware of the role
of the ECGD in supporting that trade. We are also aware that our
churches are also concerned that the long-term effects of what
the Government does are beneficial to the future of developing
countries, not harmful. This concern has been made evident by
the wide church support for Jubilee 2000.
2. We are writing to you, therefore, as
people without direct experience of the working of the ECGD, but
as concerned citizens who believe that ethical considerations
should play an increasing role in government policy, not least
in foreign affairs.
3. Dealing first with the questions in Section
2: Striking the Balance, we believe that sustainable development
should be a vital objective in government support of trade and
aid. In this connection there are two areas of immediate concern.
4. The first of these is the arms trade.
In general the export of arms has a negative contribution to sustainable
development. It ensures that government money of the relevant
states is poured into arms instead of into welfare and development.
The arms are also used to put down internal dissent that results
from poor welfare provision. Selling of arms to one country almost
inevitably results in neighbouring countries buying arms "to
keep up" and this in turn destabilises whole regions. It
is true that the primary responsibility in this respect is that
of the section of the DTI responsible for Strategic Export Controls
with whom the ECGD presumably works. But we have to say that in
our view the commitment of the DTI to expanding trade too often
overrides the caution that would be imposed by the reality of
the results of this trade. Our concern over the extent of our
involvement in the arms trade is, of course, shared by a majority
5. The second major concern is with large
scale engineering projects such as dams, which too often ignore
environmental issues and the needs of the local population, and
even the international implications for other users of the waters
6. Debt forgiveness in conditions in which
the money will be used to help the poorest people should be taken
very seriously, even if this involves the taxpayer in greater
expenses. Of course, it will be important that countries are not
encouraged to take on debts that they have little chance of repaying,
so that "lending" becomes a form of covert aid. But
that having been said, the present situation is clearly intolerable.
7. The pursuit of an ethical foreign policy
should take a determing role in the availability of cover. In
the long run this is vital for the welfare of all people, including
the inhabitants of this country. If one looks at the wars of the
last 40 years in which to varying degrees we have been involved,
human rights issues have been a crucial element in their creation.
Environmental issues are also becoming increasingly important
for the future of the world. Examples of cover for projects which
have given deep public concern are easy to find, including, for
example, the arming of Iraq before the war against it, the arming
of Indonesia, and the Pergau dam in Malaysia.
SECTION 1. ECGD'S
8. Having made these initial points, it
is possible to turn to the first question about amendment of the
ECGD's Mission Statement. Clearly, from what has been said above,
we would like commitment to these ethical principles written in
to the Mission Statement. It would help to set the tone of the
Department and make it more likely that profit and balancing the
accounts was not the sole consideration in making decisions. Ideally
support for arms exports should be totally excluded.
SECTION 3. ECGD'S
9. In the light of what has been said above
we would consider it a very retrograde step if there was any reduction
in accountability through privatisation. Indeed, it would be our
view that the operation of the Department should come much more
closely under the influence of the Department of International
Development and the Foreign Office. We would also recommend that
NGOs with an interest in aid should be involved in the Advisory
10. Many people who have knowledge of the
activities of the Department of Trade in the field of support
for exports of arms in general and of exports to Third World countries,
are deeply suspicious of the priority given to trade as a value
in itself. Confidence in government activity in these areas woud
be reinforced by a commitment to ethical principles reflected
in the Mission Statement and control exercised under a proper
system of accountability.
Wallasey Council of Churches