Select Committee on Foreign Affairs First Report


1  INTRODUCTION

Introduction

1. Since 1999 the Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees have worked together to examine the Government's strategic export control system and policies. This arrangement, which has become known as the "Quadripartite Committee", enables the House of Commons to conduct ongoing scrutiny of a complex and controversial area of government policy.

Review of export controls

2. The existing regime of UK export controls is based on the Export Control Act 2002 which the Government called "the most comprehensive review of strategic export controls for over 60 years".[1] It accepted that the new controls introduced under the Act would "be a significant challenge both for industry and Government, and it is therefore entirely appropriate to keep their operation under review".[2] Post-legislative scrutiny, in line with Cabinet Office guidance, was announced with a review of the regulations introduced under the 2002 Act after they had been in force for three years, i.e. in May 2007.[3] In our Report in 2006 we indicated that we planned to take up the Government's offer to make a contribution to its review of export control legislation.[4]

3. In responding to our Report last year the Government confirmed that in 2007 it would be conducting a review of the legislation. The Government published a consultation document, 2007 Review of Export Control Legislation,[5] on 18 June 2007 and invited responses by 30 September 2007. The review is being carried out by the Export Control Organisation (ECO), in consultation with other interested departments and parties.[6] The Government explained that the review would be carried out according to Better Regulation principles as set out by the Cabinet Office[7] and "will provide a useful opportunity to take stock of existing controls".[8]

The Government's 2007 Consultation Document

4. The Government's 2007 Consultation Document aims to look to the future, and it identifies potential options for further change, some of which it has already identified in discussions with stakeholders. The Government's ultimate aim "is to find an effective and proportionate way to guard against the risk of undesirable exports and related activities", and it is looking to those responding to the consultation document "to provide the evidence and ideas that will enable us to do so".[9] The Consultation will run for three months, until 30 September 2007, and at the end of the period, the Government will analyse all responses received and aim to publish the initial results of that analysis, together with any proposals for changes, by 31 December 2007.[10]

The Committees' review of the legislation

5. Because we knew that the Government's review of export controls was scheduled for 2007 we decided to start work on our own review in the autumn of 2006 with the objective that our Report should assist the Government's review. We reviewed the 2005 Annual Report on Strategic Export Controls[11] and the Quarterly Reports[12] for 2006 together with the operation of the Export Control Act 2002 and the secondary legislation made under the Act. The review has provided the main focus for our work this year. In reviewing the legislation we have gone back to the Scott Inquiry into the Export of Defence Equipment and Dual-Use Goods to Iraq and Related Prosecutions,[13] the conclusions of which helped frame the considerations behind, and debates on, the legislation. We have also focused on the development and operation of the system of strategic export controls put in place by the Export Control Act 2002, which have been in full operation since April 2004. We have outlined our approach at chapter 3 and our conclusions and recommendations which are our response to the Government's review of export controls are principally at chapters 4 to 8.

6. We conclude that the Export Control Act 2002 has provided a sound legislative basis for controlling and regulating the UK's strategic exports but with gaps and shortcomings. The challenge of increased globalisation of the defence industry, the fast pace of technological development, changing proliferation patterns and procurement methods for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programmes and the threat from terrorists suggest to us that the 2002 Act may not surpass the record of its predecessor, the Import, Export and Customs Powers (Defence) Act 1939, to remain on the statute book for over 60 years without extensive amendment. We expect the current legislation will need to be reviewed, and possibly amended, regularly.

7. As well as the process of taking oral and written evidence on policy and the operation of the legislation, we have continued to explore issues raised by particular licences; we have, for example, assessed whether there has been any inconsistency in the issuing and refusal of licences to a particular country 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.[14] 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.


1   Departments of Defence, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, International Development, and Trade and Industry, The Government's proposals for secondary legislation under the Export Control Act: Response of the Secretaries of State for Defence, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, International Development, and Trade and Industry, Cm 5988, October 2003, p 1 Back

2   Cm 5988, p 1 Back

3   HC Deb, 16 March 2006, col 521WH; HC Deb, 4 May 2006, col 1751W  Back

4   Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees, First Joint Report of Session 2005-06, Strategic Export Controls: Annual Report for 2004, Quarterly Reports for 2005, Licensing Policy and Parliamentary Scrutiny, HC 873, para 17 and Q192 Back

5   Department of Trade and Industry, 2007 Review of Export Control Legislation: A Consultation Document, June 2007 (hereafter "2007 Consultation Document") Back

6   HC Deb, 4 May 2006, col 1751W Back

7   Departments of Defence, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry, Strategic Export Controls: HMG's Annual Report for 2004, Quarterly Reports for 2005, Licensing Policy and Parliamentary Scrutiny Response of the Secretaries of State for Defence, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry, Cm 6954, October 2006, p 3  Back

8   Cm 6954, p 1 Back

9   2007 Consultation Document, p 2 Back

10   2007 Consultation Document, p 3 Back

11   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, United Kingdom Strategic Export Controls Annual Report 2005, Cm 6882, July 2006 Back

12   Four reports for January-March 2006, April-June 2006, July-September 2006 and October-December 2006 were published by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the Internet at http://www.fco.gov.uk/servlet/Front?pagename=OpenMarket/Xcelerate/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1119522594750  Back

13   Report of the Inquiry into the Export of Defence Equipment and Dual-Use Goods to Iraq and Related Prosecutions, 1995-96, HC 115 (hereafter "the Scott Report") Back

14   HC Deb, 26 October 2000, cols 199-203W and http://www.fco.gov.uk/servlet/Front?pagename=OpenMarket/Xcelerate/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1014918697565  Back


 
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