Select Committee on Foreign Affairs First Report


2  THE WORK OF THE COMMITTEES

Relations between the Committees and the Government

8. In our Report last year we were glad to note a change in the Government's approach to the questions we raised and in the speed of its replies.[15] In previous years the Government had warned the Committees "to be aware that [their] necessary duties add significantly to the running costs of the Government's export controls"[16] and we, for our part, had concerns about the speed of the Government's replies.[17] In reply to our Report last year the Government indicated that it was committed to answering all requests for information in a "timely manner".[18] In the debate on 22 February 2007 on our last Report the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Jim Fitzpatrick MP, acknowledged that the "scrutiny applied by the Committee is a very important aid to the export licensing process and to the Government's wider deliberations on the scope and administration of export controls" and he looked forward "to the Committee playing a full role as the Government's review of export controls is taken forward".[19] We concur with the Minister's comments and we are pleased that the change in relations last year has continued.

9. While the Government's responses to our questions have not always been received within the six week timetable we requested,[20] we recognise that the need to clear responses with four departments may on occasion mean there is delay. A six week timetable allows us to play a full role in scrutinising export controls. Slippage beyond this deadline reduces the transparency of scrutiny and our ability to review decisions within a reasonable period from the decision to grant (or withhold) an export licence. We recommend that the Government agree to reply fully—other than in exceptional circumstances—within six weeks to our letters on decisions to grant or withhold export licences.

Evidence and witnesses

Oral evidence

10. In the course of this inquiry, we held five evidence sessions with: (i) the UK Working Group on Arms;[21] (ii) the Export Group on Aerospace and Defence (EGAD);[22] (iii) the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Mr Gareth Thomas MP, and officials; (iv) officials from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office; and (v) the then Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Rt Hon Margaret Beckett MP, and officials.

11. The evidence session with the Department for International Development (DFID) was the first time that either we or our predecessor Committees had taken evidence directly from that department. DFID has primary responsibility for consideration of applications for export licences against Criterion 8 of the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria, which requires exports to be compatible with the technical and economic capacity of the recipient country. The question of sustainability played a large part in the discussions at a time when both the primary and secondary legislation was before Parliament. The issue was a matter that we needed to examine in detail as part of our review of the legislation and therefore we found the session useful.

12. In order not to prejudge the outcome of the review, which was led by the former Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), now the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, we did not take oral evidence from the Department this year. When, following its review of export controls, the Government has announced its conclusions we shall invite the Department to give evidence on the outcome.

WRITTEN EVIDENCE

13. We invited written evidence not only from those who have usually supplied evidence to our and our predecessor Committees' recent inquiries but also from a wider field which ranged from academics to those who organise arms fairs. We were grateful to receive their written evidence. We sent the DTI a series of written questions about the operation of the export control system and received detailed replies as well as several memoranda. In addition, we commissioned memoranda from our advisers, Dr Sibylle Bauer and Miss Joanna Kidd. We attach to this Report all the evidence we received—other than material with a security classification—and invite the Government to consider it before reaching its conclusions on the review of export controls. We have also made available on the Internet for the first time the written evidence we had received by March 2007, to assist those with an interest in our inquiry. We are grateful to all those who gave oral and written evidence and to our adviser, Dr Bauer, who helped us evaluate that evidence.

VISITS

14. We carried out two visits in 2007. In March we visited the Export Control Organisation at the DTI where we met officials and the Minister of State for Science and Innovation, Malcolm Wicks MP. In April we visited the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and met officials with responsibility for policy on strategic export controls and for considering applications for export licences. We wish to put on record our thanks to the Minister and the officials in both departments who showed us how applications for export licences are considered and answered our questions. We plan to visit HM Revenue and Customs later in the year.

15. In 2007 the FCO provided us with briefing on the UK contribution to the UN deliberations on the proposed arms trade treaty. We were grateful for the briefing and found it informative and useful.


15   HC (2005-06) 873, para 9 Back

16   Departments of Defence, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry, Strategic Export Controls: HMG's Annual Report for 2003, Licensing Policy and Parliamentary Scrutiny Response of the Secretaries of State for Defence, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry, Cm 6638, July 2005, p 2 Back

17   Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees, First Joint Report of Session 2004-05, HMG's Annual Report for 2003, Licensing Policy and Parliamentary Scrutiny, HC 145, paras 13-15 Back

18   Cm 6954, p 1  Back

19   HC Deb, 22 February 2007, col 180WH Back

20   HC (2005-06) 873, para 12 Back

21   The Working Group is part of an international coalition of non-governmental organisations which includes Amnesty UK, BASIC, Oxfam GB and Saferworld. Back

22   EGAD operates under the auspicious of the Defence Manufacturers' Association (DMA), the Society of British Aerospace Companies (SBAC), the Society of Maritime Industries (SMI), the British Naval Equipment Association (BNEA), the Association of Police and Public Security Suppliers (APPSS) and intellect (the trade association for the UK hi-tech industry). Back


 
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Prepared 7 August 2007