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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 49, August 2000

UK Parliamentary Committee Demands Arms Export Reform

On July 25, a Quadripartite Committee of the British House of Commons - composed of members from the Select Committees on Defence, Foreign Affairs, Trade and Industry, and International Development - issued a report calling for a major reform in procedures for overseeing arms exports. Specifically, the Committee recommends that relevant Select Committees should be accorded "democratic involvement" in appraising exports to ensure compatibility with development, foreign policy and human rights criteria. The report states: "We are convinced that accountability demands that parliament is engaged in scrutiny of arms export licences before as well as after their grant. Prior scrutiny should be designed to ensure that Parliament has a voice in matters of such crucial importance before final decisions are taken…"

The recommendation was supported by the Foreign Affairs spokespersons of both the Conservative party (Francis Maude) and the Liberal Democrats (Menzies Campbell). According to Campbell (July 25): "The kind of major embarrassment which the Conservatives suffered over arms to Iraq, and the minor embarrassment which this Government suffered in relation to arms to Indonesia, can easily be avoided by scrutiny, by allowing the searchlight of Parliamentary accountability to get into the innermost nooks and crannies of arms export policy…" Maude was fiercely critical of the Government's record:

"Many were appalled when Labour granted licenses for Hawk jet spare parts to Zimbabwe, despite evidence showing that those planes were being used in the violent and bloody military adventure in the Congo… This latest report will consign Labour's 'ethical' foreign policy to the growing scrap heap of their broken promises…"

Report: MPs demand to check arms exports, BBC News Online, July 25.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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