§ Mr. David Davis
To ask the President of the Board of Trade if she will make a statement on delays in the application process for export licences for defence equipment made by British companies. 
§ Mrs. Beckett
Licences to export strategic goods are issued by the President of the Board of Trade and the Export Control Organisation of the Department of Trade and Industry is the licensing authority. Relevant 205W individual licence applications are circulated by the DTI to other Government Departments with an interest, as determined by them in line with their policy responsibilities. These include the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development.
In his announcement last year of new criteria of the assessment of export licence applications on 28 July 1997, Official Report, columns 26–29, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear that the criteria would not be applied mechanistically and that individual applications would be considered case by case. In the months following the announcement, this led to an increase in the time taken to assess some applications. The Government appreciate the inconvenience and uncertainty that results from any delay in the processing of individual 206W applications and my department, together with the other departments involved, is continuing to work to reduce processing timescales generally.