HL Deb 01 July 1998 vol 591 cc82-4WA
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they will publish their response to the recommendations on strategic export controls contained in Sir Richard Scott's report of the Inquiry into the Export of Defence Equipment and Dual-Use Goods to Iraq and Related Prosecutions. [HL2520]

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Clinton-Davis)

My right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade has today published a White Paper onStrategic Export Controls [Cm 3989]. This sets out the Government's response to the recommendations on strategic export controls contained in Sir Richard Scott's report.

Its main proposal is the introduction of new primary legislation to update the Government's strategic export control powers and to provide for parliamentary scrutiny of these powers. It also proposes improvements in export licensing procedures.

It is important in a modern democracy for government to be accountable to Parliament for the way they use their strategic export control powers. We also need to ensure that we have up-to-date powers to enable us to deal with modern means of trading, such as transferring information via the Internet, and brokering deals involving the transfer of goods between overseas countries. Exporters need export licensing procedures that are both clear and consistent.

New primary legislation would:

  • Provide for parliamentary scrutiny of secondary legislation on strategic export controls and for the purposes for which export controls can be imposed to be set out in secondary legislation. This will answer one of the main criticisms made in the Scott Report that the Government has "an unfettered power to impose whatever export controls it wishes and to use those controls for any purpose it thinks fit".
  • Strengthen the Government's powers to take action against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, in part by bringing controls on biological and nuclear weapons into line with those already covering chemical weapons.
  • Introduce controls on the transfer of technology by intangible means.
  • Introduce additional controls on trafficking in, or brokering of deals in, certain goods between overseas countries. At present the Government only have the power to control such activity where this is necessary to implement a binding UN decision. We believe the Government should be able to impose controls in relation to the involvement of UK persons or companies or other persons in the UK in supplying arms to any country on which we have imposed an arms embargo. We also propose to prohibit trafficking and brokering in equipment whose export we have already banned because of evidence that goods of the same type have been used for torture; and
  • Provide powers to require exporters to report the information necessary to enable us to meet our reporting obligations to international bodies.

We also propose some important changes to procedures to make the export licensing process clearer, fairer and more efficient:

  • The basic elements of the licensing process will be set out in primary legislation, with detailed WA 84 procedures included either in secondary legislation or in guidance material as at present.
  • The system for appealing against licence refusals will be put on a more formal basis.
  • The export licensing authority should remain within the DTI. Most licence applications are circulated to FCO, MoD and, where appropriate DfID, for their advice, and licensing decisions are, and will be, taken on the basis of the advice received from these departments.

We believe our proposals should provide the right framework for strategic export controls that are both effective and accountable. The White Paper is a consultative document and we would welcome comments from industry, NGOs and others by 30 September. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, and are available from the Stationery Office and on the department's website.