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International Arms Trade

Volume 525: debated on Monday 14 March 2011

4. What assessment he has made of the implications for his Department’s policies of proposals for further regulation of the international trade in arms; and if he will make a statement. (45699)

We strongly support proposals for an arms trade treaty. It should reduce the proliferation of conventional weapons and technology in unstable regions. By agreeing and implementing criteria that set high standards for the export of conventional weapons and technology, the Government maintain a rigorous and transparent arms export control system, whereby all export licence applications are assessed case by case against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria. The arms trade treaty will better regulate the international trade in conventional weapons and contribute towards preventing conflict, which is a key interest for the Department.

Our Government should be congratulated on their strong role in the international arms trade treaty talks in New York last week, which will lead to a great improvement around the world. However, does the Minister accept that sales of British defence and security equipment, licensed under this Government and the previous Government, to countries such as Libya and Bahrain show that we need to take a far more careful look at our exports, as well as advising the rest of the world?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the progress towards an arms trade treaty is encouraging. The recent preparatory committee meeting certainly went well. As I have said, the UK maintains rigorous controls. Clearly, the changing political situation means that we will have to monitor sales to various countries far more closely. When considering future export licensing applications, we will follow the terms of the newly agreed UN arms embargo in the case of Libya. In terms of other countries, such sales have been going on for some time, as my hon. Friend said, but I am pleased to say that there have been no recent sales to Bahrain, for example.

We should all welcome the advances towards an international treaty. However, I urge the Minister to point out to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) the huge importance of the British aerospace industry to the economy not only of the country, but of the regions where it employs many thousands of skilled workers. In that context, the criteria for deciding to whom we sell should be current criteria. For example, we should consider the huge advances made in Indonesia under President Yudhoyono, not only in its economy, but in human rights and democracy in that country. Will there be an up-to-date assessment of which countries are appropriate?

We keep under constant review the progress made in different parts of the world, and apply that against the criteria. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Government recognise the significance of defence exports and the rigorous controls that are in place. Exports bring great value to the economy, industry and defence. They contribute not only to our defence diplomacy, but to the interoperability of our systems with those of our allies around the world.