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UK Arms Exports: Transparency

Volume 718: debated on Thursday 21 July 2022

We publish more licensing data than any other country. Yesterday, we published our annual report covering 2021. The data reveal that of 4,234 licensing decisions on standard individual export licences, 96.1% were issued, 1.5% were refused and, because of our sanctions on Russia and Belarus, 2.4% were revoked. The Government remain committed to openness on strategic export licensing to provide Parliament with the means to hold us to account.

In February, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs issued its biggest ever fine of £2.7 million for breach of the arms exports controls. HMRC has refused to publish any details so we do not know who was fined, the name of the company, the military goods exported or where they ended up. How does the Minister expect us to have any faith or confidence in our arms export controls when they are so shrouded in secrecy?

The hon. Gentleman refers to HMRC which does not fall under my Department, but I will ensure that the relevant Minister provides him with an answer.

I heard the Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), but the reality is that the changes to licensing criteria have reduced transparency and accountability. Can the Minister explain the rationale for changing Government guidance on granting licences from refusing a licence if there is a clear risk that items may be used in violation of international humanitarian law to if the Government determine there is a clear risk?

As we have left the European Union, we have decided that it is right to review many aspects of our system. This is one part, and we have made the wording of the criteria clearer than before to provide certainty to exporters and others.