Arms Sales (Licences)

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 2:22 pm on 12th July 1995.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher , Stoke-on-Trent Central 2:22 pm, 12th July 1995

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what steps he has taken to improve the scrutiny of applications for licences for the export of armaments. [32129]

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor , Esher

Procedures and practices are under constant review to respond to changing circumstances. Since the late 1980s, there have been a number of important specific changes. These include: a higher staff/licence application ratio; more resources concentrated on sensitive cases; greater involvement of senior management; and wider co-ordination through use of information technology.

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher , Stoke-on-Trent Central

Did not the former President of the Board of Trade, in his statement to the House on BMARC, admit that 74 per cent. of export licence applications were not even checked by his Department? Was that caused by sheer inefficiency or was there a more political reason— that the Government wished to turn a blind eye to the export of arms? What are the Government going to do to avoid further shambles like BMARC in the future, which have brought such discredit not only to the Government but to the country?

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor , Esher

The hon. Gentleman should know that the previous President announced that on a sample basis 74 per cent. did not have full supporting documentation. I have to inform the hon. Gentleman that every application form states whom the applicant wishes to be the end user and ultimate consignee. Therefore, the Department of Trade and Industry was informed by every applicant of where the applicant said that it was eventually sending the goods.

Supporting documentation is not legally required in all cases. However, since the inquiries that were conducted by the Select Committee on Trade and Industry and as a result of the Scott inquiry, the performance of the export licensing department has been significantly tightened. The requirement now is for all applications to have supporting documents and, because of the new computer technology, it is not possible to process a licence unless certain key questions are asked and answered.

Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South

Can my hon. Friend confirm that British Aerospace is a major exporter, that the attack on defence exports could cost many tens of thousands of jobs in British industry, and that the Opposition do not care about manufacturing industry or the jobs in it?

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor , Esher

I agree with my hon. Friend. British Aerospace is a fine company, doing an enormous amount for the benefit of the British economy, a considerable amount for employment and, I stress, as Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Technology, an enormous amount for Britain's technological base. It is shameful for Opposition Members to condemn the excellence that is available in that British company.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

At the time that the Scott inquiry was set up, the Government had been in possession for some two years of all the BMARC papers which were taken during the raid on the Astra headquarters. If those papers had been made available, the Scott inquiry would not have been just about arms for Iraq and Matrix Churchill but about arms for Iran and BMARC. Why were the papers not made available?

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor , Esher

The papers to which the hon. Gentleman refers were obtained as a result of investigations into the company's financial status and have been retained for that purpose by the receiver. They have now been made available to Customs and Excise, and we are delighted that, at our invitation, the Select Committee on Trade and Industry is looking into all those matters. There is no necessary connection in the Scott report between Iran and Iraq. The Select Committee's work will be of great illumination to the House in what the President admitted in his statement to the House was a chapter of incidents which we would have preferred not to have happened but which were in no way a connivance, rather the result of administrative inefficiencies.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins , Blackpool South

In the light of my hon. Friend's welcome statements about the contribution of British Aerospace, does he agree that the attacks on the defence industry from so many Opposition Members will be widely reviled by the thousands of my constituents whose families' livelihoods depend on their employment with companies such as British Aerospace, and they will not forget the attacks that have been made on their futures by Opposition Front-Bench Members?

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor , Esher

I agree with my hon. Friend, who has a considerable constituency interest in the defence sector. If Opposition Members were as assiduous as he is in defending the interests of their constituents, there would be fewer arguments against defence exporters and manufacturers. Britain's defence exports are worth more than £2 billion a year and, as I said earlier, they provide enormous prospects for jobs and Britain's technological base. We should be proud of that record. Nevertheless, we take care to which countries we export, and that is the effect of the answer that I gave a moment ago that we have tightened up significantly on the export control department's activities.