To ask Her Majesty's Government what proposals they have for reducing the amount of paperwork associated with granting licences for the export of military components to NATO allies.
My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of Senior Aircraftman Luke Southgate, II Squadron RAF Regiment, Rifleman Martin Kinggett, 4th Battalion The Rifles, Sergeant Paul Fox, 28 Engineer Regiment, Rifleman Carlo Apolis, 4th Battalion The Rifles, as well as a soldier from 3rd Battalion The Rifles, who died recently while on operations in Afghanistan.
I turn now to the Question. We have eliminated the need for paperwork by making the licensing process fully electronic via the online SPIRE system, introduced in September 2007. Exporters also benefit from an open general export licence which allows, subject to certain conditions, military goods to be exported to the government of, or NATO headquarters in, specified countries.
My Lords, I also send my condolences to the family and friends of the senior aircraftman, the Royal Engineer sergeant and the riflemen killed in Afghanistan.
On the Question, despite what the Minister said, even the simplest of components are being delayed by excessive red tape in the export control organisation of BIS, which has clearly not woken up to the realities of globalisation. Will the Minister please ensure that the system is simplified and speeded up even further so that British companies can compete on a level playing field with competitors from less bureaucratic countries?
My Lords, we recognise that the defence industry is very important to the United Kingdom. It contributes about £12 billion to our GDP. I certainly give him that assurance. If he would like to provide me with any more detailed information about any concerns that companies have, I will follow them up. We are undertaking a customer satisfaction survey right now about the department in this matter. It is open until the end of March and we encourage people to participate in that survey.
My Lords, I associate these Benches with the condolences read out by the Minister at the start of his Answer. Can the Minister assure us that priority is given to any components needed by an ally in active service, so that they will go through quickly, and that we ensure that if we require something for our Armed Forces or to be used by one of our NATO allies on active service, that that is done with the minimum possible bureaucratic activity, whether online or on paper?
I am very happy to give the noble Lord that assurance.
That really is a matter for France.