BRITISH PUBLIC BACKS CALL FOR CLAMPDOWN ON ARMS EXPORT SECRECY

An opinion poll carried out last month found that eight out of ten people in Britain believe there is too much secrecy surrounding UK arms exports. Two thirds think the government should give MPs the power to advise it on arms sales to sensitive regions before the weapons are exported. But the Export Control Bill, as it currently stands, contains no such provision.

Robert Parker, Amnesty International UK's Arms Campaigner said:

'It is twelve years since the shocking discovery that components destined to be used in the construction of a super-gun were being exported from this country to Iraq. The arms-to-Iraq affair exposed the secretive way in which the government's export licensing system operated at the time, and too little has been done to open the system up since.

As we stand on the brink of possible war with Iraq, it has never been more important to ensure that we have an open and accountable system for preventing British arms falling into the wrong hands. A system of prior parliamentary scrutiny of export licence applications would go some way to meeting these concerns.'

Amnesty International UK says the Bill should be amended to give MPs the right to scrutinise export licence applications before they are agreed. The human rights organisation says that this would help prevent UK-supplied equipment being used to commit human rights violations abroad by allowing MPs to voice their concerns before an export licence is granted, rather than the current system which only allows for scrutiny many months later.

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