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UK: New arms laws will be 'full of holes'

Today's (Friday 17 October 2003) government response, to the parliamentary committee responsible for scrutinising the new law, shows that the loopholes are being ignored and as a result, British-sold weaponry will continue to destroy the lives of innocent civilians around the world.

The coalition calls on the government to review the legislation in one year's time to count the human cost of these loopholes. In the week that a new campaign was launched for an international Arms Treaty, the lax controls at a national level further demonstrate the need for an Arms Treaty.

Today's publication of the government response to the Quadripartite Committee's report on the Arms Export Control Act, shows that the government has failed to honour their 2001 election pledge to curb the activities of arms brokers 'wherever they are located'. It also shows they have chosen not to regulate arms transporters, nor to tighten controls over where British weapons end up, nor to effectively regulate licensed production.

The new laws will mean that British arms dealers will still be able to sell weapons to war zones, simply by popping out of the UK to do the deal. Arms transporters will be able to escape unregulated. The new law will also mean that British arms will continue to be used against innocent civilians- as they have recently in Israel and Indonesia- because there is still no effective system of monitoring what British weapons are used for.

Barbara Stocking, Oxfam's Director, said:

'The broken promises will mean lost lives as British-sold weapons continue to get into the wrong hands. The failure of the British government to clean up its act, or to honour its election promise shows the urgent need for international controls on the Arms.'

Amnesty International UK Media Director, Lesley Warner said:

'At a time when Britain is seeing at first hand the deadly effects of the unregulated trade in guns, it's scandalous that the British Government is failing to clamp down on British arms dealers flooding other countries' streets with weapons. Only an Arms Treaty can plug all the gaps that national governments seem unable or unwilling to fill.'

Roger Berry MP, Chair of the Quadripartite Committee in charge of scrutinising the Act said:

'Failure to control all arms trafficking and brokering by UK citizens means that British-sold weapons will continue to end up being used to slaughter civilians, violate basic human rights and destroy lives in conflicts across the world.

'Our committee urged the government to tighten up the act, tragically they appear to have ignored our recommendations and brushed aside our concerns.

'At a time of growing concern over gun crime in this country and terror around the world, we should be seizing every available opportunity to tighten up our arms controls. The government have missed a crucial chance to make the world a safer place.'

Editors Notes

  • In their 2001 manifesto, the Labour Party promised to curb the activities of arms brokers and traffickers 'wherever they are located'. The Government has now announced that it does not intend to introduce controls on UK arms brokers operating outside the UK (except in the few cases where countries are subject to legally binding arms embargoes or where the brokers are dealing in weapons of mass destruction, long-range missiles or torture equipment).
  • 'Extra-territorial' controls would regulate UK brokers wherever in the world they sign the deal. There are already 'extra-territorial' controls in UK law for crimes such as paedophilia, terrorism and corruption. Other European countries introducing controls, such as Finland and Poland, are making them fully extra-territorial. The USA already has a fully functional extra-territorial system.
  • Around the world arms kill one person every minute.
  • Britain remains the world's second biggest arms exporter. (Congress Research Service, 2003)

Oxfam, Amnesty International and the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) last week (Thursday 9th October) launched the Control Arms campaign for tougher arms controls. The main aim of the campaign is to establish an international Arms Treaty that would stop arms ending up in the wrong hands. More information on the campaign can be found at

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