MPs condemn secrecy at ExCel arms fair amid torture trade fears

 

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The Independent Online

MPs fear that some exhibitors at the world’s biggest arms fair, to be held in London in September, could try to use the event to promote the sale of instruments of torture.

The powerful Committees on Arms Export Controls had hoped to see the terms of the agreement between the company running Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI), Clarion Events, and the Government before the general election.

The four-day biennial event at ExCel in London attracts about 1,500 exhibitors – including big defence groups such as BAE Systems, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin – showing off everything from battlefield medical kit to warships to more than 32,000 delegates. It has also, however, been used by some companies to advertise torture devices such as leg irons and electric batons. The sale of such products is illegal in the UK.

Last year, the MPs’ committee demanded to see the memorandum of understanding between Clarion and the Department for Business over the running of DSEI as early as possible. The MoU is negotiated in the months before the event.

The MPs wanted to make sure that the agreement would make the private equity-owned Clarion’s responsibilities clear if any exhibitors  flouted UK regulations.

But the agreement will not be ready until after the election, even though DSEI registration commenced at the start of February.

Ann McKechin, the Labour MP for Glasgow North who sits on the committee, said: “It is disappointing that this has been delayed until after the election. This memorandum won’t be ready now until a matter of a few weeks before DSEI starts, when exhibitors and attendees will have already booked their flights, hotels and stands.

“There’s a lack of transparency here. We were given the indication that we would see the memorandum around the start of the year.”

Last year’s report warned there was a “self-evident lack of clarity in the present criminal legislation”, meaning that companies felt they could get away with promotional material for items that could be used for torture.

A Whitehall source conceded there had been problems with a “very tiny proportion” of exhibitors in the past, but that they had been quickly ejected. The source added: “There has been a small number of regrettable incidents of exhibitors displaying literature about goods whose export from the UK is banned.”

A Department for Business spokeswoman said it expected to publish the memorandum of understanding with Clarion “early in the summer”.

Providence Equity bought Clarion for more than £200m earlier this year – a deal that prompted protests by the Stop the Arms Fair campaigners.

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