Parliament: Arms Trade - Cook faces questions on torture weapons

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The Independent Online
GOVERNMENT SECRECY over arms sales will cause fresh controversy today as Robin Cook publishes his annual report on the export of weapons.

Ministers were facing questions last night over why illegal torture equipment was advertised on an official government website, as revealed in The Independent yesterday. Despite calls for more openness in the Government's annual report on arms sales for 1998, the document's format is believed to be similar to the 1997 one.

Most weapons sales will be listed under broad categories, making it difficult to tell what has been sold. One category includes combat planes and parachutes.

The report will reveal that arms sales to repressive regimes such as Turkey and Indonesia continued through the second year of the Labour government. During the year Heckler & Koch, a subsidiary of British Aerospace, began manufacturing sub-machine-guns in Turkey. And among the 56 licences granted for weapons sales to Indonesia were tanks, small arms and ammunition.

The Foreign Secretary will face a Commons committee today. Some MPs hope he will reveal why a Surrey-based firm advertised stun guns on the Government's export website.

Last night Vincent Cable, the Liberal Democrat trade and industry spokesman, put down Parliamentary questions asking Stephen Byers, the Trade and Industry Secretary, to explain why no one in his department appeared to have monitored what was put on its database.

"I am not sure which is worse - the casual cynicism of the arms exporters or the inability of the Government to regulate them," he said.