British weapons could be arming Somali pirates

Review into the quantity of guns sent to help UK firms after fears that some will end up in the wrong hands

The Government has been forced into an urgent review over why nearly 44,000 guns in only 15 months were sent to tackle piracy in East Africa and a number of repressive regimes.

MPs have accused the Business Department of a potential security risk, by approving the exports while failing to look into why British security firms needed so many assault rifles and pistols in countries with poor human rights records, such as Sri Lanka, Egypt and the Maldives.

The weapons are supposed to be used by the security firms for services such as protecting ships from Somali pirates. But the sheer volume that was authorised for exports between April 2012 to June 2013 has raised fears among members of the House of Commons Arms Export Controls Committee that the guns could have ended up in the hands of the pirates themselves or of dictatorial regimes.

Pressed to explain the numbers, the head of the Export Control Organisation at the Business Department, Edward Bell, told MPs: "I understand the concern about the volumes … having now heard about the volumes, I would like to do a bit more digging around that. I have no concerns that anything untoward has happened, but I certainly will have a closer look at the volumes involved."

Government data shows that the arms exports comprised 30,000 assault rifles, 2,536 pistols and 11,000 rifles, and the countries they ended up in also include Russia and South Africa. Sources on the committee say they want to know why British firms would need such a large stash of fresh guns, given that they will have had thousands of weapons in their armoury prior to April 2012.

Ann McKechin, a committee member and Labour MP, said: "The evidence provided to us by Mr Bell seems to suggest that the department did not have a process of looking at the cumulative number of weapons and whether those exports fitted the scenario on the ground needed for protection." A Business Department spokeswoman confirmed that a review is under way.

The development is part of a wide-ranging inquiry into arms exports. This has already seen the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, pushed to publicly reveal names of British companies granted licences to export products to Syria that could potentially be turned into chemical weapons. Mr Cable has refused.

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, faces the committee on Wednesday and will come under pressure over the Government's increasingly close relationship with China, which was cemented by a David Cameron-led trade mission towards the end of last year. China has been widely accused of state-sponsored cyber-terrorism.

A second committee member, Katy Clark, said: "China is one of the countries the Government is prioritising for the development of trade links. This raises questions over whether we've got the balance right between the arms trade, surveillance equipment and our economic interests."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project