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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Content and PR

£35000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Mid / Senior

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing digital agenc...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor