'Ethical foreign policy' backed by wide-ranging weapons export law

The Queen's Speech: Arms Sales
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The most radical and wide-ranging reform of laws on arms sales since the Second World War is being proposed.

The Government, which has faced heavy criticism for failure to deliver on its much-vaunted "ethical foreign policy", promised far stricter checks and greater transparency over the export of weapons.

The Export Control and Non-Proliferation Bill will replace legislation that has not changed substantially since 1939. It comes five years after Sir Richard Scott's damning report on arms-to-Iraq and will include many of its key recommendations.

Under the proposed laws there will be a ban on export licences where they could lead to human rights abuses; a ban on sales of "torture equipments"; a ban on the sale of landmines; an increase in the maximum penalty for offenders from seven to 10 years; and an annual report on strategic export controls.

There will also be tighter scrutiny of end users' certificates, which shows where a shipment is heading, and new powers to force exporters to supply information.

After the Scott Report, the Government set out new guidelines on arms trading, introduced closer monitoring of the market by a select committee and adopted a code of conduct. But human rights activists had complained that Tony Blair's Government had been dragging its feet on bringing in effective controls.

Britain is responsible for a quarter of global weapons sales and British companies are world leaders in the field. Even while Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary, was making speeches on ethical foreign policy, Britain was selling Hawk fighter jets to the Indonesian regime then in occupation of East Timor.

Yesterday, the human rights group Amnesty International said it was "very pleasantly surprised". A spokesman said: "It is very good news that this Government is taking this issue seriously and there now appears to be a political will to take effective action.

"However, what we must ensure is that it is not watered down at all before it does become law.''

The Government also promised to reintroduce a Bill on international development, dropped because it ran out of parliamentary time before the last election. The Bill will end the practice of "tied" aid, under which recipient countries are obliged to spend a proportion of the aid on British goods and services.

The speech also reiterated the Government's commitment to the proposed European rapid reaction force for peace-keeping and crisis management "where Nato chooses not to do so".