Government accused of reneging on arms pledge

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The Government has been charged with reneging on a manifesto pledge to tighten the laws on arms trading.

The Government has been charged with reneging on a manifesto pledge to tighten the laws on arms trading.

A committee of MPs, human rights watchdogs, and charities claimed that loopholes in export regulations have not been closed by new legislation announced yesterday.

The Commons Quadripartite Committee - which is responsible for scrutinising defence, foreign affairs, trade and international development - complained that its recommendations for tougher legislation had been ignored.

In May the committee urged the Government to reform the Export Control Act to prevent British citizens overseas taking part in weapons sales. During the 2001 election campaign Labour promised to curb the activities of arms brokers "wherever they are located".

The committee's report five months ago pointed out that Britain, the world's second biggest arms exporter, already operated extra-territorial controls for crimes such as paedophilia, terrorism and corruption. It stated: "The arm of the law should reach British subjects based overseas who are involved in all those aspects of the arms trade which any civilised nation would regard as reprehensible - including the proliferation of small arms."

However, under the new regulations British subjects based abroad will only face prosecution if they were trading in weapons of mass destruction, long-range missiles, torture equipment or with countries subject to arms embargoes. Critics say this will allow British dealers to continue selling weapons to war zones simply by leaving the country to do the deal.

The Labour backbencher Roger Berry, chairman of the committee, said, "Failure to control all arms trafficking and brokering by UK citizens means that British-sold weapons will continue to end up being used to slaughter civilians, violate basic human rights and destroy lives in conflicts across the world.

"Our committee urged the Government to tighten up the Act. Tragically, they appear to have ignored our recommendations. At a time of growing concern over gun crime in this country and terror around the world, we should be seizing every available opportunity to tighten up our arms controls.The Government have missed a crucial chance to make the world a safer place."

Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for brent North, added: "The Department of Trade and Industry's position on this is neither morally right nor politically astute. This legislation is a dream for illicit arms dealers. All they will do is hop on the train to Paris for lunch, sign their deal and return to the UK in the afternoon."

Barbara Stocking, director of Oxfam, added: "The failure of the British Government to clean up its act, or to honour its election promise shows the urgent need for international controls on the arms trade.

Amnesty International's Lesley Warner said: "When Britain is seeing at first hand the deadly effects of the unregulated trade in guns, it's scandalous that the British Government is failing to clamp down on British arms dealers. Only an arms trade treaty can plug the gaps that national governments seem unable or unwilling to fill."