Senior Cabinet ministers accused of 'profoundly misleading' claims about Britain’s arms export industry

MPs demand explanation from Government as to why export licences were granted earlier this year for goods ranging from sniper rifles to CS gas grenades to be sent to countries with questionable human rights records

Senior Cabinet ministers have been accused of making “profoundly misleading” claims about Britain’s lucrative arms export industry by stating there is no evidence that shipments to hardline regimes are not used for “internal repression”.

MPs have demanded an explanation from the Government as to why export licences were granted earlier this year for goods ranging from sniper rifles to CS gas grenades to be sent to countries with questionable human rights records such as Saudi Arabia and Libya.

The Commons committee dealing with arms exports has listed 18 nations which are currently the subject of embargos or considered a “Country of Concern” for human rights  were cleared to receive military or law enforcement equipment worth nearly £80m in the first three months of 2013.

Among the approvals being investigated by the MPs is the granting of licences worth nearly £6m for items including “acoustic devices for riot control”, thunderflashes and armoured vehicles to be sent to Kenya around the time of the country’s presidential election. The previous election in 2008 sparked a crack down by security forces and violence which claimed 1,500 lives.

In a hard-hitting attack on the Government’s track record in scrutinising exports of military or sensitive “dual use” material, Sir John Stanley, chairman of the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC), has written to four senior ministers - Foreign Secretary William Hague, Business Secretary Vince Cable, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond and International Development Secretary Justine Greening - accusing them of being unable to justify assurances that British exports are not used to abuse human rights.

The letter follows revelations that Mr Cable’s department last year approved two export licences for chemicals which can be used as precursors for nerve agents to be sent to Syria while the country’s civil war was raging. Officials insist that although the shipment was approved, it never left Britain.

Sir John criticised a statement in the Government’s annual report on export controls, signed by the four ministers, that “there was no evidence of any UK-supplied equipment being used for internal repression”.

Britain currently has more than 3,000 licences for controlled goods worth about £12bn outstanding to the 27 countries considered by the Foreign Office to be of the highest human rights concern.

The senior MP, who is also a former defence minister, said that while the statement may be factually correct “it is also profoundly misleading given that for many of the goods for which Government export licence approval has been given and which could be used for internal repression,  it is also totally or virtually impossible to obtain evidence about their use once exported”.

The committee added that among the items granted export licences which might be used by oppressive regimes against their own people were hundreds of consignments - ranging from miltary software, cryptographic equipment, dual-use chemicals and ammunition - which were untraceable once they had left the UK.

In a separate document, the MPs questioned a swathe of deals that form part of Britain’s annual exports from the defence and security sector worth £11.5bn, including the sale of weaponry and military equipment to some of world’s most unstable hotspots.

The deals included licences for military material worth £3.5m, including sniper rifles and weapon night sights, to be sent to Lebanon, which is the subject of a UN arms trade sanctions, and exports worth £4.3m ranging from body armour and anti-riot shields to “intelligence software” and ammunition to be sent to Libya, which is listed by the Foreign Office as a “Country of Concern” for human rights and has been singled out as a major conduit for arms across sub-Saharan Africa. It is understood that the weaponry despatched to Lebanon was destined not only for UN peacekeepers but also Lebanese government forces.

The MPs also queried the decision to approve defence exports worth £45m, including helicopter spares, to Egypt despite previously revoking similar licences in the wake of the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. The latest licences were suspended last month following renewed bloodshed.

The shipments approved to Saudi Arabia were CS gas hand grenades and “tear gas/irritant ammunition”.

Among the licences called into doubt by MPs were the approval of shipments of hundreds of powerful assault weapons to Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf countries, including the Comoros Islands, Madagascar and Oman for use by private companies in anti-piracy operations against Somalia.

In the case of Madagascar, licences for 1,000 weapons, including 200 sniper rifles and 50 “combat shotgun”, were granted on top of approvals last year for more than 4,000 similar guns. The MPs said: “Given reports of human rights abuses in Madagascar, what assurances has the UK Government received that none of these items will not be used for internal repression?”

While it is understood that many of the items listed for dispatch to Kenya were also for use in counter-piracy operations, campaigners said there was a worrying lack of transparency and accountability in the arms export system.

A spokeswoman for the Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “Once military goods are sent abroad, the exporter has no control of how, when or where they will be used. But as in law, ignorance is no defence. When there are well-documented accounts of a government using similar weaponry for internal repression, or a strong likelihood that they will do so in future, then common sense says that the licence should not be issued.”

The select committee, which has asked for a response from ministers and a justification for the deals it has queried by next month, also questioned deals to sell equipment to countries that could pose a threat to or are not aligned with Britain, including cryptographic equipment to Argentina and China and military equipment to Russia.

A Government spokesman said: “The UK operates one of the most rigorous arms export control regimes in the world, and has been at the forefront of implementing tough international trade controls, including most recently on exports to Egypt. We do not grant export licences where there is a clear risk that goods might be used for internal repression.”

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
nflAtlanta Falcons can't count and don't know what the UK looks like
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg
music

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

News
The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions
News
news

Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down

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

IT Support Analyst - London - £22,000

£20000 - £22000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chel...

Learning Support Assistants-Nantwich area

£8 - £9 per hour: Randstad Education Chester: We are currently recruiting for ...

Primary Teachers-Northwich area

£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Primary Teachers- Northwich Ar...

Primary Teachers-Northwich area

£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Primary Teachers- Northwich Ar...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London