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.”

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
tech

Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download

Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff
tv

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Arts and Entertainment
tv

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
Life and Style
i100

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
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

Business Analyst – 2 year fixed term contract – Kent – Circa £55k

£45000 - £55000 Per Annum 31 days holiday, pension, healthcare, annual bonus: ...

**SEN Primary Teacher Serf Unit **

£110 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Preston: We are looking for an experie...

Experienced Foundation Teacher

£100 - £222 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recruiting f...

SEN Learning Support Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: SEN TA's apply now! West Midlands

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week