Short under pressure on arms sales report

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Indy Politics

Clare Short was at the centre of new controversy over the Government's "ethical" foreign policy last night after protests that her department's protests against arms exports were being ignored.

Ms Short, Secretary of State for International Development, has refused to sign the Government's annual report on arms sales, saying her officials only see about a fifth of licence applications. Her department should not be held responsible for sales over which it has no control, she believes. Now she is being pressed by the three other ministers responsible for arms sales, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Stephen Byers, the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, and the Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon, to place her signature alongside theirs in the report, due to be published before the end of July.

Since new controls on arms exports were introduced in 1997, not a single licence has been refused on the grounds that it might harm the recipient country's economic development - the criterion under which Ms Short can object.

The Department for International Development (DfID) says arms have been sent from Britain to countries including Indonesia, Eritrea and Uganda despite its protests that the sales could increase poverty.

Jenny Tonge, the Liberal Democrat international development spokeswoman, accused the Government of ignoring one of the provisions of the European Code on Arms Exports, which said arms sales should not damage a country's development. "When it comes to scrutinising arms exports ...the other departments don't take any notice of what [the DfID] say," Ms Tonge said.

Last year Ms Short's department told a cross-party committee of MPs that it had raised objections to 17 licences in 1997 and 1998 but just six of those had been refused outright.