Vince Cable to investigate UK arms fairs laws to prevent sales of torture devices

Five incidents at arms fairs in nine years - but no convictions

Business Secretary Vince Cable has promised to review whether the law should be strengthened to ensure that torture equipment is not advertised at arms fairs in the UK.

Mr Cable told MPs he would examine whether the failure to prosecute two exhibitors, who last year showed devices including leg irons and electric shock prods in catalogues, was due to “a failure of the law or a failure of enforcement”.

The Independent revealed that the two companies - one French and one Chinese - had been ejected from the biennial DSEI event in London. But an attempt by campaigners to bring a private prosecution over the incident failed due to delays blamed on state prosecutors. The Crown Prosecution Service said it believed there had been insufficient evidence to secure a conviction.

The incident was the fifth in nine years where an exhibitor was found to have broken rules by marketing illegal weaponry but there has never been a prosecution.

Mr Cable, appearing before the House of Commons arms exports control committee, said it was reasonable to consider whether the law needed strengthening.

He said: “We didn’t get advice back from the prosecutors that they weren’t able to proceed because of the weakness of the law. I want to go back from this hearing and establish whether the problem is failure of the law or a failure of enforcement.”

The Lib Dem minister said his department would also make public some details of 12 licences for the export of British weaponry to Israel, which may have been used in this summer’s bombardment of Gaza.

Mr Cable, whose department was strongly criticised for stopping short of suspending the licences, agreed to provide information on the types of weaponry cleared for export but said it was a longstanding policy not to name the companies sending the weaponry.