Letter: Iraqgate - the need for accountability

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The Independent Online
Sir: It is vital that Lord Justice Scott's inquiry into the sale of British military equipment to Iraq looks to the future as much as it does to the past. Far more information about arms exports must be made available to Parliament and the public than at present if a future 'Iraqgate' is to be avoided.

The Government can control the transfer of military equipment from the UK through the export licensing procedure. However, how this power is exercised is shrouded in secrecy as it has been the policy of successive governments not to give details of such exports or even a list of countries invited to arms export exhibitions. Such a policy is incompatible with accountability to Parliament and democratic control of arms export policy.

The recently established United Nations register of conventional arms, which is of necessity retrospective, needs to be complemented by a register of applications for UK export licences. This register should be made available for public inspection 10 working days in advance of the licence application being considered. This would enable comment and, if appropriate, Parliamentary debate before the decision whether or not to grant the licence is made.

Additionally, a report on the export of British military equipment should be published annually and form the basis of a Parliamentary debate. This should include a breakdown of export licences granted or refused and the reasons for decisions reached; a review of the enforcement of end user certificates; a report on progress made on curbing the arms trade internationally; information about the observance and enforcement of embargoes; and a review of the training given by the UK armed forces and private companies to overseas military, security and police personnel.

We hope that Lord Justice Scott will include these suggestions in his recommendations when he publishes his findings. We feel that such measures will enable informed debate of the kind that will stop the UK from arming the next Saddam.

Yours sincerely,

DAVID STEEL (Liberal Democrat MP), JOHN BATTLE (Labour MP), PAUL FLYNN (Labour, MP), ALEX SALMOND (Scottish National Party MP), CYNOD DAFIS (Plaid Cymru MP), GLYN FORD (Labour MEP), MALLEN BAKER and JEAN LAMBERT (Green Party), MALCOLM HARPER (Director, United Nations Association), AL McLEOD (National Peace Council), ANN FELTHAM (Campaign Against Arms Trade)

London, N4

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