LETTER:Too much secrecy over arms exports

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The Independent Online
From Mr Oliver Sprague

Sir: Your editorial ("Publish quickly, Sir Richard", 8 November) correctly notes that UK arms exports to Iraq were a direct result of the secrecy that surrounds arms export decision-making in this country. There is a clear lesson to be learnt: we must establish a system of accountability that allows both parliamentary and public scrutiny over the export of UK weapons and related technology.

Critics, of course, will argue against this on grounds of practicality and commercial confidentiality. Yet a system operates in the US whereby, at the beginning of each year, a Congressional committee may object to proposed sales of more than pounds 4.5m. Furthermore, throughout the year, Congress is informed of any deals of over pounds 9m and is given 30 days to debate whether the export should go ahead.

A more stringent version of the US system, with lower financial thresholds, would, if implemented in the UK, oblige the Government to disclose its arms export policies. This would help prevent the secret export of military equipment to unsavoury regimes.

Yours faithfully,

Oliver Sprague


London, WC1

8 November