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25 May 2007

Barrett launches moves for arms export clamp down

John Barrett, Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West, has today launched fresh moves in parliament to clamp down on UK arms exports to conflict zones around the world.

Mr Barrett has tabled a parliamentary motion calling on the government to ‘tighten export controls and introduce new and more stringent checks on the end-use of arms exports from the UK’.

Earlier this week a damning new report by an independent think-tank accused the Blair government of repeatedly breached its own guidelines on arms exports by selling weapons to countries with bad human rights records and failing to do enough to monitor the final destination of exported weapons.

John Barrett said:

“In my five years on the international development Select Committee I have seen for myself the devastating impact of arms trading in conflict zones across the world.

“Far too often guns are pouring into countries which are already suffering from conflict or are close to civil war. As the second largest exporter of arms, we in the UK have a grave responsibility to take action.

“In the three years up to 2006, arms exports were approved to 19 of 20 states identified as "countries of concern". This is absolutely irresponsible and undermines the work of charities and agencies on the ground who are trying their best to restore stability in these regions.”

Earlier this year, the Edinburgh West MP wrote to the Prime Minister, Home Secretary, The Foreign Secretary, the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for the Department of Trade and Industry, to try and trace the whereabouts of 194,500 assault rifles and machine guns imported from Bosnia & Herzegovina and Croatia in 2005 amid fears that they had been re-exported.

After a series of inconclusive replies is was revealed that the UK government does not keep track of the final destination of much of the small arms imported into this country.

Mr Barrett said:

“I was astounded to discover the number of assault rifles and machine guns imported from the Balkans into the UK in 2005. It appears that Government Ministers know that these guns are coming into the country, but have no idea where they are now.

“We need far better co-ordination across Government to ensure that our work attempting to resolve conflicts in some of the worlds most volatile countries is not undermined by the use of the UK as a stop-over point for guns destined for conflict zones.”

“I hope that the Saferworld report and today’s motion will be the start of this process.”

 

Notes

• The Saferworld report can be found at: http://www.saferworld.org.uk/publications.php?id=264

• John Barrett has tabled the following Early Day motion:

EDM 1551

UK ARMS EXPORTS

Barrett, John
That this House welcomes the publication of the Saferworld report The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; notes that the UK is the world’s second largest exporter of arms; acknowledges that the Government has tightened export controls on arms sales since 1997; nevertheless believes that the current arrangement is failing properly to ensure that arms exported from the UK do not find their way to conflict zones; notes that in the three years up to 2006 arms exports were approved to 19 of 20 states identified by the Government as countries of concern; believes that not enough is being done to trace arms exports once they leave the UK; and calls on the Government further to tighten export controls and introduce new and more stringent checks on the end-use of arms exports from the UK.

• The issue of the import of arms from the Balkans was first raised at a Quadripartite Committee evidence session on the 15th of March 2007. A full transcript of the meeting is available here.

An extract of the Meeting is below:

Q195 John Barrett: There is a large number of arms coming to the UK from the Balkans. In 2005 there were about 200,000 assault rifles and machine guns imported from Bosnia and Croatia. Am I right in thinking that the Revenue and Customs have responsibility for imports? How thorough is the checking of these imports on the numbers of guns getting into the country?

Mr Fuchter: There is a 100 per cent check on commercial imports of firearms and these are the sorts of cases to which you are referring. Officers have some discretion over how they execute that. If they regard the importer as a well known, regular shipper through their port, they may confine that to a documentary check, but they have the discretion to physically examine the goods and to count them. Supplementing that we have a small team of officers who work throughout the UK called firearms and explosives officers whose job is to audit the books of registered firearms dealers with particular regard to declared imports. We have the frontier control backed up by a deeper audit that takes place of all registered firearms dealers, registered to hold section five firearms, which is exactly what these assault rifles would be. They undertake a number of audit checks. They check that all imported goods have been entered into the firearms register. They work alongside the police who have broader responsibilities across dealer to dealer transactions within the UK, whilst our audit actions are confined to imports. Those firearms and explosives officers' audits will also include where firearms are subsequently re-exported, but the only way we are looking at firearms coming into the UK and moving out for re-export is very much at dealer level.

Q196 John Barrett: Is there a clear number of how many guns, assault rifles, machine guns, are then left in the country? Out of these 200,000 that came in in 2005, is anyone counting the numbers that went back out? What would we think are the numbers left in the UK?

Mr Fuchter: No one in my organisation is doing so. I understand that to be a responsibility of the DTI’s import licensing branch. I would have to stress that all of these transactions were given an import licence because in each case it involved a registered and approved firearms dealer.

Q197 John Barrett: Do you know if anybody in the DTI is counting the numbers?

Mr Fuchter: I do not know that for sure, no.

Q198 Chairman: Would it be fair to say that the control exists in relation to importation and the control exists for those who apply for a licence to export, but it is not entirely clear, like the number of parliamentarians, who is asking the question? A massive number of assault rifles come to this country in 2005 from the Balkans. What happens to them?

Mr Fuchter: The original question would have been asked at the time the import licences were applied for because there would have been import licence coverage for that quantity of firearms. That is not something that Revenue and Customs are involved in at all. That takes place prior to the point you are making. Our FXOs, certainly for the registered firearms dealers concerned, will be looking at the stock levels and disposal. They are doing a number of detailed audit checks. In essence we are there to prevent any leakage of imported firearms onto the illicit UK market.

Q199 Chairman: Presumably, if a substantial number of assault rifles et cetera come into the UK, you know who the end user is going to be in the UK. We know from documentation where they go?

Mr Fuchter: Not necessarily. When they are imported, they are imported by an importing firearms dealer and it would be that person whose details appear on the import declaration. These are completely declared, legitimate imports so we know where they will have gone to.

Q200 Chairman: If we are talking about 200,000 assault rifles, who is it who goes to the dealer and says, "Oi, mate, what are you going to do with these then?"?

Mr Fuchter: It is not the Revenue and Customs.

Q201 John Barrett: It is not yourselves.

Mr Fuchter: It would be our firearms and explosives officers in the context of imports. I should stress that we are not talking about one consignment here of 200,000 weapons. 90 per cent of the consignments are of 100 or fewer. The point you are making is probably more addressed to the overview taken by the licensing police who deal with the totality of registered firearms dealers' status.

Q202 John Barrett: It is a bit of a pressure for joined up government in this sense: I would like to imagine that a quarter of a million assault rifles coming in from Croatia and Bosnia were brought in to be melted down and got rid of because they do not have facilities there to do it; in the same way as we provided facilities in Sierra Leone to melt down weapons where the collections had been organised. I would not like to think that they had leaked on to the streets of my constituency in Leeds, Manchester or London. I would like to know if they have been sold back out from Bosnia to another country. What we are saying is that we do not have an end use check in Britain and, at the same time, we are putting pressure on the Home Office to cut down the number of guns in Britain.

Mr Fuchter: Some of the questions you are looking to address would be addressed by the police licensing officer. Future sales on are dealt with by the police licensing officer.

Q203 John Barrett: In the Home Office?

Mr Fuchter: Under Home Office supervision, yes, very much so. I would like to assure the Committee that there is more joined up government going on than I am painting as a picture but once again I am constrained by the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act in my ability to talk about individual cases.

Q204 John Barrett: Could we ask a question of the Home Office about their monitoring of the end use? Would that be the appropriate route for us as parliamentarians to go down?

Mr Fuchter: That is very likely. It is an issue I would like to talk to the Home Office about certainly at enforcement policy level.

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This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.