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Monday, 22 January, 2001, 16:27 GMT
Scott attacks arms trade reform failure
Machine gun
New laws will not be introduced until after the election
Lord Justice Scott, author of the landmark Scott report into the arms to Iraq scandal, has attacked the government's failure to keep its promise to enact laws regulating the arms trade.

The current legislation is appallingly outdated

Lord Justice Scott
His criticisms were echoed by the businessman whose trial led to the Scott inquiry, Paul Henderson, who told the BBC he was disappointed at the lack of progress on the issue.

It is almost five years since the Scott report recommended changes to arms export laws, some of which date back to 1939 and protect contracts from parliamentary scrutiny.

Campaigners for arms trade regulation were once again disappointed by last year's Queen's speech when it only included a draft export control bill.

'Long, long overdue'

Lord Scott told the BBC it was "regrettable and disappointing" that no changes had been made to legislation.

Lord Justice Richard Scott
Lord Justice Scott: Disappointed by the delay
"It's been waiting for a long time and I think it's long, long overdue.

"The current legislation is appallingly outdated ... it allows export controls to be used for any purpose whatever the government desires to use them for," he said.

The government insists it has made some changes for the good, including an annual report on arms exports.

Lord Scott's 1996 report detailed how ministers in the previous Conservative government concealed from Parliament arms sales to Iraq amid a controversial intelligence services operation.

Ethical policy

Labour published a white paper on arms trade regulation in 1998, but Lord Scott pointed out that most of the action on his recommendations took place under the Tories before the last election.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook cemented his reputation as one of the best debaters in the Commons when, as shadow foreign secretary, he led the then opposition's attack on the government over arms-to-Iraq.

At the time he called for implementation of the inquiry's recommendations in full.

Since New Labour took office, however, Downing Street has proved reluctant to move far on the issue which has also become bogged down in interdepartmental wrangling between the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry.

Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell accused Labour of failing to deliver its manifesto pledge to introduce an ethical foreign policy.

"It seems to me that if Labour had been fully committed to foreign policy with an ethical dimension, then legislation of this kind would have been in the first Queen's speech," he said.

Government defended

Trade Minister Kim Howells defended the government's record, saying it was a very complicated piece of legislation which needed much work.

"I'd rather that we get it right rather than botch it and rush it through and then find that we've got a very problematic bill on our hands which is not going to get the kind of support that it needs," he said.

In a separate move later, Mr Cook called for a new European crackdown on the worldwide trade in small arms.

Speaking during a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels, he said fresh efforts should be made to ensure exports of small arms only go to "legitimate governments" and not rebel groups.

Tory scandal

The arms-to-Iraq inquiry was established following the 1992 collapse of the prosecution of directors of the Coventry-based Matrix Churchill firm for selling machine tools which could be used to make weapons to Iraq.

Several Tory ministers signed public interest immunity certificates (PIIs) to prevent the disclosure of documents which showed that the defendants had been working for British secret services.

But the judge in the case - during which former defence minister Alan Clark famously admitted in the witness box to having been "economical with the actualite" - refused to accept the PIIs, and it collapsed in 1992.

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