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Monday, 17 January, 2000, 08:43 GMT
Act on arms exports, warns Scott

The report followed the arms-to-Iraq inquiry

The judge who chaired the arms-to-Iraq inquiry has demanded an urgent overhaul of arms exports, saying that it was "extraordinary and unacceptable" that the government had failed to act to date.

Attacking the government for not implementing one of the key recommendations of his 1996 report, Sir Richard Scott told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the arms licensing was still subject to outdated rules set in 1939.

The report detailed how ministers in the previous government were able to conceal arms sales to Iraq from Parliament amid a controversial intelligence services operation.

Sir Richard said that in July 1998 the government did promise action on the licensing recommendations in a White Paper, but nothing had happened since then.

Legislation was "a matter of some urgency", he said.

Openness demanded

Another of Sir Richard's recommendations was that the decision on export licences should not be left to a kind of "wrangling" between the Foreign Office, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Defence.

There should be a clear lead department, he suggested, because of the conflicting interests between the departments.

He said the most recent example of this conflict was the row last week over resuming the sale of weapons to Pakistan, which gave him "some sense of deja vu".

Another concern expressed by Sir Richard was about the lack of openness on the part of the government over arms sales.

The government now publishes an annual report detailing exports, but Sir Richard said this was too vague, giving only categories of weapons, rather than specifics, and no quantities.

There cannot be a case for keeping those kind of details secret diring peacetime, he said.

Sir Richard said he was satisfied that most of the other recommendations had been implemented.

He denied criticising the government - often under fire for failing to live up to its promised "ethical" foreign policy - saying that he was merely offering a "progress report" on how his inquiry had been followed up.

How it all began

The arms-to-Iraq inquiry was called after directors of the Coventry-based Matrix Churchill firm were prosecuted for selling Iraq machine tools which could be used to make weapons.

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

However, the judge in the case refused to accept the certificates and the prosecution collapsed in 1992.

The case led to allegations that some ministers would have let innocent men go to jail rather than have the truth exposed.

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See also:
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Arms trading: How to buy a Hawk jet
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12 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
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Ban on underwriting arms sales
03 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
UK arms exports under scrutiny

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