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Sir Richard Scott's exclusive interview on Today
"My eyes were opened by the inquiry"
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Changes to the system are on the way
MPs Martin O'Neill and Menzies Campbell
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Monday, 17 January, 2000, 12:18 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 the system for handling arms exports.

Sir Richard Scott said the four years of inaction since his report was an "extraordinary and unacceptable" delay and had left the government using regulations dating from 1939.

His 1996 report detailed how ministers in the previous government were able to conceal from Parliament arms sales to Iraq amid a controversial intelligence services operation.

Legislation promised

Responding to Sir Richard's warning, Labour MP Martin O'Neill, the chairman of the Trade and Industry Select Committee said action would be taken by the end of this parliament.

I thought it was extraordinary and unacceptable that legislation brought into being with a view to the emergency of World War Two should be being relied on.
Sir Richard Scott

Speaking to the BBC, Sir Richard said that he was keen to see the responsibility for arms exports transferred to a single government department, instead of being handled by the Foreign Office, the Department for Trade and Industry and the Defence department.

Recent reports of squabbles within the cabinet over whether to export arms to Pakistan's military government had given him a sense of déjà vu, he said.

"I hope there is legislation soon. I think it is a matter of some urgency."

Sir Richard added: "One of the things that gave rise to problems was the continuing tensions between the government departments that support exports and the government departments that are concerned with other interests.

'Muddled decisions'

"Sometimes the tension resulted in rather muddled decisions being taken."

While Labour published a White Paper in 1998, Sir Richard said that most of the action on his recommendations took place under the former Conservative government.

But, in response Mr O'Neill said: "We have had a very crowded legislative programme, but it is my understanding that the drafting legislation is in prospect and by the end of this parliament there should be legislation in place which should be capable of meeting the requirements of Sir Richard."

For the Liberal Democrats Menzies Campbell said: "I think it is a matter of profound disappointment that we haven't had legislation before now.

Mr Campbell added: "While I accept Martin O'Neill's assurances, I will believe the legislation when I see it."

Greater transparency needed

Sir Richard also called for greater openness on what arms the UK's sells abroad.

He said there is no reason to keep secret the details of arms exports in peacetime.

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 that 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:
06 Sep 99 |  e-cyclopedia
Arms trading: How to buy a Hawk jet
09 Dec 99 |  UK
Payout for wrongly-convicted arms dealer
12 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Pakistan arms exports 'splits' cabinet
11 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Ban on underwriting arms sales
03 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
UK arms exports under scrutiny

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