By Daniel Hunter

The Secretary of State for Business today (Tuesday) announced a series of measures on UK export licensing designed to make the system more transparent and to allow for the immediate suspension of export licences to countries that experience a sharp deterioration in security or stability.

These proposals build on the Foreign Secretary’s recent review of defence and security export policy conducted in the light of events in the Middle East and North Africa.

"We take our export control responsibilities very seriously. The UK operates one of the most rigorous arms export control regimes in the world. All licences that we issue or refuse are made public, however we appreciate the need for more detail to be available on the work we do," The Secretary of State for Business, Vince Cable, said.

“The Foreign Secretary announced in his recent review of arms exports that there were no fundamental flaws with the export licensing system. We share this view. However, the review did identify some areas where our system could be further strengthened, so I am pleased that we are able to work closely together to bring about these changes.”

The Foreign Secretary William Hague said the new policy will ensure export licensing is more responsive.

“I am pleased to report that the new suspension mechanism for UK defence exports is now in place," he said.

"The FCO and BIS have worked closely together to develop it. This new measure will ensure that export licensing policy is more responsive to rapidly changing circumstances overseas. In light of recent events in the Middle East and North Africa, this is now more important than ever.

“Suspension will not be invoked automatically or lightly, but triggered when conflict or crisis conditions suddenly increase the level of risk, or make conducting a proper risk assessment difficult. We will conduct these assessments on a case by case basis, in the same way that we do whenever issuing a licence.”

The suspension mechanism will allow for the immediate suspension of pending licence applications to countries experiencing a sharp deterioration in security or stability. This will mean that licences pending approval will be ‘paused’ for a defined period. The Government will notify exporters, Parliament and the media when this has happened.

The transparency proposals are to:

· Insert a provision into open export licences requiring the exporter to report periodically on transactions. Government will then publish this information.

· Explore ways in which more information could be published on standard export licences. Currently, all applications for these licences are made in confidence so the Government plans to explore ways in which more details can be made public while protecting any sensitive material.

· Appoint an independent person to scrutinize the Export Control Organisation’s licensing process. The role of this independent auditor would be to confirm that the process is being followed correctly and report on their work at regular intervals.

In considering these proposals, the Government will speak to various interested parties, including exporters and non-governmental organisations. The Business Secretary intends to make a further announcement before the summer recess, setting out the Government’s conclusions and plans for implementing any further changes.

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