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Scrutiny Of UK's Arms Exports 'Not Fit For Purpose'

MPs called for a committee to strengthen scrutiny of the UK's arms exports and remote warfare technology.

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Ministers have called for stronger scrutiny of the country’s arms exports and remote warfare technology, labelling current measures "not fit for purpose".

Introducing a new Ten-Minute Rule Bill in the Commons, SNP foreign affairs spokesman Alyn Smith called for the establishment of a new parliamentary committee focused on scrutinising such exports.

The Arms (Exports and Remote Warfare) Bill would also update the UK’s approach to the use of drones, specifically covering the rules of engagement and post-strike assessments.

According to data released in October, the UK is the second-largest global defence exporter behind the United States, winning defence orders worth a total of £11bn in 2019.

Speaking to MPs, Mr Smyth outlined the new proposal: "There’s three strands to our proposal – we believe that change is needed urgently to the way the UK deals with arms exports, that’s sending material elsewhere for other people’s control.

"Drones, that’s material that may be deployed globally either from the UK but under the UK’s control, and lethal autonomous weapons, which is new technology which I believe represents a very dangerous evolution in warfare.

"And we believe that the existing structure of scrutiny within this House, and of course that’s a matter for this House, but we think it needs to be looked at in the round in this piece of legislation, we believe the scrutiny is not fit for purpose."

He added: "I believe this bill will help to strengthen their position by removing the stigma that is in some quarters associated with their efforts by bringing a transparency to their effects globally."

The new bill would also revise the UK’s approach to the use of remotely-controlled aircraft (Picture: MOD).

Calling for the UK to take proper scrutiny of the exports of its arms industry, Mr Smith argued that current arrangements only offer a "façade of scrutiny".

"We do have a committee on arms exports controls, it sits across and is composed of four committees of this House," he continued.

"It seldom meets, the chair is unpaid, it didn’t sit at all for nine months in 2015, and it took six months to be established in 2020.

"It barely publishes reports, the last was two years ago.

"So we don’t think that the current system is working, we don’t think it’s adequate for where we are now and where we will be in the future.

"So, we propose to create a select committee with status, with budget and with heft within this House to properly approve licences on ministerial recommendation, to move the scrutiny and move the power to this place on behalf of the people of these islands."

Mr Smith asked that the bill be given a second reading on 12 March.

It would, however, require Government support in order to progress.

Cover image: MOD.