House of Commons

Written Answers, Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria – House of Commons, 25 Mar 2014

Vincent Cable (Twickenham, Liberal Democrat)
The UK’s defence industry can make an important contribution to international security, as well as provide economic benefit to the UK. The legitimate international trade in arms enables Governments to protect ordinary citizens against terrorists and criminals, and to defend against external threats. The Government remain committed to supporting the UK’s defence industry and legitimate trade in items controlled for strategic reasons. But we recognise that in the wrong hands arms can fuel conflict and instability and facilitate terrorism and organised crime. For this reason it is vital that we have robust and transparent controls which are efficient and impose the minimum administrative burdens in order to enable the defence industry to operate responsibly and confidently.

The Government’s policy for assessing applications for licences to export strategic goods and advance approvals for promotion prior to formal application for an export licence was set out on behalf of the then Foreign Secretary on 26 October 2000, Hansard, column 199W. Since then there have been a number of significant developments, including:

the entry into force of the Export Control Act 2002

the application of controls to electronic transfers of software and technology and to trade (brokering) in military goods between overseas destinations

the adoption by the EU of Council common position 2008/944/CFSP of 8 December 2008 defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment

further development of EU export control law, including: the adoption of Council regulation (EC) 1236/2005 of 27 June 2005 concerning trade in certain goods which could be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; directive 2009/43/EC of 6 May 2009 simplifying terms and conditions of transfers of defence-related products within the Community; and the re-cast Council regulation (EC) 428/2009 of 5 May 2009 setting up a Community regime for the control of exports, transfer, brokering and transit of dual-use items

the adoption by the UN General Assembly on 2 April 2013 of an international arms trade treaty, which the UK signed on 3 June 2013.

The Government believe that the procedures for assessing licence applications and our decision-making processes are robust and have stood the test of time. We also believe that the eight criteria continue adequately to address the risks of irresponsible arms transfers and are fully compliant with our obligations under the EU common position and the arms trade treaty. Nevertheless it is appropriate to update these criteria in light of developments over the last 13 years. In particular: the list of international obligations and commitments in criterion 1 has been updated; there is explicit reference to international humanitarian law in criterion 2; and the risk of reverse engineering or unintended technology

transfer is now addressed under criterion 7 rather than criterion 5. There are also minor changes to improve the clarity and consistency of the language used throughout the text. None of these amendments should be taken to mean that there has been any substantive change in policy.

These criteria will be applied to all licence applications for export, transfer, trade (brokering) and transit/transhipment of goods, software and technology subject to control for strategic reason—referred to collectively as “items”; and to the extent that the following activities are subject to control, the provision of technical assistance or other services related to those items. They will also be applied to MOD form 680 applications and assessment of proposals to gift controlled equipment.

As before, they will not be applied mechanistically but on a case-by-case basis taking into account all relevant information available at the time the licence application is assessed. While the Government recognise that there are situations where transfers must not take place, as set out in the following criteria, we will not refuse a licence on the grounds of a purely theoretical risk of a breach of one or more of those criteria. In making licensing decisions I will continue to take into account advice received from FCO, MOD, DFID, and other Government Departments and agencies as appropriate. The Government’s strategic export controls annual reports will continue to provide further detailed information regarding policy and practice in strategic export controls.

The application of these criteria will be without prejudice to the application to specific cases of specific criteria as may be announced to Parliament from time to time; and will be without prejudice to the application of specific criteria contained in relevant EU instruments.

This statement of the criteria is guidance given under section 9 of the Export Control Act. It replaces the consolidated criteria announced to Parliament on 26 October 2000.


Respect for the UK’s international obligations and commitments, in particular sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council or the European Union, agreements on non-proliferation and other subjects, as well as other international obligations.

The Government will not grant a licence if to do so would be inconsistent with, inter alia:

a) the UK’s obligations and its commitments to enforce United Nations, European Union and Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) arms embargoes, as well as national embargoes observed by the UK and other commitments regarding the application of strategic export controls;

b) the UK’s obligations under the United Nations arms trade treaty;

c) the UK’s obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the biological and toxin weapons convention and the chemical weapons convention;

d) the UK’s obligations under the United Nations convention on certain conventional weapons, the convention on cluster munitions (the Oslo convention), the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Act 2010, and the convention on the prohibition of the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines and on their destruction (the Ottawa convention) and the Land Mines Act 1998;

e) the UK’s commitments in the framework of the Australia Group, the missile technology control regime, the Zangger committee, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Wassenaar arrangement and The Hague code of conduct against ballistic missile proliferation;

f) the OSCE principles governing conventional arms transfers and the European Union common position 2008/944/CFSP defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment.