Parliamentary Committee urges Government to ensure controls on drone exports are not weakened

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague

The UK Parliamentary Committee that oversees arms exports has today published its latest annual report. While the press have rightly focused on the shocking amount of arms exported to human rights abusers, the growing issue of drone proliferation also gets deserved scrutiny in the report.

Last October Drone Wars UK made a submission to the Committee drawing their attention to two specific issues in relation to the proliferation of drones. As the report states (Para 333) “Drone Wars UK raised concerns that the main international agreement controlling the proliferation of drones, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), is coming under increasing pressure from those who see it as a hindrance to the development of the UAV industry.”  In addition we also raised evidence that two British companies were supplying components used in US drones undertaking unlawful drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.

A section of the report released today (Para 335) details how the Committee questioned the Foreign Secretary William Hague in the light of evidence from Drone Wars UK:

When the Committees questioned the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, on the argument put forward by some suppliers of drones that there should be some relaxation of the Missile Technology Control Regime as it was damaging the market for drones, the Committees asked him if he felt that the current systems provided adequate control, in particular for the supply of components. The Foreign Secretary replied:

“Under the MTCR, the controls on the export of UAVs are strong, and those capable of travelling beyond a range of 300 km and carrying a payload above 500 kg are subject, as I am sure you know, to a strong presumption of denial for export. We are an advocate of strong controls, and along with our partners in the MTCR we are keen to ensure that they remain appropriately controlled. I think that will be very important, and given that more and more countries are interested in such technology, effective and appropriate controls in this area will remain very  important. That is not to say that we do not need to amend them over time as technology changes, but it will remain very important to have strong controls.”

When the Foreign Secretary was asked if the British Government would resist attempts to weaken the MTCR in relation to drones he replied: “I am saying that there has to be a strong regime, but I consciously say that it may have to be amended from time to time.” He continued: “our whole position on the arms trade treaty and on arms export controls is to make things tougher over time. I do not know what other people will describe as a weakening or a strengthening of the position. We want to have a tough, strong export control regime at all times into the future.”

Clearly unhappy with the Minister’s response to its questions the Committee recommends that the Government clarify in its response to today’s report “what specific action it is taking within the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) to ensure that the MTCR is not weakened in relation to drones, components of drones and drone technology.”

With regard to British components being used in US drones, an issue also highlighted by Amnesty International and other members of the UK Working Group on Arms Exports, the Committee also asked the government to state “whether it considers that any changes to UK export controls in relation to drones, components of drones and drone technology are necessary to achieve the Government’s stated policy, and, if so, what those changes are and the date by which they will be implemented.”

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