Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by RBR International Ltd

  I am sorry to have to report that the frustrations caused by the inordinate delays on the part of the Export Licensing Unit at the Department of Trade and Industry continues.

  However, there is another issue apart from that—the problems we face because of the failure to respond in a reasonable time. I wish to question the logic of classifying protective equipment as export licenceable.

  I also wish to draw your attention to a statement made in the written answer from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to Mr Stephen Timms (East Ham):

  "For the record under paragraph five it is stated: `For these purposes equipment which might be used for internal repression will include: (paragraph (b)) Equipment which has obvious application for internal repression, in cases where the recipient country has a significant and continuing record of such repression, unless the end-use of the equipment is judged to be legitimate such as the protection of members of security forces from violence.'".

  I myself would like to expand on that.

  One could see that argument that anti-riot equipment could be used for internal suppression, however, our own equipment is solely designed for stop bullets and therefore one could argue equally that if the threat is from bullets, then this is not a normal civil disturbance.

  The next point I wish to bring to your attention is that of having an Open Individual Export Licence for those parts of the United Nations which require protective equipment. You will see that I have written to Mr Andrew Mantle on this point but so far there has been no response from him.

  To summarise, I would ask the Committee to consider:

    (i)  The logic of making the equipment export licensable

    (ii)  The question of granting to people like ourselves, an Open Individual Export Licence where the end-user is the United Nations

    (iii)  The problems that we face on a continuing basis because of the dreadful delays emanating from the Export Licensing Unit of the Department of Trade and Industry.

  I am enclosing copies of recent correspondence with Mr Mantle, the Director of the Export Licensing Unit.

16 September 1998

Letter from Mr Douglas Garland, Managing Director, RBR International Ltd to Dr A M Fox ACI Arb Assistant Under Secretary of State (Export Policy and Finance) Ministry of Defence

  Thank you for your letter of 11 August 1997. The letter was of course addressed to the exhibits that should be shown at the RNBAEE but it was very fortunate that you included with your letter a copy of the written Parliamentary reply of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

  I say fortunate because I have been engaged in discussion with the Export Control Organisation over the refusal of an application for an export license for bullet-resistant helmets and face shields for mainland China.

  The reason given was "Unacceptable risk of diversion for use for the purposes of internal repression".

  My reaction was that this reason was not a valid one on the grounds that defensive life-saving equipment like body armour and helmets cannot be regarded as offensive weapons; in particular our equipment is not designed for riot control but is designed to stop bullets. A flimsy case could be made out that anti-riot equipment could be used for internal repression in quelling riots but it is improbable that bullet resistant protection which is much heavier and expensive would be used for a purpose. Bullet resistant protection is designed for protection against crimes of extreme violence.

  It was therefore gratifying to see that my opinion was corroborated twice in the written answer of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to Mr Stephen Timms (East Ham).

  For the record under paragraph 5. It is stated: "For these purposes equipment which might be used for internal repression will include: (paragraph (b)) Equipment which has obvious application for internal repression, in cases where the recipient country has a significant and continuing record of such repression, unless the end-use of the equipment is judged to be legitimate such as the protection of members of security forces from violence."

  It is manifest that our body armour and helmets etc must fall under this category and I trust that we shall see a reversal of the decision to refuse our application for bullet-resistant helmets and face shields for mainland China.

  I look forward to receiving your reply. I am sending a copy of this letter to:

  Sir Charles Masefield, Head of Defence Export Services.

  Mr Andrew Mantle, Director Export Control Organisation.

  Major General Alan Sharman the Director General of the Defence Manufacturers Association.

  Mr Simon Hughes, the Member of Parliament for Southwark and Bermondsey.

18 August 1998

Correspondence between Mr Douglas Garland, Managing Director, RBR International Ltd and Andrew S Mantle Esq, Director Export Licensing Unit, Department of Trade and Industry


  I refer to our correspondence of earlier this year and your letter of 2 April 1998 in which you said you would write again after you knew more.

  We have just been hauled over the coals for not applying for an export licence for a small quantity of helmets for a company who sell protection to aid organisation in war zones (they also have a bonded customs status warehouse) in Denmark. These helmets were for Bosnia.

  Clearly we were wrong in not picking up the Bosnia aspect but it has reminded me to raise with you again the possibility of there being a special status for exporting licensable goods to companies and organisations who are clearly involved in humanitarian activities.

  At the same time I want yet again to raise with you the raison d'etre for having personal protection equipment still in the licensable category. How can a ballistic helmet be classified as being used for internal repression?

  I raise this point with you more in hope than expectation of obtaining any changes. I wait to hear from you.

24 August 1998

  I wrote to you on 24 August 1998 and I hope that you will be able to reply on that specific subject in the near future.

  However, another incident has occurred which is germane to that topic.

  We recently had an order from a German merchanting house, Tamar Consulting GmbH, who are suppliers United Nations Mine Action Centre (UN MAC C). Because the goods were destined for Croatia we had to apply for an export licence.

  We told Tamar that there could be a delay of six weeks and they cancelled the order. I was infuriated by this and tried to get your people—Mr Hickman—to pull out all the stops to avoid another UNHCR incident. You will remember what happened when we had that order from UNHCR which they cancelled because of the delay in obtaining an export licence.

  We obtained proof that Tamar work with (UN MAC C) (copy enclosed) but we were told that it would probably be a minimum of 10 working days to get the licence. We told Tamar and they have cancelled the order.

  You can imagine my exasperation. I am simply not prepared to be hindered by the present regime. Your people are always totally uncooperative with a "could not care less" attitude which comes across very clearly when my people talk to them.

9 September 1998

  I have expressed to you on previous occasions the exasperation that we feel because of the inordinate delays and lack of response from the Export Licensing Unit of the DTI.

  As the markets become tougher and competition grows so the pressures we have to face increase. It is totally unacceptable that a part of our Civil Service should add an additional burden to be faced. A burden which we cannot defeat because of lack of response or long delays on your part. I wait to hear from you.

16 September 1998


  Thank you for your fax of 14 September, referring to your fax of 9 September, your letter of 24 August and our telephone conversation of 11 September, when I indicated that I was having the points you made considered and would respond as soon as possible.

  First, we understand that there will on occasion be circumstances where an exporter would like an export licence exceptionally quickly to fulfil a snap order and where possible, the Export Control Organisation will try to accommodate such urgent requests and process the application with exceptional urgency. That said, you will I am sure appreciate that where exports of controlled goods are concerned, we are obliged to fully consider the facts of each case, and this process involves the circulation of export licence applications to other Government Departments, which does take time. Moreover we can treat only a very few licences in this way since it is highly resource intensive and we do need to consider the impact on the other thousand or so licences that we need to process each month. Thus for individual licences in general we have a target of twenty working days—provided the application contains all the documentation we need.

  On the particular case regarding Bosnia I understand that we were first advised of the imminent arrival of this application when you rang Mrs Elliott. Mrs Elliott then received a fax (from Mr Dunbavand) which she passed directly to Mr Hickman who, realising the urgency of the case, contacted you personally. This was to ensure that we received the documentation needed, in particular to avoid any unnecessary delay in determining the licensability of the goods. It was helpful to get the application by courier but I understand there was some question over whether the goods were destined for Bosnia, or Croatia, compounded by the fact that on the application form itself, the space on form A part 2 for country of ultimate destination, was left blank.

  Nonetheless, I understand that with these matters resolved Mr Hickman was still willing to try to get the licence through in half the target period (10 working days as opposed to 20); notwithstanding the fact that it was by no means certain that the fax correspondence between Tamar and the UN in Croatia would have satisfied our advisers that Tamar had actually been commissioned by the UN, on demining in Bosnia. I regret very much that Tamar cancelled the order because the export licence application would take a minimum of 10 working days, but I do not think that this outcome was the result of any unwillingness of ours to try to help in an exceptional case. Quite the reverse.

  You also wrote to me at the end of August on the question of the licensability of ballistic helmets. Military helmets are controlled under entry ML13(c) of the Export of Goods (Control) Order 1994. While this entry does exempt certain helmets, it does not exclude ballistic helmets. You do therefore require an export licence for any helmet coming under the description in entry ML13(c).

  I have, as I promised, asked our experts on the lists to see whether there would be a case for decontrol on a national basis. But the text of ML13 has been agreed internationally through the "Wassenaar Arrangement", and to include any exemption would require agreement by all 33 Wassenaar partners. This would obviously be a very long-term matter—if indeed it was to prove possible.

  We are however willing to explore with RBR the possibility of an open licence for these helmets. On the face of it, to justify an open licence including a destination subject to UK government policy commitments (a copy of the list of these is enclosed, and it includes both Bosnia and Croatia) would not be simple to achieve, but we can look at the "UN" element of this. If you would like to take the possibility forward, the contact for RBR is Terry Ryman on 0171-215 4380, It would be helpful if RBR could name the UN agencies to which RBR is possibly likely to be a supplier, as there may be other means worth exploring.

18 September 1998

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