Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary Memorandum submitted by The Department of Trade and Industry on Computer Systems in the Export Licensing Process


  1.  In its Report, the Committee recommended that "the three departments involved in export licensing allow mutual access to their computerised information relating to export licensing and that the DTI's export licensing database be developed for the benefit of all three departments".

  2.  In its observations on the Committe's report, the previous administration stated that it saw merit in a more co-ordinated use of information technology and that it was already considering the scope for improving the sharing of information relevant to export licensing between interested departments. As a first step, the scope for downloading licence data from the DTI's ECLIPS system for use in the FCO and MoD was under active consideration and, in the longer term, greater emphasis would be placed on ensuring that information systems used in processing export licences were compatible and that future systems development took into account the interests of other relevant departments.

  3.  Although some progress was made, problems associated with determining precisely what information should be forwarded to OGDs, how subsequent changes to records should be communicated and outputting of the data in a format that would be acceptable to all Departments, contributed to a lack of progress in establishing a procedure for the routine transmission of ECLIPS data to OGDs.

  4.  On 30 October 1997 an announcement to Parliament was made (Official Report, cols 870-871) announcing data integrity problems that had been found in the ECLIPS database. It was decided that there was little point in proceeding to try to share data from the DTI database that was suspect. However, building on the discussions between DTI, FCO and MoD with respect to sharing the data held on ECLIPS, DTI began work on the development of a new computer system, named ELATE (Export Licence Applications Transmitted Electronically). The development of ELATE, which is described in more detail below, has had the sharing of electronic data between departments as a key requirement from the start and builds on the work done during 1997 on ECLIPS data exchange.


  5.  In September 1997 DTI invited FCO and MoD to participate in a project to establish a means of capturing accurate data from export licence applications received electronically and sharing it among the three departments. Subsequently, the Director of DTI's Export Control and Non-Proliferation Directorate chaired a Project Board (with members drawn from other departments) to oversee the development of a computer based application form that could enable exporters to submit their export licence applications in electronic form. A new database in DTI to hold this information with a means of transmitting the data to FCO and MoD electronically was also to be developed. All those involved agreed that resources should be focused on ensuring that the new system (ELATE) became operational as quickly as possible and that the efforts to share ECLIPS data should not be pursued.

  6.  Substantial progress has since been made in developing a software package that will enable exporters to complete an export licence application form on any standard personal computer, and then download the completed form on to a standard diskette. Participants in a trial of the package (some 80 businesses including major exporters, SMEs and sole traders) responded very favourably and their comments were taken into account in developing a production version of ELATE. The current intention is to launch the new electronic application form later this year.

  7.  Development of the DTI database to hold the data collected from the ELATE forms is nearing completion. In parallel, FCO has developed a compatible system to enable it to receive ELAs electronically from the DTI. MoD has developed a new database that will allow data from ELATE to be accepted from DTI either on diskette or electronically. DTI will also be able to send diskettes to other interested departments. Certain supporting documentation, routinely submitted in support of export licence applications (eg end-use certificates, technical brochures) will, for the moment, continue to be circulated to other departments in paper form.

  8.  A fully networked interchange has been limited by the absence of a common communications infrastructure capable of providing an appropriate level of protection for the material concerned. The Cabinet Office initiative to establish a Government Secure Intranet (GSI) has been helpful in addressing the problem and as more departments become linked to the GSI (DTI is already a member) this is expected to become the standard means of sharing export licence application data.

  9.  Because ELATE allows for information to be accepted and transferred electronically, it will not only be easier for exporters to apply for export licences, but will also greatly enhance the integrity of the data and virtually eliminate keying errors, one of the main problems identified with the ECLIPS database. It will still be possible for exporters without access to a personal computer, or who do not wish to use the ELATE diskettes, to submit applications in hard copy although this will be discouraged. The data on these applications will have to be transcribed onto the new database and checking procedures will be in place to minimise the risk of mistranscription of data.

  10.  There is also a need to share information on completed export licence applications, particularly on licences issued and applications refused. DTI is working with HMC&E to examine the feasibility of making this information available electronically to Customs officials who have responsibility for enforcing export controls at the point of export.

Export Control Organisation


13 October 1998

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