Lib Dem conference votes to end government support for the arms trade

22 September 2010

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has welcomed the vote by delegates at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference to end government support for the arms trade. In a close vote, on 19 September, delegates agreed to include the closure of the government's arms sales unit, as part of the party's policy on international development.

Delegates voted for "an end to Government promotion of and support for the arms trade including shutting the export promotion unit, the UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation and ending export credits for military goods".

UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO) is a taxpayer funded unit that helps arms companies sell weapons to areas of conflict, repressive regimes and to countries with major development needs. All UK political parties have said they want to end arms sales to dangerous regimes but, to date, only the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have recognised that closing the department that promotes such sales is an essential first step to achieving this.

Sarah Waldron, Campaigner at CAAT, said:

We welcome this vote and look forward to seeing how Liberal Democrat MPs will support this decision.

Before his landmark speech on Thursday, Vince Cable said that he intended to shine "a harsh light into the murky world of corporate behaviour." But what could be more unethical than generous and unwarranted government subsidies for the arms industry, especially at a time when government is cutting vital public services?

For further information please contact CAAT Media Co-ordinator Kaye Stearman email the press officer or ring 020 7281 0297 or 07990 673 232.


1. Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) works for the reduction and ultimate abolition of the international arms trade together with progressive demilitarisation within arms producing countries. Around 80% of CAAT's funding comes from individual supporters and CAAT is strictly non-violent in all its work.

2. While in opposition, many senior Liberal Democrats, including Vince Cable, opposed government subsidies for arms exports. In October 2001, Dr Cable expressed his opposition to subsidised arms sales stating: "Developed countries implicitly subsidise and support their arms exports. The UK engages in this activity by using taxpayer's money to provide export credit guarantees to support companies exporting arms thereby reducing their risk. During 1999-2000, 34% of ECGD credits were issued to support the arms trade. Large companies benefit disproportionately from these credits - for example BAE." However, after his appointment in May 2010 as Business Secretary, with oversight over UKTI, Dr Cable has supported arms sales and made no efforts to dismantle or diminish the scope of resources or staffing of UKTI DSO.

3. The Conservative Party has long believed in supporting arms exports. In September 2009, while in opposition, Minister for Defence Liam Fox told the UK Defence Conference he "wanted to increase Britain's share of the world's defence market” and to “use arms sales as a foreign policy tool". He also promised to reopen DESO, the Ministry of Defence unit which supported arms sales and several of whose functions were replaced by UKTI DSO in April 2008. In June 2010, Peter Luff, Defence Equipment Minister, said of arms exports: "There will be a very, very, very heavy ministerial commitment to the process. There is a sense that in the past we were rather embarrassed about exporting defence products. There is no such embarrassment in this Government." He has since repeated this stance.


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