Only a few weeks ago, when the US claimed that it had found chemical and biological weapons in Iraq, we almost believed it. The discovery of protective clothing had Geoff Hoon declaring that this was evidence of Saddam Hussein's chemical and biological weapons. In northern Iraq, reporters would find a discarded gas mask and ominously declare that this, too, could be proof. No one seemed to consider the options that these could: a) be for defensive purposes - the US had threatened to use chemical weapons; or b) be evidence of a lively fetish club scene that sprang up after Frank Bough did a Holiday programme from Baghdad and left them some of his old cast-offs.
The US will undoubtedly find evidence of chemical or biological weapons in Iraq. It has to. And so it will. Hell, the weapons may even belong to Saddam! Whether the finds will be credible is another matter. After the fake documents proving Saddam's supposed nuclear capability, it wouldn't be surprising to learn that the Pentagon and MI6 had a dossier that showed links between Saddam and Blofeld and the joint development of a diamond-powered satellite space laser gun. The security services seemed to fabricate evidence with such ease that it was as if they were run by a crack team of uber-Jeffrey Archers.
To some, it now seems irrelevant that the UK helped to arm Saddam with the weapons it now seeks. But surely the laws that allowed him to be armed should be changed. After the Scott report was published in 1996, Labour promised to reform the export laws. In its 2001 manifesto, Labour promised to place controls on arms brokers "wherever they are located". OK, let's forget that "licensed production" is not covered in the new laws. So companies such as Land Rover can still happily profit from deals that avoid UK export controls by having a Turkish company produce military equipment under licence. Let's pass over the fact that "joint ventures" are not going to be covered. So a company such as BAE Systems (previously British Aerospace) could legally still own 30 per cent of the Egyptian company Arab British Dynamics, which supplied Swingfire anti-tank missiles to Iraq. The company went on to help Saddam with his Scud programme after the first Gulf war. Surely it is worth celebrating that UK arms brokers will be licensed and subject to export controls.
Previously, a broker could supply weapons without any UK licence or control, as long as the weapons did not actually touch UK soil. Now, though, the Export Control Act 2002 (Section 4.8) states: "Trade controls may be imposed on acts done outside the United Kingdom . . . but only if they are done by a person who is, or is acting under the control of, a United Kingdom person."
So arms brokers come under proper export controls? Well, no. You see, Section 4.8 was the "framework act". The secondary legislation (the actual law) is currently being drafted. Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, has decided that the only brokered arms that will be controlled are torture equipment and long-range missiles. Leaving a whole host of other goodies for UK citizens to deal, all within the amply provided loopholes in Hewitt's laws.
The ever-helpful Hewitt described some of the loopholes in her evidence to a committee of the House of Commons. Major companies need only set up an overseas subsidiary and "if the subsidiary is not directly controlled by a parent company in the UK, then it would not be covered by these new controls". So take a train ride to an office in Lille and voila - the export controls are gone!
I wonder which country we will be bombing in 20 years' time because of the actions of a tyrant that we haven't yet armed, but in due time will?
What a fantastic coincidence that of all the documents, in all the files, in all the buildings, the Daily Telegraph managed to find ones relating to George Galloway. Proportionately, the paper was more likely to find documents relating to the British "defence" deals to Saddam. Yet so far it has publicly found no reference to Racal Tacticom, Thorn EMI Electronics, Auto Diesels Braby, W Vinten, Racal Communications, Cambridge Instruments or Houchin Ltd.
Although Saddam defaulted on the payments, these companies have been paid for their work - we paid for it. Now the Iraqi people have to repay that debt.
A fortnight ago, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament's offices in London were burgled. The thieves took only three items. In an office with 15 computers, scanners, printers and a petty cash box, they managed to steal only three computers, which just happened to be the non-networked ones, and contained three individual membership lists, for London CND, Christian CND and CND. Of all the documents, in all the computers, in all the buildings . . .