MPs urge overhaul of “secretive” department
MPs call on Vince Cable to overhaul "secretive" government department
On Wednesday 27th April Lisa Nandy MP will introduce a Ten Minute Rule Bill (1) in Parliament to overhaul the Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD), a government department she has branded "secretive and unaccountable". The bill, backed by a cross-party group of MPs (2) including Zac Goldsmith and Caroline Lucas, aims to stop the ECGD using taxpayers' money to insure business deals which campaigners claim fuel poverty, human rights abuses and climate change.
The little-known department, headed by Business Secretary Vince Cable, provides financial backing to companies trading in ‘risky' parts of the world. In 2009-10 the ECGD backed private exports to the tune of £2.2 billion, and has been placed at the heart of the Government's strategy for economic recovery through international trade (3).
But the ECGD has been slammed by campaigners and MPs as not being up to the job:
- A network of leading campaign organisations, including Jubilee Debt Campaign, Amnesty International UK, WWF-UK, The Co-operative, Campaign Against the Arms Trade, and The Corner House have joined forces to call for reform (4).
- A host of parliamentary select committees have criticised the department, including the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Environmental Audit Committee (5).
- 130 cross-party MPs have signed an Early Day Motion calling for change in the ECGD (6).
The ECGD has a history of backing controversial and destructive projects, including the Al-Yamahah arms deal with Saudi Arabia, the sale of weapons to Indonesian dictator General Suharto and the construction of an oil pipeline across the Caucuses which violated human rights rules (7). The reforms proposed in Lisa Nandy MP's bill would put a stop to such trade.
Lisa Nandy, MP for Wigan and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on International Corporate Responsibility, said:
"The activities of this secretive and unaccountable government department are at once deeply concerning for the developing countries in which British companies operate and costly for the UK taxpayer. In 2009, Vince Cable, the Secretary of State now responsible for the department, argued that arms export subsidies cost the UK up to £200 million a year - money which is often used to force developing countries to underwrite the destruction of their own communities, environment, and lives of their citizens.
"The government must invest in socially just and ecologically sustainable industry to help lead the economic recovery. I am calling on Vince Cable to reform the ECGD so that it only supports business which respects human rights and the environment and to make it more transparent and democratically accountable"
Nick Dearden, Director of Jubilee Debt Campaign, said:
"The ECGD pulls sorely needed funds away from impoverished countries. 95% of ‘Third World' debt today owed to the UK stems from ECGD activities, including the repayment of weapons loans for dictators and useless projects that did nothing to benefit ordinary people. This vital Bill would prevent similar projects being underwritten in future, and stop the ECGD from ushering in a new era of toxic debt in the developing world."
Ann Feltham, spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade, said:
"We are delighted that this Bill recognises that there is a need for certain types of activities to be prohibited from receiving export credit support and Campaign Against Arms Trade obviously hopes that arms sales will be one of these."
Peter Frankental, Programme Director at Amnesty International UK, said:
"It's about time the ECGD became properly accountable and transparent and conducted effective human rights due diligence on all exports it is asked to support."
Margaret Ounsley, Head of Public Affairs at WWF-UK, said:
"It is very tempting, in days of economic difficulty, to assume that we cannot afford clean, green export policies. It is our view that it is this very ambition that will mark us out as a world leader. WWF is glad to be supporting this Ten Minute Rule Bill from Lisa Nandy."
Paul Monaghan, Head of Social Goals at The Co-operative, said:
"The vast majority of outstanding Third World debt owed to the UK is connected with the ECGD. That's why The Co-operative and its members are supporting the call for an audit and an end to the conversion of failed exports into Third World debt."
Nick Hildyard, spokesperson for The Corner House, said:
"The ECGD is a law unto itself; a government department excused from abiding by government commitments to human rights and the environment. Last year it even scrapped its policy of assessing all the projects it backs for forced or child labour. The ECGD must not be allowed to ride roughshod over government commitments any longer."
Photocall: Lisa Nandy MP and co-sponsors of the Ten Minute Rule Bill will be attending a photocall immediately after the reading of the bill, at 1.00pm on College Green. If you would like to attend please call Kat Banyard on 07775 855037 or email
For further information or to request interviews please contact Kat Banyard at Jubilee Debt Campaign: , 07775 855037, 020 7324 4722
Notes to editors
(1) The Export Credits Guarantee Department (Regulations and Reporting) Bill will receive its first reading immediately proceeding Prime Ministers Questions on 27/4/11 at approx. 12.30pm. Below is the text of the bill:
"That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to impose certain requirements on the Export Credits Guarantee Department, including the publication of an audit of all sums owed to the Department, an annual impact assessment and a real-time disclosure policy on all supported projects; to prohibit the support of certain activities by the Department; to provide that debt cancellation by the Department cannot be defined as official development assistance; to prohibit companies from receiving support from the Department for a period of at least five years following a relevant conviction of corruption; to introduce a duty of care provision which must be followed in the Department's operations to provide access to justice for those affected by supported projects; and for connected purposes."
(2) The Bill is co-sponsored by: Roger Williams MP, Zac Goldsmith MP, Tony Cunningham MP, Bob Russell MP, Caroline Lucas MP, Eilidh Whiteford MP, Sheila Gilmore MP, Teresa Pearce MP and Julian Huppert MP.
(3) Trade and Investment for Growth, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, February 2011
(4) The network of campaign groups calling for reform includes: Jubilee Debt Campaign, Amnesty International UK, WWF, The Co-operative, Campaign Against the Arms Trade, The Corner House, Trade Justice Movement, World Development Movement, Compass, Jubilee Scotland, Rights and Accountability In Development and the Global Poverty Project.
(5) In 2008, the Environmental Audit Committee criticised the ECGD's environmental standards and in 2009 the Joint Committee on Human Rights strongly criticised the ECGD's human rights assessment procedures in a report on business and human rights, entitled Any of our business?
(6) EDM 622: Export Credits Guarantee Department http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-11/622
(7) The Department for Dodgy Deals: Ending the UK's support for toxic debt, Jubilee Debt Campaign, 2011: www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk/dodgydealsreport