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Arms traders subject to weaker checks than Scout leaders, says Tory MP

Arms traders are subject to weaker checks than Scout leader volunteers by the UK Government, a Conservative MP fears.

Tania Mathias (Twickenham) said she believes Britain is doing "very poorly" when regulating sellers of small arms and light weapons, such as AK47s and handguns, compared to its status as a world leader for the trade in larger weapons.

Ms Mathias wants a pre-licence register which takes into account checks of an individual's criminal record and financial background.

She spoke of one UK trader who was convicted in the 1990s for dealing pump-action weapons, adding in 2009 they were found guilty of selling arms to Iraq.

Ms Mathias added another British trader believed to have supplied Hungerford massacre killer Michael Ryan, who killed 16 people in 1987, was found guilty in 2012 of trading with North Korea.

The MP, who worked as a doctor in Africa and dealt with injuries caused by weapons, told a Westminster Hall debate: "Historically, I do not believe our policy has been good enough on the trade in small weapons.

"I hope the minister can reassure me that things have dramatically changed but I'm not aware of that evidence.

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"What I'm asking for is a pre-licence register, one where there are checks of criminal records - so we don't have that case where someone had a record in the 1990s and then found guilty in the next century of illegal trade - one where we do check as well for financial illegalities.

"My suspicion, and again I would like the minister to reassure me, is there is more vetting for a man who would like to volunteer as a Scout leader than there is for a man who is going to trade in weapons that end up in the hands of a child soldier in Nigeria.

"What I'm also asking for is that the UK leads in marking of these small weapons, and by that I mean conforms to the UN 2005 instrument."

Ms Mathias said a business minister told her the UK is aiming to comply with these measures, which involve ensuring a weapon has the markings of the dealer, importer, exporter and carrier.

Foreign Office Minister James Duddridge said the Government operates "one of the most rigorous and transparent" arms exports control systems in the world.

He said: "If I were to be able to do one thing on this issue it would be to get others to do as well as we're doing, not to improve an already excellent - but not perfect - system in the UK."

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