Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1660 - 1679)



  1660.  Do you not think that it should have at least been passed to Ms Grant or Mr Dales?
  (Mr Murray)  I do not think so. I was a normal sieve for such reports going upwards and I think I was entitled to take the view that this one did not seem particularly good.

Mr Rowlands

  1661.  Before we go on could you tell us where does that come from? Where does that intelligence report come from?
  (Mr Murray)  I do not think I can, I am sorry. Obviously as an official it is very difficult to comment or give any kind of detail about an intelligence report.

Sir John Stanley

  1662.  Mr Murray, could I ask you this. This is in relation to the minute that you wrote on 30 March to both Mr Dales and Miss Grant, following the telephone conversation that you had with Mr Cedric Andrews of Customs and Excise. In that minute you said that you had told Mr Andrews on the telephone that the Foreign Office were not aware of any shipment of arms. Could you explain to the Committee how you could have come to minute that to Mr Dales and Miss Grant when you already had on 23 February, quite apart from any intelligence information which you had received subsequently, the clearest possible evidence that Sandline were in the business of arms shipments on behalf of President Kabbah?
  (Mr Murray)  I think there are a couple of points. The important thing is what I actually said to Mr Andrews, which is that, as far as we knew, there had not been a shipment of arms and, as far as I knew on 30 March, there had not been a shipment. The other point which I covered with Mr Andrews in our conversation was the question of Spicer's claim that he had told the Department all about what was happening and what I was telling him was that he had not told the Department about the arms.

  1663.  I have to put it to you—and this was a point that, as you are well aware, the Chief Clerk in your Department picked up as a matter of some concern—was it not pretty disingenuous (let us put it like that) that you were telling Customs and Excise that you were not aware of any shipment of arms when you knew very, very well, clearly minuted, that an arms contract was in existence between Sandline, which was the company under investigation by Customs and Excise, and President Kabbah?
  (Mr Murray)  I certainly was not disingenuous with Customs at all. The minute was addressed within the Foreign Office to people who knew the story. It was not addressed to people who did not know the story of what was going on, and I am quite certain that you would find that the Customs people at no stage found me anything other than very open and helpful.

Chairman:  Is that a proper time to adjourn? The Committee will now meet again at two o'clock in Room 8, so papers will have to be cleared from this room. Thank you.

The Committee suspended from 1.08 pm to 2.03 pm

Chairman:  Ms Grant, Mr Murray, we thank you for your evidence this morning. You recall when we concluded Sir John was in the middle of his own questioning and I will call on Sir John now to continue.

Sir John Stanley

  1664.  Thank you, Chairman. Ms Grant, this Committee is responsible for departmental administration and I put this question to you in all seriousness, following Mr Murray's evidence to us this morning. Can you tell us in your obviously long experience of the Foreign Office, is it a normal practice that a relatively junior official minutes a recall recommendation in relation to his superior, in other words in grade, Ambassadors, High Commissioners, and does so without even informing the individual in question?
  (Ms Grant)  In my experience it is pretty unusual, but I would not like to deal with it in grade terms, although if you look at the Diplomatic Service hierarchy I would not best describe Mr Murray as a junior, he is fairly senior in the policy chain, and indeed it is our practice and policy now to push responsibility and work down to the right level rather than always assume it has to be dealt with by the head of department. A deputy head of department in policy terms is a pretty key person, and if he had concerns or doubts about the policy or any aspect of its implementation he is quite right to—and indeed I very much welcome the fact—minute it. It is worth noting perhaps that it was a confidential and personal minute and designed for a very restricted audience. I was very pleased he shared his views, had thought them through and put them on paper so clearly. So as far as I am concerned it was unusual but not at all out of order for Mr Murray to minute as he did.


  1665.  If I may add to Sir John's question, you say "unusual but not out of order", are you aware in your experience in the Foreign Service of any other occasion where a person has made such a recommendation in respect of someone who is in seniority terms above him?
  (Ms Grant)  I have had quite a bit of experience of people having difficulties and doubts with their heads of posts abroad—

  1666.  That was not the question.
  (Ms Grant)  I do not recall myself; I have not been involved in anything so considered on paper. But, as I say, I put that to Mr Murray's credit, that instead of complaining or speaking off-the-record, as it were, he was prepared to think through and put down his comments in the context of the policy.

Sir John Stanley

  1667.  Earlier this year I tabled a question to the Foreign Secretary which he answered on 21st May at Written Answers, Column 526, and the question which I tabled to him was whether the UK sanctions Order implementing the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1132 was put to a minister for approval before it was laid before Parliament. Mr Cook replied that it was indeed put to a minister for approval and it was put to Mr Lloyd. Could I ask you, Ms Grant, in that submission to Mr Lloyd was it made clear to him that the legal ambit of the UK sanctions Order was in fact very different from the publicly stated position of the Foreign Office up to that point as to what was the intention behind the United Nations Security Council Resolution, in other words that the publicly stated position of the Foreign Office was that it was an embargo on arms to the junta but as of course we all know the United Kingdom sanctions Order made that embargo legally binding on all parties in Sierra Leone to the Sierra Leone conflict? Was that made clear to Mr Lloyd in the submission?
  (Ms Grant)  Two points on that. As you may recall from this morning, one of the weaknesses the Legg Report identified in the system, and which I recalled, was not a weakness in my department. The submission on the Order in Council did not come from the Africa Command, it was the responsibility of the legal advisers consulting with the United Nations Department, and they process all Order in Councils, it is not the geographical department that initiates this process. Indeed it was one of the Legg Report's observations which I very much support. It was most unfortunate we were not consulted in that process. So the submission did not go from me, it went from the legal advisers in consultation with the UN Department. We did get a side copy but we were not involved in the process of recommendation. I am sorry, what was your second point?

Sir John Stanley:  I wanted to know what was the content of the submission and, as I expected, it did not come from your section. I would be grateful if you could provide the Committee with a copy of that submission, and I should be grateful if we could have it by the end of this week please?


  1668.  Are you willing to provide it?
  (Ms Grant)  It is really not for me to say but I do not suppose there will be any objection.

Sir John Stanley

  1669.  Given the fact we have had the entire briefing to your ministers for all their parliamentary debates on this subject, I cannot believe there can be any difficulty about us having the briefing in relation to this statutory instrument. Could we now turn to the speech Mr Lloyd made in the Adjournment Debate on 12th March? In that debate he stated in Column 841, "We were instrumental in drawing up the UN Security Council Resolution 1132 which imposed sanctions on the military junta." The words he used there were exactly the words which officials advised him to use in the draft speech which they put to Mr Lloyd for that debate. Those words were inaccurate. Can you explain to the Committee why inaccurate wording was put before Mr Lloyd for that debate and, of course, that is the wording that appears in Hansard?
  (Ms Grant)  I am sorry, that recalls your earlier point, which was whether there was a difference in meaning or scope between the Order in Council and the UN Resolution. I think the Resolution does indeed impose sanctions on the junta; it does not only impose sanctions on the junta. I do not think therefore it is misleading, I think it is incomplete.

  1670.  I am sorry, let me make it absolutely clear. That was not actually the point I made. The point I made, which I hope is borne out in the transcript but I will repeat it now so it is absolutely clear, what I said was that the publicly stated position of the Foreign Office, not least in the press report which the Foreign Office issued at the moment the Resolution was passed, and the press line to take which was issued and the press line to take which was in telegrams all round the world, including to Mr Penfold, was in all cases that the British Government had been instrumental in passing this Resolution which imposed an arms ban on the junta. The point I was making was that there was a discrepancy between that public position, which may be quite different from the legal position, and the legal ambit of the sanctions order, and you would recognise there is a difference between the wording.
  (Ms Grant)  I think the public position of the UK Government was at all points based upon the Resolution. In the press statement and in making points, and as I say trying to explain the policy elsewhere, including to the House, we focused on its most important effect, which we hoped would be to squeeze the junta.

Chairman:  Surely it was not a question of focusing, it was highly selective and distorting as to the effect of that Resolution?

Sir John Stanley

  1671.  It was profoundly misleading, I must put it to you; profoundly misleading. Because the legal effect was not just imposing the arms ban on the junta, you were imposing an arms ban on the very government, the democratic government, which the British Government repeatedly said it wanted to see back in control in Sierra Leone.
  (Ms Grant)  Indeed I think that is quite clear from the Resolution. My understanding and my memory from the time is that in order to impose an arms embargo on the junta, various options were considered. The only practical one which seemed to apply at the time to make it effective was to make the scope geographic. I also believe that it was not actually a severe imposition on any of the other parties to impose an arms embargo. I very much agree with Mr Murray, lack of arms was not the problem in restoring President Kabbah's Government. The problem was the nature and the way in which forces could be used to assist them, which had to be in the context of a Security Council Resolution.

  1672.  Would you not agree, Ms Grant, it would have been much better if officials had accurately briefed Mr Lloyd on what to say on this point in the debate? The wording of his speech, surely, should have been that the Government through the Order had imposed an arms embargo on all parties to the Sierra Leone conflict. Should that not have been the briefing for Mr Lloyd?
  (Ms Grant)  I think there are two questions. Mr Lloyd, I think, was quite clear about the terms and scope of the Resolution—

  1673.  But Parliament was not.
  (Ms Grant)  I have seen nothing to indicate that he was not. What we were doing during the course of his speech, as I say which was designed to explain our policy towards Sierra Leone, was to account for the effect of the Resolution as far as the junta was concerned. As you say, it is different from reading out the legal position, a press statement is different from reading out the legal position, but I think there was no doubt to anyone reading the Resolution what the scope of it was. All our statements were based on that Resolution.


  1674.  It was not surely so clear, because the legal advisers to the Secretary General have said that the mischief in that was the junta and in their judgment it did not apply to ECOMOG and ECOWAS. So if it confuses the legal advisers to the UN, it is not quite as crystal clear as you suggest.
  (Ms Grant)  I think the only dispute as far as I recall the legal advisers at the UN had, was whether or not there was any exemption for ECOMOG or ECOWAS. I do not think they were ever in any doubt that it covered everyone else.

  1675.  Why did you not ever say so, or ministers through you?
  (Ms Grant)  In response to what, I am sorry?

  1676.  When opportunities arose, either in the press line or in statements to the House.
  (Ms Grant)  Because the thrust of our policy was the restoration of President Kabbah's Government and the squeeze on the junta which had displaced him. That was the focus of our briefing and our policy statement.

  1677.  There is no doubt about that, but why did you not say that the Order in Council has the effect of barring arms to all parties in Sierra Leone?
  (Ms Grant)  Because that did not seem as central to our policy as the need to remove the junta and return President Kabbah.

Sir John Stanley

  1678.  There is a suspicion—and it is not just my suspicion, it is reflected in the Legg Report, and you know the paragraph as well as I do—that officials took a deliberate view to produce what was a very imperfect representation of the effect of the sanctions Order in order not to encounter any difficulty suggesting that there may not be a ban on arms supplies to the Nigerian forces, because of the Nigerian dimension, and also because they did not want to expose the fact we actually had put an arms ban on the very government that had democratic credentials that we were trying to restore. Was there an argument of political convenience behind the press line that was rigorously adhered to right from the moment the United Nations Security Council Resolution was published?
  (Ms Grant)  That was never part of my thinking. As I say, I had no problems about preventing the supply of arms even to President Kabbah. I did not think it would damage or disadvantage him in any way, so there was no offsetting political convenience there. I realised that the whole question of use of force by Nigerians would have to be tackled in a subsequent resolution anyway.


  1679.  Because?
  (Ms Grant)  It was never part of my thinking that we should be somehow doctoring the terms of the Resolution. As I say, I would not have expected any of my colleagues around the world to rely on a press statement when a Resolution was available, I think the press statement is designed to highlight key points that we want to make and not to repeat a legal document.

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