Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 30)



  20. That is where I see the difficulty because people would turn round and look at us and say sometimes the way we have behaved has not been entirely appropriate.
  (Fiona Weir) If the UK had breached international human rights law then we should apply scrutiny to what we are doing ourselves. That principle would indeed apply.

  21. Your organisation has certainly accused us of doing so in the past. You have accused the UK of breaching human rights in Northern Ireland, have you not as Amnesty International?
  (Fiona Weir) Amnesty International has indeed.

  22. So would you put us in the same category?
  (Fiona Weir) That is a slightly difficult one because I am not allowed to comment on own-country rules as an Amnesty UK person. I am not aware of Amnesty ever having made a case for the specific banning of any particular import of military equipment to the UK.

  23. Perhaps you could write to us on that?
  (Fiona Weir) We will do so.

Mr Laxton

  24. May I move on to end-user certificates and the monitoring of them? In your written submissions, both of you indicated your concern that there are no proposals to strengthen up that particular process. I should like to hear your views on the practicalities about how you think that monitoring of end users could possibly be improved, bearing in mind of course the difficulties that I am sure we are all aware of that in certain countries around the world there would be great difficulty, in fact perhaps a lot of hostility to a very invasive process of checking, double checking, constantly rechecking what the end-use application was of certain equipment and plant and products which are going into those countries. You have expressed your concern. Would you like to elaborate?
  (Mr Eavis) Our concern in this area is that because end-use controls vary considerably across European Member States and wider still, it certainly presents an opportunity for companies or individuals to exploit those differences. The types of things we are arguing for which should be present in an end-use system would be to have a common form for example—a very practical step—which would be on tamper-proof paper so that it is difficult to forge end-use certificates. That would be one step. Another step would be to build in a system so that when you receive an end-use certificate or an end-use assurance from an importing company, you would send a copy of the end-use certificate to your diplomatic mission in that country and ask them to verify the information which exists on that form. It does not have to be that intrusive: just verifying that the company does exist there and this is what it makes. A number of Member States do have those sorts of procedures in place. The Belgian Government for example. Then there are things which you could write in to your end-use certificate, which Britain currently does not write into its end-use certificate, to prevent the re-export of weapons. We would argue that there should be a very clear written undertaking in an end-use certificate that those goods should not be re-exported from that recipient country unless there has been prior written approval by the Department of Trade and Industry. That also happens in some European Member States, Belgium again, but not in the case of Britain. There also are the follow-up measures. There is a role for the diplomatic missions overseas to play, not least in checking that the goods have arrived and that they have gone to the place the documentation said they were going to go. A number of Member States, Austria, Belgium, have those types of arrangements in their end-use system and they do have some level of follow-up checks. They do see that as the last resort. I would argue that a significant proportion of diplomatic missions' time is actually spent on arms promotion and I would say that a significant proportion would be better spent on looking at how the arms which are being purchased are being used and whether they are actually ending up in the place which they said they were going to end up.

  25. Have you done any sort of work in terms, for example, of the country you cited on a couple of occasions, Belgium, about how effective it is? It seems to me that despite all of that process, if you end up with a company within a country which is particularly lax about these issues, that a real concerted effort, premeditated view that this equipment is going to arrive and after a relatively short period of time it is going to be re-exported, you have real difficulties without starting to get very intrusive into the activities of individual companies; very time consuming, very, very difficult. How effective has what you see as the beefed up Belgian system been?
  (Mr Eavis) The Belgian Government argues that it is very effective.

  26. They would, would they not?
  (Mr Eavis) Exactly, so I do not know. There have not been that many examples. The only way of really telling is to look at the examples of when end-use guarantees have been broken under the Belgian system and we certainly have not found any examples of that. There may be Belgian NGOs who would be able to identify those sorts of examples for us. Clearly there will be some companies who will always be able to get round end-use controls, but it is trying to have something in place which is far more effective than we have at the moment and to try to get European-wide agreement or even further, agreement within the Wassenaar arrangement, that we are all working to the same common system so that we decrease the risks of diversion. Obviously the White Paper does talk about looking at this within the European Union, and within the Wassenaar arrangement and we welcome that. It is just that a lot more work needs to be put in to looking at what the best practice system could be so that it could then be implemented. We would be pleased to provide you with examples of what actually happens in other Member States to try to pull out examples of that best practice.

  27. I have to say I think that would be useful and we would probably welcome having a look at examples from elsewhere and just see how our system compares with it. That would be a useful benchmark.
  (Mr Eavis) Indeed. Yes.

Mr Morgan

  28. This sounds like a fair amount of effort on the part of our embassies. Have you formed any idea just how many people would be required in how many countries to enforce the kind of system you are talking about? How practical, in terms of practical politics, is it for the Government to turn round to manufacturers who are pursuing legitimate exports and say, "Sorry, we're taking people away from export promotion in our embassies just to check up on the sales which are already going on"? That is what you are suggesting.
  (Mr Eavis) No, we do not have detailed analysis of what the implications would be in terms of time of personnel overseas. I did say that this element—and I mentioned four or five elements—would be the last resort. There will be some countries where it would be important that great emphasis is put on changing the role of the missions. This is being discussed, anyway within the Ministry of Defence; looking at whether the types of defence attache«s we have at the moment are the most appropriate for the new challenges which are being faced in some of the recipient countries. Part of the question could be looking at how our arms are being used. One of the encouraging statements which was made in this regard by the Foreign Secretary was that as a matter of course now ambassadors and staff overseas will dialogue with NGOs in that country to seek information from NGOs as to whether there is any information which has come to light which the Government should be aware of. That is a very useful practical step: a dialogue with the NGO community in the recipient country which would not actually take that much time.

Ms Perham

  29. I should like to cover the proposal for an independent agency which you both put forward and how that would improve on the current arrangements. I am wondering, if it is independent, or even if it is a standing interdepartmental committee, or I think you suggested under HM Customs, how parliamentarians would still be involved?
  (Fiona Weir) Other departments clearly have within their remit a promotion role and a promotion role does not fit very well with a control role, so it seems to us independence is quite a useful way of getting that extra degree of objectivity into this process. We should very much urge you to consider separating those functions out. We have not thought through the details of how it would work, what particular parliamentary structures and committees, but given that there is more than one committee interested, it may be that one might have to look at something like some kind of joint meeting or debate which brought various parties together around the annual report. We have not thought through those details.


  30. One can only wonder about the appropriateness of having the Treasury as the Ministry responsible for the curtailing of an export business. It would certainly be a different role for them. On that happy note may we thank you very much for your evidence this morning. It is a very useful starting point for us.
  (Fiona Weir) Thank you. We certainly hope that you will not leave things with a degree of openness and parliamentary scrutiny which industry regards as exactly the right balance because we might have concerns about that.

  Chairman: There are always problems in politics about pleasing the wrong people. It just depends where you are sitting. Thank you very much.

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