Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Seventh Report


ELEVENTH, SEVENTH, SEVENTH, ELEVENTH REPORT

The Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees have agreed to the following Report:—

STRATEGIC EXPORT CONTROLS: FURTHER REPORT AND PARLIAMENTARY PRIOR SCRUTINY

I INTRODUCTION

February 2000 Report

  1. A little over a year has passed since we met together as the four select committees principally concerned with strategic export controls to elect a Chairman and consider how best to consider the Government's Annual Reports on Strategic Export Controls. The first Annual Report, covering the period from May to December 1997, was published on 25 March 1999. In June 1999 we heard oral evidence on the 1997 Report and related matters from four non-governmental organisations. In November 1999 we heard oral evidence from the Foreign Secretary on the 1997 Report and in a preliminary way on the 1998 Report, which was published a few hours before the hearing. We also raised a range of related policy matters. Having received written answers to our first set of questions on the 1998 Report, we reported to the House on the 1997 and 1998 Annual Reports on 2 February 2000.[1] Our Report was published on 11 February 2000.

Ministerial evidence

  2. We gave notice in that Report that we had invited the Foreign Secretary to appear before us to give evidence on several issues which had arisen since the November 1999 hearing, notably the application of strategic export controls on defence equipment destined for Pakistan and Zimbabwe.[2] In response to our invitation conveyed in a letter of 7 February 2000, which suggested that a session might also usefully cover any points arising from the Government's response to our Report, the Foreign Secretary replied on 10 March to suggest a session with the Minister of State, Mr Hain, after Easter. His letter also stated that "we will aim to respond formally to the Committees' report by the end of March".[3] On that basis, and reserving our right to seek to hear directly from the Foreign Secretary on the next Annual Report, we arranged an oral evidence session with the Minister for 4 May.

Government response

  3. The Government's response was not however ready by the end of March. Nor was it with us by 13 April, which marked the standard target period for a response of two months from the publication of a Report. Nor was it available for the hearing on 4 May. A letter dated 2 May from the Minister emphasised that this delay stemmed from "our desire to provide detailed and informative responses to the Report's recommendations...". As a result of the Report raising a number of "complex technical as well as policy questions....of interest to several departments, it has taken longer to formulate a response than would normally be the case".[4]

4. The response was finally made available to us on 11 July and published as a Command Paper on 14 July 2000, more than five months after publication of our Report.[5] We have had virtually no time to consider it before our long-arranged meeting to agree the final text of this Report. We have therefore not sought to deal with all of the outstanding issues raised in the response; we will return to them when we come to consider the 1999 Annual Report.

Contents of Report

  5. In this Report we therefore consider -

Evidence from Government

  6. We are dismayed that it should have taken so long to produce the response to our February Report. In its recent Report the Liaison Committee emphasised that government responses to select committee reports must be made within two months of a report's publication, and concluded that " too many replies are missing this deadline".[6]

7. We do however wish to record our appreciation of the quality of the voluminous written evidence we have received in the course of the last year, and of the readiness of Government to supply us with the detailed information we have requested. Such scrutiny is demanding on those scrutinised as well as those conducting the scrutiny. The pages and pages provided by Government of details of the content of individual licences may seem to disappear into a black hole. Although we have been able to publish only a small part of the papers received, they are in fact the raw material of parliamentary accountability. Using this information, we have been able to put into the public domain facts and issues which have not hitherto been available, leading we hope to a greater appreciation of the complexity and significance of the strategic export control regime and a better informed public debate.



1  HC 225 of Session 1999-2000 Back

2  Ibid, para 40 Back

3  Ev, p 17 Back

4  Ev, p 18 Back

5  Cm 4799 Back

6  First Report from the Liaison Committee, Shifting the Balance, HC 300 of 1999-2000, para 45  Back


 
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