Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Seventh Report



  30. We set out in our February Report the situation at that time on the handling of licence applications for Pakistan, in particular —

At 14 January 2000, 76 SIEL and 29 OIEL applications covering Pakistan were awaiting a decision. Of these, 41 of the SIEL and all the OIEL applications had been made before 12 October 1999. In the subsequent months, no licences were granted.[31] As at 8 May 2000, the SIEL queue had risen to 115 and the OIEL queue to 32.[32]

31. On 7 February 2000, we received a letter on the subject from the Defence Manufacturers Association (DMA), complaining of the uncertainty caused by what it described as an unofficial freeze, and suggesting that an outright embargo would be preferred by many of its member firms. The DMA suggested that overseas competitors, including those in EU countries such as France, were able to pick up the immediate business and subsequent follow-on contracts. The DMA called for "proper, effective and positive decision-making by HMG, especially in "difficult" cases, rather than prevarication and indecision".[33]

Current policy

  32. In evidence on 4 May, the Minister repeatedly denied that there was an informal embargo or freeze or moratorium, and reasserted that applications are being considered very strictly on a case-by-case basis.[34] He was unwilling to speculate as to what might get through.[35] The UK is said not to be actively promoting defence sales to Pakistan.[36]

33. On 5 July 2000 the Government announced in a written answer that a number of outstanding licences for Pakistan had been granted and that a further quantity had been refused. In a letter to the Chairman, the Minister explained that while the situation in Pakistan remained fluid -

    " we now feel that we are better able to assess the intentions of the Musharraf regime and hence make decisions on a number of export licence applications...Our policy on export licence applications for Pakistan remains case by case consideration. We will continue to keep the situation in Pakistan under close scrutiny".[37]

34. He described the 20 SIELs and 1 OIEL granted as covering " a narrow and well-defined range of equipment such as naval spares, bomb disposal equipment and goods for civilian end-users...", and noted that no applications had been received for major weapons and weapons systems. 26 SIELs have been refused and Pakistan refused as a destination for one OIEL. The Minister also wrote that " We hope to process the remaining pending applications as soon as possible".

35. On 6 July we sought the details of the licences granted and refused. These were provided on 12 July. The details even in outline would not otherwise have been available until publication of the Annual Report for 2000. Details of a number of those licences granted were already known to us from the list provided of applications for licences for naval spares provided in answer to a previous question. Five are for goods for temporary export. In several of these cases we would expect a similar application for permanent transfer to be very carefully scrutinised. Most of the licences granted are for spares for naval ships or helicopters.

36. We welcome the fact that decisions have at last been taken on many of the outstanding applications for licences for export of goods to Pakistan. We question whether it need have taken quite so many months to reach these decisions. We are also minded to believe that the interest we have shown in this issue may have had a stimulating effect. We can only speculate as to whether there may be other as yet unrevealed areas where similar scrutiny might have similarly beneficial effects.


  37. The ideal situation at the outset would have been some common EU position on arms exports to Pakistan.[38] It is evident that there was no consensus on such an outcome in the autumn of 1999. In our February Report we recommended "discussions with our EU partners to establish a common position on defence and defence-related exports to Pakistan, so that there can be no question of advantage being taken by other member states of the suitably cautious approach being taken by the UK."[39] In its July response, the Government stated that it discussed developments in Pakistan regularly with EU partners.[40] The Government has no formal knowledge of sales to Pakistan by EU member states.[41] The refusals of licences announced on 5 July should be the subject of denial notifications to our EU partners under the terms of the EU Code of Conduct.

Outstanding applications

  38. The DMA asserted that "non-offensive" materiel was also caught in the freeze, including "naval safety equipment".[42] We sought information on this point.[43] It is not altogether clear to which licence application the DMA was referring. One licence application which could be described as for naval safety equipment is evidently for equipment for naval use, to a UK MoD specification. Some other licence applications for naval spares or for spares for naval helicopters have some potential safety role, such as distress flares and flotation bags. In every case however it would seem that they are indeed primarily for military end-use. A number of licence applications for dual-use goods, including safety equipment for personnel engaged in mine clearance, equipment for disposal of impaired explosive devices and firefighting equipment, have been awaiting clearance for many months. We conclude that the fact that they were held up for so long strongly implies that an informal and indiscriminate moratorium was indeed in force.


  39. The Minister emphasised the importance he placed on consistency in decision-making, and his concern that any apparent inconsistency would run the risk of criticism from the Committees and judicial review.[44] In our February Report we referred to the tendency of Ministers to fall back on the prospect of judicial review as a last line of defence of a particular policy.[45] It is hard to envisage the exceptional grant of a licence in such circumstances leading to judicial review. We reiterate our broad support for the suitably cautious approach being taken by the UK, in view not only of the illegal coup in October 1999, but also the situation in Kashmir and Afghanistan.[46] Ministers have referred to the policy as one of strict examination on a case-by-case basis of applications for licences to export to Pakistan. The policy of strict examination on a case-by-case basis applies, or should apply, to all destinations. Ministers have rejected the description of the policy as an informal embargo, freeze or moratorium. The fact that a number of licences have now been granted or refused does not alter our conclusion that there has been in operation an informal moratorium on strategic export licences for Pakistan.

30  HC 225, paras 33-38  Back

31  Q 60 Back

32  Ev, p 20, A5 (a) Back

33  Ev, pp 23-5 Back

34  Qq 56, 58, 66 Back

35  Q 78 Back

36  Qq 74-6 Back

37  Ev, p 36: HC Deb, 5 July 00, cols 221-2w Back

38  See eg Qq 71-73 Back

39  HC 225, para 38 Back

40  Cm 4799, Rec 11 Back

41  Qq 61-63: Ev, p 20, A5 (c) Back

42  Ev, p 24 Back

43  Qq 66-69: Ev, pp 20 and 23  Back

44  Q 67 Back

45  HC 225, para 63; see Q 31 for example of this in relation to Zimbabwe Back

46  Qq 65, 67 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 25 July 2000