Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
TUESDAY 30 JANUARY 2001
MP, MR WILLIAM
120. Would you like to speculate with us as
to how it can be described as force neutral?
(Mr Cook) I am not sure. On the whole I resist speculation
which I tend to find a fraught activity. The Western Sahara process
has a very well-established and mandated UN presence. I think
if they had resisted the application, we would, on appeal, have
upheld our own refusal, but the ground for our refusal was rather
removed by the UN removing any objection to it.
121. Before we go into what I think will be
a brief private session, may I raise one issue which I suspect
you will say is Mr Byers' responsibility, but we have received,
Secretary of State, very considerable continuous complaints about
the appeals procedure. Besides the delays it would appear that
the appeals against refusal are taking longer, increasing in number
and creating considerable dissatisfaction. Do you have any hope
to hold out that we can have at sometime a rather better procedure?
I realise this is a DTI responsibility but may we put on the record
that there has been a steady stream of complaints from individual
companies. We invite them every time to offer us information and
they do so.
(Mr Cook) I am aware of the expressions of discontent
and I can assure the Committee that just as we seek to achieve
a performance target in relation to original applications, we
do seek to achieve a performance target in relation to appeals.
But I also must be frank with the Committee and say, by definition
the appeals are into the cases we refused which therefore are
among the most contentious. Earlier I was enticed by the prospect
there might be only half a dozen cases you would find contentious,
among the very small number of appeals we get you can be certain
those are the distilled areas of complexity and contention, and
therefore they do require quite often not only particularly careful
handling but also very cautious and very thorough investigation.
I therefore can assure the Committee we will do all we can to
try and carry them through as expeditiously as we can, but do
bear in mind that these are appeals against an earlier refusal
where on the face of it there was a ground for concern. Some appeals
do succeed, which shows the system is very fair, but it is never
going to be a snap judgment.
122. In that case, would it not be more realisticI
was going to say "honest"to say that the 30 day
target is not achievable? You have not achieved it in a single
case of any appeal, so move the target. What is the value of a
target you never hit?
(Mr Cook) I think I would have to defer to my colleague
as to whether or not we would wish to extend it, but a target,
even if you are falling short of it, at least tries to help to
sharpen the aim. Without any target, you might not
123. When you miss every time?
(Mr Cook) As I say, these are the most contentious
ones and they are exactly the ones this Committee would batter
me around the other ear for if I granted them. So I have limited
sympathy with complaints we are not moving fast enough.
124. Has any difference been made in the trade?
During the last four years have the proceeds from the trade gone
down or gone up?
(Mr Cook) The value of exports last year went down
quite substantially but that is a result of many factors, one
of which is the down-turn in the market particularly in East Asia
and South East Asia, so there are a lot of factors which go into
it. We have had a significant increase in refusals, not last year
but the year before and it continued at a slightly higher level
last year despite the reduction in the total number of licences,
but I would not invite the Committee to read too much into that
because as the industry becomes more sensitive and more acutely
aware of what we will grant and refuse, we would expect the number
of refusals to decline as they do not ask for things which will
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. We have
two or three private issues so we will clear the room now please.