Select Committee on Foreign Affairs First Special Report


The Foreign Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Special Report:—


1. Keeping up the pressure of scrutiny is a challenge for all departmental select committees. The Liaison Committee has said that it expects "all appropriate select committees, by the rise of the House for the Christmas 2000 recess, to assess progress on 'live' recommendations and criticisms, and to report."[7] It has been the practice of this Committee throughout this Parliament to pursue with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office all recommendations made in our Reports. Accordingly we now present this special report to the House.

2. As well as reassessing 'live' recommendations, this special report gives brief details of other activities of the Committee during the Parliament which might not otherwise receive wider attention: informal meetings, and inquiries which have not been the subject of a formal report. We also include a bird's eye view of the Committee's work as a whole over the last Session, and report on the other issues on which the Liaison Committee has asked us to comment.

3. Parliamentary scrutiny of Government is characterised by an ongoing critical dialogue, which aims to bring policies and the reasons which underlie them into the public domain. Select committees' conclusions are often taken up by Government, but even where a Committee's conclusions are rejected, they can help to ensure that policy is reassessed, rather than thoughtlessly adhered to.

Follow-up of conclusions and recommendations

4. Throughout the Parliament the Committee has maintained rigorous and sustained scrutiny of FCO policy, expenditure and administration in important areas of concern. In particular we pursued tenaciously—and in the teeth of FCO opposition—our inquiry into the Sandline affair in Sierra Leone.[8] Our reports have addressed many of the important foreign policy issues of the last three and a half years. Where necessary, we have returned to themes again and again: the Government response to our 1998 report on Hong Kong[9] was reassessed in our inquiry into relations with China;[10] we will shortly report on foreign policy and human rights for the third time this Parliament;[11] the oral evidence taken in November 2000 from the Foreign Secretary on the Nice European Council was the latest in the series of evidence sessions before each six-monthly European Council, and continued our perennial appraisal of the United Kingdom's role in the European Union,[12] particularly in the context of enlargement; we have continued to highlight cross-border problems in Gibraltar;[13] our current inquiry into relations with Yugoslavia will update our previous reports on Kosovo[14] in the light of the advent of a new administration in Belgrade; we continue to monitor visa and entry clearance matters at each post we visit; and we have consistently maintained support for the British Council and the BBC World Service.

5. A full list of our reports this Parliament is printed inside the front cover of this special report.

6. Some select committee recommendations are implemented in their entirety by Government. Others are rejected outright. Others cease to be relevant over time. There remain a substantial number which continue to be relevant and to which the Government response is inconclusive.

7. We are grateful to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for a memorandum received in November which, as requested, sets out progress on recommendations which remain 'live' from our reports to the House during the course of the current Parliament. The memorandum is appended to this special report.

8. Even after earlier follow-ups, several issues of concern to us, highlighted in previous reports, remain unresolved. We draw the House's attention to the following recommendations in particular.


    Recommendation 15—We hope that the Sandline affair will remind all diplomatic staff that they act only within the confines of policies set by Ministers, and the FCO must ensure that Government policy is made crystal clear to Heads of Mission and to the Departments concerned (paragraph 55).

    Recommendation 18—We expect lessons to be learned from the Sandline case in the FCO and in all other Departments (paragraph 67).

9. The Government's original response to Recommendation 15 was: "We do not believe that there is any general problem in this regard. Nevertheless, we shall take every appropriate opportunity to recall to the Service their responsibility to Ministers and through them to Parliament and to impress on them that scrupulous observance of these responsibilities is expected of all its members."[15] We asked the Government in preparation for this follow-up inquiry to tell us what "steps [had] been taken to recall to the Service their responsibility to Ministers and through them to Parliament."[16] They have replied that "the need for all staff to observe their commitment to HMG policy and their duty to Ministers is set out in the Code of Ethics which forms part of the terms and conditions of employment of all staff. The Code is being placed on the Department's Intranet to ensure that all staff have ready access to it."[17]

10. The Sandline affair gave us cause for grave concern about the relationship between Ministers and officials. We have a responsibility for the administration of the FCO, which we pursue annually in evidence sessions with the Permanent Under Secretary. We are determined to ensure that a culture of transparency and accountability is fostered within the FCO.

    Recommendation 31—We recommend (a) in the case of mercenary activities, the publication, within 18 months, of a Green Paper outlining legislative options for the control of private military companies which operate out of the United Kingdom, its dependencies and the British Islands, and (b) in the case of arms trafficking and brokering, that the legislation to control these activities be introduced no later than in the next parliamentary session (paragraph 96).

11. It is now nearly five years since the publication of the Scott Report. While we note the announcement in the Queen's Speech that a draft bill will shortly be published, we are extremely concerned that time has still not been found to introduce legislation to control arms trafficking and brokering.

12. We look forward to sight of the Government's proposed Green Paper on Mercenaries, but regret that the scheduled publication date of November 2000 has been missed.


    Recommendation 1—We conclude that the present system of border controls is unacceptable and wholly inappropriate between two parts of the EU. The Spanish authorities should immediately normalise the border regime which they impose. In any event, we recommend that the British Government should not hesitate to invoke the procedures allowed under the Treaty of Amsterdam to ensure that the right of free movement of EU citizens, whether Gibraltarians or others, is respected. If the Commission is unwilling to take swift action itself, the British Government should invoke Article 227 against Spain. (Paragraph 32)

    Recommendation 10—We recommend that the Government take all steps open to it under the Treaties to ensure that a determination is made by the European Commission with no further delay in the case of telephone operations. (Paragraph 67)

13. We promised in last session's follow-up report on Gibraltar[18] to return to these issues, and we are pursuing them by written questions to the FCO. If the answers to these questions are unsatisfactory, we may well hold a further session of evidence and publish a further report.


    Recommendation 5—We recommend that in view of an actual threat to the United Kingdom from the trafficking of heroin and other opiates through Central Asia, the Government should reverse its decision not to post a full-time Drugs Liaison Officer to Tashkent, and work to strengthen its co-operation with the multilateral and national drugs control agencies operating in the region. (Paragraph 51)

14. In its original response to our report, the Government said "there is no hard evidence that the Central Asian Republics yet present a current danger to the UK, either as producer or as transit countries".[19] We asked the Government if its assessment of this threat had changed. It has replied that "a recently completed study of drugs trafficking in Central Asia, commissioned by the FCO, concluded that while the region as a whole is not a major threat to the UK, Turkmenistan might now be a heroin trafficking route to the UK. As a result, HMC&E have now decided in principle to post a full time Drugs Liaison Officer to the Central Asian Republics. We are currently examining the arguments for a variety of locations within the region for the post."[20] We welcome the Government's decision to post a full-time drugs liaison officer to the region, and hope that the appointment will take effect as soon as possible.

15. As well as these specific recommendations, we shall continue our interest in the other areas which we have addressed during the Parliament. A select committee inquiry should not just be the opportunity for a temporary light to shine on an area of policy before the bureaucracy is able to carry on again unobserved. As we have shown over Gibraltar, where we are not satisfied, we will continue inquiries.

Informal meetings

16. Information on the formal proceedings of the Foreign Affairs Committee is published in the Sessional Return;[21] this document does not, however, reveal the substantial number of informal meetings held by the Committee. Contact between members of the Committee and ministers, parliamentarians and others from around the world helps to keep the Committee informed of international concerns and makes a contribution towards the promotion of good international relations, which is an integral part of the Committee's work. In the course of the present Parliament the Committee has so far held 139 informal meetings. A list of these is set out in the Annex to this Report. Among those met by the Committee were:

  • the Presidents of Indonesia and Macedonia, as well as those of Montenegro (a member state of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) and of Republika Srpska (a part of Bosnia-Herzegovina);

  • the Prime Minister of Uganda;

  • Government Ministers from Albania, Chile, Colombia, Croatia (twice), Cyprus, Estonia, Georgia, Hong Kong, Iran, Kazakhstan (three times), Kenya, Latvia, Liberia, Mexico, Moldova, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine;

  • committees of parliamentarians from Albania, Argentina (twice), the Czech Republic, Estonia, the European Parliament, Germany (twice), Hungary, Iceland, Japan, North Korea, Norway, Poland (twice), Russia (three times), Slovakia (twice) and Yugoslavia;

  • parliamentarians (including Speakers) and other politicians from Algeria, Belarus, China, the Czech Republic, Hong Kong (twice), Iraq, Lithuania, Mexico, Pakistan, Romania, Rwanda, Slovenia, Sweden, Syria and Turkey;

  • foreign diplomatic representatives of China, Germany, Indonesia, Iran, Kyrgyzstan (twice), Malaysia, Romania, Russia (twice), Rwanda, Slovakia (twice), Spain, Sudan, Ukraine (twice), the USA and Uzbekistan (twice);

  • British diplomatic representatives (past, present or future) to China, Cyprus, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Kenya, Myanmar, Russia (twice), Turkey, the UN, the USA and Yugoslavia;

  • international organisations: representatives of the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the European Union;

  • overseas territories: the Governor of Gibraltar, the former Governor of Hong Kong and members of the St Helena Legislative Council.

Matters not leading to a formal report

17. In the course of the Parliament, we have monitored varied issues which have not been the subject of a formal report to the House. We are grateful to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for many memoranda in connection with these inquiries. Those which remain of topical relevance and which have not previously been published are appended to this report. They cover the following topics:

  • the FCO Travel Advice System (8 January 1999)

  • the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration Case 1488/96 (29 January 1999)

  • BBC World (12 November 1999)

  • Human Rights in Saudi Arabia and Trade Relations with Israel (29 June 2000)

  • British Nationals forced into marriage in Pakistan (30 June 2000)

  • the Attempted Coup in Fiji (28 June and 28 July 2000)

  • the British Indian Ocean Territory (31 July 2000)

  • Kuwait (20 November 2000)

  • Landmines in South Lebanon (29 September 2000)

  • the Draft International Criminal Court Bill (7 November 2000)

We have already published free-standing evidence on NATO Enlargement,[22] Iraq,[23] Zimbabwe,[24] Sierra Leone[25] and developments in Israel and the Occupied Territories[26]. We will continue to seek memoranda on foreign policy issues which arise. This is another valuable method of ensuring ministerial accountability to the House of Commons.

Work of the Committee during Session 1999-2000

18. We published 10 reports in the course of session 1999-2000; two of them, on Strategic Export Controls, were published jointly with the Defence, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees—the Quadripartite Committee. We believe that the Quadripartite Committee has fully proved its worth as an effective way in which the four key Committees with responsibility for strategic export control policy can work together and successfully undertake major inquiries on behalf of the House. Our reports covered a broad spectrum of Foreign and Commonwealth Office activity, looking at multilateral issues (human rights and weapons of mass destruction), European developments, bilateral relations (with the Russian Federation and China, countries of obvious importance owing to their size), crisis response (Kosovo) and British overseas territories (Gibraltar). In addition we report annually on the performance and expenditure plans of the FCO and on the annual report on human rights.

19. The Liaison Committee has asked Committees to highlight any difficulties encountered with Government Departments in responding to Committees' reports within the normal timetable, or in other areas. With the conspicuous exception of the second report produced by the Quadripartite Committee,[27] we are pleased to say that the Government has as a rule been conscientious in responding to our reports within the agreed two-month deadline. The Government is generally co-operative with the Committee's inquiries. Its assistance in our travel abroad has generally been of a high quality. There is, however, one problem. Requests for evidence on intelligence matters have not been met forthrightly.[28]


20. The Committee has in the past complained about the lengthy delays in introducing the International Criminal Court Bill. We now note the introduction of the Bill as announced in the Queen's Speech on 6 December 2000, and look forward to its rapid progress.

7   First Report from the Liaison Committee, Session 1999-2000, Shifting the Balance (HC(1999-2000)300), para. 52. Back

8   HC (1998-99) 116. Back

9   HC (1997-98) 710. Back

10   HC (1999-2000) 574. Back

11   Previous reports published as HC(1998-99)100 and HC (1999-2000) 41. Back

12   cf. HC (1997-98) 305, HC (1998-99) 86, HC (1999-2000) 384. Back

13   HC (1997-98) 347, HC (1998-99) 366, HC (1999-2000) 863. Back

14   HC (1998-99) 188, HC (1999-2000) 28. Back

15   Cm. 4325, p. 2. Back

16   Appendix 1, p. 7. Back

17   Appendix 1, p. 7. Back

18   HC (1999-2000) 863. Back

19   Cm. 4458, p. 2. Back

20   Appendix 1, p. 15. Back

21   cf HC (1999-2000) 1, p. 146. Back

22   Together with the Defence Committee; HC(1997-98)482-i. Back

23   HC (1997-98) 582-i. Back

24   HC (1999-2000) 447-i and -ii. Back

25   HC (1999-2000) 519-i. Back

26   HC (1999-2000) 935-i. Back

27   Seventh Report from the Committee, Strategic Export Controls: Further Report and Parliamentary Prior Scrutiny, HC (1999-2000) 467; Government response published as Cm. 4872. Back

28   cf. HC (1999-2000) 28-I, para. 7. Back

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