Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
TUESDAY 19 DECEMBER 2000
HAIN, MP, MR
20. I think that is what I was saying.
(Mr Hain) Then we are agreeing.
Sir Peter Emery: Good.
21. Minister, in that context, we look forward
to the Foreign Office reply to our recommendations in respect
(Mr Hain) Indeed. We will be getting those to you,
Chairman, in the early part of next year.
Chairman: Generally, the consensus has been
that the reports of 1998, 1999 and 2000 have been a distinct improvement
one on the other and a refinement. However, there are still omissions,
and I would like to call on Mr Mackinlay.
22. We were promised a Green Paper on mercenaries.
We have not had it. I cannot find any mention in this report about
the whole area of mercenaries. This Government has had some embarrassment
from predecessors dealing with this matter. The principal opposition
spokesperson, which the Queen's Speech referred to in relation
to Sierra Leone, Mr Maud, thought that mercenaries could be acceptable
to a Sierra Leone Government. There seems to be a vacuum now as
to our thinking on this. It is a cause of some embarrassment to
the United Kingdom that we have not got, at least, a Green Paper
on where we are going to go. Also, there are some conventions
which we have yet to ratify on this, I think. What say you on
(Mr Hain) Andrew, I understand your concern about
it and I share it. I regret the fact that the commitment we gave
to the Green Paper being publishedI think we gave it to
your Committeeby last month or, at least, the end of this
year has not actually been fulfilled. That does not detract at
all from our commitment to publishing it, our commitment to getting
this right and our commitment will be honoured as soon as we have
concluded our own consideration of what is a very complex area,
both legally and in other respects. There is no drawing back from
the commitment given to the Foreign Affairs Committee that a Green
Paper would be published and on which your own views would be
23. When is the next target date, then, or expected
time of arrival?
(Mr Hain) I cannot give you that.
24. Why not?
(Mr Hain) I am just not in a position to do so.
25. Why not?
(Mr Hain) Because I cannot do it. If I had the authority
to give you the target date, then I would do it.
26. What is the impediment? Just to say it is
complicatedI can understand it is complicated but is this
months away or is it a year away?
(Mr Hain) Having missed one deadline before, I do
not want to give you an answer which I cannot stick to. Whilst
we are still discussing it within different departments that have
an interest in this and considering some of the complex and other
legal issues involved, I think you would agree that you would
want a Green Paper which was one that was as good as it is possible
for us to have.
27. Of course I agree with you, and I even accept
that you cannot give a definitive date. I also accept you do not
want to be embarrassed again. However, you have got to getand
it is right for us to saya grip on this matteryou
the Government and, probably, the Foreign Secretary, or the Defence
Secretary, or even the Prime Minister. They need to understand
that it is not tolerable that matters are allowed to drift. What
say you to that?
(Mr Hain) I give a commitment to pass on that very
firm view and I think it is a reasonable view, which I understand.
Chairman: Another omission we will come to shortly
is the Palestine/Israel peace process and Dr Starkey. I would
like to begin now with Mr Illsley.
28. Can I ask you, Minister, one or two questions
in relation to forced marriages and the protocols in relation
to the right of the child? Firstly, on forced marriages, you are
probably aware that a Sub-Committee of this Committee did actually
visit the Asiatic Continent two or three years ago, where we came
across this problem first-hand. Could I ask you whether there
have been any tangible results so far from the joint Home Office/Foreign
Office action plan which was announced in August to tackle the
overseas dimension of forced marriages?
(Mr Hain) The action plan to which you referred has
been carried through by ourselves and the Home Office, and we
will report on our progress in the new year. Obviously, we would
wish to bring to your notice a copy of that report. We have also
been working closely with the NGOs involved. We deal with round
about 100 cases a year. In every case it is British nationals
whose rights are being abused, and we are working with NGOs, the
courts and the police. We have raised it, also, with the countries
concerned, because it is a matter of real concern to us, as it
is for Members, possibly including yourself, who have constituents
in this predicament.
29. Has there been any response, so far, from
the posts overseas who were asked, under the action plan, to re-examine
their procedures for giving assistance abroad?
(Mr Hain) That has been part of the on-going re-orientation
of our work on this, on which we will report on next year, because
it is not something that we are at all complacent about; it is
something we are anxious to get on top of.
30. Turning to the two protocols on the rights
of the child, which the United Kingdom, I believe, have not signed.
On the First Optional Protocol on the sale of children, and child
prostitution (which, incidentally, was featured in the British
press over the last few days) what steps will be necessary before
ratification of that Optional Protocol can take place?
(Mr Hain) I will ask either of my colleagues to fill
in on any details, but we are intending to ratify them. The Prime
Minister signed the two Optional Protocols to the UN Convention
on the Rights of the Child in New York on 7 September, the first
one dealing with the sale of children, child prostitution and
child pornography and the second with the involvement of children
in armed conflict. So this is an on-going process of pursuing
this matter, getting ratification of the final protocol right,
and we are continuing to negotiate on that.
31. On the Second Protocol, which looks to reduce
the number of under-18-year-olds involved in armed conflicts and
so on, do we have any problem with that, bearing in mind that
this Committee also was on the green line in Cyprus recently being
guarded by a 17-year-old British soldier who was part of the UN
force there? It comes to mind that the figure of 18 might debar
us from ratifying, when we have got soldiers on active service.
(Mr Hain) We were in the minority in not being able
to accept 18, and we have a policy of recruitment at 16 and deployment
at 17. The MoD, I think, have taken note of the whole concern
there, which, of course, really came from the exploitation of
child soldiers in places like Sierra Leone, Angola and so on.
I think we are well aware of the complexities here and want to
do as best we can. That is why we have been negotiating to seek
a common position on this.
(Mr Brenton) We have signed this protocol and it is
our firm intention, of course, to ratify it. As you said, there
is a question about deployment of under-18-year-olds. The protocol
requires states to take all feasible measures to ensure that under-18s
do not take a direct part in military action. The MoD are currently
looking at how their procedures can be adapted so that we are
confident we meet that requirement. Once they have done that we
will be in a position to ratify.
Chairman: I would like to go around several
of the trouble-spots in the world geographically.
32. Compared with the 1999 annual report the
2000 annual report makes only an extremely brief reference to
human rights abuses in Israel, and just mentions "administrative
detention". It makes no mention of abuses in the Occupied
Territories by the Israeli Government, nor, indeed, of the expropriation
within Israel of Bedouin land for housing for Jewish and Israeli
citizens and does not make any mention of abuses in Lebanon under
Israeli control. Is this a policy decision to exclude criticisms
of Israel from the annual report?
(Mr Hain) No. On these and other matters we consistently
raised our concerns with the Israelis. Obviously, since the recent
outbreak of extensive violence in the last 11-12 weeks we have
consistently been engaged. So there is no policy to exclude criticism,
as it were, in this respect.
33. You do not find it embarrassing that there
is less mention in a British Government document than there is
in the United States' State Department report on human rights,
even though the United States Government is generally felt to
be the most favourable government to Israel in the whole worldapart
from the Israeli Government itself, obviously?
(Mr Hain) No, I would not say that because the format
of our documents are differentmore modest than the US one.
I think the US have some 23 staff working on their report on human
rights and we have two full-time equivalents. So we do not attempt
the kind of, as it were, country-by-country analysis, and use
the US as a benchmark. There is no attempt, either, to dodge the
issues in Israel to which you refer and which I am equally concerned
34. Can I take up the point that you and I were
discussing this time last year, which was about human rights clauses
in trade agreements? At that point, last year, you agreed that
if you had a clause in a trade agreement and you never activated
it then there is not much point in having it. Why have we not
made any attempt whatsoever to activate the human rights clause
in our trade agreement between the European Union and Israel,
given that clearly those human rights clauses are being abused
in the Occupied Territories and within Israel itself?
(Mr Hain) I think the main answer to that question
is that what we have sought to do, especially over the last year
or two, when there has appeared to be, at least until the last
three months, a real opportunity for peace, is to focus on the
peace negotiations. Whilst constantly raising the human rights
concerns, as I did when I visited Israel, in fact twice, this
yearand the Foreign Secretary as well and in a bilateral
engagement with Israeli Ministers and otherswe thought
that the really important thing was, rather than get into a dispute
between the EU and Israel over this matter, to try and push forward
the peace process, because that, in the end, is the best guarantor
of human rights protection.
35. I understand that point, but the point that
you and the Foreign Secretary seem to be making is that it is
an either/or, and you cannot do both. The problem is that some
of the human rights abuses we are talking about are the acceleration
of settlement building within the Occupied Territories, which
has been greater under the Barak Government than under the Netanyahu
Government, which positively obstructs the peace negotiations.
Yet, the position the British Government seems to have got itself
into is that it will talk in private about settlement expansion,
but, actually, it is quite willing to see the Israelis create
facts on the ground, to change the status of negotiations and
that all that matters is getting some sort of agreement even if
it means compromising on human rights, even if it means an agreement
which is unlikely to be sustainable. Can I add to that that I
think there is a particular danger in that there are, within Israel
itself, a lot of groups and individuals who, very bravely, speak
out about the human rights abuses that their government poses.
Is it not true that it undermines them if they cannot point to
any government outside which is actually taking any concrete action
against these human rights abuses?
(Mr Hain) I met with a number of themvery principled
and admirable Israeli citizenswho have a civil society
human rights agenda, and we had a discussion in which none of
those concerns were put to me about Britain's position. On the
contrary, I think we found we had a common agenda. So I do not
think that is valid. I do agree with you that the incremental
settlement extension is unacceptable. We have made consistently
clear to the Israeli Government that we do not recognise any basis
in international law for these settlements and that they are not
defensible. There is no kind of backing-off that principle, but
the settlement issue is one of the issues which is, as you will
knowfollowing the processes as you do with great expertise
and concernat the heart of the Land for Peace part of the
peace negotiations, and will clearly feature, one way or another,
if we do achieve an agreement, as we hope.
36. Can I just then take up another issue about
Article II of the EU trade agreement? The Foreign Secretary, on
21 November, before this Committee, said: "Any EU move towards
suspension of the Association Agreement on human rights grounds
would involve tough and harsh negotiations with Israel."
I contrast that with assurances that were given by Mr Hanley in
1997, who I think was your predecessor, by one or two, at the
Foreign Office. When he was being pressed by the Honourable Member
for Great Grimsby, Mr Hanley said that we may be ". . . losing
a bargaining counter by accepting the agreement, but in return
we are gaining a mechanism in the agreement that could be used
as a further item of pressure which, if terms of the agreement
were broken, would give rise to a breach of the agreement. If
those terms were serious enough the agreement could be withdrawn."
There is no mention there about "it could be withdrawn but
only after tough and harsh negotiations with Israel". If
the human rights clauses are breached, why do we have to discuss
it? Why can the European Union not simply suspend the agreement?
(Mr Hain) Well, of course, we could. The issue which
the Foreign Secretary was right to identify before youand
which I myself said a few moments agois what would the
cost of doing that be? If I am right, and I do not recall exactly
when Mr Handley gave that evidence to the Committee
37. It was the Second Standing Committee on
Delegated Legislation, so it was in the discussion of the ratification
of the trade agreement that those assurances were given.
(Mr Hain) But I do not know whether that was in a
period when Netanyahu was in power and there were no negotiations
going on of a serious kind. We have been in a situation, which
I have tried to explain, without in any sense detracting from
the validity of your questioning on this matter, where you have
to decide what is the most important thing to achieve at the present
timeto get into (to use an earlier phrase) an isolationist
position with Israel or to seek to engage with its government
in order to drive the peace process forward. It has been so desperately
difficult and complicated that we took the view (and still do)
that to go down this road is not going to achieve what we all
want which is peace, prosperity, stability and respect for human
rights in the area.
38. Would you not accept that the policy we
are pursuing gives the opportunity for an Israeli Government to
go on and on negotiating knowing that whilst negotiation continues
we and the other European Member States are not going to ever
say anything effective about continuing abuses of human rights?
(Mr Hain) No, I do not accept that. I can understand
why critics might look at it in that way but I have yet to see
a suggestion from anybody, this is in a sense a repeat of the
point I made earlier Chairman, of a better strategy, a better
policy stance towards Israel which would produce a better chance
of a settlement. I think we are positioned exactly where we ought
to be, with considerable influence with the Israelis and the Palestinians,
and other key players internationally and within the region, to
bring precisely the kind of pressure and concern and influence
to bear as we do.
Dr Starkey: I guess I will repeat this conversation
with you in a year's time and at that point we might know whether
you are right or not.
Chairman: Not today.
Dr Starkey: I hope there are not going to be
another 300 deaths before we get there.
Sir David Madel
39. Surely, the first priority, Minister, is
that the violence should stop between Israelis and Palestinians?
Does the Government feeland you have laid great stress
on bilateral discussions and our general influence in the Middle
Eastthat there should then be a commitment from Israel
to remove certain settlements?
(Mr Hain) We would have preferred the settlements
were not there in the first place; that is absolutely clear. That
has been Britain's position certainly under this Government and
I think our predecessors. Besides being unjust it is complicating
a resolution of this appallingly difficult problem. We want to
see a negotiated agreement resolve this matter in the best practical
way that both sides can achieve.