The International Development Committee has agreed to the following Report:
ECGD, DEVELOPMENTAL ISSUES AND THE ILISU DAM:
1. In July 1999, following the Government's announcement that it was to review the mission and status of the Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD), the Committee announced an inquiry into how ECGD could contribute towards the wider Government objective of eliminating poverty in the developing world as set out in the Development White Paper. The Committee forwarded all memoranda received in the course of the inquiry to the Government's Review and subsequently published a Report: "The Export Credits Guarantee Department - Developmental Issues" in November 1999. In the Report, we examined the Mission Statement of ECGD, the transparency and accountability of ECGD, its support for arms exports and the writing off of ECGD export credits.
2. The Committee returned to the subject of the Export Credits Guarantee Department in early 2000 focussing, in particular, on proposed ECGD support to Balfour Beatty as part of a consortium brought together to build the Ilisu Dam in Turkey. The Committee took evidence from the Rt Hon Richard Caborn MP, Minister for Trade and Mr Vivian Brown, Chief Executive, ECGD and subsequently published a Report in July 2000.
3. The question of whether the Government should support the Ilisu Dam by providing export credit to Balfour Beatty has been immensely controversial, and has resulted in inquiries by both the International Development and Trade and Industry Committees. There has also been considerable discussion of the issue in both the written and broadcast media. The project has been regarded by many as a litmus test of how the UK and other Governments apply human rights, environmental and developmental criteria when considering export credit support. The Government has itself acknowledged the policy significance of the Ilisu Dam in its response to our Report 'ECGD, Developmental Issues and the Ilisu Dam', stating that "The careful work which has been devoted to considering the Ilisu Dam application and pressing the Turkish authorities to improve aspects of the project has helped inform ECGD's Mission and Status Review which has recently been completed".
4. The Committee, in its Report focussed on three issues: the way that conditions were established and applied (examining, in particular, the issues of resettlement and consultation); the human rights and conflict-related aspects of the proposal; and corruption.
5. The Committee was particularly critical of the apparent failure of the Foreign Office to raise questions about the effects of the proposed dam on conflict and the human rights of those living in the region. The promotion of human rights and the prevention of conflict are vital components of any sustainable development strategy. In our Report on the subject, we noted that conflict is one of the main causes of poverty and that genuine development can only take place as conflicts are prevented and resolved, and as human rights are respected. The Committee noted that the region of Turkey where the Ilisu Dam is to be built has for years been plagued by serious conflict between the Turkish Government and Kurdish separatists and that the building of the Dam could well have serious implications for conflict in the region. We went on to recommend that the Foreign Office present an analysis to ECGD of the human rights implications of every project for which ECGD is considering cover.
6. The Committee's conclusions led the Minister for Europe, Keith Vaz MP, to write to the Committee Chairman on 12 July disputing the Committee's conclusions. The Committee published this letter, and the Chairman's response to it, on 18 July 2000 as the Fourth Special Report from the Committee, Session 1999-2000. The Government response echoed Keith Vaz's letter, stating that, "It is not the case that the FCO failed to raise any questions about the dam's effect on the human rights of those living in the region. The FCO specifically raised questions about the environment, human rights and the wider range of social and regional issues at both Ministerial and official level ... There has been extensive consultation between the FCO and ECGD since spring 1999".
7. The Chairman of the Committee responded to Keith Vaz's letter on 13 July making two points: firstly that the assertions made in his letter flatly contradicted the evidence of Richard Caborn and Vivian Brown; and secondly that, even if the FCO had raised human rights concerns with the DTI, both Richard Caborn and Vivian Brown - who would be largely responsible for any decision on whether cover should be granted - were unaware of this. The letter concluded that if we had misrepresented the Foreign Office position "it is because the evidence we received was inaccurate and the Committee misled" and that the only way to resolve the inconsistency of Government evidence to the Committee was for the Committee to see the correspondence between the FCO and the DTI.
8. On 19 September, the Minister for Europe responded to the letter. He declined to disclose the correspondence as, under the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information, correspondence between government departments was not normally disclosed. In a further exchange of correspondence, he reiterated the Government's position that the correspondence should not be disclosed and rejected an offer to provide access to the documentation on a confidential basis. The Chairman, on behalf of the Committee, therefore complained to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (the Parliamentary Ombudsman) on two counts: that the reasoning set out by Keith Vaz in his letters contravened the principles set out in the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information and secondly, that the refusal to provide the information was itself wrong as the Committee saw a clear public interest in the information being made available and could not conceive of any likely harm from such disclosure that would outweigh the public interest. The Report by the Parliamentary Ombudsman in response to the complaint is appended to this Report. It concludes that whilst the documents should not themselves be released (in order to protect the confidentiality of the decision-making process), the Ombudsman could see no reason why the essential elements of the information sought by the Committee should not be released. He therefore attached an annex to the Report (Annex B) containing a summary of the exchanges between the FCO and the DTI/ECGD in respect of human rights issues arising from the Ilisu Dam project.
The Nature of Exchanges Between the FCO and the DTI/ECGD on the Ilisu Dam
9. The Summary of the Exchanges Between the FCO and the DTI/ECGD provided by the Ombudsman appears to confirm the Committee's suspicion that FCO advice on human rights was limited to the issue of resettlement and that it did not extend to the more general issues of human rights and conflict in the region. There is no mention of FCO providing advice (either orally or in writing) on the likely impact of the Dam on conflict and human rights in the region, particularly in respect of the Kurdish population (large numbers of whom live in south eastern Turkey). We reiterate our recommendation made in that Report that the Foreign Office should present an analysis to ECGD of the human rights implications of every project for which ECGD is considering cover.
10. The Committee would not have requested the correspondence had the Government's evidence not been starkly contradictory and their subsequent attempts at explanation, vague, unconvincing and, on occasion, desperate. There is a public interest in Parliament and its select committees receiving evidence from the Government which is accurate, consistent and plainly expressed. When this does not happen, on such an important matter, the source documents should be disclosed as the only remaining way in which to respond authoritatively to the Committee's legitimate inquiries.
11. The Ombudsman's report notes that the Permanent Secretary of the FCO considered that it was not obviously the case that the release of the information was essential to enable the Committee to fulfil its task [of examining the expenditure, administration and policy of the Department for International Development]. The Permanent Secretary went on to suggest that, if select committees found the powers given to them by the House were insufficient, they had the opportunity of recourse to the House for a remedy. We intend to pursue matters arising from the Ombudsman's inquiry with the appropriate committees of the House.
1 Pn31, Session 1997-98 Back
2 First Report from the Committee, Session 1999-2000, HC 73 Back
3 Sixth Report from the Committee, Session 1999-2000, ECGD, Developmental Issues and the Ilisu Dam, HC 211 Back
4 Seventh Special Report from the International Development Committee, Session 1999-2000, Government Response to the Sixth Report from the Committee, Session 1999-2000: ECGD, Developmental Issues and the Ilisu Dam, HC923, p.5 Back
5 Sixth Report from the Committee, Session 1998-99, Conflict Prevention and Post Conflict Reconstruction, HC 55-I Back
6 Sixth Report from the Committee, Session 1999-2000, ECGD, Developmental Issues and the Ilisu Dam, HC 211, para.12 Back
7 Ibid., para.15 Back
8 Exchange of Letters Concerning the Ilisu Dam, HC 813 Back
9 Seventh Special Report from the International Development Committee, Session 1999-2000, Government Response to the Sixth Report from the Committee, Session 1999-2000: ECGD, Developmental Issues and the Ilisu Dam, HC923, p.v Back
10 Report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (the Ombudsman) to Mr Tony Worthington MP of an investigation into a complaint made by Mr Bowen Wells MP, para 11 Back