Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
THURSDAY 21 MARCH 2002
MP, MR WILLIAM
Sir John Stanley
60. Foreign Secretary, we have, of course, the
Government's response to the last report which we put to the four
Secretaries of State at the end of the last Parliament and that
response was in Command 5141 which was published last July. Since
then you will be aware of the powerful case for prior parliamentary
scrutiny on the limited basis put forward by the Quadripartite
Committee in the last Parliament. The case has been put forward
in the proceedings on the Export Control Bill on both sides of
the House and in both Houses. You will be aware, also, that as
of yesterday a total of 173 Members drawn from all three major
political parties in the House of Commons signed Early Day Motion
826 which says that "This House believes that specified defence
export licence applications should be subject to prior scrutiny
by a Committee comprising Hon. Members". The new Quadripartite
Committee is, of course, considering this matter and it is the
Committees' intention to respond fully to the Government's response
in Command 5141. The question I want to put to you is this: so
far as you and the other three Secretaries of State are concerned,
do you have now a closed mind on this issue or are you in fact
going to be prepared to look again at the case that we shall be
putting to you in response to the comments you made to our predecessor
(Mr Straw) I suppose I had better say, in terms of
now being asked about the state of mind of myself and my colleagues,
that is also a state of mind the Government is indivisible to.
(Mr Straw) Did I hear Mr Anderson say why?
62. That is right.
(Mr Straw) If I may just be allowed to talk about
my own state of mind. I do not have a closed mind about this at
all. I think there are considerations which I say, with respect,
I think need to be taken into account very carefully by Members
of Parliament about prior scrutiny because it is not a one way
street. I think if there were prior scrutiny you could end up
with a situation, as they have in Sweden, which I see recommends
itself to some people, where the parliamentarians who are involved
in the prior scrutiny, as I understand it, have to take what amount
to Trappist vows of silence and are not able to take part in any
parliamentary debates which follow. I am looking very carefully
at the proposals which are being made by Lord Campbell-Savours
in the House of Lords for a system which would have a Committee
which is similar to the Intelligence and Security Committee in
terms of its appointment and responsibility, but it is different
from the Intelligence and Security Committee because the ISC does
not do any prior scrutiny work with respect to the intelligence
agencies, and neither in my judgment could it or would it be appropriate.
It could but it would not be appropriate for it. Sir John, I am
a Member of Parliament as well as a Member of the Government.
As I tell my electors in Blackburn as frequently as I can I only
have the job in Government as a result of having a job from them
in Parliament and so although, of course, here I am on one side
of the table and you are on another, I do not happen to think
that I should dispose of my responsibilities or my concern as
a Member of Parliament to ensure that Ministers are held properly
to account because of one thing. I can be absolutely certain,
as I look at my future as well as my past career, that when that
finally comes to an end, whenever it does, I will have been a
Member of Parliament seeking to hold executives to account for
longer than I have been a member of an executive. I think both
jobs are important. I think we have to try and work through to
get the best system that we can which leads to efficient, consistent
decision making in Government and proper parliamentary scrutiny.
May I just say this last point. I have looked carefully at other
systems so far as information is available. I think the system
that we have established over the past five years in the United
Kingdom is far and away the most transparent system in the whole
of the European Union by a long shot, and that includes Sweden.
It is different from the one in the United States but the United
States only involves prior scrutiny by Congress on a rather variable
basis but what is not variable is a very high threshold in terms
of the value of the contracts. At the moment we are world leaders
in terms of parliamentary scrutiny for export licences. That does
not mean for a moment that we should not try to improve the system
but it does help to put our system into perspective.
Sir John Stanley
63. I welcome the fact you say you have an open
mind, I hope that applies equally to the other three Secretaries
(Mr Straw) It absolutely does. I speak on behalf of
them. As I say this is an indivisible government.
64. Excellent. Foreign Secretary, you would
agree, I am sure, that when in the last Parliament a group of
us went to study closely the systems in both Sweden and the United
States we came to the conclusion that whilst they were both systems
of a sort which had a form of prior scrutiny that we did not feel
that we wanted to replicate either the Swedish system or the United
States system here. I think you will acknowledge that we put forward
in the last Quadripartite Committee a system which we thought
was extremely well tailored to the particular requirements of
the UK Parliament. I think you would agree, also, that in the
UK Parliament it is wholly commonplace for Members to serve on
both Select Committees and the slightly different Intelligence
Committee and at the same time not be subject to any Trappist
requirements on the floor of the House. So, bearing those points
in mind, I hope it will be the case that you will look very, very
closely at the response we are going to make to you with the open
mindedness which you conveyed on the part of yourself and your
(Mr Straw) Yes, I will.
Chairman: Unless there are any other questions,
there is a private session that we need to go into. Publicly may
I say, Secretary of State, thank you very much indeed. May I say
to the public: may I ask you to leave as quickly as possible so
we can move to private session.
The Committee sat in private
Sir John Stanley
65. Can you just confirm, Chairman that the
modus operandi for this session will be as for a normal
private evidence session by a Select Committee, in that a full
transcript will be taken and if the Secretary of State wishes
excisions to be made on the grounds of security that will then
be the subject of a discussion/negotiation between the Secretary
of State and the Committee, but that a full transcript will be
Chairman: That is correct.
(Mr Straw) That is my understanding.
66. Secretary of State, I think there are three
areas that you have identified particularly that we need to discuss
further in private session . There is the undercutting issue,
that first cropped up in relation to China. On India and Pakistan,
you said you wanted to tell us more, and on Tanzania, you said
you wanted to tell us very much more. Shall we take them in that
(Mr Straw) On undercutting ***
67. Why could your answer on the Code not have
been in public session?
(Mr Straw) That was a question of going into more
68. You will appreciate that all Select Committees
are very jealous of their transparency and try to keep out of
private session as much as possible. On the first question on
the Code, in my opinion at the moment I cannot see why you could
not have said that in open sessions without causing problems.
(Mr Straw) In any event, as we know, the arrangement
is that we can go through a transcript afterwards and we can then
decide whether the Secretary of State has let the cat out of the
bag or not. Mr Dowse?
(Mr Dowse) If I can add. Under the system whereby
the EU Code of Conduct operates between Member States, any information
on undercuts, even if individual states are not identified, is
agreed is confidential between Member States, inter-governmental
(Mr Straw) That is a better answer.
(Mr Dowse) That was why we could not deal with questions
of specific numbers of undercuts in the open session. The point
about the embargo is the EU embargo on China was agreed at the
time of the Tiananmen massacre, as a response to those events.
It long predates the Code of Conduct. At the time that embargo
was set up, the EU did not have much experience in applying arms
embargoes. It was drawn in such a way that there was rather wide
scope left for individual national interpretations. We have tried
in recent years, and partly at the instigation of the previous
Committee, to see if we can achieve a closer and more common national
interpretation of the EU embargo on China and we concluded that
we cannot actually do it. As part of that process we have examined
national interpretations of the embargo. ***
69. May I ask what is the procedure for a review
of the operation of both the EU Code and the embargo, because
consistency of application must be the aim. Is there a regular
forum for seeking to learn from experience and improve?
(Mr Dowse) There is a working group that meets in
Brussels monthly under the Common Foreign and Security Policy
called COARM which is constantly discussing various aspects of
the implementation of the Code. To give you an example, the Code
when dealing with undercuts says that a Member State will not
license an essentially identical transaction where another has
refused. There is an ongoing debate as to the meaning of "essentially
identical" so the actual operation of the Code is really
under constant review. There is also an annual report made by
the EU collectively, Member States collectively, of the operation
of the Code and at that time there is a more general review known.
We have brought forward some ourselves over the years already
for ways in which the Code might be developed, ways in which the
annual reports could be made fuller and more transparent. One
of our policy objectives is to try and get the overall EU national
report to be as transparent as our own. We would like to encourage
a wider standardisation of practice and we have had some success
in that respect but we would like to have a lot more.
70. Are there complaints about delays?
(Mr Dowse) Delays in licensing?
Mr Anderson: Yes?
(Mr Dowse) Not within the EU. I think the way in which
the process operates within the EU, we have not experienced delays.
In terms of the actual process of dealing with licences in this
country from exporters, we recognise that we are not meeting our
targets and we need to do that.
(Mr Straw) I was expecting a question about that in
open session. I should just say, as Mr Dowse has just pointed
out, that I am concerned personally about the time some of these
applications take. We are taking a personal interest now in ways
in which the process can be speeded up. It has to be said, the
fact that this ends up as such a transparent system does mean
because we come before your Committee you can examine in closed
session individual cases or sometimes, as with the Tanzanian case,
it becomes a matter of great public debate. You have to keep very
careful records. Also the fact that four departments are involved
adds to the complication. I am looking at ways in which we can
speed it up, it is not satisfactory.
71. May we move on to India and Pakistan.
(Mr Straw) I think I was being asked about why quite
a lot of SIELs were refused. ***
72. Thank you for that. It is more or less what
I anticipated that you would then go on to tell us. The question
in my mind is: there is substantial awareness generally of India
having both a civil space programme and a question of military
use of ballistic missiles. There seems to be a persistent inability
for us to be able to distinguish between what might be used in
one programme and what might be diverted to another and with a
friendly government. It seems a pity we cannot arrive at a point
where we can be much more certain about end use control over potential
dual use items, so that we can be in a position where we can give
assistance to India in its civil space programme, for which there
are perfectly good applications and India should have every reason
to be able to participate in such a programme, whilst separating
that from the big issue of weapons of mass destruction.
(Mr Straw) The problem is not a problem at our end,
I have to say. ***
(Mr Dowse) If I could just expand on that slightly
73. I do not think the burden of my question
was to seek to move you to a blanket ban but whether there was
some way that a friendly government is a distinct case.
(Mr Straw) ***
74. The question from my point of view is the
intimate relationship between end-use control in this particular
instance and licensing or otherwise of an application, and our
ability to put in place with a friendly government and a perfectly
legitimate intention in a civil space programme, for example,
some of those applications to try and put in with them an end-use
control in which we have some confidence.
(Mr Straw) ***
75. Jack, my views on India and Pakistan are
fairly equidistant, partly as a result of having an almost equal
number of Indians and Pakistanis in my constituency. On the sale
of Hawks and this trust one has for India, and having a better
relationship with India and an improving relationship with Pakistan,
could you tell us this even in private sessionthis may
be commercial in confidence. I presume if the Indians asked for
a couple of Hawks without any restrictions on them militarising
them, this would mean some difficulties for the Government although
the Hawk is not a particularly good bomber or fighter. If the
Indians said "Ah, it will only be used for the principal
purpose of the Hawk", namely training purposes, would you
then put in some conditions to say "yes, but you must give
us some form of guarantee that the Hawk will only be used for
training purposes"? If you do that, are they likely to tell
you thank you very much but we will now look to the Swedes, the
French or the Russians for a trainer that can be used for military
(Mr Straw) I am sorry but I cannot go down that path
because it would be on the basis of completely inadequate information
for me to make a prior judgment about an application that we have
not received; that is the situation. In respect of any country,
at the risk of repeating myself, what we have to do is to apply
the criteria. Obviously the criteria take account of the circumstances
of individual countries because issues of regional stability and
so on and repression are to do with circumstances from an individual
country, but they vary very much not only between countries but
over time and the circumstance in a country can change quite rapidly,
and you then have to make a judgment about whether the change,
if it is a change for the good, is it going to last or not. That
is why I must not be led down this path. Frankly, although I try
to avoid raising such matters, it would place any Secretary of
State at risk in terms of future legal action if I was to say
"if we get an application on this basis I will judge it on
that basis" when we have not seen the application. If we
get an application for any kind of equipment which falls within
the goods which are subject to these controls we will judge it
on the basis of these criteria. What else can I say, or should
say is more to the point.
76. Basically where are the sanctions? We went
through this with South Africa in the early 1980s with Coastguarder
aircraft for legitimate coastal surveillance, which could have
a military use also. Are we suggesting seriously that we put some
conditions on a licence. And if those conditions are breached
where do we stand?
(Mr Straw) With respect to Mr Anderson, I cannot get
into discussing what conditions could possibly be imposed in respect
of an application not received. There may be a case for prior
scrutiny but there cannot be a case, I do not think, for prior
decision making on the basis of entirely hypothetical applications.
77. Right. That leaves five minutes. I think
there is more on Tanzania.
(Mr Straw) I am happy to come back. Sorry, what did
Chairman: I think you said there was more on
(Mr Straw) As it happens, Mr Berry, I sought to be
as forthcoming as I could in the public session, rather to a greater
degree than I had anticipated in advance, because as you know
I spoke to you and the Clerk yesterday about this. ***
78. In the Communiqué from the Government
of Tanzania it referred to other countries being involved. Would
that be Rwanda and Burundi in terms of air traffic control?
(Mr Straw) That is the only reference, interestingly
enough, to other countries that I have seen. I was not aware of
this at the time when it was a particularly relevant consideration.
I do not recall questions of other countries being involved when
the matter came before the Committee because after all this is
about an application from an exporter here in respect of an export
to a particular country which had been within the HIPC programme
which is Tanzania. When I read through the letter which came from
BAe systems and the Government of Tanzania, which was earlier
today, I noted that it was being said by the Government of Tanzania
that they are under an obligation, an extant obligation, to I
think Rwanda and Burundi to run air space for them. If you ask
me whether I was aware of that at the time we took the decision
the answer to that is no.
79. One very simple observation, Secretary of
State. I hope you will recognise there is a fair degree of cynicism
about the Government's commitment to sustainable development,
which I am sure will be explored in the debate on the Export Control
Bill, because if the Government collectively says this sale to
Tanzania is sustainable then it makes one wonder what hurdles
would have to be erected for the Government to decide that a sale
was not sustainable. Teasing aside, the fact that the Secretary
of State for International Development has effectively decided
to suspend development aid to Tanzania rather throws that whole
position into doubt, that is all. The reason why the Tanzanian
decision has caused such a furore is, I think, that it just calls
into question the Government's real commitment to sustainable
(Mr Straw) I cannot speak for your state of mind so
far as cynicism is concerned. I think the cynicism is entirely
misplaced, let me say, if you are cynical about it. The Government's
commitment and it is a commitment for the Government as
a whole to international development is one which is almost
without parallel. It needs to be borne in mind that money in the
short term in terms of any spending round which is allocated to
our development programme is money that is not available, for
example, to other programmes, including since I was responsible
for a much larger programme before
Mr Baldry: I was not talking about international
development, I was talking about the sustainable development definition
in this Bill.
(Mr Straw) So far as sustainable development is concerned,
I went into the matter personally with a huge amount of detail.
I have to ask these characters whether I can disclose this to
the Committee, even in private. ***