Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
WEDNESDAY 5 DECEMBER 2001
1. Foreign Secretary, may I welcome you and
your colleagues to the Committee? I see Mr Mark Lyall Grant, Mr
Kim Darroch and Mr Stephen Wright. The agreement is that we start
with some questions on Zimbabwe. The Committee will be meeting
Baroness Amos next Wednesday for a fuller coverage of Zimbabwe.
We then go on to preparations for Laeken and there will be a debate
in the House today for which these questions will be highly relevant.
We then go on for the remaining part of the morning to the foreign
policy aspects of the campaign against terrorism. Clearly, we
see that the crisis in Zimbabwe mounts both politically and economically.
We have the land expulsions, the rule of law threatened with friendly
judges appointed, the free press challenged and manipulation of
preparations for the presidential elections in March. On the economic
side, inflation and unemployment climb. Half a million Zimbabweans
face hunger and a fall in investment confidence which affects
the region as a whole with the South African rand falling to historically
low levels. When you attended the Abuja summit on 6 September,
you welcomed that agreement. Do you now admit on reflection that
you and your colleagues were in effect taken in, played along,
to gain time before the Commonwealth summit, the CHOGM meeting
at Brisbane, and it is now clear that President Mugabe had no
intention to change and no intention to honour the promises made
on his behalf at Abuja; he has now had his chance and now is the
time for the international community to take tougher decisions?
(Mr Straw) I do not accept the assumption
behind your question at all. We all went into the Abuja negotiations
with our eyes open. The crucial thing that I said, once the Abuja
text had been agreed in the hotel in Abuja, was that we would
judge its effectiveness by whether it was put into action, not
by the words on paper. If you are asking me were those negotiations
worthwhile, yes, they were very important and they remain very
2. Do you accept that President Mugabe had no
intention of honouring the agreement?
(Mr Straw) Let me deal with why they were important
and then I will deal with what was in President Mugabe's mind.
They were important in two respects. First, in breaking out of
the parody that President Mugabe and the others in Zanu PF had
tried to erect, that what he was involved in was a bilateral dispute
between the old colonial, imperialist power, the United Kingdom,
and the former colony, once Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and
that all the problems which had faced Zimbabwe to an increasing
degree over the last 20 years could be placed at our door step.
We changed that from it being seen as a bilateral dispute to being
a multilateral dispute, critically, one in which South Africa,
Nigeria, Kenya, along with Jamaica and then Australia, Canada
and ourselves were involved. Secondly, we laid down in the Abuja
text a clear framework for judging whether progress was going
to be made in Zimbabwe following it and for judging the behaviour
of the Zanu PF Mugabe government. Both of those are very important.
Do I believe that Abuja has been followed? No. I said exactly
that in the House last Tuesday in parliamentary questions. There
is little in the Abuja text that has been followed. What has happened
as a result of Abuja, however, is that international pressure
on a multilateral basis on Zimbabwe has intensified and I do not
believe that that would have happened without Abuja. To cast my
mind back to June/July, there was hesitation inside the European
Union as to whether action should be taken under the Cotonou Agreement
to move from Article 8 to Article 96. Indeed, although we thought
there was a good case for moving straight to Article 96 that was
not a general view and it was agreed therefore to give the Zimbabweans
another few months. The result of Abuja and what has not happened
since then was that, when this came before the GAC on 29 October,
they reached this agreement that we should move to Article 96.
And, more importantly, the move to do that was led by the Netherlands
and Finland, not by ourselves. This was widespread recognition
of the problem. Secondly, within the Commonwealth, the failure
by President Mugabe and Zanu (PF) to implement the spirit of Abuja
and its letter in terms of the restoration of the rule of law
has led to increasing frustration elsewhere in the Commonwealth.
I called a meeting of the Commonwealth Ministers Action Group,
CMAG, on Monday. As it turned out, it had to be an informal meeting
on the telephone because Nigeria was unable to take part, but
six members of CMAG took part in this, all very concerned indeed
about the situation. We have agreed to meet in London in the week
beginning 17 December. The date is still to be agreed.
3. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group
is likely to meet roughly at the time that the 75 days under the
Cotonou Agreement expire.
(Mr Straw) No; in advance of that. The 75 days expire
in January, but it is up to 75 days. Cotonou says you have 15
days to give notice of the shift from Article 8 to Article 96
and up to 60 days for confirmation.
4. What proposals by way of sanctions would
you and the British Government favour?
(Mr Straw) I am not going to speculate about what
exact sanctions we may or may not favour because for me to speak
publicly about that without agreement of colleagues would be to
re-bilateralise the matter. One thing, however, I would rule out
is economic sanctions against Zimbabwe because they would not
hurt the leadership of Zimbabwe; they would hurt the people of
Zimbabwe who have already suffered.
Sir John Stanley
5. Foreign Secretary, I think you would agree
that one of the very few bright features of the situation in Zimbabwe
is the limited remaining number of extraordinarily brave journalists
who are doing their best to uphold press freedom and objective
press reporting in that country. You will also be aware that the
Zimbabwean Government has introduced their Access to Information
and Protection of Privacy Bill, so-called, under which all journalists
in Zimbabwe are going to be made subject to a one year, renewable
licence, renewable by the state. You will also be aware, because
you have reacted to it, that President Mugabe has threatened to
dub individual journalists, including some British journalists,
as "terrorists" which potentially carries the death
penalty in that country. Against that background, could you tell
the Committee what steps the British Government is taking through
the international community to make it absolutely clear to President
Mugabe that attempts to shackle, intimidate and carry out any
extra judicial action against the remaining independent journalists
in Zimbabwe will be regarded as absolutely unacceptable?
(Mr Straw) I entirely share your view about the absolute
unacceptability of what Zanu PF have done here. It is further
evidence of their desire to rig the system and further evidence
of their desperation about the degree to which, over the last
five or six years, they have patently lost popular support. They
are now trying to reinforce what support they have by the usual
methods of people who are desperate undemocratically to cling
on to power. There were two big moves. One was to brand a number
of journalistswho are not foreign citizens; they are Zimbabwe
citizens who are working for foreign newspapersas assisting
in terrorism, which was preposterous, and then to bring in this
new law which is designed to license journalists presumably on
the basis of good behaviour as far as Zanu PF is concerned. I
issued a very strong statement against that and made protests
to the government in Zimbabwe through our High Commissioner, Brian
Donnelly. What you by implication raise is the bigger question
of what can the United Kingdom do unilaterally about these things.
We do not run Zimbabwe. It is an independent state and, in the
6. I said internationally.
(Mr Straw) Internationally, we use this to build up
the case against Zimbabwe very strongly, particularly with the
African nations. You will have seen remarks from President Mbeke
of South Africa which are increasingly critical and hostile to
the Zimbabwe regime. That is of very great importance in the politics
in southern Africa. Those remarks are reflected by similar concerns
by the government of Botswana. It was the Foreign Minister of
Botswana who chaired this teleconference that we had on Monday
and there is a delegation, as he was telling me yesterday, from
SADC, the Southern African Development Community, which is going
back to Harare on 10 or 11 December.
7. I have a couple of questions on the presidency.
To what extent, if any, have the events of 11 September derailed
the Belgian Presidency and, conversely, has the increased threat
of terrorism helped the agenda to move on in terms of the presidency?
(Mr Straw) I do not think they either derailed or
rerailed the Belgian Presidency. Any presidency has to be resilient
to events, either within Europe or all over the world, which are
unanticipated. They moved commendably quickly following the atrocities
on 11 September. You will recall that there was a meeting of the
General Affairs Council which was held on the Wednesday of that
week, the 12th, and then of the European Council of Heads of Government
which was held on the Friday. Following our decisions in the European
Council and the General Affairs Council and then parallel decisions
of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, the Belgian Presidency
has been very assiduous in pushing the antiterrorist agenda, which
the JHA agreed in detail under the endorsement of the European
Council. That is now moving ahead in this Parliament as well as
in a number of other legislatures. People may say we should have
gone faster, but with my extensive knowledge of the workings of
the Justice and Home Affairs Council, on unanimity, Third Pillar,
by convention, this is good speed in comparison with what has
gone on before. To that extent, the Belgian Presidency can claim
some credit. What is also true is that, as our agendas and those
of the media across Europe were filled with the atrocities of
11 September and its consequences, other issues have gone further
down the agenda and that obviously includes the debate about the
future of Europe which would have dominated the European agenda
but for 11 September.
8. Turning to the idea of smaller countries
holding the presidency, the Prime Minister has already commented
on this. Is it feasible now for smaller countries to hold the
presidency, especially under an enlarged Europe? Is it feasible
for us to continue with this system of the rotating presidency
on the basis that perhaps small countries do not have the institutional
capacity to hold the presidency? Should we be looking at team
presidencies for the future?
(Mr Straw) It is feasible to do it. In the four and
a half years I have had experience of the European Union, there
has been no necessary correlation between the efficiency of a
presidency and the size of the country concerned. It does not
follow that just because a country is large it will run the presidency
with huge skill. On the other hand, I think you are right to say
that, other things being equal, it is more difficult for small
countries to run the presidency. In addition, we are at the limit
at 15 of the principle of a rotating presidency.
9. On the basis of the length of time?
(Mr Straw) Seven and a half years. British governments
tend to change less often in their personnel than most European
governments where there are more changes, perhaps because they
are more often based on coalitions. To go up to 20, 21, 22 or
23 would mean that a country would not get a presidency more often
than once every 10 or 11 years. My belief is that the convention
which will be established by Laeken will deliberate on this issue.
What kind of presidency do you have? There are a lot of ideas
around. There is a proposal to have the presidency solely in the
hands of the large countries. I do not think that would run. There
are proposals for each council to elect its president and for
the president to serve for a longer period than six months and
therefore for there to be a kind of college of presidents. I think
there is a lot more behind that because what I have observed in
the nine or ten presidencies in which I have been sitting in councils
is that who the president is, what their chairing skills are like,
what their negotiating skills are like, makes a phenomenal difference
to whether you get the business done. It is particularly true
where you are making decisions on the basis of unanimity, but
it is also true on the basis of QMV. I share your scepticism about
the future of a revolving presidency. As to exactly what change
we introduce, we should and have put forward many ideas into the
convention and we shall see which ones start to take off.
10. The Laeken Council generally: you face a
considerable tension of interest. You spoke in the Chatham House
speech about an institution that involved devolution rather than
revolution and that we should focus on outcomes, not processes.
The Prime Minister, in his speech to the Polish Stock Exchange,
floated an idea where we may have a chamber or mechanism by which
competencies could be returned to nation states. We need within
that context some kind of framework as to where we should be heading
or it will become much more focused and before we know it we will
have created a super state rather than the super power we wish
to be. In that context, how will you judge whether Laeken was
a success or not?
(Mr Straw) Laeken is not making decisions about the
future of Europe. It is making decisions on the process by which
an IGC in three years' time makes those decisions. Expectations
will therefore not be raised too high. All these are very important
issues that you raise. They have to be debated and addressed inside
the Convention and then at the IGC. How do I rate the success
at Laeken? Clarity about composition of the Convention, where
we are very close to agreement. I think that is satisfactory,
for reasons I will come back to. Then, reasonable clarity about
how the Convention will operate. One of the things on which we
have reached understanding in the General Affairs Council is that
the Convention should have as its starting point the four principles
laid down in the Nice conclusions and should aim to produce options
for discussion at the IGC, rather than laying down a series of
prescriptions. We want to see a gap between the end of the Convention
and the beginning of the IGC so that above all national parliaments
are able to offer a view on the various options that are raised.
Coming back to your first point, drawing on the Prime Minister's
Warsaw speech and the one I made at Chatham House in July, what
we were both saying there was that the European Union is a union
of nation states in which we pool and share sovereignty in order
to give our own people a greater degree of control over their
own lives, but it will work best if it works as this union of
nation states, not as a super state. That view is reflected in
the composition of the Convention and, subject to any final decisions
that are made by the European Council in Laeken, the proposition
is that there will be 15 representatives, one from each of the
member governments, 30 national, parliamentary representatives,
two from each of the national parliaments, one European parliamentary
member from each of the countries and representatives of the Commission
and so on. The nation state is properly represented in that composition.
11. One of the issues surrounding qualified
majority votingI do not expect you to know the detail of
the Directiveis there is currently a difficulty about the
prospectus Directive which is to do with liberalisation of financial
markets which has a disproportionate effect on London but not
other Member States. We currently have a system where we in London
have a huge, disproportionate interest in one issue but we will
end up with a compromise which we simply can live with, not one
which is in our interests. Yet, other Member States because of
the population rating, have a disproportionate influence. Is any
thought being given to potentially look at weighting qualified
majority voting which brings interest in rather than the rather
crude mechanisms by heads of population?
(Mr Straw) I am sure Mr Darroch has every detail of
this prospectus Directive in his head because his skill and perspicacity
go before him. I think it is extremely difficult to have a system
where the weight of voting would vary according to the weight
of interest. How you would arrive at that, by what process you
would translate the pros about the interest in terms of the numbers
and in terms of the weighting, would be extremely difficult. As
you know, what has been achieved in this government is that we
have a reweighting to our voting to give us a greater proportion
of the interest in QMV. On any one issue, there can always be
an argument as to why any one country should have a veto. There
are some issues on which you have to have a veto: national defence,
various tax matters and so on. I was struck during my period on
the Justice and Home Affairs Council, having begun very strongly
attached to the idea of a national veto, as to how often QMV in
parts of the JHA agenda would have been helpful to the United
Kingdom because we wanted to move things forward. We wanted changes
to take place. On one issue after another, you find yourself blocked
by the most extraordinary local, national interest. I remember
beating my head against a wall in frustration at the fact that
the Austrians were refusing to agree to a directive on the recognition
of driving disqualification, which is rather important, because
in Austria we were being told the maximum period for which you
could be disqualified was 28 days; whereas the minimum we wanted
in the directive was 31. It took a ludicrous degree of effort
and time to try and square this circle. The Austrian ministers
were saying to us, "If only we could just do this, our parliament
would put up with it." There is a fine balance here. Without
knowing the detail of this now famous Directive, I would only
observe, however, that what is important on things like that is
that not only can we vote at the time when the Directive comes
before a council but how much influence we are able to exercise
in UKREP, through the office here and through other government
departments to get it through national lobby groups in Brussels,
to get in on the ground floor.
(Mr Darroch) The idea is that the Nice Treaty settle
on voting weights, not only for the existing Member States but
for all the Member States who are hoping to join in the next few
years. Nice should have and we think has settled the whole question
of voting weights until we have completed this phase of enlargement.
Secondly, the Convention can choose to look at any issue that
concerns it. That does not mean it is inconceivable that the Convention
will want to look at this subject again but what the Convention
should be doing is going back to the Nice agenda, those four subjects
agreed at Nice, and focusing on them. Thirdly, on this particular
Directive, I am not expert but a single market in financial services
across the EU is very much in the United Kingdom's interests as
one of the main financial service providers in the world, so it
is an objective broadly that is very important to us. Lastly,
QMV. The figures suggest that we get out-voted under QMV less
often than most of the other major EU states. On the whole, QMV
works in our favour, not against us.
12. Can I ask some questions about the future
of Europe? It seems to me that we have lost the plot on Europe.
I suspect that in my constituency most electors do not see the
European Union as being relevant to them. They feel a sense of
alienation from the process. It is only something that really
matters to the political class. I noticed that Peter Hain said
in a speech on 31 October: "We have lost our way in explaining
to the people of Europe what it is we are doing in Europeeven
what we are trying to achieve." Is there not some sense of
responsibility in the government for this? We are not going to
speak with a clear, pro-European voice and the case for Europe
is going by default?
(Mr Straw) I can only speak for my constituency and
my constituents but that of course includes yourself, Mr Pope.
13. I can tell you what my view is.
(Mr Straw) My take on what my constituents feel is
slightly different from yours. My constituents do recognise the
great importance of our membership of the European Union. It does
have a direct impact on their lives. You know the area very well.
It is very heavily based on manufacturing. There are still big
manufacturers like Phillips, which is a European company par
excellence. There is also British Aerospace at one end of
the valley and Rolls Royce at the other which, although they are
British companies, have very large European connections with subcontractors
and so on. We have done our own polling, to be published this
afternoon under a parliamentary question. I am sure the Committee
will be very interested to see it. It shows a significant level
of support for the principle of membership of the European Union
and if there was a rerun of the 1975 referendum on membership,
"Do you want to stay in or out?", I am clear that there
would be an even bigger majority today than there was then. People
understand how we are part of Europe and we have to stay there.
Where I agree with the sense of your question is the people's
respect for the institutions of the European Union is much less
than it should be. That is not a criticism of people's perceptions;
it is a criticism of the institutions. We have to do a good deal
of work to raise those perceptions, to cut through the thickets
of obscurity and obscurantism in which the European Union often
works. It is a big job to do that. I do not agree with you that
we have not been clearly speaking out in favour of Europe. If
you go to the speeches that all of us have made, we have been.
Criticism normally comes the other way, that we have been too
unambiguous in favour of our membership of Europe and also our
vision for Europe. Our vision for Europe is not a federalist vision
in which the nation state is submerged into some super state.
It is however a vision of Europe which recognises the importance
of the nation state but also recognises that sovereignty is something
which, if you give a little away, you end up getting back a lot
more in practice. That is what we should be aiming for.
14. I agree with you that there is a problem
of perception and I agree that some of the fault for this lies
with the way the institutions operate. They are remote. Some of
the responsibility for this goes back to the United Kingdom government
and I do not think that the government has made a particularly
clear, pro-European voice. I find it worrying that the Prime Minister
has said that they would make a judgment on the economic test
for the euro within two years. Presumably that is within the next
18 months from now and yet what we seem to have is no clear voice
at the heart of government. The Chancellor has one view; the Prime
Minister has another. I could speculate as to which one of those
two you are closer to but how can we hope to prosecute a referendum
within 18 months if we are not doing that groundwork now on making
a really strong case for the European Union?
(Mr Straw) Your question to me was about the European
Union; it was not
Mr Pope: It is still about the European Union.
If there is going to be a referendum, how can we hope to prosecute
the referendum successfully if the groundwork is not being done
now on making the case for a successful Europe?
15. The perceptions of the press as well. There
is a very hostile press in terms of Europe, as you know.
(Mr Straw) When I was giving my answers, I was talking
about our membership of the European Union. I accept we could
not go into the euro without being members of the European Union
but we have been members of the European Union without necessarily
being members of the euro. It is a more discrete point. On the
press, Mr Illsley, some newspapers are hostile to our membership
of the euro. Others are enthusiastic and one or two are in the
middle. Those who are hostile to the idea of our being members
of Europe per se have to think a bit about how far they
are in line with their own readers, not least given the outcome
of the last general election where, after all, we kept being told
that this was a referendum on Europe, not on the euro and a fairly
clear conclusion was offered by electors. Mr Pope, to come back
to your point about the euro, there is one policy on the euro
and it is a policy which the Chancellor set out at the end of
October 1997and it was repeated in our manifestowhich
says that we are in favour in principle of membership of the euro.
The point at which we will decide whether or not it is appropriate
to recommend membership of the euro depends on these five tests
which are basically about the degree to which our economy and
Europe's own economy have converged and how far that convergence
can be sustained. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister have both
made it clear that it will be an assessment which will be made
public within two years and there is technical work going on with
16. Mr Illsley earlier raised the role of smaller
nation states within the European Union. We can all agree that
the smaller states in Europe for most of the 20th century feel
they have been pushed around by the larger states and the European
Union is seen as a way forward to stop that happening. If we go
back to the famous dinner on 4 November in Downing Street to discuss
Afghanistan, is there not now a three tier Europe? There are the
states which the United Kingdom would invite, France and Germany.
There are the states that the United Kingdom will not invite but
will allow to come when they stamp their feet. That is, Italy,
Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands. There are the excluded states
that will not be allowed in no matter how much stamping they do
and those are the smaller states.
(Mr Straw) It is a neat way of putting it but it is
not one with which I agree. There was one small state there which
was the Netherlands. The Belgian Presidency was also represented.
There is an understandable anxiety by the smaller states about
the larger states and that anxiety is heightened on issues of
foreign and defence policy, where the difference between the larger
states and the smaller ones becomes more striking. There is an
additional factor here: as the focus of events moves to the United
Nations and to relations with the US, the United Kingdom and France,
two of the five permanent members of the Security Council, tend
to attract more attention than the other states, including some
of the other larger states. These relationships have to be handled
with care. All that said, as I made clear in my previous appearance
before this Committee, the overall effect of the leadership which
the Prime Minister provided on Afghanistan and the fight against
terrorism has been significantly to enhance our reputation across
Europe. We need to make decisions at 15 inside Europe or whatever
number of Member States, but we cannot have a situation where
you can either meet bilaterally or at 15 but you cannot meet in
between. We have to try to persuade our colleagues that that is
the case. I have said very gently to one or two colleagues in
smaller countries that there are plenty of smaller countries which
meet in small groups. The Nordics do, sometimes with Norway, sometimes
without. The Benelux countries have famously met for years and
years and some Europeans meet.
17. The offence caused by that dinner suggests
that it was a diplomatic blunder. What lessons have you learned?
(Mr Straw) It was not a diplomatic blunder. It shows
the popularity for leaders of coming here. No one came to London
to say they wanted to take part in a blunder. They wanted to come
in London because they wanted to take part in something they thought
was important. That was the point of it.
18. Turning to European defence, you are aware
that at Laeken EU members will be asked to declare the ESDP operational.
I would like to refer you to a speech made by Peter Hain on 28
November: "When we say the ESDP is operational we mean that
it has a basic framework to fulfil basic tasks such as humanitarian
rescue missions, not that it has the ability to engage in peace
enforcement operations." I am a little at odds with that
when I look at the FCO memorandum, paragraph 21, where it says,
"The European Council should adopt a Presidency report on
the European Security and Defence Policy ... the report should
state that the EU already has a limited capacity to act in civilian
and military crisis management. The EU will be in a position to
take on increasingly demanding operations as the assets ..."
and so on. What capacity does the EU already have for acting in
civilian and military crisis management?
(Mr Straw) What Laeken is likely to declare is what
is said here, that the EU already has a limited capacity to act
in civilian and military crisis management. There is a limited
operability of the ESDP. That is the adjective likely to be in
the conclusion, although I cannot guarantee that. I can see why
you are making this point because there could be an implication
from the memorandum that somehow the ESDP was already fully operational,
albeit on a small scale. That was not what was intended in terms
of the wording. It was talking about the European Union as Member
States of the European Union and, although it was not under EU
auspices, if you look at the post Essential Harvest operation
in Macedonia which had been led by Germany as the lead nation
from the EU with a bit of input from the United States, the ESDP
will firm up that kind of operation. The really important news
is that there has been an understanding achieved with Turkey,
as you will have seen from the newspapers, on the future of involvement
19. Has that been confirmed?
(Mr Straw) It has not been made public yet but it
has been confirmed by Turkey. There are currently discussions
going on elsewhere in Europe about it. That will mean we will
be able to get ahead with the ESDP using the NATO planning assets
or in some cases maybe those of one or two of the Member States.