Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 40)



Mr Chidgey

  20. I am trying to get a better understanding of the gaps that exist because it is reported in the FCO memorandum that progress has been made in the last 12 months to close some capability shortfalls[1]. Again, Peter Hain in his speech said, "We had to fill the remaining 21 militarily significant shortfalls." In the general commentary at large, the point has been made that many of the requirements for the force will not be met before 2008 or 2010 and indeed many Member countries will have to restructure their defence budget. What capability shortfalls have been closed in the last year? What capabilities are still lacking? How does the action plan propose to fill those gaps?

  (Mr Straw) In terms of the shortfalls, the EU has met 94 of the 144 Helsinki headline goal targets. If you want me to give you the details of those 94, I will have to send you a further memorandum[2].

  21. That would be very helpful.
  (Mr Straw) The ESDP is a very important means by which Member States of the European Union will be required to raise the capability of their forces. This is not so much about spend but about how those forces are used and organised. In some cases, it will be about spend but if you look at the spend per head of European Member States on defence and look at their practical capabilities, there is no real correlation there. One of the points that Mr Hoon is making this morning in the speech he is making about defence is about the need for us to be more flexible, but we are right at the leading edge of flexibility in Europe and for other Member States to create much better flexibilities inside their defence forces to meet the demands of today and tomorrow, not the demands of yesterday, which is essentially where a lot of those forces are with very large infantry forces training up for an invasion of Russia, the Soviet Union, across the north German plane. Times have changed. Not everybody in the House agrees that this process of the ESDP will help to strengthen NATO and take some of the unreasonable load off the United States.

  22. In that context, recognising that times have changed, could you tell us what lessons you believe that the EU has learned about its capacity to act in a crisis situation from the role that you played in Macedonia?
  (Mr Straw) I can give you a better answer to the question on goals. In 1999, the EU set itself a target called the Helsinki headline goal that by 2003 the EU forces should be able to deploy collectively up to 60,000 troops within 60 days and keep that number in theatre for at least a year. It is a difficult but attainable target, but it needs a lot of changes in the way other countries run their forces. Lessons from Macedonia in terms of defence forces? The Essential Harvest and the work that followed that had to be put together on a bilateral/multilateral basis, in a rather ad hoc way. The ESDP, with the very active support of NATO, would provide a better focus for all of this, and a better means of decision making. It also ensures that the burden of providing these forces did not always fall to two or three countries. It is flattering that everybody turns to the United Kingdom first but if we are talking about the defence of Europe it is not a good idea.

  23. Do you believe that the EU's position on peace keeping has been affected by the events of 11 September? Are we now expected to take on a much greater role in our own back yard as a result?
  (Mr Straw) What we will see is the evolution of the role of forces under the ESDP. The EU's experience in the Balkans has been a ten year lesson in how not to do things and in how to do things; the importance of identifying political problems early and identifying the role that military forces can play in assisting a political solution; the need above all for coherent, collective decision taking. If you cast your mind back ten years, Europe in a general sense of that word bears quite a heavy responsibility for some of the chaos that has ensued in the Balkans because we allowed ourselves to be played off by different warring countries and factions inside the Balkans. You know the story as well as I do. One of the reasons why the language of Laeken is likely to be careful is that we do not want to run before we have learned to walk in terms of the practical sides of the ESDP.

Mr Maples

  24. In your memorandum to us of 27 November you say in paragraph 26, "The United Kingdom attaches the utmost importance to implementation of mutual recognition in both civil and criminal matters. The Government hopes that Laeken will approve the abolition of dual criminality ..."[3]. Is it the government's intention to sign the current draft of the mutual arrest warrant without seeking further amendment to it?

  (Mr Straw) You will know that there is continuing discussion taking place in the House of Lords debate this week about matters relating to that issue of dual criminality. I cannot give you a precise answer because it is a JHA matter. Are we in favour, in principle, of abolishing dual criminality? Yes, because I think it is an ancient and outmoded concept for the generality of crimes. There are some issues which are crimes in some countries which are not in others which could in theory cause difficulty. In practice, I do not think they will. We have to decide what we want here. We have an over-elaborate extradition process which favours criminals and terrorists and not law abiding people. What I argued for successfully when I was Home Secretary inside the JHA, with European colleagues, was that we should get away from any idea of harmonising our legal systems, whether civil or criminal, and instead go for a mutual recognition of our legal systems, given that all of us accept the European Convention on Human Rights, the authority of the European Court of Human Rights, and many other common principles in practice as well as in theory. Mutual recognition is the future. This arrest warrant is one approach to that but for those who are worried about it we have had what amounts to an equivalent of the European arrest warrant with the Republic of Ireland for years. It has not caused any difficulty.

  25. I am fascinated that a debate in the House of Lords might make the government change its negotiating position on this. This will be a first.
  (Mr Straw) Far from it. You have to listen to the arguments. I never took the view when I was Home Secretary that what I decided at point X was the way, the truth and the light and there could be no other addition to that. Given the speed with which you have to make decisions, it is always the case that there can need to be further reflection. There was not a single Bill that I had before this House which was not literally improved by debate here and debate in the other place.

  26. When this matter came before the European Scrutiny Committee, it had to be debated on the floor of the House. It was referred to a European Standing Committee and it was concerning the question of dual criminality and extra territoriality. The first criticism is that in the list of offences for which dual criminality will not apply some are extremely vague—for instance, terrorism or xenophobia—depending not on our definition but on somebody else's and it seems to me that we are giving up the safeguards that British citizens have by giving up dual criminality. If people are extradited to other European countries for things which would not be offences in Britain, are these very vague definitions of crimes such as terrorism and xenophobia enough?
  (Mr Straw) Terrorism is not a vague definition. Although the words used to describe terrorism vary between one jurisdiction and another, everybody knows what we are talking about. It is the use of violence in pursuit of political, ideological ends. The definition of terrorism in the Terrorism Act 2000 for which I was responsible was criticised not for being too narrow but for being too wide. I think it is improbable that somebody elsewhere in Europe would be extradited or transferred under this arrest warrant to another EU Member State for a terrorist offence which did not amount to an offence within that definition in the United Kingdom. On xenophobia, we do not have an offence of xenophobia, but we have offences equivalent to xenophobia. Our criminal law in terms of race hatred and now religious hatred is regarded by our European partners as in the vanguard of good practice. We have had some provisions against race hatred since the sixties. I strengthened those considerably in the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act. My colleague David Blunkett is further strengthening those in legislation currently before the House. Although people could not be charged here with an offence of xenophobia, their behaviour or the words they are using, the actions they are committing, would lead to criminal prosecution and conviction here just as they would abroad, probably through a similar level of offences.

  27. The crucial point is it is not our definition of terrorism or xenophobia; it is the other countries' definition. In some European countries, holocaust denial is a criminal offence. It is not in this country. It may be that another country's definition of terrorism would include, for instance, photographing military aeroplanes from outside a military base, which certainly would not be terrorism in this country. I have given you two examples for which your constituents or mine might be extradited for something which is not an offence in the United Kingdom.
  (Mr Straw) Let me deal with photographing aeroplanes at military bases. I am very anxious to see the 12 British detainees released as soon as possible because, on the evidence which I have seen, were these people charged with equivalent offences in the United Kingdom, they would almost certainly have been released on bail by now. I have pressed that point repeatedly in a series of conversations I have had with George Papandreou, the Greek Foreign Minister. That said, there are certainly offences that it is possible to commit in the United Kingdom which involve observation of actions taking place in military bases. This is nothing whatever to do with what the British citizens have been charged with in Greece but I can think of circumstances where we have been very concerned about, for example, IRA terrorists taking too close an interest in what has been going on in military bases. That action, apparently just taking photographs, could add up to preparations for terrorism. The way our law works in the United Kingdom—this is also true in many, but not all, other European countries—is that there are not that many offences of terrorism itself which lead to prosecution and conviction of terrorists. The definition of terrorism is there principally to trigger additional police powers. The terrorists themselves, once they are arrested and charged with those police powers, are typically charged with longstanding, common law offences like murder, conspiracy, committing explosions, and that would be true in other countries. The terrorist definitions are needed for the powers of detection and interrogation rather than generally to enhance the criminal law. I missed your first point.

  28. You have tried to answer it to some extent but you cannot. We are abolishing habeas corpus; we are putting the freedom of British citizens in the hands of foreign courts and foreign laws, taking away all the protections that they have hitherto had.
  (Mr Straw) With great respect, if this had been a great problem, why have we not heard this in respect of Ireland? I can think of offences in the Irish criminal law which do not apply here and vice versa.

  29. I think there is a distinction in my mind between countries for which I would be very happy to see this happen and other countries where I would not. The problem with this proposal is that it takes in the whole of the European Union and, by implication, any future members of the European Union. If we were happy with a particular country's justice system—France, Germany or the United States—I have no problem with that but I do have problems with some of the justice systems of current EU members. We are seeing it in Greece at the moment. We have all heard of citizens who have languished in Spanish jails for years without charge and we are about to take into the European Union countries which are not well established democracies, which are not longstanding proponents of the rule of law and the freedom of their citizens. I wonder if it would not be more sensible for this Directive to allow each country to categorise people within the European Union into those whose justice systems we are confident to put our citizens in the hands of and those we are not.
  (Mr Straw) We have to work on the basis that members of the European Union have judicial systems which meet minimum standards. That is part of the fundamental principle.

  30. You have just said you are very unhappy with the Greek one.
  (Mr Straw) I can be unhappy with the way in which a particular law is applied without being unhappy with the whole way in which the judicial system operates. I can tell you, Mr Maples, that other countries have plenty of unhappiness, if I may, about our system. For example, France has an entirely legitimate set of complaints against us for the fact that our extradition system means at the moment that people who are alleged to have committed offences of a serious terrorist nature in France have—to pick up your phrase—languished in British jails for five years whilst the British court system works out whether or not these people can be transferred, a ludicrous, risible situation were it not so serious. There are defects in our system. I hope that one of the consequences of the close and mutual recognition of our legal systems is that we use our common experience to point to areas where there could be improvement. The last point I would make is this. All European Union Member States as well as others, particularly all the European Union Member States, are also signatories to the European Convention of Human Rights and accept the authority of the Court in Strasbourg, the European Court of Human Rights, and that is there not only to lay down the minimum standards of conduct, for example under Article 5 and Article 6, but also to enforce those minimum standards as it is increasingly doing.

  31. Can I go to one further point with you and that is on areas of extraterritoriality and the consultation paper on extradition. You invited representation on whether the attempts of another country to exercise its jurisdiction over things which occurred outside its own territory should remain extraditable or not. I do not know what the responses to that were but as far as I can see in the current proposals there is no exception for extraterritoriality. In other words, if another European country wishes to exercise its jurisdiction over something which happens outside its own country—the Pinochet case is an obvious one—it would not be an offence to say that the British courts would not exercise such extraterritorial jurisdiction so I should not be extradited for this. If I am right about that, with all these things I have said, it seems to me that a constituent of mine or of yours, maybe Mr Pope, could be extradited to somewhere, let us say Greece, for something which is not an offence in the United Kingdom and which did not happen in Greece. Am I right about that?
  (Mr Straw) I would have to look at the detail but I would just like to make this point. Most of the extraterritorial jurisdiction claimed arises either in respect of international obligations, which we have all signed up to, and the Pinochet case —

  32. Then they could be tried in the United Kingdom for those offences.
  (Mr Straw) They could be if the evidence was here, but in the Pinochet case the evidence had been collected in Spain but also involved in some cases allegations against General Pinochet which involved Spanish citizens, albeit in Chile. In any event it was they who held the main investigation. Our courts after all looked at the Pinochet extradition issue with very great care and then on a number of occasions, famously, decided it was perfectly proper for that extraterritoriality to take place. As I say, they mainly arise in respect of crimes like genocide and torture and so on, to which all civilised countries have signed up, or sometimes where the country concerned has jurisdiction over its own citizens committing offences elsewhere. Sometimes countries, for example in Europe, have a saving on their extradition arrangements with third countries by which they will not extradite their own nationals to that third country but will try them instead. I will happily follow this up with the Home Secretary.


  33. And write to Mr Maples.
  (Mr Straw) Well, I will ask them to write to Mr Maples.

Mr Illsley

  34. Could I just ask some questions on enlargement, Foreign Secretary. I will put them as quickly as I can. First of all, are you happy with the pace of institutional reform to accommodate enlargement? Do you have any concerns about the financial burdens of enlargement? Will the United Kingdom be prepared to see a first wave of EU entrants which excluded any of the original ten candidate countries? I am thinking in relation of enlargement more in terms of Poland. Finally, from me, does our commitment to the accession of Cyprus still remain the same?
  (Mr Straw) Right. Pace, given the complexity of the process I think it is proceeding at a reasonable pace. We have been instrumental in ensuring there is some pace kept in the process. As you know the United Kingdom has been in the lead there since this Government took office in 1997. At Gothenburg in June, the European Council there, we managed to set clear targets for admission on the first wave. Financial burden is a matter which has to continue to be discussed. Obviously the possibility of the size of the financial burden will lie behind some rather detailed decisions. For example, on how far the CAP direct payments are phased in to a number of applicant states. We welcome the Commission's conclusion in its recent strategy paper that enlargement until 2006 can be financed within the agreed financial perspective ceilings, thank you, Mr Darroch. There is a question beyond that as well. We need to be careful about that. Would I be happy to see any of the first wave excluded?

  35. What are your views?
  (Mr Straw) We want to see as many countries in the first wave as qualified and we are giving them every encouragement. That is what would make us most happy. We are very anxious to see Poland along with the other applicant states in the first wave and we regard that as important. In the end it is a matter for Poland whether it can close the chapters rather than a matter for us. We want to see them there. I went to Warsaw about a month ago and met Prime Minister Miller and my colleague, the Foreign Minister, there. You will know, also, that Prime Minister Miller came here for an official visit about two weeks ago. We have continued to engage with Poland. On Cyprus, yes, our undertaking to Cyprus stands.

  36. Would we countenance delay for a country like Poland? Would we accept a delay?
  (Mr Straw) It is not a question of countenancing delay, some countries which are applicants would not be in the first wave in any event. Romania does not want to be in the first wave and obviously Turkey, which is not yet within the screening process, will not want to be. If you are saying to me could we close chapters off on which the detail has not been settled in order to get the country into the first wave, no. Could we give every encouragement to countries to ensure they properly meet the criteria of each chapter, yes.


  37. Foreign Secretary, before we move on to Afghanistan and the wider questions of terrorism, one simple question, if I may. We know that the Convention on the Future of Europe will include one representative from this House of Commons. Now our Committee has discussed this and we have come unanimously to the view that individual should come from this Committee. Do you not think that is a good idea?
  (Mr Straw) May I say it is two representatives from Parliament.

  38. One from the House of Lords —
  (Mr Straw) No, no, not necessarily. There has been no undertaking on that, and no piece of paper I have seen which suggests that.
  (Mr Darroch) No.

  39. There are two from Parliament as a whole?
  (Mr Straw) Yes.

  40. The proposition of this Committee is that one should come from this Committee which seems rather a good idea, do you not think?
  (Mr Straw) I am struck by the high quality of the Committee, the forensic nature of its questions, knowledge of foreign affairs and European affairs, so I hope very much that a member of that two member delegation could come from this Committee. Can I give a guarantee about that, the answer is no but I take the point.

  Chairman: Thank you, Foreign Secretary.

1   See Evidence, p Ev 6. Back

2   See Evidence, pp Ev 17-Ev 20. Back

3   See Evidence, p Ev 7. Back

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