Examination of witness (Questions 113
THURSDAY 13 JUNE 2002
113. Minister, may I welcome you on behalf of
the Committee to what is your first meeting with our Foreign Affairs
Committee. We are looking at the Green Paper which was published
on 12 February. In his foreword to that Green Paper, the Secretary
of State accurately and generously stated that it originated in
a request from our predecessor committee in our report on Sierra
Leone, what he referred to as both a timely and useful suggestion
and called for a wide debate and it is really on that I would
like to begin with you, Minister, the wide debate. Can you indicate
now the number and quality of the submissions which have thus
far been received before the end date of 12 August.
(Dr MacShane) We have had three submissions from companies,
we have had one from the NGO International Alert; we have had
two from members of the public plus some MPs' letters and we have
had four submissions from academic institutions with interests
in this matter.
114. With respect, it does not sound very much.
Perhaps people are waiting until the deadline before putting forward
(Dr MacShane) I myself, I am afraid, am a deadline
paper producer; without the whiplash of a deadline I often leave
these things to stack up. As the Foreign Secretary said in his
introduction and you quoted it, a wide debate on the options is
needed. I suspect that those directly interested are also looking
forward to the 24 June conference in Birmingham, to which a large
number of the people interested in this issue have been invited
and will attend, and I would like to extend an invitation to any
Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee or any Member of this
House who would like to attend that conference to do so because
we do need the widest possible debate.
115. This conference is a Government initiative
which will bring together both companies and non-Government organisations.
(Dr MacShane) A large number of NGOs ranging from
Oxfam to International Alert and professors of peace studies from
our academic institutions; so, it is very much a conference which
covers all the possible ranges of opinion on this matter.
116. Is it intended to publish both the submissions
received by the Government and the statements before this Birmingham
(Dr MacShane) All the submissions that the Government
receive are available for public consultation unless the person
or organisation so submitting asks for them to be kept confidential.
117. Could you give the Committee some indication
of the way forward. Presumably, if the Government were to opt
for some form of licensing scheme, there would have then to be
a White Paper and then it would depend on the priorities of Government
as to whether this would be included in the Bill to be put before
(Dr MacShane) I think, Mr Chairman, you are slightly
ahead of me in the process. We need to await the outcome of the
consultation period based on the Green Paper. I myself would welcome
an adjournment debate on this, perhaps when the House comes back
in the autumn, to test the feeling of the House in a formal debate
and then see whether legislation is indeed needed. If the collective
answerand the Government's mind remains openis that
legislation is needed, then the process you describe is obviously
the way that I would imagine we would take things forward.
118. Can you give an assurance to the Committee
that the Government's mind is not closed in any way and does not
currently favour any of the options which are set out in the Green
(Dr MacShane) Absolutely.
119. Starting more substantively in respect
of the Green Paper, clearly an initial problem which is mentioned
is that of definition, which is the definition of the private
military company and this of course has bedevilled the debate
of the adherence to the UN Convention in this area. Are you convinced
that the Government will be able to find a workable definition
of private military companies which distinguishes the current
phenomenon from the unsavoury individuals and groups that one
learnt about in the immediate post-colonial period?
(Dr MacShane) This indeed has been a problem for the
Government ever since the 1870 Enlistment of Foreign Powers Act
under which no successful prosecution has been brought because
it does become very difficult to identify a citizen committing
a crime in this area. Indeed, the European Union countries, save
Italy, have found it impossible to adhere to the UN Convention
because there are six conditions, all of which have to be satisfied,
not just one or two of them, before somebody is identified as
a "mercenary" and all the European Union countries and
a number of other countries around the world have not been able
to translate this into enforceable domestic law. I can pursue
this matter because I have thought about it and I think that the
question of definition is going to be a major stumbling block
if you want to write a law that is enforceable in the courts of