Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 180 - 194)



Sir John Stanley

  180. The Green paper, very rightly and reasonably in my view, says that the list of six options in the Green Paper is not exhaustive. I would like to put a further option to you, which is an option to be added to other forms of regulation that might apply. Minister, as you will be aware, there are often situations in which the British Government feels that it would be desirable to have a responsible military presence, particularly a British military presence, in a particular situation whether on humanitarian grounds, security grounds, trying to stabilise the emergence of democratic government, but the British Government simply does not have the resources in terms of the stretch on the Armed Forces. You will be aware that under your Government such a situation nearly arose in Sierra Leone and the present Government took the view notwithstanding the stretch on the Armed Forces to make the deployment to Sierra Leone, and, although it faced some criticism on my side of the House from some quarters whether that was justified, I personally believe that was absolutely the right decision and certainly that deployment was totally vindicated in practice and the Armed Forces personnel did an outstanding job there and I congratulate the Armed Forces, no other country could have carried out so successfully what has been carried out Sierra Leone. There will be circumstances in which it is not possible to make a deployment of existing regular Armed Forces personnel and it is the case that in any year there will be some several thousands of members of the Armed Forces who retire. Many of those will be relatively youthful. Even somebody who has done their full 21 years will probably just be in their late thirties and others will retire before their 21 years is up. I would like to ask you whether in the preparation for this Green Paper you had any discussions with your colleagues in the Ministry of Defence as to whether it might be possible to produce a cadre of former service personnel who will be wholly familiar with British service discipline, fully familiar with working under the Armed Forces Acts, and who will be extremely well trained and capable and who might be willing to fulfil the sort of roles that we have been talking here which have been mostly non-combatant roles, training, logistics, security, those sorts of roles, and would be doing this under the auspices of Government and by virtue of the fact they are all former services personnel, even though they may be retired currently from the Armed Forces, they would provide a pool of people that would not be in a company structure, in a profit making structure, they would come under a regulated system laid by the Government I would have thought that such personnel would provide a far higher guarantee of responsible behaviour and discipline than might always be forthcoming from a private company that may be recruiting personnel from all over the world and from very different backgrounds. I just wonder whether what I might call the former armed services personnel option had been given any careful consideration within Government before the Green Paper was produced and, if not, whether that is a possibility that Ministers might wish to give their consideration to?
  (Dr MacShane) I am happy to examine it. By definition, most of the men who work in these companies tend to be ex-service personnel of one sort or another. I am not quite sure if one can create on the Government payroll—I do not think Sir John was suggesting that—a kind of overseas reserve, as it were, an overseas group of men who could serve because de facto that would just be extending the role of the present Armed Forces.

  181. Just for clarification, that is precisely what I am suggesting and it is wholly precedented now and, for example, inside the Ministry of Defence today there are significant numbers of service personnel who are re-employed back, usually as civilians, on the Government payroll to fulfill tasks within the Ministry of Defence organisation. I am putting it to you on the basis that if the Government thinks it is desirable to make such a deployment in the interests of Government policy it might be better for the Government to finance this through having people on its own payroll rather than entering into a contract with a private military company. There are going to be costs either way.
  (Dr MacShane) The question, of course, then becomes one rather more for the Treasury than the Foreign Office. My understanding is what we are talking about is states or organisations outside the United Kingdom hiring the professional expertise in all the areas we have discussed, training and so forth, possibly including and up to combat capability. The issue is whether we legislate the companies that offer their services to be paid for abroad but are based in the United Kingdom. In a perfect world one would want perhaps a UN force of experienced soldiers who might be able to intervene but we are a long way from that. Certainly what I would say to Sir John, and I think he has identified an important point, is if we move to forms of legislation of whatever sort then I think the discussions with the MoD would have to take place to get their guidance and advice on this issue.

  182. Thank you, Minister. You are absolutely right, the main thrust of the Green Paper is regulating companies who are performing tasks for probably overseas governments in which there is no direct British policy interest but I am raising this other area which does arise regularly in my experience where the British Government takes the view that it would be desirable and helpful for a British foreign defence policy interest to have British involvement but there are not the available service personnel within the Armed Forces and it would give us a further policy option to prosecute British foreign defence policy interests by using former service personnel. I suggest that would be more preferable than using private military companies to carry out the same tasks.
  (Dr MacShane) Again, I am not sure I can agree that one extends de facto the range and size of the British Army, or other British Armed Forces, by having a new division of semi-retired warrant officers, men and officers in their forties who otherwise would have left the Army when the end of their contract or commission had run out. That in effect is inviting me to say that we extend the numbers of men directly on the Government payroll who work in the Armed Forces.


  183. On a voluntary basis.
  (Dr MacShane) It is a debate for other departments. The Chairman says on a voluntary basis but usually men want to be paid to suddenly drop their jobs and go off and do some fighting. I think that is taking us way beyond the options of the Green Paper. It has an attraction as an idea. As I say, what I believe is right is that the UN and regional bodies of states, NATO, the African regional organisations and European regional organisations should be capable of putting military force in the field where it is necessary, preferably before we get to the development of tragic situations with awful dimensions in terms of human cost. All of these proposals will be examined seriously by the Government. The team that has put together this Green Paper will look carefully not just at the conclusions of this Foreign Affairs Select Committee session but the evidence and arguments adduced.

  184. Obviously looking at the suggestion made by Sir John.
  (Dr MacShane) Very much looking at the suggestion by Sir John. I have an absolutely open mind on this. I just want to do my best to ensure we get it right.

Mr Olner

  185. Minister, could you perhaps give the Committee any idea about how a new licensing system would work and what criteria would be applied so that the mercenaries who are disgraced and who did a lot of human rights abuses in the past do not gain these licences? How are you going to filter these people out?
  (Dr MacShane) There are two broad avenues that one can go down. One is to license a company and then it gets on with its business. The other is to license a contract, so if a British firm is approached by an overseas state and invited to tender to deliver services in the military sphere, whether from training or towards a sharper end, there would have to be permission granted for that particular licence. It is roughly analogous to the arms exports licensing system. Naturally there would be the drawing up of different criteria, the monitoring and the examination that would seek to address the issues which have been raised by hon. Members in this session this morning.

  186. Having granted a licence, how would you monitor it to ensure that everything is being done correctly as it was said it was going to be done?
  (Dr MacShane) This was the point raised earlier about monitoring and oversight. I would imagine, depending slightly, if we get that far, which regime was chosen, the licensing of the company or the licensing of the activity, the contract, we would have a reporting end use or direct in situ monitoring arrangement. Other hon. Members have talked about the possibility of a self-regulatory scheme. The core ambition of Government policy is to bring transparency and accountability to this whole process.

  187. The reality is that atrocities would have been committed before that is picked up.
  (Dr MacShane) Again, this is hypothetical and, as I say, most, if not all, of the major atrocities that we think about in recent years have been committed by state forces. That will straight away lead to criminal proceedings, well beyond the capability of a licensing regime, if something truly evil happens. One works on the basis if one goes down this road that these activities are legitimate, that British based firms can supply them, that to upgrade the training, the logistics, the capability of patrolling fishing waters, of interdicting drug runners on the high seas, all of this requires training and these are acceptable state activities and British companies could play a part in them.

Andrew Mackinlay

  188. Just on Bill's point, if I may. I do not know if the Minister has had the opportunity of seeing the evidence of Colonel Spicer, the oral evidence?
  (Dr MacShane) No.

  189. But his view was—I think I am repeating it faithfully—it would not work commercially, you would not be able to get the clients if you had to clear each operation through a licensing system. He wanted what I think he called a general licence so it would be subject to scrutiny, as it were, but it would operate for a certain duration like an MOT. I think he actually used the word "MOT". Listening to you, I think you are not favourably disposed to that, are you?
  (Dr MacShane) The options are laid out in the Green Paper. I am anxious to hear the points of view of different people. You have put to me one gentleman's point of view with some experience in the field, not always of the highest success, and we will have to take his point of view into account. My object is to try and get it right.

Mr Chidgey

  190. Minister, you mentioned a moment ago in answering Mr Olner's queries that one of the tasks that such companies could carry out would be the interdicting of drug traffickers. That is all well and good but you will be aware of a recent case with similar parallels where privately employed militia personnel were engaged to try and interdict on the trafficking of young women from the Balkans and Eastern Europe into prostitution and they would found after some months to be engaged in the very operation themselves. That is a classic example, not hypothetical. The point behind my question is does this not draw out the very real distinction between somebody doing a job for payment and somebody doing a job as a matter of duty? Duty comes with the national framework of military personnel, the payment comes from "that is another job done, I do not have any real responsibility other than fulfilling the job to get paid". Is this not the crux of the matter?
  (Dr MacShane) Mr Chidgey, there have been reports, and I have only read the newspaper reports, of child sex abuse carried out by UN officials in Sierra Leone. I do not think that, as it were, invalidates the need to have UN officials carrying out their tasks to help rebuild that country. There have been very substantial reports of contingents within the UN from state armies, and democratic state armies, selling petrol, selling their weapons. I wish I could believe that any armed forces or military personnel sent by a state behaved perfectly and never sold their equipment or their fuel or whatever and that anything undertaken by a private company was always at the bad end of behaviour.

  191. Yes, Minister, we do not live in a perfect world, I think we all know that, we are in this place for a start. The real issue is, of course, reducing the risk of transgressions of behaviour which are unacceptable. That is the point, is it not, that you increase the risk by privatising these areas of operation, that is the worry?
  (Dr MacShane) I do not think we are talking about privatising this area at all. We have got around the world a modest demand for activities that, as I say, start at the soft end of security: logistics, supplies, medical personnel, medical training. With an absolute ban, for example, on all private security military companies helping in any military operations overseas that could mean that you could not technically send medical help because it would be defined as lending support to one side or another. It seems to me the crucial issue is either we bring this area of activity under the spotlight of legislative and parliamentary and public accountability and scrutiny or we leave it operating as it is today. My impression from the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee arising out of Sierra Leone was that it felt strongly that a Green Paper should be produced. That is what the Government has done, that is what we are debating this morning and that is what will require a lot more thought and attention paid to it. As I say, this debate for me is only just beginning and it is up to hon. Members to table Adjournment Debates in due course. After we have gone through all of this process and come to the end of the demand for submissions in the middle of August I hope that the Commons returns to this at some stage in the future.


  192. I would like to end on a point of parliamentary scrutiny. Paragraph 77 of the Green Paper refers to the analogy between the export of arms and the export of military services. What thought has been given by Parliament in respect of any form of parliamentary scrutiny?
  (Dr MacShane) I think the existing parliamentary scrutiny works well. There are reports, the details are published. Some matters that are confidential, of course, are made known to the appropriate committee chairmen. Again, we are a long way from that but I think the system of parliamentary scrutiny that we have for arms exports would be an obvious model that one would have to examine for this area of work as well.

Sir John Stanley

  193. Minister, how do you answer the line of argument that the whole process of regulation is really of nugatory value because the companies that provide private military services, private military companies, can with the utmost ease if they do not like the regulatory regime which Government decides, Parliament approves and sets up, simply go offshore? They are in the business of hiring people around the world and that is an offshore activity. It is involving bringing together weapons at particular collection points and, as indeed was shown during the Sandline arms operations during Sierra Leone, they can source their weapons from third countries and move them to the area of conflict. I would like your answer to that particular line of argument. Is the whole regulatory exercise nugatory simply because of the ease with which these companies, which have no manufacturing operations or anything like that, can go offshore?
  (Dr MacShane) I think there is a huge difference between a company that would be registered, whose activities were licensed, that would be able to show that it had delivered proper training, logistical, transport and other support services relevant to military action in various parts of the world and that company was based in the UK, was recruiting principally UK personnel, and some little hole in the wall operation functioning by mobile phone and e-mails out of some airport lounge. That is a big difference. The alternative is that all of these activities do get transferred far away from where the spotlight of Parliament, public and legal authority can be put upon them. That is the whole point of this Green Paper, this process, for us collectively as a Government, as a Parliament, to decide what is the best way forward. As I repeat again, my own inclination would be to keep these companies inside the tent doing their things in a way that we can see what they are up to rather than outside the tent when we have not got the faintest idea of what they are undertaking or what activities they are performing.


  194. Minister, two final points. First, I would ask Committee colleagues to wait behind for a very brief private session. Secondly, in the foreword to the Green Paper the Secretary of State said in terms that he believes that a wide debate on the options is needed. The Committee is seeking to do that and this morning's session has contributed to it. Certainly, the Foreign Affairs Committee would hope to produce a report well before the deadline in August for consideration by the Government. Thank you very much indeed for your helpful contributions to the Committee this morning.
  (Dr MacShane) I look forward to reading it, Chairman.

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