Examination of witness (Questions 180
THURSDAY 13 JUNE 2002
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
(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 payrollI do not think Sir John
was suggesting thata 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.
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.
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 wasI think I am repeating
it faithfullyit 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.
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
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
(Dr MacShane) I look forward to reading it, Chairman.