Quadripartite Select Committee Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 243-259)


25 APRIL 2006

  Chairman: At the outset there are three members of the Committee who need to just declare their relevant interests for the record. John, do you want to go first?

  John Barrett: Yes, I have nothing to declare.

  Chairman: Excellent. Richard?

  Richard Younger-Ross: I have nothing to declare.

  Chairman: Excellent. Quentin.

  Mr Davies: My interests are set out in the Register, but none of them relate to the work of this Committee.

  Q243  Chairman: Excellent. Minister, you are very welcome this afternoon. Again for the record, could I invite you to introduce your colleagues and then we will start?

  Dr Howells: On my left, your right, is Trevor Moore; on my right, your left, is Graham Glover. I am Kim Howells.

  Q244  Chairman: You are very welcome, Dr Howells, it is a pleasure to see you and your colleagues. You will be aware that the Committee have received evidence from Mark Thomas to show how easy it is for a group of school students to set themselves up in the arms business, to become arms brokers and to broker instruments of torture. Three items they were able to show the Committee were items that are not on the current list of instruments of torture, namely thumb cuffs, wall cuffs and sting sticks. Is the Government prepared to ban those three items immediately to bring them within the purview of the Government's existing policy?

  Dr Howells: I did not know what they were when I read this, Mr Berry, I had to ask what thumb cuffs were and sting sticks; I assumed sting sticks were some sort of electrical equipment but turned out to be just a stick with prongs on it.

  Q245  Chairman: Yes.

  Dr Howells: We certainly want to work with other Member States and with the Commission to introduce additional equipment for control such as these sting sticks where necessary. We have led the world in this field in trying to identify equipment that is used for torture and we will continue to do so.

  Q246  Chairman: Given the items that the Government has already banned because they are instruments of torture, is there any reason why thumb cuffs, wall cuffs and sting sticks cannot be immediately added to the list?

  Dr Howells: I do not think so, unless my colleagues have any further information. As I understand it, the exports of sting sticks are not on the list of items to be controlled under the EU Torture Regulation; coverage of the list is a matter for negotiation at EU level, and we will work at that level, certainly, to introduce additional equipment for control such as sting sticks.

  Q247  Chairman: I thought the UK had a derogation to extend the list of banned items at any time.

  Mr Glover: Looking ahead to the regulation, thumb cuffs will be on the regulation when it comes into force on 30 July, when the EU regulation comes into force, and those will be covered by the EU Torture Regulation. On wall cuffs, we think we do already control wall cuffs as we do other larger handcuffs; we would say that wall cuffs of a particular dimension are actually already covered by our legislation. They would be controlled not banned, but they would be controlled.

  Q248  Chairman: And sting sticks?

  Mr Glover: Sting sticks we would need to take up with the Commission when the regulation comes into force.

  Q249  Chairman: I do not understand why we should wait, I thought the UK had a derogation to extend the list of banned items at any time; I thought that was the understanding of discussions with Europe.

  Mr Glover: We have a derogation to maintain the standard that we have at present, yes, that is the case, but to add new items to the list, I would have to go back and look. Certainly, all the items that are currently on our banned list we have a derogation to maintain and that level of control at the moment.

  Q250  Chairman: You say you are prevented from adding new items to the list; something as vicious as a sting stick, you are saying that the Government does not have the authority to do what it did in 1997 to add this to a list of items that would be banned for the purposes of manufacture or export.

  Mr Glover: I am not aware of the precise legal definitions of where we have to go, but it does become a Community competence matter with the arrival of the EU torture regulation. These items are not on the military list, they are traded items and would have to be covered within the Torture Regulation when it comes into force like any other trade regulation, it is a Commission and EU competence matter.

  Q251  Mr Keetch: Can I follow up on that. What you are saying is that the British Government cannot stop the export of these items if they believe they are potentially being used for torture, that is only something that the EU can do.

  Mr Glover: It would be something that the Commission would have to regulate on is my understanding, I could go back and check for the Committee.

  Dr Howells: We will certainly check on that.

  Q252  Chairman: I would be grateful, because certainly it was my understanding that part of the discussions with the other Member States of the European Union was that the UK would have a derogation to extend the list of banned items at any time. I appreciate that until EU provisions come in you cannot have a derogation from them, but I do not understand what legally prevents you banning instruments of torture, given that they are so easily obtained by anybody who chooses to set themselves up as an arms broker, whether they are school students or anyone else. If, Minister, you could get back to us on that, we would be grateful.

  Dr Howells: I certainly will.

  Chairman: Thank you. Sir John.

  Q253  Sir John Stanley: Minister, can we turn to trafficking, brokering and the issue of extraterritoriality? We have taken extensive evidence on this point and, having heard the evidence from NGOs and experts, the arms trade and arms manufacturers and their supporters, it appears that the Government is now in a minority of one in maintaining the position that extraterritoriality should be limited simply to items of torture and missiles with a range in excess of 300 kilometres. Can we press you, Minister, to adopt the view which is now being universally taken, not only in this Committee but by those outside, that at least the extraterritoriality provision should be extended to MANPADs, rocket-propelled grenades and light automatic weapons?

  Dr Howells: I certainly take that point, Sir John. I am not entirely sure about those particular items; have they been identified by this Committee as the most pressing need?

  Q254  Sir John Stanley: By this Committee and, indeed, by everybody who studies and understands this business outside the Committee as the most likely weapons in which this particular form of abuse could take place, in other words the UK resident who, knowing it would be a criminal offence to export these to a certain country from within this country, goes overseas to another country and makes their money that way. We have taken the view in this Committee that that is a wholly unacceptable statutory position to continue and we urge you very, very strongly to adopt the same position taken by this Committee and indeed universally outside.

  Dr Howells: I shall certainly talk to my colleagues in detail about that.

  Q255  Sir John Stanley: It is disappointing, if I might say so, Minister; you are coming in front of this Committee in place of the Cabinet Minister with the lead responsibility in this particular area, and we were hoping to get expressions of Government policy from you and not just undertakings to take it back.

  Dr Howells: We will certainly consider any evidence in this respect as part of the three-year review that is coming up. I would certainly like to look at those particular items because I would maintain that our primary tool in this respect is to look at end-use and to look at the whole panoply of intelligence and evidence that we have about the use of weapons. I am a little wary, and always have been, about trying to have a list of weapons which exclude others, but I will certainly look at it.

  Q256  Sir John Stanley: Minister, could we put it to you that this is not an issue that, certainly so far as this Committee is concerned, could wait for a further review of an unknown length of time since the last secondary legislation was passed. All the departments concerned are fully aware of the evidence that has been put in front of this Committee, and the legislative change that we are seeking is one that is achievable by secondary legislation and it simply awaits a policy decision by ministers. Can you not take such a policy decision and do so in this session?

  Mr Moore: The Committee are aware of the issue of extraterritoriality and the legal difficulties that are involved in extraterritoriality. When we get into that territory it has to be items of the most extreme concern in order for us to work through and be clear on which items are of the greatest concern, because extraterritoriality can get us into major problems with other countries. We would need to look at that very carefully and we have looked at it carefully up to now, but at this point we have not come to the conclusion that those particular items are the ones where we move into extraterritoriality and, as the Minister says, there is the three year review.

  Q257  Sir John Stanley: Minister, can I just ask you to respond to this point? The issue has been raised about legal difficulties; is it not the case, Minister, that the Government has already extended, notwithstanding the legal difficulties, the principle of extraterritoriality to drug-trafficking and child abuse and if it can be done in those areas, in a much more defined area like the export of MANPADs, surely the legal difficulties are very much less than what the Government has already successfully surmounted in the two other areas I have just referred to.

  Dr Howells: Point taken, Sir John, and I will certainly undertake to look at that.

  Q258  Chairman: Can I turn to another issue that the Committee has been concerned about and raised when Malcolm Wicks gave evidence to the Committee in relation to the Export Control Organisation, and it is the policy issue about dual use. You will be aware that we have taken evidence concerning the exports of Land Rover flat-packs to Turkey that were then transformed into military vehicles that were then used by Uzbek troops during the Andijan massacre in May of last year. My question is, once the EU embargo was imposed on arms exports to Uzbekistan in December of last year, was it the intention then of the UK Government to prevent such an embargoed destination getting access to equipment of that kind that would support its security services?

  Dr Howells: Land Rover of course—and I am sure you are aware of this, Mr Berry—supplied flat-pack civil Land Rover Defenders to a Turkish company which was called Otokar, who then assembled the cars, adding its own products and components before selling them to the Turkish Government under its own name. The Turkish Government then gifted these vehicles to the Uzbek Government under a joint counter-terrorism agreement. Those vehicles were not Land Rover approved products. Under the EC Dual-Use Regulation and our own domestic legislation the UK has no power to control the export of civilian specification Land Rovers. The export of civilian vehicles, converted by a Turkish company, using its own technology and without UK involvement is a matter for Turkish export controls. It is a difficult case, certainly, but I hope that that clarifies the situation.

  Q259  Chairman: Do you not agree that under Article 4.2 of the Dual-Use Regulation there is a "catch-all" provision in relation to the supply of dual-use goods to embargoed destinations, and I quote: "An authorisation shall also be required for the export of dual-use items [intended for military end-use] not listed in Annex 1 if the purchasing country or country of destination is subject to an arms embargo . . ." Do not the Dual-Use Regulations apply in precisely this case, after the embargo had been announced—clearly not before, but once the embargo had been announced?

  Dr Howells: This is hindsight, of course, because when Land Rover sold those civilian flat-pack Land Rover Defenders to Turkey we had no way of knowing that the Turkish Government was going to gift considerably modified Land Rovers to the Uzbeks, and that is a very difficult situation in those circumstances.

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