Quadripartite Select Committee Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260-279)


25 APRIL 2006

  Q260  Chairman: That is true, Minister, but when we took evidence from the Export Control Organisation and we asked them precisely the same question about would not the exports of Land Rovers be licensable under the Dual-Use Regulations, the reply we received on the record was "that is a moot point". I was wondering if by now the Government has clarified whether that moot point was a good point or a bad point.

  Dr Howells: I do not think it is a moot point; if we do not have a right to control those exports of what we might call civilian vehicles then there is no ambiguity about it, especially for sale to a NATO country which has bought a good deal of equipment in the past without any controversial modifications, and then those products could be gifted on or sold on to somebody else. Certainly we know now from this lesson that we will have to be very careful in terms of looking at that kind of export licence in the future.

  Q261  Chairman: If today the Land Rover flat-packs were to be exported to Turkey for precisely the same purpose, to end up being used by the armed forces in Uzbekistan, you are saying that they should be controlled.

  Dr Howells: That would be a very challenging situation for us and we would have to look at it very carefully. I am not sure that we have any legal right to stop Land Rover exporting civilian vehicles.

  Q262  Chairman: Do you accept there should be control under the Dual-Use Regulations or not?

  Mr Moore: Of course, you cannot control Land Rovers because that is a very difficult thing to do, to control that just as a Land Rover. What we would do if we got another application along these lines is we would take it through the criteria, the consolidated criteria, making a risk assessment of whether, among the criteria, there could be a diversion issue, that they could be diverted in a direction which could—

  Q263  Chairman: Land Rover would be well-advised in future to seek advice before exporting without considering applying for a licence?

  Mr Moore: We have been in good contact with Land Rover and I am sure they know what our regulations are and they would talk to DTI.

  Q264  Chairman: Thank you. Finally, Turkey is obviously seeking EU membership and, therefore, adherence to EU arms embargoes. Will these issues be raised in accession negotiations with Turkey?

  Dr Howells: They have already come to see us about this and there have been discussions between officials from Turkey and our officials at the Foreign Office, and there is a whole range of issues which certainly Turkey has to be aware of if its application to join the EU is to be a successful one.

  Chairman: Thank you. David.

  Q265  Mr Borrow: If I can perhaps continue on the dual-use theme, the current EU regulations were reviewed in 2004 on a peer review basis to see how well they had been implemented across the EU. I have a list here of discrepancies that were found or things that were considered of concern, including industrial awareness programmes, the technical capacities available to national authorities to evaluate licence applications and classify items, and as regards the intelligence infrastructure. The review also found that the application of the dual-use regulations differed with regard to the use of the catch-all clause, the implementation of denial exchanges, intangible technology transfer controls, and transit and trans-shipment controls. I would be interested if you could tell the Committee whether there has been any follow-up following that peer review, and whether any gaps have been identified in the UK regulations as against those in other EU countries?

  Dr Howells: Mr Borrow, as you say, the peer review identified a number of recommendations for further action, both at national and EU level, and work has focused on the broad areas identified in the Council's statement of December 2004. The main achievements have been the following: improved information exchange—which is very important of course—discussion aimed at minimising divergent practices on textbook authorisation, work towards a review of the regulation as regards dual-use goods in transit or trans-shipment, the establishment of a pool of technical experts on recognition of dual-use items subject to control, agreement to establish an electronic database to record denial notices made by Member States under the regulations—which would be very, very helpful—a comprehensive review of licensing and customs practices regarding control enforcement, an examination of the administration, the catch-all control, which can be used to control export of non-listed goods which are destined for use in a weapons of mass destruction programme. As regards the further work that you asked about, the recommendations produced by the peer review certainly represent a very ambitious and challenging agenda, and progress on a number of issues, including how to achieve greater convergence in the use of the various kinds of authorisations and of practices concerning the implementation of the catch-all clause, or the most efficient way to carry out controls on transit and trans-shipment, will be made in the light of an impact assessment study being conducted on the Commission's behalf. These and other outstanding issues will be addressed in the communication that the Commission will present to the Council this year, 2006.

  Q266  Mr Borrow: Are you able to give a specifically UK approach to this as against, obviously, looking at it across the EU, in particular aspects of UK communication that were identified or have been identified as a result of the peer review?

  Dr Howells: We think that we can learn from all of these and we are certainly very vigorous in playing our part in ensuring that this review affects our own policy on these issues as well as EU policy. We think there is a very, very close connection between the two.

  Chairman: Thank you, Lindsay.

  Q267  Mr Hoyle: Obviously, there is a little bit of concern because we were getting very worked up about dual-use but the bottom line is it does not matter whether it is dual-use or not. As we know from the other night in Nepal, we could see ordinary Japanese flat-truck vehicles actually bringing riot police in and doing exactly the same work, as the Uzbekistan military did, in attacking its own people and suppressing them. It does not matter whether it has a gun clip on or not, the bottom line is that any four-wheel drive vehicle would have done the job, or in this particular case in Nepal, any truck would do exactly the same job. My worry is how do we deal with countries that are going to suppress their people—and Nepal one minute was supplying them helicopters to protect them from Maoists, for the same equipment to now be used on its own people who are fighting for democracy. There is a great worry here and we have this obsession about dual-use. We ought not to be obsessed about dual-use because the bottom line is any four-wheel drive vehicle will do it, whether it has a gun-clip on or not.

  Dr Howells: Mr Hoyle, I am not quite sure how to answer this because of course there have been periods when we have been very supportive of the Government and, indeed, of the Royal Family in a country like Nepal, and there are many other countries where we supported those governments very closely, where we supplied four-wheel drive vehicles in countries where the roads were extremely bad and communications were bad, and sometimes those vehicles subsequently have been used. What we have to do really is to try and use all of our intelligence to best effect. It is very difficult, often, to second-guess what is likely to happen in a country like Nepal, and Sir John Stanley knows and has talked to me about the fact that not so very long ago it was not a country which sought great repression, but seemed to be a country where there was a good deal of satisfaction amongst its inhabitants. I am not sure that any government department or any government has the ability to try to second-guess what is likely to happen in those circumstances, but we have to try our best and we have to try and use our intelligence in the best way possible in order that we do not supply this country with equipment which could have this dual-use. I agree entirely with you, I do not think there is a golden rule about dual-use which gives us some magical insight into what is likely to happen in a country.

  Q268  Mr Hoyle: Just to pursue that a little, the argument was that there was a problem with this Land Rover, it had a towing hook on and it had a gun clip. The bottom line is the vehicle was used to suppress people. My view is that any four-wheel drive vehicle would have done that whether it had a towing hook on or a gun clip or not, and the reality is how do we try and ensure that any supplies to countries at the moment such as Uzbekistan and Nepal, how do you actually stop that, because any type of vehicle will do exactly what was done to suppress the people and it is that that I do not think we can get over. The argument about dual-use is immaterial, the bottom line is that they could have bought a Land Rover to say it is for disaster relief and it could have been turned on the people.

  Dr Howells: Certainly. Criterion 2 of the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria is of course the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country of final destination, and I think we would fully subscribe to that, but it is extremely difficult sometimes to second-guess what is likely to happen in a situation like that.

  Chairman: Thank you. Richard Burden.

  Q269  Richard Burden: Has the Government's policy on arms and military equipment exports to Israel changed since 2002?

  Dr Howells: The Government's policy has not changed since 2002 and the letter that we sent to this Committee on 4 April outlines this. If we believe there is a clear risk that any items, whether lethal or non-lethal, would be used in a manner inconsistent with criterion 2 which I have just referred to, we would certainly not issue an export licence, and the decision would be made about whether an export would be used aggressively or in a manner of legitimate self-defence based on the record of the proposed end-user, the equipment in the application and, of course, the prevailing circumstances. When assessing an application for components the Government assesses the use of the final project against those criteria for them.

  Q270  Richard Burden: In 2002 there was the issue of an exchange of correspondence between our Government and the Israeli Government regarding assurances that had been given regarding armoured personnel carriers, which we had been assured would not be deployed in the Occupied Territories, and it was subsequently discovered that they were being so deployed. The Foreign Secretary in 2002 said in adopting the criteria "We will no longer take the Israeli assurances given on 29 November 2000 into account" and the assumption that I assume there is the fact that Israel said it would not be used in one way would not mean that you would necessarily believe them. Is that still the case?

  Dr Howells: Yes, that is very much the case. The Committee sought confirmation about assurances and the reply to a PQ on 15 April 2002, which you have referred to, still holds true about the use of assurances; we do not use them.

  Q271  Richard Burden: Could you tell me how the Government defines—as you have to make your own judgments on this—equipment that would be being "deployed aggressively in the Occupied Territories"? Given the fact that Israel is in illegal occupation, what would be equipment that would be being deployed defensively in the Occupied Territories?

  Dr Howells: We would have to make a judgment on that, or certainly we would and DTI would. I can imagine, to return to the point that Mr Hoyle has made, almost any piece of equipment, I suppose, could be used aggressively, especially in occupied areas, there is no question about that, and we have to be very, very sensitive and very careful in terms of any licences that we would issue to applications for that kind of equipment.

  Q272  Richard Burden: How do you assess it and how have you assessed it?

  Dr Howells: The default position is for us to say that there should not be troops in those occupied areas anyway, and very often of course it is a difficult thing to assess if the base for those troops and therefore for that equipment is in the State of Israel itself and it is later deployed in the Occupied Territories. These are assessments we have to make and discussions we have to have on an on-going basis.

  Q273  Richard Burden: If you think the equipment could be being deployed in the Occupied Territories you would consider that it would not be appropriate for export.

  Dr Howells: We would have to look very, very carefully.

  Q274  Richard Burden: The reason I ask these questions is that in early 2004 the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was suggesting that Britain is very diligent in rejecting applications from Israel, and the example given was that in 2002 the Government refused 84 standard individual export licences for Israel, the highest number of refusals for any destination, which is quite impressive. I am just aware that in the last Strategic Arms Export Controls annual report the number of sales actually increased to 89, the number of refusals had decreased to 13, that in a year when the number of deaths in the Occupied Territories had gone up and not down. That, to me, sounds a little odd.

  Dr Howells: It may sound odd but there may not be a very direct cause and effect on that, it depends on all kinds of circumstances—what the behaviour of the Israeli border police and army is, it could depend on many things. It could depend on the aggressiveness or otherwise of Hamas or of Islamic Jihad, it could depend on anything, and I could imagine that after a very large number of denials of applications, turning them down, rejecting them, perhaps the Israelis have learnt from that.

  Q275  Richard Burden: The number of applications went up and the refusals went down.

  Dr Howells: I have tried to explain that, there may be all sorts of variables in that equation.

  Mr Moore: Of course, there are different kinds of export licence and you cannot do a direct comparison between the different types.

  Q276  Richard Burden: They all went up.

  Mr Moore: Yes, but one export licence could be very different from another, we do look at things case by case.

  Q277  Chairman: Before I bring Quentin in, what monitoring of end-use of these exports to Israel do you undertake?

  Dr Howells: We look very carefully at the way in which any equipment that has been exported is used and it is an area and two countries that are under very, very intense observation. We have very good teams in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and we watch very, very carefully what is going on.

  Q278  Richard Burden: Can you give us any examples?

  Dr Howells: Sorry, whose question am I answering?

  Chairman: I am sorry, Richard and then Quentin. Richard, your last question.

  Q279  Richard Burden: Can you give us any examples of monitoring of end-use that has led to any kind of change of approach?

  Dr Howells: The key thing is the risk assessment beforehand, that is the major point. In that risk assessment we have to be looking at what happens on the ground, so we will take that intelligence as part of our overall assessment exercise of any application that is made. I was in Jerusalem myself and I did not see any British equipment being used, to give you a specific example, but I certainly saw signs of people's lives being very severely disrupted by, for example, the construction of a barrier.

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