Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300-319)|
MP, PAUL ARKWRIGHT
4 FEBRUARY 2009
Q300 Chairman: Thank you. Can we
move on to the conventional area? The British Government have
played the leading role with the arms trade treaty progress so
far. However, it has been put to us in evidence that we have received
from witnesses that an arms trade treaty, however welcome, could
set international standards that are lower than those of current
national regimes and some other national agreements. For example,
it would make no difference to UK policy on arms sales to countries
such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. It would be weaker
than the current Wassenaar agreement. Is that true? If so, does
that mean that we would wish to retain our own national criteria
and the Wassenaar voluntary arrangements in addition to an arms
trade treaty, or would those all be subsumed within such a treaty?
Bill Rammell: We have some of
the strongest arms export control regimes internationally. What
we are seeking to do through the arms trade treatyyou rightly
described the leading position that we have taken in driving it
forwardis to get the highest standards possible to stop
the spread of conventional weapons and the abuse of human rights.
We are certainly not looking for the lowest-common-denominator
Let me be clear: there is no intention and no
sense in any way, shape or form that we would let the arms trade
treaty dilute what we are committed to in our arms export control
criteria. However, in taking it forwardand we are making
progressthere is a balance to be struck between the strength
of the treaty on one hand and, on the other, the number of states
willing to sign up to it. Clearly, a key judgment for us will
be ensuring that we do not concede too much in negotiations and
end up with a universally adopted treaty with very little impact.
That is what we are determined to do. We are
not looking for a paper tiger; we are looking for a legally enforceable
instrument. That is one of the differences with the Wassenaar
arrangement. I am not a critic of the Wassenaar arrangement; in
terms of establishing a framework and a forum for sharing information
and best practice, it has been positive. However, if we can get
a legally enforceable treaty through the ATT, that must be a step
Q301 Chairman: But the Wassenaar
arrangement has a quite comprehensive list, whereas it has been
put to us that in the so-called seven plus one negotiations, certain
things would be excluded. For instance, categories of police and
internal security equipment, and other equipment that can be used
in human rights violations, would not be covered in an arms trade
Bill Rammell: Given that we have
not got to that detailed stagewe are trying to engage people,
make progress and get international supportI am not sure
how people have reached that conclusion. Our determination is
Chairman: Read the transcript of our
evidence session with the people from the UK Working Group on
Bill Rammell: Sure. People can
have all sorts of fears and concerns
Chairman: They are experts in the area.
Bill Rammell What I am telling
you very strongly is that we want as strong a treaty as we can
possibly deliver. The fact is that we have strong NGO support
from Oxfam, Amnesty International and others for what we are doing.
We also have welcome industry support. We have some strong support
and some resistance internationally, and we must overcome that.
Q302 Chairman: What about dual-use
items? Should they be included in such a treaty?
Bill Rammell: Ideally, in our
view, yes, but we would need to ensurethis will be part
of the detailed negotiationsthat we do not frame it so
as to choke off legitimate trade. Ideally, yes. We would like
dual-use items to be part of it.
Q303 Chairman: And what about the
crucial debate about human rights? It perhaps reflects wider international
problems with countries that do not wish to discuss human rights
issues. Clearly, the European and British approach is much more
focused on human rights than that of some countries in the rest
of the world. How is that likely to shake out in the end?
Bill Rammell: We have made it
clear that human rights are part of the rationale for pushing
this forward. I do not underestimate the difficulties and challenges,
but when I was last at the Foreign Office, back in 2003 or 2004,
we launched the proposal and led the way on it, and I think that
we are in a stronger position now than we were then.
A significant number of international states
have indicated support for the concept. Some states are more reluctant,
but in the coming year, work will be undertaken twice in the open-ended
working group, and we hope to get to the stage of the UN General
Assembly by October or November. In first committee, we would
get agreements to a resolution that would set in train negotiations
on the treaty during 2010. We are making progress, but there are
challenges to be overcome.
Q304 Chairman: One of those challenges
is that countries such as Russia and China have abstained, and
the position of the United States has not yet changed. Do you
envisage any changes in those three countries so that they will
be brought on board?
Bill Rammell: I choose my words
carefully, because if you want people to move, telegraphing that
you are convinced that they
Chairman: Take the easy one: talk about
Bill Rammell: The US did not support
the United Nations General Assembly resolution in December but,
interestingly and encouragingly, the US delegation took part in
the UN Preparatory Committee meeting on 23 January, which I think
is a sign that the US remains engaged in discussions. Certainly,
we are encouraging their attendance at the forthcoming open-ended
working group. There are hopes of movement, but we have to keep
working and negotiating.
Q305 Chairman: And are Russia and
China still sitting on the sidelines?
Bill Rammell: Yes, but I do not
think that we are in the position of outright hostility; rather,
we are in the position of needing to persuade and convince those
states to move.
Q306 Chairman: Is every EU country
on board? Are they all pushing in the same direction, or are some
dragging their feet?
Paul Arkwright: There is an EU
common position on the arms trade treaty, which is fully supportive.
Q307 Chairman: I know that there
is a common position, but EU common positions sometimes reflect
a spectrum of views. Are any of our EU partners not really helping
Paul Arkwright: No. All our EU
partners are helping us, some extremely enthusiastically, if I
may put it that way
Q308 Chairman: Some but not all?
Paul Arkwright: Not all have the
resources to put behind it, but the French, for example, have
been extremely helpful in supporting us.
Q309 Chairman: Are any EU countries
with an arms export industry reluctant?
Paul Arkwright: Not to my knowledge.
Q310 Chairman: That is helpful.
Finally, you said that you assessed the outcome
of the third biennial meeting of states in 2008 as reasonable
in regard to small arms and light weapons rather than the arms
trade treaty. Do you think that that process will continue, or
will it accelerate, because of the changes in the US to which
Bill Rammell: First, there has
been progress and, other things being equal, I think that it will
continue, with this caveat: I think the Obama Administration is
very good news, but they are not going to stop every challenge
that we face in the world. However, that instrument is making
progress, and it is likely to continue to do so.
Q311 Sir John Stanley: Those of us
on this Committee who went to southern Lebanon after the last
war, when Israel again invaded, and saw for ourselves the cluster
munitions in the fields, on trees, in the bushes, and lying around
all over the place after they had been rained down in extraordinary
numbers in the 72 hours between the signing of the ceasefire and
its coming into effect, were left in no doubt about the terrible
danger that they present to the civilian population. We welcome
the Government's success with others in getting the Oslo convention
against cluster munitions. We might be allowed the say that that
success owed something to the Committee's consistent prodding,
and indeed to the Arms Export Controls Committee.
Will you clarify the Government's policy on
trying to get more widespread adherence to the ban on cluster
munitions? On the radio this morning, they talked about cluster
munitions being used in Sri Lanka at the moment, so they remain
a serious worldwide threat.
Can you explain why you believe that getting
a watered-down cluster munitions protocol to the UN convention
on certain conventional weapons might undo the gains of the Oslo
Bill Rammell: I think that the
Committee and the Quadripartite Committee played positive roles.
In December, we joined more than 90 countries in signing the convention
and, internationally, we have played a leading role. In terms
of our own actions, we will ratify as soon as possible. In the
meantime we have begun implementing the key provisions and have
taken immediate steps to prevent proliferation by making cluster
munitions subject to the most stringent trade controls. However,
signing the convention is just the beginning. Our aim is a global
treaty on munitions, and we are looking to work with international
partners to secure principle and practical sign-up and the widest
possible adherence to the convention. We will continue to work
for meaningful action, including on tackling transfers of weapons
under the UN disarmament framework and the convention on certain
Could you repeat the question about the protocol?
Q312 Sir John Stanley: We would like
to understand why the Government do not consider it a risk that
going down the UN route to achieve a protocol on cluster munitions
within the UN convention on conventional weapons might lead to
a seriously watered-down UN protocol, which would seriously undermine
what has been achieved in the Oslo convention.
Bill Rammell: The protocol is,
if you like, a step along the road and a rung up the ladder for
those countries that cannot yet sign up to the convention for
financial reasons. For a number of states, that is a legitimate
concern. In those circumstances, it must be better to get some
controlson exports, for examplerather than none,
on major producers. That is what is driving our approach. Ultimately,
we want universal adoption, but if we can help some people along
the way, it makes sense.
Q313 Sir John Stanley: There seems
to us to be a risk that you will undermine the effectiveness of
the Oslo convention by going down a halfway-stage route. What
are you doing to try to ensure that that watering-down process
does not occur? Countries given the option of either signing up
to the tougher Oslo convention and having on offer a nice, comfortable,
watered-down UN protocol will say, "Oh yes, we'll sign up
to the UN one, and forget about Oslo."
Bill Rammell: Our track record
of supporting the Oslo convention has been very strong.
Sir John Stanley: I know. I am thinking
about other countries around the world, such as Sri Lanka.
Bill Rammell: Absolutely. And
in all our bilateral and multilateral contacts, we make it clear
that that is a short-term step towards eventual adoption of the
Oslo convention. The alternative is that you have a significant
number of states that, for financial reasons, cannot get to that
signing position. I think, therefore, that it makes sense, as
a short-term measure, to get them part way along. However, we
continue to argue forcefully that everyone has to get there.
Q314 Sir John Stanley: A "best
is the enemy of the good" policy then?
Bill Rammell: That is not quite
how I would put it, but I understand where you are coming from.
Q315 Chairman: I have one final question
about the commitment to clear the mined areas on the Falkland
Islands. There was some criticism of the fact that we have asked
for another 10 years to do that. Will we meet that 10-year target?
More importantly, do you not think that, for whatever reasonit
might be understandableit has damaged our credibility and
reputation internationally on such issues?
Bill Rammell: No, I do not, objectively.
For the record, we remain committed to the Ottawa convention and
its aims. Via an extension, we now have until March 2019 to de-mine
the Falkland Islands. On any objective analysis, we are among
the strongest supporters. For example, through the Department
for International Development we are contributing about £10
million per year to humanitarian de-mining activity in the most
dangerous and heavily mined developing countries, such as Afghanistan,
Angola, Laos and Sri Lanka. Like you, I have visited the Falklands,
where there has not been an incident or accident in 25 years resulting
from this. We are going ahead. Detailed studies have been undertaken
and the contracts are now in place for three de-mining area activities
on the Falklands. In Angola, Laos and Sri Lanka, the population
say, "For God's sake, do something about this." People
risk being injured and killed. I did not meet one person or elected
representative on the Falklands who said, given the very clear
signage and that everybody knows where they are, that they thought
that this was a priority. In fact, Falkland Islanders and representatives
have said to me, "Of course, you should be spending it on
those other areas."
Q316 Chairman: We understand the
argument, and we have had the same conversations with Falkland
Islanders, but the problem is the international propaganda argument.
If we argue vociferously for a global programme within a certain
time scale, but then ask for an extension, other people will be
able to use that same argument for less legitimate reasons than
those which you have cited.
Bill Rammell: First, I misspokethe
contracts are not yet in place, but they will be. There is a plan
to put them in place. Secondly, we were not on our own. My memory
is that the deadline came up for 18 states this year, 15 of which
applied for an extension. All sorts of people will make all sorts
of cases, depending on the circumstances, but you have to look
at the evidence. Our very strong support for an international
mechanism to tackle land mines and our very strong financial support,
in putting our money where our mouth is and supporting de-mining
activities, means that one cannot crediblypeople will advance
all sorts of arguments when they are in a tight cornermake
a case that this country and this Government are undermining that.
Q317 Sir John Stanley: I am glad
to hold up my hand to the fact that, when I was a Minister, I
ordered the halting of anti-personnel mine clearances outside
Stanley after the Falklands war. After the third bombor
ordnancedisposal soldier had his legs blown off, I was
not prepared to see any more casualties among our servicemen,
so I endorse what you have said. The technological difficulties
of clearing that one remaining sandy beach, with constant tide
changes, and of clearing the boggy area between Stanley and the
beach, which is a heavily mined peat bog, without damaging our
personnel were insuperable. I think you are entirely right to
be extremely cautious and to give first priority to the preservation
of life and limb.
Bill Rammell: I will simply say
that the whole thrust of the Ottawa convention is about saving
life, and I do not think that that comes into play in the Falklands.
Q318 Sir Menzies Campbell: Will we
meet the 2019 deadline?
Bill Rammell: As I said earlier,
we remain committed to the Ottawa convention and its aims, and
that is what we are working towards.
Q319 Sir Menzies Campbell: When will
the contracts be placed?
Bill Rammell: I thought that they
already had been for the three areas, but my understanding is
that it will certainly be in the near future. I will write to
you setting that out.
Chairman: Mr. Rammell, Mr. Arkwright
and Mrs Leslie, thank you very much for coming. We have covered
an enormous area, but we might write to you about one or two areas
to seek further information. I am grateful to you all. We will
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