Examination of Witnesses (Questions 122-179)|
ALISTAIR BURT MP, DAVID HALL AND DAVID VINCENT
24 JANUARY 2011
Q122 Chair: Minister, welcome
to your first appearance before the Committee on Arms Export Controls.
Welcome also to Mr David Hall and Mr David Vincent. Just to reassure
you, Minister, I asked our previous ministerial witness the same
question that I am going to put to you. As I said to the previous
Minister, you should not take this question in any way personally.
The point I wish to put to you is that the last report from the
previous Government, which was the United Kingdom strategic export
controls annual report 2008, came with the signatures of the four
Secretaries of StateDavid Miliband, Lord Mandelson, Douglas
Alexander and Bob Ainsworthand was 100 pages in length.
The first report from the present coalition Government is signed
off, not by the Secretaries of State, but by junior Ministersapart
from yourself, there is Mark Prisk, Alan Duncan and Nick Harveyand
is about half the length. My question to you is whether that is
an indication that the coalition Government have downgraded the
importance attached to arms export controls and arms control generally?
Alistair Burt: No, I don't think it is.
First, the conciseness of the report is a reflection of the fact
that the present Government have clearly been involved for rather
less time and were offering an opinion on work done by the previous
Government. Secondly, I don't think conciseness in itself is a
matter for concern, providing all the information is there. I
also don't think the change in personnel in relation to the Ministers
is of significance. Clearly, everything that junior Ministers
do falls under the overall aegis of their Secretaries of State,
but perhaps it is helpful to have those Ministers who are actively
engaged with the work on a day-to-day basis signing off the report,
rather than just the Secretaries of State. Perhaps that will provide
a nice pattern for others, but absolutely no sense of downgrading
at all is conveyed by how it has been handled.
Chair: Thank you. I would make the point
that, from the inception of this Committee, I think I am correct
in saying that it has always been signed off by the four Cabinet
Ministers concerned. You and your colleagues might want to reflect
on whether that practice should be restored or not. It may be
an issue that the Committee will want to reflect upon when it
makes its report.
Alistair Burt: Indeed.
Chair: First, we want to address the
new Government's policy in this important area. Nadhim Zahawi
Q123 Nadhim Zahawi: Thank
you, Sir John, and welcome, Minister. How much importance does
the Foreign and Commonwealth Office give to the promotion of UK
arms exports? In dealing with that question, will you focus on
what the role of the Foreign Office is in promoting and facilitating
arms exports, and in what ways this Government's policy on arms
export will differ from that of their predecessors?
Alistair Burt: Thank you, Mr Zahawi.
I have a brief opening statement that covers much of the ground,
and I should like to read it if I may, Chairman. It is meant to
Chair: Minister, may I say for the future
that we attach great importance to using the time for Members
to put questions to you? I don't think there's any good reason
normally why, if Ministers want to make a statement, they should
not commit it in writing to the Committee before its proceedings
start. I hope it is a short statement.
Alistair Burt: It is, and I think
that it effectively covers the question raised.
Chair: Please proceed, Minister.
Alistair Burt: First, if it does
not take up too much time, I should like to congratulate you,
Sir John, on your role as Chair, and to thank you all for giving
me the opportunity to deal directly with your questions. I greatly
value the role that the Committees perform in scrutinising the
Government's strategic export controls policy and practice. My
officials and I look forward to working constructively with the
Committees in this important area, and we would be very happy
to host a visit by the Committees to the Foreign and Commonwealth
Office on strategic export controls, should members find that
The Government are committed to ensuring that
the UK's strategic export controls are robust, effective and transparent.
Effective export controls are essential for the maintenance of
the United Kingdom's security, and for the promotion of our increased
prosperity in these challenging economic times. Effective strategic
export controls ensure that the UK's defence industry can compete
internationally in supplying the legitimate defence needs of countries
around the world, while at the same time ensuring that the supply
of UK defence equipment does not undermine sustainable development
in the developing world and that UK arms do not reach the hands
of those who would use them for internal oppression, external
aggression or human rights violations.
Effective export controls are also central to
the core agenda of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of protecting
the UK's security, pursuing commercial diplomacy and promoting
UK values abroad. This Government's approach to strategic export
controls will remain firmly based on a case-by-case assessment
of all licence applications for the export of controlled goods
and equipment, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will continue
to play an important role in the provision of information against
which informed assessments are made.
Finally, the Government are also committed to
ensuring high global standards. I am aware of some concerns that
the incoming Government might not have an arms trade treaty as
a similar priority to that of the previous Government. I hope
that both the remarks of the Foreign Secretary on values and on
the ATT and the practical evidence of activities suggest that
those fears are unfounded. The United Kingdom will continue to
play a leading role in helping to ensure that ATT negotiations
progress to a successful conclusion at the diplomatic conference
in 2012. As in July last year, the United Kingdom will play an
active role in the UN negotiations in February and beyond, and
officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will continue
to work energetically for a robust and effective arms trade treaty
in close co-operation with colleagues across Government, the NGO
and faith communities, the UK defence industry and our international
I hope, by that, that the Committee will see
that our approach to arms control matters will be very similar
to that of the previous Government. It is a central priority to
what we consider to be important in terms of values and British
interests around the world.
Q124 Nadhim Zahawi: Thank
you for that, Minister. Does the Foreign Office have any concerns
about boosting the list of priority markets? Obviously, selling
to Europe or America is much easier and safer. The list that we
have been provided with includes countries such as Algeria, Pakistan
and Libya. Thinking through the recent events in Tunisia, does
the Foreign Office have any concerns about boosting the list?
In answer, Minister, can you tell us how you ensure that there
is no conflict of interest between the dual roles of foreign diplomats
who are expected to work at conflict prevention and, at the same
time, to promote arms exports to those countries?
Alistair Burt: They are both fair
questions. First, we firmly believe that the robustness of the
criteria with which we deal will continue to cover new areas where
there might be opportunities of exports. One of the things that
we might come back to time and againI am sure that you
have considered this with my predecessorsis the importance
of a case-by-case consideration against the various criteria rather
than of external circumstances as a special case, which relates
to particular conditions within emerging new markets. If the criteria
are robust enough, those issues will be covered. The short answer
to the first question is that there are no worries about expanding
the opportunity for exports, because there is a firm belief that
the robustness of the criteria will protect the values that we
uphold in dealing with the system and ensure that we do not run
into trouble or put other people in trouble. That is clear.
To your second question about any possible dilemma
or contradiction in the role of those who operate the policy,
particularly those abroad, I would again say no. Ultimately, it
is the criteria for arms export that trump everything else. Sales
are important. We believe that a legitimate arms industry, as
with all the NGOs with which we deal, has its place in securing
effective defence for those countries that need it, and it is
a perfectly straightforward business for us to be involved in.
None the less, the commercial does not trump the criteria. By
the very nature of their work, colleagues are used to dealing
with applications that will force them to consider, as they do
their work, the balance of an application. That, of course, comes
back to those who are charged with the responsibility of dealing
with the criteria on a case-by-case basis when an application
has been made. You could legitimately ask me whether I have the
same things in mind when I'm taking a view on an application.
Indeed, I am aware of both drivers, but clearly the criteria,
and the importance of the criteria, to safeguard the whole concept
of arms exports is overwhelmingly the most important factor.
Nadhim Zahawi: Thank you very much.
Q125 Chair: Minister, will
you address the conundrum that is behind these questions? In the
real world, is it not the case that if diplomats around the world
follow the Prime Minister's instruction, as they will, the first
priority is to go out and sell for Britain. That includes selling
arms exports and supporting those contracts. Is it not the case
in the real world that you don't conclude a successful arms deal
with some of the countries that are on your target list if, at
the same time, you stand up very firmly to them on their human
Alistair Burt: Again, Chair, we
must be clear about this. The criteria clearly cover that issue
in terms of those with whom we will deal. In the real world, both
those who are out seeking entirely appropriate business for the
United Kingdom and those who have to sign off applications are
well aware of the increased transparency and inquiries that surround
the matters with which we are engaged, not least you yourselves
and others who take a keen interest in this matter. I don't think
any diplomat or Minister wants to be placed in a position in which
they could be accused of taking a decision for the wrong reasons,
if something subsequently went horribly wrong and a decision was
examined minutely, as decisions should be and must be. So I fully
understand the dilemma that you and the Committee are seeking
to get to, but I think real-world pressures exist not only before
a decision is reached, but after a decision is reached. We're
well aware of the importance of the scrutiny and that any decision
needs to stand up months or even years afterwards, so I hope that
sense of responsibility would also be a significant driving factor
in decisions that colleagues were being asked to make.
Chair: We come now to the criterion regulating
arms exportscriterion 8. Malcolm Bruce.
Q126 Malcolm Bruce: Thank
you, Sir John. Criterion 8 is designed to ensure that we do not
export to countries with weak economies, where the cost of buying
the exports would be unbalancing to their economic or political
situation. I have two questions. One relates to the evidence that
we were given last time, which was that there was a recognition
that there needs to be some agreement across Europe as to the
use of this criterion. As I understand it, on 24 November in Brussels,
the Dutch Government promoted a seminar to discuss that and determine
whether there should be a change of policy. Can you give us an
indication of what happened at that seminar and whether there
are any implications of policy change? We have a copy of the slides
from DFID and Oxfam that were presented there, and my next question
might derive slightly from those, but what was discussed at the
seminar and what effect might it have?
Alistair Burt: Absolutely. It
was an important seminar, and I appreciate your drawing attention
to it. The seminar was well attended, by a number of EU member
states as well as by ourselves. The agenda comprised the presentation
from Oxfam, followed by questions and answers and then a closed
session involving member states, with presentations given both
by ourselves and by the Netherlands. Our presentation was given
by a representative of DFID, which is the lead Department. The
presentation explained how we applied criterion 8 in our domestic
export controls, and the methodology used.
We believe that the seminar was successful in
its objective of sharing best member state practice. It was recognised
that the criterion is one of the most difficult and complex of
all the criteria to apply, and it was agreed that we would benefit
from further discussion on the issue, particularly to ensure uniformity
of applications. We will be returning to the issue. Can I also
say this? We see it very much as a matter for member states. The
issue is difficult. We don't currently see the need to use the
expertise of the EU External Action Service in assessing these
applications. So the short answer is, the seminar was very important;
the issue is still being considered; it is a very difficult matter
to apply; and we are looking at how best we can co-ordinate the
use of it.
Q127 Malcolm Bruce: When you
say "difficult", you mean diplomatically and politically
difficult, rather than objectively, in that France apparently
has little difficulty and seems to use it with considerable enthusiasm,
yet Sweden won't use it at all, because it thinks it's impertinent
to determine what the arms export or import policy of a Government
should be. That suggests there is a pretty wide range of opinion.
Oxfamthis has been of concern to mepresented
the case study of Pakistan, making the point that the estimated
combined budget for health, social protection and the environment
of Pakistan for 2010-11 is 77 million, and the EU arms exports
to Pakistan in 2008 were 685 million. That seems to be pretty
clear evidence that criterion 8 is very relevant but doesn't appear
to be applied.
Alistair Burt: First, in response
to the suggestion that some countries use it more than others
and therefore what are we doing, our experience is that, in applications
to the United Kingdom, a number of cases where ultimately criterion
8 might be applied are stopped from getting that far because,
in the discussions taken forward, it becomes clear that a licence
is not going to be issued. Accordingly, we rarely have to apply
criterion 8 as the final decision maker.
Q128 Malcolm Bruce: Have you
made any comparison between the UK and France?
Alistair Burt: Yes.
Q129 Malcolm Bruce: It seems
that we are very comparable countriesFrance uses it a lot
and we use it a little.
Alistair Burt: I think it says
more about how the process is approached and at what stage decisions
are reached than anything else.
Q130 Malcolm Bruce: Does that
mean that you apply other criteria before you get to criterion
Alistair Burt: Yes. That is absolutely
right. In our dealings with those who are seeking the licence,
the stages we go through knock out some applications that, if
they had gone all the way, might have attracted a criterion 8
decision. They are dealt with before that stage is reached, which
is why we don't have so many criterion 8 decisions on the books,
as it were.
Q131 Malcolm Bruce: May I
finally pursue the Pakistan point, which concerns me? I can understand
from a foreign policy point of viewfrom our engagement
with Pakistan for security and other reasonswhy we might
have a judgment about our relationship and, indeed, our arms relationship
with Pakistan. Pakistan is pretty well on the threshold of being
a low-income country, and yet it is a priority in terms of export
promotion. Is that what Pakistan really needs, when it is one
of the poorest countries on the planet and is suffering all those
disasters? Are weapons from Europe really what Pakistan needs?
Alistair Burt: You raise in your
question two of the more difficult issues surrounding this. The
first is the subjective nature of the consideration. Secondly,
there is the replacing of a local judgement with an external judgment
outside. The charge can be made that developing countries need
to be able to take their own decisions in some of these areas.
Whatever Pakistan's other difficulties may be, it is also an area
where security and defence are matters of the utmost consideration
to its governance.
We concede that this is a very, very difficult
subjective criteria to apply. If it were to be applied ruthlessly
from one particular standpoint, it might make a significant difference
to arms exportsperhaps an unfair one. That was the reason
for the seminar and for the concern. Your concern about the potential
risk of these exports, bearing in mind the development needs of
the country, are very real and we share them. That is why the
criteria is there, but there are also other factors to consider.
In highlighting Pakistan, we are discussing a country with so
many difficult issues, including security and protection. That
is just an example of how difficult it can actually be.
Chair: Minister, in your opening statement,
you referred to the arms trade treaty. You won't be surprised
to know that we have some questions for you on that important
issue. I call Mike Gapes.
Q132 Mike Gapes: Minister,
you have said that concerns that the coalition Government are
pursuing a weaker policy than that of their predecessor are unfounded.
When the previous Committee asked Ministers in the previous Parliament
about making a choice between a weak consensus-based arms trade
treaty or a robust treaty that had fewer countries involved, we
were told that they would prefer a robust treaty to a weak, consensus-based
one. Yet, the statement that has been attributed to the present
Government is that you are going to strive for consensus to ensure
that the correct balance is struck between the strongest possible
treaty and the widest participation of states. May I put it to
you that that is a shift of position?
Alistair Burt: It's always a dilemma,
if you've got lots of people around the table and you're trying
to get a common objective that we all know very well. If by consensus
we mean that we want to ensure that it is a robust treaty because
the key players are a part of it, that might in a way give you
a sense, Mr Gapes, of squaring the difference. To have a treaty
that doesn't have the major players involved and part of it will
negate its value and all the work that's been done. Equally, to
have something that isn't worth the paper it's written on won't
do the job. At present, my understanding is that the degree of
interaction with the major players involvedthe industry,
the NGOs and respective Governmentsis very strong, and
the determination among all to produce an effective and viable
treaty is something that drives everyone.
Accordingly, I think at present, our position
that we should strive to get both a robust and a consensual treaty
is a good one. I don't think we've yet reached the point of saying,
"We now have to decide between these two objectives,"
but certainly, if the treaty lacks the support of key and important
players, then I'm not sure that our work won't have been in vain.
That's where we are at present.
Q133 Mike Gapes: But you're
aware that China, India and Russia all abstained on the vote to
begin formal negotiations on the treaty, aiming to get the treaty
signed in 2012? I put it to you that you will have to pay a price
if you want China, India and Russia to sign up to that treaty.
Alistair Burt: Well, at this stage,
we're putting a great deal of faith in the negotiation process
that is under way. I was asked at the beginning about our attitude
toward it and our determination, and whether or not there had
been any changes in the way in which we were dealing with it.
The first phase of the processthe negotiation phasewe
think has been successfully concluded. That was the work that
John Duncan was principally engaged in. We now go on, having reached
that first stage, to take it forward with the outline timetable
leading through to 2012.
I think it should be noted that the countries
that you have mentioned are all engaged in preparation for the
July meeting. I think that indicates that patient negotiation
work can bring other people back into play. So, although not everybody
was on board at the start, the whole point of this process, if
it's effective, is to help convince people that there is something
that we all very much want to see. I think we have a degree of
faith that the process on which we've embarked and in which the
United Kingdom is such a key player will bring other people round,
but it will be a continuous process. Like so many of these things,
we might not know any potential trade-offs until quite far down
Q134 Mike Gapes: You said
the United Kingdom is a key player.
Q135 Mike Gapes: I think it's
fair to saythe NGOs have said it over the past couple of
yearsthat the UK is a key player within this process. Since
the election of President Obama, we now see that the UK is no
longer the lead on this process. The United States has taken a
much more important role. Doesn't that mean that our influence
is actually less? Given that the US has a different attitude to
the possible outcome and what concessions will be made, isn't
the reality that we are now following an American lead on the
treaty rather than providing the lead ourselves, as we were? For
understandable reasons, we were providing that lead until the
change in the US Administration.
Alistair Burt: I think it's a
bit tough to be accused of being successful at the kick-off to
get people engaged when a significant player, encouraged by the
success that we have shown, subsequently comes on board. The size
and importance of the United States in these matters can't be
denied, but it's probably a measure of the success of the United
Kingdom that we've been able to take the lead that we have. The
United States is clearly engaged, after the success of what we've
been doing, but I don't think the Committee should necessarily
fear that the influence of the United Kingdom in these matters
has been affected.
I was in New York for the end of the non-proliferation
treaty discussionsnot the ATT, but just as a reasonable
parallel. Seeing colleagues at work in New York and the way other
countries were working with them on such a key aspectit
has parallels with thisconvinced me that the way in which
we were engaged, we were successfully involved. I take your point,
but I don't think that necessarily indicates a complete absence
of United Kingdom influence.
Q136 Mike Gapes: But it is
true, isn't it, that the American approach is much more orientated
towards a consensus than the position that we had before?
Alistair Burt: I go back
to what I said before. It is clearly a matter of policy for the
United Kingdom that we want to see a robust arms trade treaty.
We set that out very clearly and the Foreign Secretary, in his
recent speech relating to both values and commerce, used the ATT
as an example of what we could do to promote both values and commerce.
As I indicated before, the point of consensus is to ensure that
we have all the major players involved, to ensure that the treaty
is effective and does its job.
At this stage, trying to make the split between a
robust approach and consensus is probably not necessary, and it
has got to be in the interests of the US to want a strong and
robust treaty as well. So I do not think that that factor should
be taken out of the equation either.
Q137 Mike Gapes: What role
are we playing within the negotiations? Are we, if you like, an
outrider for a more robust treaty, or are we a close associate
to assist the Americans in providing the leadership?
Alistair Burt: I think that the
right way to characterise it is to say that we are still led and
driven by the values that put us in the driving seat in relation
to the initial negotiations; those values are what we are guided
by. We do not see ourselves either as anyone's outrider, or as
taking a role on a white charger going off in the opposite direction.
If this treaty is to be effective, and bearing
in mind the degree of interest in and support for what the Government
have been seeking to do over a number of years and are seeking
to do nowfrom the industry, from other Governments and
from NGOsit ought to be something on which we are all moving
generally in the same direction. I think we see ourselves as further
promoting the values that brought us to this stage, rather than
going off in a separate direction.
Q138 Mike Gapes: May I ask
you about our own team? Has there been any reduction in the resources
available for our team that is negotiating on the arms trade treaty,
given the financial pressures and other pressures that the FCO
faces at the moment?
Alistair Burt: No, I don't think
so. We have changed the structure slightly, as you are aware,
because of the change in the position of the negotiations. That
is why John Duncan's role has been changed. We keep the permanent
representative in Geneva, but the discussions are going to move
more to New York than Geneva, and they have been brought back
in-house to the heads of the respective departments in the FCO.
I am not aware
Q139 Mike Gapes: Perhaps you
could send us a note about this. That would be helpful.
Alistair Burt: I can do that.
Genuinely, I am not aware that that change in structure reflects
a change in resources. This is a significant priority for the
Government and for the FCO.
Q140 Mike Gapes: Finally,
will Ambassador Duncan remain in post as the UK ambassador for
multilateral arms control and disarmament until the signing of
Alistair Burt: No. I think that
his role comes to an end this summer.
Q141 Mike Gapes: So, for the
key period after these preparatory meetings in 2011, he will be
leaving and somebody else will then have to deal with the actual
conference in 2012.
Alistair Burt: Yes.
Q142 Mike Gapes: Clearly,
he has huge experience.
Alistair Burt: He has, but there
is also huge experience within the Department and among his colleagues
who have been working on this treaty with him. I do not think
that we can say that any one individual should necessarily always
be associated with one thing and continue with it beyond a particular
point. It is the right point. He has made a huge contribution
to non-proliferation, particularly the conclusion of the treaty
last summer. He has done his time in this particular area. Again,
I think that John Duncan's retirement from this area is not to
the detriment of the work, and there are structures in place to
continue to ensure that the expertise we have in the Department
is appropriately deployed.
Q143 Mike Gapes: He will have
an equally high-powered successor?
Alistair Burt: Yes. I believe
that the structure we have will enable us to do the job.
Mike Gapes: Okay. Thank you.
Q144 Chair: Sorrycan
you just clarify that answer to Mr Gapes? Are you assuring us,
Minister, that Mr Duncan will be replaced in post, in the same
position, by somebody of equal seniority and capability?
Alistair Burt: The short answer
is yes. As I indicated before, Sir John, the structure is changing.
We are keeping the permanent representative in Geneva. The leadership
is being transferred to the heads of two departments in the Foreign
and Commonwealth Office. But the whole team is a cross-Whitehall
team and includes members from the FCO, the MOD, the Business
Department and DFID, all working closely with experts in the NGOs
and the defence industry. That has not changed. That expertise
is there in those who will robustly put the case forward.
Q145 Chair: And we will have
the same level of senior representation in Genevacorrect?
Alistair Burt: No, that representation
will be in London, as I indicated, because most of the work is
moving from Geneva and, effectively, to New York and capitals.
We have changed the structure accordingly. The focus of the attention
of the treaty, now that we have reached the stage we have, moves
away from Geneva. That's why there's been the change in structure.
Q146 Chair: Can we have a
note, please, as to what we will keep in place covering arms control
issues in Geneva, where a great deal of important activity takes
Alistair Burt: Of course.
Chair: Thank you.
Q147 Malcolm Bruce: May I
ask a couple of specific questions on small arms? Obviously, it
is very welcome that America has come on board for the treaty,
but it is also well known that it is opposed to including ammunition
in the small arms agreement. Do the UK Government go along with
that, or are they still arguing the case? There is evidence that
where ammunition is in short supply, that saves lives, to put
it at its simplest. There is genuine concern that ammunition should
not be excluded. There are also practical considerations about
the registration and marking of weapons and a view that the basic,
simple agreement should be that if a weapon is not marked, it's
illegal, but if it is marked, it can be recorded and registered.
That won't solve the problem, but it makes things easier to control.
Alistair Burt: On the specifics
of the treaty, you might highlight a series of issues that have
not yet been decided and all of which are complex, and ammunition
is one. Our discussions with the United States have highlighted
a number of areas where we have a great deal of common thinking,
and there are a range of views among UN member states as to what
should be the scope of the treaty. We support a wide scope, which
would include ammunition. As to much of the talk on the detail
of the treatythat's now what people are getting intosome
of the areas are so complex that, at this stage, distinguishing
between our views won't clarify the situation for anyone. But
on ammunition, as I say, we have a clear view that we would like
the scope to include it.
Malcolm Bruce: Okay. Thank you.
Q148 Chair: Is the Government's
policy to try to secure the inclusion of dual-use items or not?
Alistair Burt: It's not our view
at the moment, no.
Q149 Chair: Dual-use items
should be excludedthat is the Government's policy position,
Alistair Burt: That's our present
Chair: Turning now to individual countries,
Q150 Richard Burden: I would
like to cover two countries, the first being Israel and the second
being Saudi Arabia. You'll be aware that the use to which arms
exports to Israel may have been put has been a matter of some
concern to this Committee for some time and, indeed, appeared
to be a matter of concern to the last Government, as well. You
will know that, in 2000, assurances were given by Israel that
UK-originated equipment would not be used by the Israeli defence
forces in the occupied territories. In 2002, it transpired that
that assurance was not being followed by Israel. In the last report
by the previous Committee on Arms Export Controls, there was fairly
clear concern expressed that "arms exports to Israel were
almost certainly used in Operation Cast Lead
in direct contravention
to the UK Government's policy that UK arms exports to Israel should
not be used in the Occupied Territories", and we asked that
broader lessons be learned from that. Could you give us an update
on where UK policy is in relation to UK arms exports to Israel
being used in the occupied territories?
Alistair Burt: The use of arms
in a specific area or a specific territory is not part of the
criteria. What the criteria seek to make clear is that it's the
end use of the arms which is the determining factor.
Q151 Richard Burden: So is
that a change?
Alistair Burt: No, it's not a
Q152 Richard Burden: So why
did we seek an assurance from Israel in 2000 that UK-originated
equipment would not be used in the occupied territoriesand
receive such an assurance?
Alistair Burt: The criterion as
drawn, because it allows us to look at past behaviour and to take
into account what has happened, is sufficiently robust to ensure
that, in a situation where arms may have been used in the occupied
territories, it would be highly likely that the criterion that
affects the application would ensure that there probably would
not be an export licence granted. What we seek to make clear
is that it isn't about the territory, at the end of the day; it's
the end use. The criterion is sufficiently robust to cover any
external factor like the territory in which arms might be used;
and that would always be covered by the criterion. Our policy
has not changed from the previous Government's in relation to
the use of arms in the occupied territories, or the criteria that
would be applied in making a decision about whether or not an
arms export to Israel would be likely to end up being used there.
Q153 Richard Burden: Given
the fact that Israel is in occupation of the West Bank and arguably
is still in occupation of Gazadespite the fact that settlers
are no longer therein contravention of successive UN resolutions,
to which we are a signatory, could I ask what activities you,
the Government, feel would be acceptable for the use of UK-exported
arms to Israel in those territories?
Alistair Burt: Well, it's impossible
to say, because I don't think we can produce a list and say that
if the export licence was for this particular set of goods, they
would be automatically accepted as something for which a licence
would be granted; but as we know, humanitarian equipment, for
example, is something which might be asked for and might be used.
Q154 Richard Burden: Humanitarian
equipment isn't the subject of arms export controls, is it?
Alistair Burt: No, but there are
some items that can be used which turn out to be used for humanitarian
purposes, but I don't think I want to get drawn down there. The
point is, an application would be made for the use of certain
equipment. We believe that the licensing criteria are sufficient,
and sufficiently robust, that application for goods destined to
be used outside the criteria of the licensing would be rejected.
I don't think it's a question of producing a list and saying,
"If it was x, y and z products it would be acceptable; if
it's a, b and c it isn't." All the criteria that are effective
in relation to our consideration of arms export licences apply
as robustly to Israel and the occupied territories as they would
do anywhere else in the world. It's not the territory, it's not
the place, that makes the difference; it's the end user.
Richard Burden: The end user?
Alistair Burt: It's the end use.
Any deployment of arms within the occupied territories would be
a significant factor to be taken into account in any licence application.
Q155 Richard Burden: Of course,
the previous Government did revoke a number of licences, particularly
after Operation Cast Lead.
Alistair Burt: Indeed.
Q156 Richard Burden: We have
been assured that there would be rigorous monitoring of what UK
arms exports for which licences had previously been given were
being used for, and could still be used for. What monitoring
is taking place?
Alistair Burt: Exactly the same
monitoring as has been in place up to now.
Q157 Richard Burden: Well,
we were a bit unclear about what that was.
Alistair Burt: We get information
from NGOs and those who would see the use of weapons on the ground.
I don't believe that the monitoring process has changed in any
way since that of the previous Government.
Q158 Richard Burden: Are there
any results from the monitoring in the period the coalition has
been in office?
Alistair Burt: I am not aware
of any licences that have been changed to date, but remember
Q159Richard Burden: No, no, no: this
is about the use of equipment for which licences have already
been given. That is where the concern has arisen.
Alistair Burt: Where applications
are new, plainly, we can take a view on whether they fit the criteria.
If information is available to us which leads us to believe that
licence criteria have been breached, then that allows for a revocation
of the licence. We do not go through continuous monitoring of
how equipment may be used, but if it comes to notice through NGOs
and others who watch on the ground that there is a potential breach
of licence, that would be investigated. At present, I am not aware
that any such information has come to us over the past few months.
That information is not, as it were, routinely collected, but
we are always available to collect it.
Q160Richard Burden: Okay. Tell me if
I've got this right about the Government's position: despite the
fact that Israel is in occupation in contravention of UN resolutions
to which we are a signatory, the fact that UK-originated arms
are used in those territories is not of itself a problem for the
British Government. It would only be what those arms or components
are used for that may be a problem. However, the British Government
do not proactively check what those arms or components will be
used for, but rely on other people giving reports to them, and,
in those cases, they may or may not take a view. Is that the Government's
Alistair Burt: If there are any
such arms there, first, they will have been used under licences
granted by a previous Government
Q161 Richard Burden: Well, it's pretty
clear that there has been. The previous Government acknowledged
that that was the case in relation to the armoured personnel carriers
in 2002. It's pretty clear that UK-originated arms were used in
Operation Cast Lead, isn't it?
Alistair Burt: Yes, but that results
in the revocation of licences.
Q162 Richard Burden: Of new
Alistair Burt: No, of extant licences.
Where there are still goods to be supplied under a licence application
that had been granted, those would be stopped in the case of evidence
coming to light of how they had been used. It would be extant
licences, as well as new licences, that would be affected by information
that came to the Government about the use of goods.
Q163 Richard Burden: But I'm
still trying to establish if you are doing any proactive monitoring
at all. Are you just waiting for somebody to say, "Look,
we think there's a problem here"?
Alistair Burt: In the current
process, as you will know as well as most, there is intense scrutiny
of what happens on the ground in the occupied territories, and
rightly so. That information feeds back to posts. If information
comes in that indicates that a licence criterion has been breached,
it would result in an inquiry that would allow for the revocation
of a licence. I do not believe it is a process that, at present,
we need to be more proactive on than is already the case. There
is an extensive and, as I indicated, quite proper network of scrutiny
of what happens in the occupied territories to give us the information
we need. It is important for the Committee to know that we would
take exactly the same view of breach of criteria as that taken
in the past, because, again, the criteria allow for that. Where
information is found that shows that there has been a breach of
the criteria, existing licences can be revoked and that feeds
into information on new licences.
Q164 Richard Burden: Okay. I want
to move on to Saudi Arabia, but perhaps I could ask, because you
wouldn't have this information at your fingertips, if you could
check where allegations have been made and given to the UK Government
about UK-originated arms for which licences have been given and
which have been investigated, and what the results of those investigations
Alistair Burt: Yes.
Q165 Chair: Richard, just
before you move on to Saudi Arabia, may I ask the Minister one
further thing? One can debate the merits of two different policies,
but I find it impossible to understand your position and your
argument that you feel there has been no change of policy.
The previous Government were absolutely clear
that they wished to have a categorical assurance from the Israeli
Government, and they got that in writing, dated 29 November 2000.
It was reproduced in the House, and it said, "No UK originated
equipment nor any UK originated systems/sub-systems/components
are used as part of the Israel Defence Force's activities in the
Territories". Yet, the new Governmentthe present Governmentin
their formal response to our last report said, "The UK Government
does not have a policy that UK arms exports to Israel should not
be used in the OPTs." Surely, Minister, it is absolutely
crystal clear that there has been a significant change of policy
between the two Governments.
Alistair Burt: No. All export
applications for Israel are assessed on a case-by-case basis against
the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria.
The end use of the arms that are the subject of the licence application
is a relevant fact in that assessment, but it is not the only
factor. The Government's answer was intended to emphasise that
Government policy on Israel is determined by a case-by-case assessment
against the criteria, not by the final destination of end use
alone. Critical factors in that assessment include the nature
of the equipment and its stated end use.
For Israel, any likely deployment of arms within
the OPTs by Israel is, of course, a significant factor in our
case-by-case assessment of export licence applications, but the
determining factor in whether a licence application is granted
or refused remains whether the application breaches our export
licensing criteria, and that was always the case.
Q166 Richard Burden: Moving
on to Saudi Arabia, you will probably be aware that quite a lot
of concern was expressed in a number of quarters about the attack
by the Saudi armed forces on northern Yemen in autumn 2009, and
about the possibility that UK-supplied equipment could have been
used in that attack. There have been a number of allegations that
the military action was itself illegal. Against that background,
could you give some indication of what the UK Government take
into account and what risk assessments they make when determining
whether to provide licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia?
Alistair Burt: The fundamental
importance and robustness of the criteria remain the guide. The
policy on arms exports to Saudi Arabia remains to assess all licence
applications on a case-by-case basis, and it is inherent in the
process of assessing all our export licence applications that
past behaviour is factored into judgments about whether to issue
a licence. The Government will not issue an export licence when
to do so would be inconsistent with the criteria.
We do believe that Saudi Arabia had a legitimate
right to respond proportionately to incursions into its territory
resulting from the conflict between the Houthi rebels and the
Government of Yemen. The Government followed the situation closely
at the time and, after consulting a number of information sources,
concluded that the Saudi response and the use of British-supplied
military equipment was not inconsistent with the export licensing
criteria. So, the short answer to your question is that we use
the same criteria as we do for everyone else, which take into
account past behaviour in considering any new licences.
Q167 Richard Burden: Right.
I'm not entirely sure what you're saying. If I may gently suggest
it, there has been a slightly circular logic in your answers on
both Israel and Saudi Arabia, which appear to say that at each
stage you make an assessment based on past behaviour but then
you don't make an assessment of that past behaviour. Is that what
you're saying in relation to Saudi Arabia? Are you saying, for
instance, that when the licence for Typhoon combat aircraft was
being considered, the attack in relation to Yemen was considered
to be not contrary to the UK's criteria, and therefore it was
fine to go ahead with the licence? Or did you look at the attack
and say, "It probably was contrary to the UK's criteria but
we don't think that it would do the same again"? Or did you
say, "We think that it was contrary to the UK's criteria
and we are not sure whether it will do it again, but we will consider
it if it does it again"?
Alistair Burt: My understanding
is that we took a view on the application, based on all the information
at the time, that the threshold for refusalsay, under criteria
2, 4 and 6 of the consolidated criteriahad not been met.
Q168 Richard Burden: Clearly,
that was the case because the licence went ahead. Did you take
the viewit might be a reasonable view to take; I make no
comment on thatthat the Saudi Arabians' actions in the
autumn of 2009 were not in contravention of the criteria, or did
you think that they might have been, but you still felt that it
was acceptable to go ahead with the new licence?
Alistair Burt: It was the former.
It was that the activity was not in contravention, or inconsistent
with the licensing criteria.
Q169 Richard Burden: Okay.
Had it been in contravention, that probably would have affected
Yes. Absolutely right.
Q170 Richard Burden: You would
take the same view about Israel?
Alistair Burt: Yes.
Q171 Richard Burden: So, if
Saudi Arabia had done something that was in contravention, it
would affect a future licence application, but in Israel, it might.
Alistair Burt: No, it would. Exactly
the same rules are applied. The criteria are robust enough to
give a guide on new applications but they also allow for past
behaviour to be taken into account. Clearly, where there have
been breaches in the criteria, that is a material factor in taking
into account a new application or a renewal of a licence, so it
is entirely consistent and exactly the same.
Richard Burden: So, we very much look
forward to receiving from you the details of the investigations
that have been undertaken.
Chair: In the few minutes remaining,
we should like to cover Sri Lanka, Georgia and China. Katy Clark,
you are going to deal with Sri Lanka and Georgia.
Q172 Katy Clark: You will
be aware that the previous Committee was very critical of the
fact that the arms exported during the ceasefire period in Sri
Lanka were subsequently used in the civil war. What is the current
Government's policy on exporting arms to Sri Lanka?
Alistair Burt: If I may say, it
is exactly the same as I have set out. It is a case-by-case consideration
based on the criteria in which previous behaviour has to be taken
into account. The Committee will be aware that immediately following
the conflict in Sri Lanka, all the extant applications to Sri
Lanka were reviewed in the light of the policy and eight extant
licences were therefore revoked. It remains exactly the same as
the approach that I have set outa case-by-case consideration
based on the criteria.
Q173 Katy Clark: So, are we
Alistair Burt: We are only approving
licences that fall within the criteria. In 2009, the UK issued
six licences, refused 17 and revoked eight. In the first three
quarters of 2010, we have issued 13 single individual export licences,
and all the goods are intended for humanitarian, safety, commercial
or civil end use.
Q174 Katy Clark: So, you are
saying that we are not exporting any arms that could potentially
be used in conflict?
Alistair Burt: Correct.
Q175 Katy Clark: Shall I move
briefly on to Georgia? I know that a number of Members have to
leave, so I will be brief. In a previous report, the Government
referred to lessons learned from Georgia. Will you outline what
that meant and what lessons were learned?
Alistair Burt: Yes, straightforwardly.
It is inherent in the process of assessing all export licence
applications that past behaviour is factored into judgments about
whether or not to issue a licence. Licensing decisions for Georgia
take into account our analysis of Georgia's actions during the
2008 conflict. More than two years on, we note that security on
the ground has improved and that the affected areas are more stable.
We don't think it likely that there will be a return to large-scale
conflict in the near future. Accordinglyagain, we go back
to the criterion that it will be assessed on a case-by-case basispast
behaviour will be taken into account, and again, as the Committee
will know, six extant licences for Georgia were revoked in the
Q176 Katy Clark: So what were
the lessons learned?
Alistair Burt: The lessons learned,
again, are whether the processes to discern whether or not there
were breaches to the criteria work. Otherwise, the licences would
not be revoked. But in addition to being robust in relation to
the past use of equipment that was granted under the licensing,
you also look at a change in conditions on the ground and so on.
I think that, in terms of the lessons learned, the determination
is to continually make sure that you have enough information available,
so that the application of the criteria will be accurate in all
particular cases, but that the processes are robust and must continue
to be kept robust.
Q177 Katy Clark: So you are
saying that the lesson learned was that the policy was correct
all alongis that what you're saying? What has changed?
Alistair Burt: As far as I'm aware,
I don't think anything's changed in the approach or the process.
The results of an investigation to show that licences should be
revoked don't, of course, necessarily imply that the conditions
were apparent at the time the licence was granted, which would
have meant that an application was granted wrongly. Circumstances
arise after an application has been granted where the criteria
have been perfectly properly fulfilled, but the use of equipment
granted under a licence can mean that, when you look back, you
see clearly that the criteria have been breached. But that doesn't
indicate that a mistake was made in the first place. I think that
our review of that showed that that was the case. It is not to
take the view that revocation of extant licences necessarily meant
that an error was made in the first place. In all these cases,
it seems to me that, on the care that's taken in the consideration
of the initial licence application, the examination of what happens
on the ground, and then the consideration of whether or not the
behaviour displayed should affect either the continuation of a
licence or the granting of a new application, that procedure has
to be very robust and very clear.
Chair: Thank you. Last but by no means
least, we have John Glen on China.
Q178 John Glen: Thank you,
Sir John. Minister, we are concerned to understand the Government's
position on maintaining the arms embargo to China. Obviously,
the EU and, formerly, the EC have had that embargo in place for
the past 21 years, but last month Baroness Ashton circulated a
paper that described the ongoing embargo as "a major impediment"
to the improvement of relations between the EU and China. Will
you please describe the Government's position on this, and set
out what discussions, if any, have taken place with the British
Government regarding the lifting of this embargo?
Alistair Burt: First, the position
of the British Government is that they fully support the embargo,
which is intended to continue. I think that, where the emphasis
might have been different in the EU statement in relation to the
impediment was that, if it is an impediment to progress, it is
for the Chinese to resolve that, because the embargo is related
to human and civil rights considerations, which remain of concern
to us, and the importance of which we will continue to uphold.
We have absolutely no sense at the moment that we are ready to
change this. We have no processes in place to lift this embargo,
and my understanding is that we have not been approached to do
that. Of course, in the ideal world, the embargo would go because
China had changed. If that were the case, everyone in this room
would welcome it, but until that happy time occurs, the embargo
could and should remain in place.
Q179 John Glen: Nevertheless,
there's a big difference between the position of the British Government
and that of, say, France and Spain, which take a different view.
How would you account for the difference of view?
Alistair Burt: I am, happily,
not answerable for France or Spain. We maintain our own position
on this. Frankly, it is one to be defended very robustly. That's
Chair: Minister, thank you very much
for your evidence. Thank you Mr Hall and Mr Vincent for coming
as well. Minister, we will be glad to have any of the written
follow-up that we've requested. We may have one or two additional
questions to put to you following your evidence. Thank you very
much for coming in front of the Committee today.
Alistair Burt: Thank you very
much indeed, Sir John.
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