Session 2010-11
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Evidence heard in Public

Questions 1 - 84



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee

on Wednesday 16 March 2011

Members present:

Richard Ottaway (Chair)

Mr Bob Ainsworth

Mr John Baron

Sir Menzies Campbell

Ann Clwyd

Mike Gapes

Andrew Rosindell

Mr Frank Roy

Sir John Stanley

Rory Stewart

Mr Dave Watts

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Rt Hon William Hague MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and First Secretary of State, Simon Fraser CMG, Permanent Under-Secretary, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and James Bevan CMG, Director General Change and Delivery, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, gave evidence.

Chair: I welcome members of the public to the Foreign Affairs Committee. In this sitting, the Foreign Secretary will be giving evidence to the Committee as part of its rolling inquiry into developments in UK foreign policy. Apart from an opening on topical points, the first part of the sitting will focus mainly on the Middle East and North Africa. Then we will move on to the World Service, piracy and, if there is any time left, any other topical issues that may come up.

I extend a warm welcome to the Foreign Secretary. This is the fourth time that you have appeared before us since the election, so we cannot complain. I also welcome the permanent under-secretaries, Simon Fraser and James Bevan. It is very good to have you all here.

Foreign Secretary, you will be well aware of the issue that was brought up at Prime Member’s Question Time about a UK rescue team foiled by red tape. I will now hand over the questioning to Frank Roy.

Q1 Mr Roy: Foreign Secretary, there is disbelief that a highly respected and experienced rescue team such as the International Rescue Corps is at this moment returning from Japan because it was not given the appropriate paperwork by our embassy in Tokyo. Indeed, their spokesman has said, "The team has had excellent help from the Japanese embassy in London and the authorities in Tokyo but it broke down when they couldn’t get the relevant paperwork from the British embassy in Tokyo…This was the 32nd world disaster we have been to…We have never encountered the position where the British embassy, our own country, came up with a show-stopper". What is going on?

Mr Hague: First, let us be clear that the search and rescue team sent by the United Kingdom departed at the weekend. The Government arranged a search and rescue team-the 59 fire and rescue staff, the supporting medical team, rescue dogs and so on-in co-ordination with the Japanese Government. As the Prime Minister pointed out at Question Time, we do not want people to get mixed up. There is a major British effort going on to help the search-and-rescue effort in Japan. As you say, it is the International Rescue Corps, and we have been advising them about how they can play a role in the rescue operation. The important thing to stress is that everybody who is helping out has to be part of a co-ordinated plan set out by the Japanese Government. That is understandable.

Indeed, at the weekend, when I discussed with the Japanese Foreign Minister our own Government-sponsored team, they asked if there was an initial hesitancy because they wanted to be sure that they would be able to use them as part of their plan. I understand that, before flying to Tokyo, the IRC contacted the Japanese embassy in London which, I am informed, explained that, if the team decided to travel, they would need to be self-sufficient and that the Japanese Government would not be able to provide logistical support.

It is right that the Japanese Government remain in control of the situation and are making decisions about which search-and-rescue operations to support. They proceeded to Japan, but were not able to support themselves logistically in the way that the Japanese Government had requested. The British embassy staff made contact with the team when it arrived in Tokyo, and we have sent a letter of support to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs this morning at the request of the Japanese Ministry. We followed that up with phone calls. It is not true that their effort was delayed by British red tape. The difficulty here is people not being able to fit in with the overall Japanese plan of how they are conducting their operations.

Q2 Mr Roy: I am sorry, Foreign Secretary, but that is totally at odds with what the corps are saying themselves. They are saying that they spoke to the Japanese Foreign Minister, that they had permission from the Japanese embassy to go, and that the stumbling block was only when they arrived. It was the British embassy itself that proved to be the stumbling block, not the Japanese.

Mr Hague: It is not totally at odds. I am not saying that the Japanese embassy said that they should not go, but that the Japanese embassy advised them that they would have to be self-sufficient and that Japan would not be able to provide logistical support. They arrived there with no transport, logistical or language support in place. That gave rise to the difficulty. They are a respected organisation, and we want them to be able to help on many occasions in the future, but sometimes it is convenient to blame our embassies for difficulties that had arisen in other ways.

Q3 Mr Roy: Surely they are not just doing this for convenience. They are a highly respected organisation that has been to 32 world disasters. They know what they are talking about. They knew the authorisation. They needed the authorisation to buy fuel. Indeed, when they left Tokyo, they had to leave medicines and food at the airport, because that is what they had hoped to give out in this humanitarian effort. We are not talking about amateurs, but the most highly respected organisation, Scotland-based, that we have in this area.

Mr Hague: We are not talking about amateurs in any respect, either in respect of the Japanese Government or the British embassy. There are some differences in the accounts and we will all want to get them ironed out. We will all want to know exactly what has happened in this case. I am giving you the information that I have. People should not just jump to the conclusion that it is all the fault of one group-that is the British embassy. From what I have been told, that was the advice given by the Japanese embassy. So any group arriving to assist the search-and-rescue operation in Japan either needs to be integrated into that operation in advance, or needs to arrive with their own logistical support. Clearly, if they don’t fit into the plan, the British embassy does not have readily available all the logistical support that groups arriving would need. The embassy is absolutely fully stretched, even though we have sent 50 additional people to reinforce it. What has gone wrong here might be a bit more complex than some people make out.

Q4 Mr Roy: Will you come back to the House with details?

Mr Hague: Oh yes, we all want to get completely straightened out on what has happened. I would just caution against accepting one side of the argument.

Mr Roy: Indeed, Foreign Secretary.

Q5 Chair: Thank you very much. Foreign Secretary, would you like to give an overview of what is going on in North Africa at the moment? Or shall we go straight into questions?

Mr Hague: It is worth saying a word of overview. We will be debating this on the Floor of the House tomorrow, I think. What is happening in North Africa and the Middle East is already one of the three most important events of the 21st century, and it is rapidly becoming the most important-9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis being the others.

I suspect that we are only in the early stages of what is happening in North Africa and the Middle East, that it will bring some degree of change to all countries in the Arab world and, indeed, that it will ignite greater demands for good governance and political reform elsewhere in the world, beyond the Middle East. This is an historic change of massive importance.

The argument we make as the British Government, in particular to our EU colleagues, although I was also making it at the G8 Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Paris yesterday morning, is that the response of Western nations has to be bold and ambitious, in a way that is commensurate with such a degree of change. We have to recognise that we cannot dictate to these countries how to run their affairs-we should not try to do so-but we have to make sure that we act as a magnet for positive change, just as we acted as a magnet for change in Eastern Europe after the end of the Cold War, which was a more straightforward concept, because Eastern European countries aspired in many ways to follow a Western European model. This is more complex and difficult, but we have to find equally powerful ways of acting as a magnet-even quite radical ways.

We should, for instance, find ways to allow those countries to be in an economic area and a customs union with the European Union, and we should make the extensive support that we can give them conditional on real economic openness and political reform. This demands a major change in Europe’s approach to its neighbourhood and a major revision of many of our foreign policy goals. I don’t want in any way to understate in our discussions the massive importance of what is happening.

Q6 Mr Baron: May I pursue that a little with you? You talk about political reform and you have gone on record as saying that we need a more open and flexible political system. The Prime Minister has talked about the "building blocks of democracy". Do you feel at all uncomfortable-do you believe that it has been wrong-that at the same time we have been selling arms to autocratic regimes in the region, in particular crowd control arms, which can and have been used to suppress popular dissent? Do you see a contradiction at all?

Mr Hague: To a degree, yes. There are many different things in your question, Mr Baron. Arms sales to countries in the Middle East can include the arms-the defence equipment, to put it in a different way-that we sell to a country like Kuwait, which has been invaded in our memory. It is an allied country which has introduced many democratic reforms, and it has to be able to defend itself. I don’t think anyone would suggest that we should not, therefore, be trading with a country like that, including in defence equipment. Parallel arguments can be made about many other countries in the Middle East.

There is an issue about crowd control equipment, as you said. We have strong criteria in this country, maintained under successive Governments-the consolidated European Union and UK criteria for exports, which have been rigorously applied under successive Governments, more so than in the vast majority of other countries in the world. Yet, clearly, we have seen instances in the past few weeks where grave concern has been caused to the Government and to other people in Britain about the use of some of that equipment. There is an argument that either we don’t sell such things at all, or we do sell them and people can use them. To sell them and then say, "Well, you can’t use them," is a rather ridiculous situation to get into.

We have to review how our export controls work in that regard, but I don’t think it should stop us from being able to trade with countries whose security is fundamental to global security. We should be able to trade in some of the hardware that they need to defend themselves from external attack.

Q7 Mr Baron: I take that point. There is room for discretion and to differentiate when one is selling equipment to enable a country to defend itself. There is no doubt about it, we have been selling arms, particularly crowd control arms, to countries that, as we knew at the time, could easily use them on their own populations. We sold those arms to autocratic regimes. What advice did the FCO give to No. 10, for example, on the recent trade mission led by the Prime Minister at a time of such instability?

Mr Hague: Trade missions, which the Prime Minister has led to various parts of the world, are vital to this country’s economic future. He has led them to India, to China and, a few weeks ago, to the Gulf states-that is the one you refer to.

Trade with the Gulf states-I think the UAE, for instance, is this country’s 13th largest export market-is very important to our economy. It is true that some people objected to the idea that defence equipment was being sold by some of the companies on that tour. But, again, these are countries whose external security is in our national interest. In the Gulf they are neighbours of Iran, and they are in a very troubled region of the world. So the Prime Minister and I were in full agreement that such companies should be there as part of his trade mission.

Q8 Mr Baron: I hope you don’t mind, but I am going to press you on this. We talk about promoting political reform and about democracy-at times it almost seems as if we are preaching about those issues-but would you agree the best place from which to do that is from the moral high ground? We have been selling such weapons to autocratic regimes in the area that have turned them against their own populations. That cannot be right. You talked about reviewing policies. Will you undertake a full review of our policy in this region, so that we learn from the lessons and apply them to future policy?

Mr Hague: It depends what you mean by a full review. There are problems in certain areas, particularly crowd control, which you have raised, but no one is suggesting that the Gulf states have misused the weapons intended for external defence. We are talking here about how crowd control mechanisms are used. Should they be sold at all if there is a problem?

Q9 Mr Baron: Can I help you on that? Why don’t the Government match action with words and say, "When it comes to those specific arms that can be used against a domestic population, the Government will promise to undertake a full review to ensure that we don’t make the mistakes of the past"?

Mr Hague: We will have a review. There is no doubt about that. The area to concentrate on is the one you are talking about. I will go that far to meet your request.

Q10 Mr Baron: Will that review be subject to parliamentary scrutiny?

Mr Hague: Absolutely. Anything the Government decide on such things must be discussed in Parliament. Indeed, there could be Foreign Affairs Committee scrutiny.

Q11 Sir John Stanley: I assure you it would be subject to scrutiny by the Committees on Arms Export Controls, which I chair and which will be reporting shortly.

At Prime Minister’s questions today, the Prime Minister referred to the desirability, indeed the necessity, of, in his words, getting rid of the regime in Libya. Can you tell us whether you consider that there is a course of action that can be agreed by the international community that will have the result of getting rid of the Libyan regime? If so, what is that course of action?

Mr Hague: The prime movers in this are the Libyan people themselves. This is not, and it must not become, the international community dictating to Libyans who is going to lead them or what future Government they are going to form. We, the whole of the European Union and many other nations around the world, have said that given the way that Gaddafi has behaved, including the use of heavy weaponry-this goes back to Mr Baron’s point-against his own population, he has lost all legitimacy and should go. What happens in Libya must be owned by the Libyan people themselves. We should never lose sight of that. The Libyan opposition groups are very clear on that. They have asked for things such as a no-fly zone and humanitarian support. They do not ask for military intervention from outside that goes beyond that, such as armies on the ground. They specifically do not want that and say specifically that they don’t want that.

There is, therefore, a limit to what the international community can do, but we think that it can do more. Lebanon tabled a resolution, with the support of ourselves and France, last night in the United Nations Security Council, which would increase the pressure in various ways on the Gaddafi regime, such as enforcing the arms embargo on it, extending the range of designations of its economic entities and individuals, and introducing the authority for a no-fly zone. Those are things that we can do. That corresponds to what the Arab League has asked for and actively supports. I believe that it would actively participate in some of those things. It also corresponds with what the opposition groups in Libya have asked for.

Q12 Sir John Stanley: Do you believe that that resolution will be supported by the American Government, and do you think it will be vetoed by either Russia or China?

Mr Hague: What happens now in the United Nations will develop, even over the coming hours. There is a meeting of the Security Council members starting seven or eight minutes from now. There may be further meetings later today and tomorrow. That resolution is very clear and is on the table. When it was explained to other nations at the Security Council yesterday, many of them needed to go back to their own capitals overnight for further consultation. We wait and see. While this Committee is sitting, we will also be learning from the UN Security Council what the reaction of the other members is.

Q13 Sir John Stanley: Are you saying, Foreign Secretary, that if the United Nations Security Council fails to agree this new resolution, you see no other international prospect for being able to change the totally unequal balance of military forces inside Libya?

Mr Hague: I do not want to suggest that the resolution would change the unequal balance of military forces in Libya. It would do the things that I have described. As I say, everyone is very clear that the prime movers in this-the prime opposition to the Gaddafi regime-are the people of Libya. They want to remain at the forefront of that fight. Without a further United Nations resolution, of course, it is harder to tighten the pressure that we have already applied to the Gaddafi regime.

A lot of measures are contained in resolution 1970, which was passed two and a half weeks ago. We have now frozen £12 billion of assets in this country-I believe that that is the latest total. The United States has frozen even greater totals. As you aware, we have taken such actions as stopping the supply of bank notes from this country to the Gaddafi regime, which has already added up to £1 billion. There are many measures that we have taken, and it is hard to tighten those measures further without a Security Council resolution. There is a very powerful case for the resolution on those grounds, and on the grounds of providing the authority to protect the civilian population. That brings me to an essential point: what we are engaged in trying to do in Libya is protecting the civilian population, not intervening to make a decisive difference to a conflict in which the opposition are the prime movers. They own that conflict, if you like.

Q14 Sir Menzies Campbell: You mentioned protect, so perhaps I can take you up on that, Foreign Secretary. It is sometimes called the right of humanitarian intervention, or liberal intervention, and it is based on Prime Minister Blair’s speech in Chicago. Can you see any circumstances in which, if no United Nations resolution were forthcoming, the British Government might be moved to accept the doctrine of the duty to protect? I think you made some passing reference to that in the course of answers yesterday in the House of Commons. As you know, the criteria for that are fairly well known: there has to be systematic abuse of human rights; only necessary force is able to be used; there has to be consistency with other United Nations resolutions; and, perhaps most significantly, there have to be reasonable prospects of success. Taking those criteria and the hypothesis that no UN resolution can be achieved, can you see circumstances in which the British Government might feel empowered to invoke the duty to protect?

Mr Hague: There could be circumstances. To answer your question any other way would exclude all such possibilities, and I don’t think it would be right to do that. We have said that for any actions that we take, there must be a clear legal base, and you referred to some things that are necessary in order for any action to be legal. There must be demonstrable need, and there has to be regional support-from the Arab world, and from people inside Libya themselves. When it comes to something like a no-fly zone, the Arab League support is very clearly there, in a most unprecedented way.

Q15 Sir Menzies Campbell: And the Gulf Co-operation Council as well.

Mr Hague: And from the Gulf Co-operation Council. As for the Arab League making such a statement on affairs concerning one of its own members, I don’t think that has ever happened before. Those have been our criteria throughout.

There are circumstances in which countries can act to protect civilian life without a United Nations resolution-exactly as you described-so I don’t think we should exclude doing so, but the clearest and simplest legal base for such action is a United Nations Security Council resolution, with the clear legal mandate and broad international support that that shows, which is why we are doing this work now at the Security Council.

Q16 Sir Menzies Campbell: I quite understand why that is the preferred route, but am I to take it from your answer that if that route is closed off, the Government will, at the very least, consider the alternative of the duty to protect?

Mr Hague: It depends on the circumstances. You are asking me whether there are any circumstances in which we would do that, and the answer is that yes, there are circumstances, but that requires us to foresee exactly what is going to happen over the coming days.

Q17 Sir Menzies Campbell: I am certainly not inviting you to do that, but I just want to be sure that the duty to protect is on the table.

Mr Hague: It is on the table.

Sir Menzies Campbell: Thank you.

Q18 Chair: Foreign Secretary, we were going to come to the legal basis for a no-fly zone later on, but as we’re on the subject, and Sir Ming and Sir John have covered it, we will stick with it. You say that there has to be a clear legal basis, but do you not agree that a responsibility to protect is not a clear legal basis? In fact, it is a legal basis that is much argued over and is not clearly defined. It may be a legal basis, but it is not a clear legal basis.

Mr Hague: Again, it depends on the circumstances. I’m sure there are circumstances in which one could argue that there is a clear legal basis. Let us take an instance from the last 20 years, such as the catastrophic events in Rwanda. If we had really known what was going to happen, or if the Government of the day and nations across the world had known exactly what would happen and the scale of the slaughter, would they have had a clear legal basis for doing something about it, given the responsibility to protect and the legal right, which the vast majority of lawyers assure us is there, to act in the case of overwhelming humanitarian need? Well, yes, I think there would have been a legal basis for that. Of course it is a grey area, because these are relatively new concepts. They have not been applied in many circumstances. Each set of circumstances that arises is quite different from any other, so it is not as if there is a mass of case law in the world on this. When people ask, "Are there some circumstances in which countries have the right to act and it is legal, even without a Security Council resolution?", from all the legal advice that I have received in office so far, there are such circumstances.

Q19 Chair: Of course, responsibility to protect still requires a Security Council resolution, and if you are not going to get a chapter VII, you are not very likely to get a responsibility to protect either.

Mr Hague: In the case of overwhelming humanitarian need or in self-defence, nations are allowed to take action. By the way, I am not advocating that; I am just explaining, because you are asking me what the position is. Clearly, what we are working for is a resolution at the Security Council.

Q20 Chair: We want to know what the clear legal basis is you are working on, but it sounds like work in progress.

Mr Hague: The clearest legal basis is a Security Council resolution. But are there some circumstances in which you can take certain actions without that? Yes, there are. That’s the answer-I can’t make it simpler than that.

Q21 Chair: Do you not accept, however, that if you go down this road and you intervene in Libya on a military basis, it sets a very dangerous precedent. We have civil wars all over the area. There’s quite a nasty situation developing in the Ivory Coast. What justification would you have for refusing to intervene in the Ivory Coast if you have intervened in Libya?

Mr Hague: There are various factors to weigh. It is dangerous to make an absolutely hard-and-fast principle about these things because, as I have said, every single case that comes up is going to be different-in the numbers of people affected and in the impact on the British national interest-so there are a number of factors to weigh.

This is a country on the southern boundaries of Europe where long-term instability brings many threats to us and to our neighbours in Europe concerning uncontrolled migration and a breeding ground for extremism or terrorism in the future. It is in our own national interest for what is happening in Libya to proceed to some orderly outcome, as well as it being morally right, of course, for loss of life-and loss of life on a considerable scale-to be avoided, if it can be. That has to be weighed in the balance. Of course, one can raise other instances in the world, but they will not be quite the same-they will not all affect our national interest in the same way.

Q22 Chair: But if it is in the national interest to succeed in Libya and you establish a no-fly zone, what happens if it doesn’t succeed and just results in a stalemate? Wouldn’t you agree that you shouldn’t really go down this road unless you are actually prepared to put troops in on the ground to back it up, because you shouldn’t make a threat unless you can deliver on it?

Mr Hague: Then you run up against some of the arguments I deployed earlier. Troops on the ground-quite apart from the fact that we are, of course, fully committed in what we are doing in Afghanistan at the moment, so we have to bear in mind our own resources-would not meet the criteria of regional support and of a clear legal base, which are two of the important criteria that I set out earlier. We have to bear those things in mind.

Q23 Chair: Does it not therefore follow that if you can’t envisage putting troops on the ground, you shouldn’t be doing a no-fly zone?

Mr Hague: A no-fly zone can be one means of trying to protect the civilian population. What is set out in our Security Council resolution is about protecting the civilian population in Libya. It is for a no-fly zone. It has a particular paragraph on civilian protection and the authorisation of humanitarian assistance. It is to do with the thorough enforcement of the arms embargo, the seizure of more regime assets, and the creation of a UN panel of experts to follow up the various sanctions, seizures and freezing of assets. That is what it is directed at, and that is distinct from ground troops intervening in a major way.

Q24 Mr Ainsworth: Foreign Secretary, you have just told the Committee that it is enormously important, in your view, that the Libyan people are seen to be leading on this, and that other Arab nations are seen to be taking the lead. When we look back over the past couple of weeks, it appears to me that the American Government’s position has been one of supporting exactly that-to force others to take the lead-whereas our position appears to have been one of wanting to jump up and down and to be seen as taking the lead ourselves. Is that fair?

Mr Hague: No, not at all. In everything we have done, as I have described already, we have taken full note and taken our lead from opinion in the region and in the Arab world. Indeed, many of the things that we have advocated and called for, including what we are putting forward now at the UN Security Council, are largely at the behest of Arab nations, both in the declaration of the League of Arab States agreed on Saturday and also in their diplomatic representations to us. So we have been consistent about people in the region taking the lead on this.

Q25 Mr Ainsworth: Resolution 1970 was passed on 26 February. It specifically didn’t use any words that would involve military action, because there was no support for it, and yet on the 28th-only two days later-the Prime Minister started talking about no-fly zones. I don’t know how many times the Prime Minister has said we are in the lead on this. A couple of weeks after he first starts talking about no-fly zones, we don’t move a resolution at the European Council, we don’t move a resolution at NATO and we only now move one at the United Nations that’s not going to get passed, is it? Our diplomatic position has been shot to pieces over the past couple of weeks, hasn’t it?

Mr Hague: No, absolutely not. We do take the lead-with other nations: with France, for example, in the European Council, on this subject; and yes, in the United Nations Security Council-but those Arab nations that I am talking about are not there to do that. There is no inconsistency between taking the lead in those things and allowing the lead in what should happen in the world, the strong representations about what needs doing, to come from the Arab nations. There is only one of them, Lebanon, on the United Nations Security Council; there is none in the European Union, of course. So, yes, we do our best to respond to what is coming out of that region and a common plea that comes out of it-to help protect the people of Libya. It was the central demand of the Arab League on Saturday to take measures that protect and support the civilian population in Libya, and that is, as I have just been describing, the thrust of our resolution at the United Nations Security Council. That is why the Prime Minister has been talking about the options that are now in this resolution that we’re putting forward, so there’s no inconsistency between those things.

Q26 Mr Ainsworth: Isn’t it good diplomatic practice to take soundings before you go sounding off?

Mr Hague: You can see how many soundings we took by the fact that we were able to pass UN resolution 1970 so quickly, with the unanimous support of the Security Council.

Q27 Mr Ainsworth: It doesn’t talk about military action at all.

Mr Hague: No, but you are asking about British diplomacy over the past week and whether we take soundings before we take certain actions. That was passed unanimously at pretty much record speed, with the United Kingdom holding the pen and driving it through. The action of the UN Human Rights Council, which was unprecedented and led to the suspension of Libya from the UN Human Rights Council, was a British-initiated process; we collected the 16 signatures needed to get a special meeting of the UN Human Rights Council. The resolution that is on the table at the United Nations Security Council, with Lebanon and France, is obviously also the result of a lot of work with other countries.

Q28 Mr Ainsworth: What percentage chance do you think it has of being carried?

Mr Hague: It has to be negotiated with other countries. It is wrong to say that it has zero chance: if it had, we wouldn’t be putting it forward. British diplomacy has, in those respects, been very active, very good and has worked closely with other nations in an appropriate way.

Chair: A last question on no-fly zones.

Q29 Mike Gapes: Prime Minister-sorry, Foreign Secretary-

Mr Hague: I gave up wanting to be that a long time ago, but thank you.

Mike Gapes: Prime Minister John Major-

Mr Hague: Well corrected.

Mike Gapes: Some 20 years ago, Prime Minister John Major led the way with a no-fly zone to protect the Kurds without putting troops on the ground. Are you ashamed or disappointed that our Government are unable to do the same to protect people in Benghazi?

Mr Hague: This is what we are talking about, so we are not ashamed of what we are putting forward-of course not. We are committed. We have just been talking about the legal basis for that, but it has to have international support. Let me stress that any action that we take has to have broad support.

Q30 Mike Gapes: John Major did not have a UN Security Council resolution. He did not have international support, apart from the agreement of the US. Is not the real problem the prevarication in the Obama Administration?

Mr Hague: No. On that occasion I think you will find that it was possible to justify the no-fly zone legally under a previous UN Security Council resolution. We are going back 20 years, but, if I recall correctly, that was the case. It is not an exactly parallel case, but what we do here has to have international support and participation. Let us be clear that the United Kingdom is not going to do this on its own. We will be working closely with France. We have called for contingency planning in NATO, which has taken place, and we regard Arab participation as essential in the operation of such a no-fly zone. Arab nations have called for it. We believe that they will be prepared to participate in it. This cannot be a case of the United Kingdom acting on its own.

Chair: Foreign Secretary, as you can see, there is a lot of interest in this particular subject, but we have a lot of other subjects to cover, so we will move on. But we may return to it at the end if there is time. Ann Clwyd is going to talk about the Middle East peace process.

Q31 Ann Clwyd: Yes, Chair, I will in a moment, but I must say that I think I am the only one in this room who was on the mountains of Iran and Iraq 20 years ago. I saw the helicopter gunships being used against the Kurds. I agree with what Mike Gapes said. John Major reacted very quickly to that and I saw the results of it. Thousands of Kurds were saved as a result. Subsequently the Shi’a in the south were saved because of the no-fly zones. I fully support them, because I have seen the result of them.

I was going to ask precisely the same question. Did John Major have a legal basis for doing it or did he just go ahead and do it? He reacted very swiftly to the cries of help from the Kurds. Now we hear the Libyans also crying for help, with the terrible voices of doctors in the hospitals and people on the ground. We will be blamed in future if we fail to take quick action on this occasion. I hope you get a result today from your attempts to get something through the Security Council, because I do not think that another day can go by, when we know that people are being attacked from the air by the fighter jets of Gaddafi.

Mr Hague: There were a variety of views about it. Security Council members are meeting now, as we speak, to discuss this, so there is no lack of action on the part of the British Government.

Q32 Ann Clwyd: May I ask you a question about the Arab League? It is a very good development that they have actually come out in support. The Arabs have a lot of weaponry of their own. Could they not provide a no-fly zone? Why is it necessary for the rest of us to do so?

Mr Hague: They could participate in a no-fly zone. Militarily, one could question whether they would be able to provide a no-fly zone together. It might be possible that they would be able to do that. Although they agreed their statement on Saturday, they would have differing views and different capabilities when it came to participation in a no-fly zone. But as I indicated in answer to the earlier question from Mr Ainsworth, we regard it as very important that Arab nations participate in such a no-fly zone. Whatever happens in Libya, this must not become the western world dictating its opinions to the people of Libya. We are very clear about that. It is consistent with what I said earlier about the Libyan people owning what is happening in Libya. Any actions such as a no-fly zone cannot just be an action embarked on by western nations alone with only western participation. That could easily be turned around in many ways, or result in actions or casualties that are then purely blamed again on western intervention in Middle Eastern affairs. That is why it is so important to meet the criteria that I set out earlier: a demonstrable need, a clear legal basis and broad support within the region, which, in this case, means active participation in the region.

Q33 Ann Clwyd: Could I ask you about the implications for the Middle East peace process as a result of what is happening now in these countries? Do you think it will have any impact at all? How do you see it going from now on?

Mr Hague: It has an impact. Here, there is a heavy responsibility on us to try to ensure that the impact is to give new momentum and energy to the Middle East peace process. The danger is that the peace process becomes a casualty of change in the Middle East. The great danger is that the wider changes in the Middle East become a distraction that consumes the political energy and attention of all the nations concerned. There is also a danger that some of the Arab countries in the Middle East may develop in a way that makes them less well disposed to the peace process in the future. So there is an urgency to the peace process.

We have underlined that strongly to the United States, which holds the leading role in driving forward the peace process, to the Government of Israel and to the Palestinian leadership. President Abbas was here last week, and I discussed it extensively with him. We will do everything we can to support a resumption of talks, and we believe that an essential step in that is that the Quartet should make clear parameters for direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians in the future. Those parameters should, in our view, include a clear statement of a settlement being based on 1967 borders, with equivalent land swaps. That is something that the Quartet has not been able to state before, but which should now be made clear. Sorry-that’s a long answer to your question.

Q34 Ann Clwyd: Can you explain what happened with the upgrading of the Palestinian presence to a mission? I was at a conference in Vienna last week, discussing the plight of Palestinian political prisoners. People were particularly pleased to get this piece of information. Can you talk about that for a moment?

Mr Hague: Yes. I announced last week the upgrading of the Palestinian delegation in London to a mission. I don’t want to overstate it-this is largely symbolic, on the grounds of the close work that we do with the Palestinian Authority. As you know, we give a lot of aid to the PA and Palestinians, and we work closely with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and President Abbas. So I think it is appropriate for the Palestinians to be a mission. We do not recognise them as a state, so this is in no way a recognition of statehood. We want a Palestinian state to emerge from the Middle East peace process-a two-state solution agreed between Israelis and Palestinians. It is an upgrading and recognition of the close work that we do with them, which is in line with what many other countries have done. It also involves some practical improvements for them and their diplomatic representation in Britain, such as the ease of getting visas for their staff.

Q35 Ann Clwyd: Ban Ki-moon put out a strong statement at that particular conference. He voiced concerns "about the thousands of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli detention facilities, and publicly urged Israel to release prisoners as called for by the Palestinian Authority." Are we putting pressure on Israel to do that?

Mr Hague: This came up in the House yesterday. Of course, we raise concerns wherever they arise about treatment of people in prison anywhere in the world with any country. Yes is the answer to your question, but the prime focus of what we are trying to do is to get Israelis and Palestinians to make the big compromises that are necessary from both sides to give new momentum to the peace process.

Q36 Mr Watts: Foreign Secretary, I am sorry to take you back to no-fly zones, but is there not an element of loose talk here by the Prime Minister, who seems to have a whole history of that-when he made the speech on Pakistan in India, and when he said that Gaddafi was leaving the country when he was not? He seemed to indicate that no-fly zones were a serious option when he was not in a position to deliver it. Wouldn’t it have been more sensible for the Prime Minister not to have made those comments? Should he not have tried to seek the support of our partners and try to put a no-fly zone plan in place before he went around the world giving the impression that a no-fly zone was likely in the foreseeable future, bearing in mind that the Libyans on the ground are currently almost giving up the idea that a no-fly zone will ever be introduced?

Mr Hague: "No" is the short answer to your question. By the way, don’t accuse the Prime Minister of things that I have said; among the things on your list was one of the things that you should have been accusing me of, not him.

Mr Watts: Loose talk.

Mr Hague: I am sure that you are happy to try and pin that badge on all of us.

But no is the answer. First of all, one cannot achieve this outcome secretly. The measures that we have put forward in the Security Council can’t just suddenly be sprung on everybody as though we had never discussed them before and nobody has ever raised them before. In order to get to the point where we are at the Security Council putting forward this resolution, it has been essential to have the Arab League set out their support for it and for other nations to call for it. So everybody keeping quiet about it, and Prime Ministers around Europe saying nothing about it, wouldn’t help.

The second objection I have to your line of argument is that I think that the possibility of stronger international action, including such things as a no-fly zone, has affected the behaviour of the regime in Libya. They are using air assets in their attempt to crush the rebellion, and we don’t know this, but one can speculate that they have used those assets, so far, in a particular way in order to avoid overwhelming international support for a no-fly zone, mass attacks on civilian locations, and so on. So it is entirely possible that the Prime Minister and others’ raising that possibility has saved many lives so far.

Q37 Mr Watts: Would not an alternative view be that Gaddafi has adapted his own strategy to crush the opposition to him in Libya in a way that is unlikely to see a no-fly zone introduced in the Libyan area? It seems to me that if you are seeking to get a UN mandate for that, it is unlikely to happen, for the reasons that some of my colleagues have expressed.

Mr Hague: You can argue it that way round, but taking into account the factors that I have just described, it is not possible to gather sufficiently strong international support for such a thing without talking about it in public, nor would it have the deterrent effect, in the meantime, on the regime. Many of the things that we have done have been designed to have such an effect. I have not mentioned, so far, that the reference to the International Criminal Court in UN resolution 1970 is also important in trying to deter people in Libya, on any side of the dispute, from committing crimes against humanity-crimes, abuses and atrocities.

The possibility of a no-fly zone is also one of the deterrents against the use of air power on a big scale against civilian populations. So, taking those factors into account and accepting that there is an argument the other way, I think the balance of judgment has to be that it is the right thing to advocate in public such measures, which help to deter what might be even worse behaviour than we have seen.

Q38 Chair: What do you think about Saudi Arabia’s strategy in dealing with unrest? How confident are you about its longer-term stability?

Mr Hague: We all know that it is hard to foresee what will happen in any of the nations of the Middle East. Let’s be clear about that. They are all introducing various degrees of reforms or various degrees of improvements to the lives of their own populations as they respond to what has happened. We have no indications of serious instability at the moment in Saudi Arabia. There have been some demonstrations. There has been the gathering of some thousands of signatures on Facebook pages. One of those pages related to last Friday and it did not result in widespread demonstrations. That is what we have seen so far.

Clearly, Saudi Arabia is very concerned about events in Bahrain-we are all concerned; one way or another, I am very concerned about events in Bahrain-and Saudi Arabia has sent forces there. I spoke to Prince Saud, the Saudi Foreign Minister, about this on Sunday evening and he assured me that these were for the defence of installations and the external defence of Bahrain, while it would be the Bahraini forces and police that tried to restore order in their own country. So that is where we are on Saudi Arabia.

Q39 Mike Gapes: On that question, are you concerned about the potential for a conflict between Shi’a and Sunni, not only in Bahrain, but also because there is a substantial Shi’a population in some other countries, including Saudi Arabia?
Mr Hague: Yes, primarily in Bahrain. Bahrain is in a very difficult position as a country, because of this sectarian division. The majority of the population are Shi’a, as you know. But a sizeable minority-between 30% and 40%-are Sunni, including the ruling family. Of course, this creates a difficulty in how to bring about democratic reforms. The important thing is that the national dialogue offered by the authorities in Bahrain continues to be on the table and that opposition groups in Bahrain respond positively to it. Just before I came in here I spoke to the Bahraini Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khalid Al Khalifa, who assured me that this would remain on the table-that the Bahraini Government remained absolutely determined to continue that process of dialogue. I encouraged him very much to do so.

Q40 Mike Gapes: I went on the BBC website just before I came in here and it showed that there were tanks in the main square in Manama. There were also reports on the radio this morning-a woman broadcasting on the "Today" programme from inside a hospital. She claimed that troops were on the roof and going through and she was obviously very worried. You talked about national dialogue. I cannot see that national dialogue is possible in a situation where that kind of activity is going on.

Mr Hague: Yes. That was one of my questions to Sheikh Khalid-is national dialogue still possible after these events? Of course, they have to hope in Bahrain that it is, because that is the only peaceful way forward. His argument is that it is-after a time. What you say, and what I have been describing, underlines the importance of this and of stressing restraint on all sides in Bahrain, because there have been casualties among protesters in earlier demonstrations. Last night, apparently, two policemen were killed by a car being driven into them. So there are casualties on both sides. Both sides, protesters and authorities, have to exercise the necessary restraint to allow peaceful protest to take place but national dialogue to be resumed.

Q41 Mike Gapes: Generally, all these events have happened very quickly. More than 30 years ago, one of your predecessors, David Owen, instructed the FCO to produce a study of the failings to predict what was happening in Iran. That report has recently been declassified and published. I understand that you had an FCO seminar just before Christmas where you looked at that. I don’t know whether you were involved-

Mr Hague: I gave permission for it to be published, but I wasn’t at the seminar.

Q42 Mike Gapes: I know that subsequent to that we’ve heard from you that you didn’t say that the FCO has taken its eye off the ball and so on. Nevertheless, why was it that the events and the instability in North Africa in particular were not on the top risks register of the FCO? Why have we not had sufficient people on the ground, giving us the information that we need? That was the failing pointed out in the report commissioned by David Owen on the events in Iran-that we needed political officers who spoke the language, we needed desk officers with experience, we needed continuity and expertise, and we needed people to talk to the Opposition, as well as the Government, and to go out of the cities, and so on.

Mr Hague: In a moment I will ask the permanent secretary to come in, because that is partly an institutional question about the Foreign Office, and it is time that somebody else said something at this table.

I have a couple of things to say about this. First, I have come into the Foreign Office with a strong view that the need for geographic expertise, deep political knowledge of countries and proper diplomacy within countries-contacts with all sides, and so on-needs to be accentuated in how the Foreign Office conducts its business. I have made it clear that future careers will be decided on the basis of the development of those skills and activities among our diplomats.

Nevertheless, to defend the diplomats we have now, the problem with predicting the changes in the Middle East was not predicting that something big was building up; it was predicting when on earth anything would happen. To give an example of that, in Egypt it was certainly the analysis of our embassy that a huge problem was building up, and that was why, when I went there in early November, the purpose of my visit was to urge the Government to give the space for democratic opposition to develop. The analysis of the embassy when that didn’t happen in the elections at the end of November was that a catastrophe had happened in Egypt. Even so, you have to bear in mind that these countries, many of which had thousands of spies and informants-vast intelligence services of their own-had no idea what was about to happen.

Q43 Mike Gapes: You said November. Why is it, then, that the deputy ambassador in Cairo, although he might have been being flippant, put something on a blog in February saying that he was completely surprised by the speed of events and had no idea of what was happening?

Mr Hague: That is exactly the same point.

Mike Gapes: Is it?

Mr Hague: The timing of events was a huge surprise to the Egyptian Government. It would be a great mistake for anyone to think that if only we had five more diplomats, two more intelligence officers, or whatever it may be, in one of these capitals we would have known all about this coming. Because these events are not a conspiracy, a cabal or a political leadership launching a revolution; they are demographic events. They are events that have arisen among the mass of the population without leadership and organisation. That is their distinctive character.

While I have a lot of sympathy with your general argument about the skills needed in the Foreign Office, you could have had 1,000 times those things and I am afraid you would not have known when the revolutions in Tunisia or Egypt were going to take place. And even with all those things, you may not know when the next one is going to take place.

Q44 Mike Gapes: So when is the next the next one coming? Perhaps Mr Fraser can give us some information.

Mr Hague: Yes, at that point I will hand over to the Permanent Secretary.

Simon Fraser: It is true that we didn’t predict the events in Tunisia and Egypt-nobody predicted them-but Middle East instability was, in fact, on the Foreign Office’s top risk register.

Q45 Mike Gapes: The Middle East was, but not North Africa.

Simon Fraser: Middle East instability was, but within the region we had been particularly focusing on Iran and there had been a lot of instability in Lebanon. I absolutely accept that we had not identified Tunisia and Egypt as a particular focus of that instability.

As to where the next crisis is going to emerge, we are clearly facing a difficult situation in Bahrain and we have been discussing that. We have already taken measures to anticipate the possibility of further deterioration of the situation in Yemen, which is very delicate. Those would be two countries in which we are clearly keeping a very close focus on developments.

Q46 Rory Stewart: At the moment these crises are breaking out all over the place, but if we look to the five and 10-year picture, where do you think Britain should be in relation to the Middle East and North Africa? What do you think Britain’s position should be? What should our strategy be? What is your attitude towards the medium to long-term?

Mr Hague: We should be more heavily engaged than we have been for a long time. I don’t mean just diplomatically, but commercially, particularly with the more open economies, and I mean in terms of education and culture. I think that there should be an across-the-board elevation of the British national relationship-the relationship between peoples, civil societies, political parties and Governments-in line with what I have advocated for a long time. I have already started to introduce many Middle Eastern nations. I think this makes the case for that even stronger.

For instance, with Egypt and Tunisia, as they now try to develop civil society and open political systems, there is a very important British role in supporting that. We are a world leader in that regard-civil society, impartial institutions that stand above politics, and long-standing political parties that respect each other’s right to hold Government. We are a world leader in such things, and I think we can offer a lot in that regard, provided we don’t do it in a patronising way or in a way that expects those countries to adopt every detail of our own system.

We should do all that, and we should be strong allies of the countries in that region in trying to bring about peace in the Middle East-between Israelis and Palestinians-and to confront the danger posed by the behaviour of Iran in several respects, including the continued development of a nuclear programme. In terms of strong bilateral relationships in that region, conducting policies that promote stability and helping the region to confront threats, there is a very big role for Britain.

Q47 Rory Stewart: Can you give us a sense of what options you might have-institutionally, or in management or resources terms-to adapt the Foreign Office to respond to that vision for the next five to 10 years?

Mr Hague: Again, I might ask Simon Fraser to come in on that.

It is going to require a diversion of resources. In fact, it has already required a diversion of resources-the Middle East and North Africa department has grown considerably over the past few weeks in terms of the number of people in the Foreign Office devoted to it. I think that that might turn out to be a permanent change for the next decade. Of course, we will have to see what happens over the coming months, but if this is as important for world affairs as I was arguing at the beginning of our meeting, it requires a greater proportion of the energy and manpower of British foreign policy to be devoted to it. Simon, do you want to add to that?

Simon Fraser: Just to add, in the short term, it is absolutely true that there has been a very considerable diversion of resources. For example, on Libya alone, in London-excluding our posts-we have had about 120 people working each day, while we have also been setting up separate crisis management centres on Bahrain and Yemen, so there has been a very considerable short-term resource allocation issue. But looking beyond that, clearly there are implications, one of which is the skills agenda, which has been alluded to already. We need to make sure that we have the people with the language and regional expertise to be able to help us understand and influence events in the region. That is something that we are already addressing in our planning for the next spending round and allocation of resource. Of course, we will have to look at what this means for staff in London in this policy area, as well as in our posts overseas. Clearly there will be long-term implications.

At the same time, if we had had this conversation two months ago, we would have been talking about the strategic shift in the world towards Asia, the emerging powers and the new economies. What we need to do, taking a long-term view, is to balance those things out and make sure that we have a correct and balanced assessment of the medium and long-term priorities for our foreign policy.

Q48 Andrew Rosindell: Foreign Secretary, the lessons to be learned from North Africa for the Middle East are obvious. Do you agree that we should be doing a lot more to persuade the Gulf states to act early and go for political reform? What role can Britain play to assist in that? Can we perhaps better use the Westminster Foundation for Democracy to go there, advise them, and help them to develop their democracy fast to avoid another Libya taking place in one of the Gulf states?

Mr Hague: There might be a role for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, to which I have given a slight increase in funding from the Foreign Office this year.

Sir Menzies Campbell: Ah!

Mr Hague: I am glad that that has met with a few grunts of approval from the Committee.

Q49 Sir Menzies Campbell: What about the World Service, while you are at it?

Mr Hague: The sums there are rather larger. This is an extra half a million to the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.

There may be a role for the Westminster Foundation, of course, but we are already playing a strong national role. The Prime Minister’s speech in the Kuwaiti Parliament at the end of February was a powerful statement in favour of democratic values and political reform. The Gulf states differ in their adoption of reforms. They are all different from each other.

It is essential to respect the fact that there are major cultural and historical differences between all the countries of the Middle East but, of course, in Kuwait they have already made very substantial, political reforms. In recent weeks, the Sultan of Oman has announced important reforms and major changes in the personnel of the Government. We have already discussed Bahrain. We will continue to argue for open economies, and more open and flexible political systems, without trying to lay down how every nation conducts its affairs.

Q50 Chair: You may be interested to know that the Tunisian ambassador came to see us last week. He expressed a strong interest in meeting the Westminster Foundation for Democracy for those very reasons.

Mr Hague: North African countries are classic examples. Many new political parties are being developed in Tunisia, and in Egypt likewise. On Morocco, it is important to study the speech of King Mohammed at the beginning of last week in which he announced major reforms to go more towards a constitutional monarchy as we understand it. Again, that opens many opportunities for British engagement.

Q51 Ann Clwyd: You mentioned that the International Criminal Court suggested that it might have some impact on modifying the behaviour of the leading figures of the Gaddafi regime. There is not any sign of that yet is there? Even if Colonel Gaddafi and his closest accomplices were to remain in power, they would have impunity under the International Criminal Court rules as those in government-holding positions as Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and so on-are not covered under the investigations of the International Criminal Court, so it could not bring any charges.

Mr Hague: Remember that President Bashir of Sudan has been indicted by the International Criminal Court. In any case, people do have to worry now because the reach of international justice can be long and its memory can be long. It is valid for us to continue to get the message across to people in Libya that they will not be able to rely for ever on their impunity from the reach of the criminal court. We have seen a day of reckoning for some of the people involved in terrible crimes in the Western Balkans in the 1990s, and I hope that there are one or two more days of reckoning to come for people who are still at large. That is something that the Libyan regime now has to take into account. Clearly, if they manage to re-establish themselves in power internally, they will have on them the massive weight of the sanctions and restrictions that were in the Security Council resolution that has already been passed, which would be added to by the one that we are advocating. They would face all those difficulties. They would still be there and it would not be possible instantly to arrest them, but they would have to worry for the rest of their lives that international justice would catch up with them.

Q52 Rory Stewart: Following on from the question of Foreign Office governance, one of the issues raised recently was the helicopter landing in Benghazi and the whole issue of the deployment of the SAS. Are there any lessons to learn from that formally and institutionally on the way in which submissions reach the Foreign Secretary and on processes that could be put in place to try to ensure that decisions are caught earlier?

Mr Hague: This raises a big subject. The instant answer to your question is not yes, because there are many missions of different kinds that take place around the world and come for authority to the Foreign Secretary or the Defence Secretary. They are normally presented in a way that allows you to make a reasoned judgment. There is not an institutional problem in the way decisions are presented to Ministers. It is true, in current circumstances, that many decisions have to be made quickly. Not all detail is as thoroughly laid out as it can be when we are on a more normal footing-whatever that is-than currently. I do not, however, think that there is a systemic problem in that regard, no.

Q53 Mr Ainsworth: Foreign Secretary, there were a number of British nationals who felt let down when they were stranded in North Africa. Some of them were very vocal about it. It was reported that the Prime Minister had to get on the telephone at 3 am GMT to make you and the Defence Secretary get the rescue effort off the ground. Did that happen, and if so, why was it necessary?

Mr Hague: No, I do not recall speaking to the Prime Minister at 3 o’clock in the morning. Although I often speak to him at strange times of day, I did not on that particular occasion. Certainly, there was a delay of one day-18 hours, really-in what we had hoped to see as the rapid evacuation from Tripoli airport when the commercial flights stopped. I found that, as the Prime Minister did, very frustrating, which is why we both apologised to the country for it.

That delay happened for a number of reasons. There was every expectation that at least three flights would have been there that day, 23 February, with more than enough capacity for all the British nationals who were at the airport to leave. All for different reasons, those planes did not go-one, particularly irritatingly, for mechanical reasons.

We had to get on top of that situation, which we quickly did. In the night that followed, all the nationals who had been waiting were able to leave, and then, each day, all those who came to the airport were able to leave. We finished evacuating our nationals ahead of most other countries; in fact, in our evacuation from Libya we brought out 43 other nationalities. The idea that all other countries had finished evacuating people ahead of us was clearly wide of the mark.

On that particular day, we had a problem. There are lessons to be learned from that. I announced a review, which we will publish, on how we can improve our procedures. There are countries where we are engaged in either looking at how we can evacuate people, or we are in the final stages of planning that. We have already learned some of those lessons.

Q54 Mr Ainsworth: The Committee has received correspondence relating to the fact that some Foreign Office staff behaved in a less than professional way and that there was a lack of urgency when dealing with people who were distressed and felt in danger. We have also received evidence that some of the members of the warning system that was set up in Egypt, who were equipped to be in communication, did not even live in Egypt. Will those issues form part of your investigation?

Mr Hague: If there is anything that you have seen as a Committee that you want to feed into that review, I would encourage you to do so-but quickly, because I want this review to be finished this month. We are facing these situations on a regular basis. We have to learn from them quickly. Anything that is sent in by members of the public we want to learn from as well.

I would not want to leave the world with the impression that Foreign Office staff did a bad job. There are formidable difficulties in these situations. The teams we sent to Tripoli airport worked for five days and nights, without ever having anywhere to go to sleep themselves, to help British nationals through an airport with many thousands of people of all nationalities clogging the airport and with little help from the Libyan authorities in getting them out. They did a fantastic job. Our embassy in Malta worked so hard to get people through Valletta and get them home. There are people in the Foreign Office who have done fantastically well on this, as well as some admitted problems that have arisen.

Q55 Mr Ainsworth: It is a very busy time and that continues. We now have the emergency with the tsunami and the nuclear situation in Japan. What impact is that having on the consular service and how is it holding up?

Mr Hague: That might be something for the Permanent Secretary to talk about. Certainly it is a huge demand on the consular service and on the Middle East and North Africa Department of the Foreign Office. We have more simultaneous crises going on in the world than at any time in recent decades, all of them with consular implications as well as major political implications. Simon, do you want to expand on that?

Simon Fraser: It is true that it has been a very unusual set of circumstances. Since January we have had seven crises of one sort or another, running either one after another or simultaneously. In the weekend before the difficult week that the Foreign Secretary described in Libya, we had Bahrain becoming difficult, the earthquake in New Zealand and then Libya within a period of two or three days. To be honest, that imposed considerable strains on us.

There are lessons about the resilience of the systems, which we are going to learn. Clearly, at the moment we are running very hot in our capacity to deal with these crises. We have, as I have said already, put an awful lot of additional resource on to it in the short term in order to try to ensure that we have the capacity of staff who have had a decent amount of sleep, and the right amount of knowledge of what they will face when they come on duty, to deal with the situation.

In addition to the staff in our embassies, who have done remarkable work in many circumstances, we have been running a crisis centre in London. That has been running since January and has been running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, since early February. It is staffed by people who have been volunteering in addition to their jobs, and receiving very little additional reward for doing so.

I do think it is appropriate, despite the problems we have had, to pay tribute to those people. Without their dedication and their commitment, we simply would not have been able to handle these crises.

Q56 Mr Ainsworth: Is it true that you have brought back retired diplomats? To what extent has that been necessary?

Simon Fraser: We have drawn on the advice of retired diplomats. We have consulted them. We have brought in people who are, for example, on training courses preparing for postings in order to build up our resource and also because in many cases these are people who have regional expertise, which is valuable, and therefore it seems sensible to draw on their expertise. They have been very willing to do so.

One example is that our former director for Asia Pacific, who is currently on language training, has come back to do night shifts to look after the Japan crisis so that he can relieve the current director. I am very grateful to him for doing that. That is one example of many.

Mr Hague: Just on the point about former diplomats, before this crisis, I have been determined that the Foreign Office will use more of the skills of people who have left. It is a great shame that people who have been outstanding ambassadors come in at the age of 60 to say goodbye to the Foreign Secretary and we never see them again. Yet they have a tremendous amount of knowledge and expertise. I want us to develop a much stronger network-an alumni network, if you like-where we can use the skills of those people on various crises, but also on longer-term issues for the Foreign Office.

Q57 Mr Ainsworth: But this is not just capacity.

Mr Hague: No, they can help with capacity in the way that Simon has described, but they can also help to improve the health of the entire institution and foreign policy making in this country in the long term.

Simon Fraser: On the point about capacity, we obviously cannot staff perpetually to be dealing with seven consecutive crises; we have to have resilience and agility to respond. We tend to focus on the senior staff. Actually, it is the junior staff in the office, who have stepped up to the plate as well, who, for example, have been looking at identifying the people in the countries, trying to locate British nationals, and who have made a tremendous contribution to this whole effort.

Q58 Mr Roy: Just as a thought, that reminds me, Foreign Secretary, of the description of an old boys’ network-bringing in people who have retired instead of nurturing young talent.

Mr Hague: It is possible to do both, you know.

Mr Roy: Maybe you should just do one.

Mr Hague: We won’t be taking that advice.

Q59 Mr Roy: Foreign Secretary, let me take you back to the statement you just made on the 18-hour delay at Tripoli airport. That confused me because it seemed to me to be far more than 18 hours. The FCO gave advice on the Sunday that people’s lives were in danger and that they should leave Libya by commercial means as quickly as possible. However, you didn’t give the authorisation until 10 pm on Monday 21 February to use commercial flights, according to the parliamentary answers that you have sent me. My first question is: why was there a delay of more than 24 hours between giving the advice to leave Libya and your giving the authorisation to contact the charter companies?

Mr Hague: Because commercial flights were continuing up to that point. There were still commercial flights out of Tripoli on Monday. This has happened in other situations. In the case of our evacuation from Cairo a little earlier, commercial flights continued throughout, and most people were able to leave in that way. We supplied charter aircraft as well.

Q60 Mr Roy: I know that British Airways was coming out, but then changed its mind. But surely someone must have realised that there was no way that the amount of British nationals who wanted to leave Tripoli were all going to go on those few flights.

Mr Hague: No, that is not the case at all. You are talking here about hundreds, not thousands, of people, so it doesn’t need that many aircraft to take people out in the particular case of Tripoli.

Given that the commercial schedules of BA and BMI were meant to have continued-two flights going in every day throughout that week-those flights would easily have been enough to take out all the British nationals who wanted to leave. When those commercial flights suddenly stopped, the flights that we were hoping would go in on the Wednesday would have had more than 600 seats. The total number of British nationals evacuated from Libya was 800. That would have been 600 seats in one day.

Q61 Mr Roy: But sorry, you also brought out foreign nationals as well.

Mr Hague: Yes, we brought them out because we had spare seats. We sent far more seats than the numbers of British nationals who needed to be evacuated. Some charter planes had relatively low passenger loadings because we over-provided. On all but that day, when the planes we had intended to go didn’t go, we over-provided capacity for British nationals to leave.

Q62 Mr Roy: On those flights, Foreign Secretary, why did you announce that the charter flights had already left? Why were you left in a position where you thought those flights were on the way?

Mr Hague: From memory, I don’t think I did that. I think I said that they were going, and we gave a time that they were going. News outlets took it upon themselves to say, "Oh well, that’s the time. The time has now passed. They have left." Of course, they managed to conk out on the runway.

Q63 Mr Roy: Finally, why did you speculate about rumours that Gaddafi had fled to Venezuela in one of your statements? Do you now regret getting involved in that statement?

Mr Hague: Because I was asked about it. I am an open sort of guy; you know how I try to answer your questions. The question was whether I had any information, and my answer was, "No, we have no confirmation of where Colonel Gaddafi has gone, if he has gone. There is no confirmation. But we have some information that he is on his way to Venezuela." However, I can always adopt the strategy of not answering questions, which maybe I will do with even more circumspection in the future.

Mr Roy: Not here, though.

Q64 Chair: Foreign Secretary, we have to vote in one minute’s time. We have spent an hour and a half on the Middle East and North Africa, which is more than we had scheduled, but I am sure that everyone will agree that it was very important. We still want to discuss the World Service and piracy. Can we be back here by 4.12 pm?

Mr Hague: Yes. I would only add that I have to chair a meeting of Cobra between the Divisions, and 4.45 pm is the agreed cut-off of our meeting. I have some very urgent operational matters to attend to.

Chair: We will try to be disciplined, but we have some important questions.

Mr Hague: Yes, sure. We will have to try to have short answers.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming-

Chair: Foreign Secretary, welcome back. There was a rumour that there may be another Division, which would be very irritating. Let’s move on to the World Service. We are very concerned about the World Service and the impact that the cuts-there is no other way of putting it-will have. [Interruption.] You will have to go at quarter to 5?

Mr Hague: I can stay until 4.50 pm, but that will really be stretching it.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming-

Chair: We will start again, Foreign Secretary. Thank you very much for coming back. I will get you away by 4.50 pm. We will concentrate on just the World Service and we will write to you about piracy, because that is something that can be dealt with by correspondence.

Q65 Mike Gapes: Foreign Secretary, we had an evidence session last week in which witnesses described the cuts to the World Service as "disproportionate" compared with other parts of the FCO family. Would you agree with that description?

Mr Hague: No. One can, of course, argue about many of the details of this, but whatever they are, they are not disproportionate. The situation that we inherited in the new Government was, as you will recall, that there had already been cuts to the Foreign Office spending total, which were exacerbated by exchange rate movements. In fact, this Committee, or this Committee’s predecessor, made strong representations about the loss of the overseas pricing mechanism. The FCO family, as it were, had already taken quite substantial reductions in expenditure.

As you know, we came in with a comprehensive spending review and I have had to make a further contribution, although we have restored, in a new form, the foreign currency mechanism, to put right what was done wrongly over the past few years. But if you take the whole period, which is the only fair way to take it, from the start of reductions in the FCO baseline in 2007-08 to the end in 2013-14, the World Service will be the same proportion of FCO spending at the end as it was at the beginning. Then it will go on to a different footing. It will be funded out of the licence fee, and I hope that will secure its future.

Q66 Mike Gapes: You told us in an earlier statement that "the strategic importance of the countries" that the World Service serves should be prioritised, taking account of "the need of their populations for independent, impartial news". How does the decision to end shortwave transmission in Mandarin Chinese reflect that strategic priority and the need for impartial views?

Mr Hague: In the case of some of these services, the online demand is growing, and that is certainly true of Chinese. These services have to change and develop in various ways. In an ideal world, one would be able to maintain every service, including all the shortwave services, but we have to make sure that the World Service lives within certain parameters of public spending, and therefore some reductions have to be made. What it is doing is building up the online service, for which there is growing demand and which enables communication with vast numbers of Mandarin Chinese speakers outside China. With the limited resources available, that is the sensible way to go. The new, enriched service for Chinese will aim to reach out not only to people in China but to 67 million Chinese people who live outside China, and to be more appealing to younger audiences as well.

Q67 Mike Gapes: You talked about priorities and resources. How can you justify the decision to approve ending the Hindi shortwave service, which apparently only saves £600,000, and loses 11 million people out of the total World Service audience of 180 million?

Mr Hague: Again, there have to be some reductions. It is not possible to be in government at the moment and not make any reductions anywhere. What has happened on Hindi is that the World Service has managed to identify savings from within its budget since the original announcement was made, which will allow the Hindi shortwave service to continue in a reduced form.

Q68 Mike Gapes: One hour a day?

Mr Hague: Yes; from, I think, three hours before.

Q69 Mike Gapes: Only for one year.

Mr Hague: Yes, but the World Service has to work out how to develop its services in the future.

Q70 Mike Gapes: But, Foreign Secretary, if you were making these decisions yourself, rather than just approving them, would you have made the same decisions with regard to the shortwave services in Hindi or in Mandarin that were made by Peter Horrocks and the management of the World Service?

Mr Hague: They are their decisions and they must be their decisions; it is not right to micro-manage those things. I have no reason, having looked at it, to think that they are making the wrong decisions with the resources available, but it is part of all our jobs to make sure that they deliver the most value and the most services with the resources available. I’m not saying that everything they’ve decided is perfect, but I think the general way in which they are trying to develop and safeguard services is correct.

Q71 Mike Gapes: But they are taking out, in the case of Hindi, 11 million people and moving the focus to what you seem to be in favour of, which is an online process. We have seen in north Africa the ability of Governments to cut off internet access, and shortwave is clearly getting out to rural areas, rural populations, not just the elite-exactly the kind of thing that means we can get across to the ordinary people, rather than just the elites.

Mr Hague: What is happening, to take the Hindi service as an example, is that the head of the Hindi service has suggested that the shortwave service might be able to attract commercial funds to make it self-sustainable and has asked us to support his approaches to the World Service administration about that. We have helped to ensure that this decision is reconsidered; the Hindi shortwave service is going to continue, as we have said, and this will give the service a chance that the proposed self-sustaining model will work. It will not necessarily close in a year, but now they need the encouragement to make sure that this new model succeeds. We have to have new models of delivering these things because the country has been left in the most shocking financial condition one can ever imagine by the Government you supported.

Q72 Mike Gapes: You could have made alternative decisions about where to cut and not cut the World Service, which is a very important part of soft power.

Mr Hague: Well, I could, but I believe that that would have been wrong. That is because other parts of the Foreign Office family would then have had to have a disproportionate share of reductions over time. We have done something else, of course, to alleviate this problem for the future-to eliminate this problem, in some ways-which is in 2014-15 to move the World Service into being funded by the licence fee. That will allow the development of the World Service in new ways, if it is imaginatively taken up by the BBC. To have the World Service permanently dependent on Government spending rounds, rather like the once nationalised industries-the water industry used to be dependent on Government capital spending rounds-probably isn’t the right model. What we are doing here is creating a more sustainable model for the future.

Q73 Chair: May I test you on one point? You said that the reduction in World Service expenditure was the same as the reduction in Foreign Office expenditure. The capital settlement for this year is £253 million for the World Service and it is dropping to £227 million.

Mr Hague: The current spending settlement.

Q74 Chair: Yes: in 2010-11, it is £253 million; by 2014-15 it drops to £227 million, which is a reduction of £25 million, which is 11% or 12%. I don’t think you’re reducing by 11% or 12%, are you?

Mr Hague: Actually, allowing for inflation, on a comparable basis, we are reducing by 9% or 10%. The point I was making to Mr Gapes is that I am looking at it over the full period in which the Foreign Office has had to make spending reductions, which started under the previous Government. At the end of that period-I hope it will be the end of that period-the percentage of total FCO spending accounted for by the World Service, as it transfers into the BBC licence fee, will be the same as it was at the beginning, having gone up in the middle. That is why these figures can be produced, but from the beginning to the end of FCO reductions, it is the same percentage.

Q75 Chair: I will get our accountants to have a look at it.

Mr Hague: We can supply you. I am armed here with James Bevan, the chief operations officer who knows all these figures inside out.

Chair: This is something that can be dealt with by correspondence rather than cross-examination now. Ming Campbell.

Sir Menzies Campbell: I am content with the questions asked by my learned junior.

Mike Gapes: I am not learned.

Mr Hague: But you are junior.

Q76 Andrew Rosindell: Foreign Secretary, very briefly, is not the English language our greatest asset? We have used it to influence the world over many centuries. Is it not really short-sighted, therefore, to allow the BBC World Service to be reduced in such a way, whereby parts of the world, such as the Caribbean, will no longer be able to receive that service? Is it not short-sighted to do that?

Mr Hague: As I said, it is not desirable to reduce any of these services, but we have to reduce spending in the way that I have described. The World Service has to adapt to new technologies and new markets. It has to try to find new ways, in some cases, of financing what it does. In an ideal world, one would not close any of those things. The Caribbean service is one of the services affected. Originally, the World Service wanted to close a wider range of services and I refused to let it do so. You are right-English is one of our great assets in the world, but some degree of change here is unavoidable. James, do you want to add something to that?

James Bevan: I should like to add something, if I might, on the Caribbean service specifically. The dedicated Caribbean programming is going to end on 25 March, but it is important to remember that it is only two hours and 45 minutes per week. What will remain is BBC World Service English, which will be available throughout the whole region on FM and will reach about 80% of the total population in the Caribbean, so the English service is going to remain.

Q77 Rory Stewart: Foreign Secretary, as you have picked up, the Committee as a whole is very keen for a more generous settlement for the World Service. One idea is to see whether we can find funding from the DFID budget. I understand, of course, that you are not responsible for the DFID budget, but if the lawyers can get round this issue, are you broadly in favour? Would you put your support behind the idea if we could convince the DFID Secretary that DFID money could be used for such purposes? Is that something you would like to see if the money could be made available?

Mr Hague: Such issues have to be addressed by the Government. Despite your invitation to differ from the International Development Secretary, I will resist that invitation. What he would want me to make clear-what the Government must make clear-is that the International Development Act governing the spending of DFID makes reducing poverty the core purpose of DFID’s existence. That Act sets out when DFID can provide assistance, in what forms and on what terms. The core funding to the World Service could not be deemed to meet the terms of the Act as poverty reduction. Poverty reduction is not identified as the purpose or objective of the BBC World Service in either the BBC Royal Charter or the BBC World Service Broadcasting Agreement.

Some of the spending of the World Service can certainly be classified, on particular services rather than core funding, as ODA spending, but some of that will be required anyway to be classified as ODA spending to meet our own FCO requirements of the next few years. We have given them £25 million of their grant on that basis. So there is not the leeway here just to divert a whole chunk of money for the core funding of the World Service in the way that you might be attempting to set out.

Q78 Rory Stewart: Is there any movement we can make under governance and civil society headings? Quite a lot of what DFID does may be aimed towards poverty reduction, but it does support governance, civil support and free media activities worldwide. Is there no more movement-not a few more million we could squeeze in some way?

Mr Hague: Again, James may be able to comment on that. We can look further than that, but I do not think that it will differ much from the £25 million that is already in the figures. James, do you want to talk about that further?

James Bevan: That is right. There was in the original settlement a provision of £25 million a year for the World Service which it was required to score as official development assistance, and we think that it can because we are clear that a lot of its activity does help promote an end to poverty. At DFID we are now working with the World Service to find ways to classify as official development assistance as much as it makes sense to, and report it to the OECD in the normal way. Regarding a formal World Service approach to DFID, I understand that they haven’t made one. That is a conversation that the World Service will need to have with DFID.

Q79 Rory Stewart: May I very quickly say that the sense the Committee got from the World Service was that they don’t feel they have the support to make that approach to DFID? If the situation is that the World Service is expected to approach DFID, and the World Service expects the Foreign Office to approach DFID, the likelihood is that there will be no more money forthcoming for the World Service from DFID. So, can I encourage one more push at this, just in case there are a few more million pounds?

Mr Hague: I don’t think there is much leeway for DFID for the reasons I described. The BBC has stepped in with additional funding for the World Service and we are trying to help them. At the moment we are subject to what they can say to us about their existing plans. I may be able to give them an extra £3 million this financial year, which may help in various ways, but I want to be satisfied on how it will be used. We are not neglecting the case for helping them out at the margins if we can.

Q80 Sir John Stanley: Foreign Secretary, from the answers that the director-general of the BBC gave to my questions last week, and the supplementary submission we’ve had from the BBC, we now know that the date on which the BBC Trust and executive first became aware of the Government’s proposal to transfer the funding of the World Service to the BBC was 11 October 2010. That was precisely nine days before the Government announced the spending review. Please will you tell us the date on which, as Secretary of State, you signed off your approval of the transfer of World Service funding from the Foreign Office to the BBC? If you don’t have it at hand could you tell us in writing?

Mr Hague: I think we may have to come back to that in writing, but I will say that the final agreement within Government on this was only reached shortly before the comprehensive spending review was finalised-the day before, I think. I suspect the answer, from memory, is going to be 18 October 2010, but we will have to come back to you in writing. Clearly there were various options open to the Chancellor and the Government on what to do here. This is an attractive option on the grounds of a secure future for the World Service, and a genuine reduction in public expenditure. It is a huge saving off the FCO baseline. It is a genuine public spending reduction, because it then goes into the licence fee. However, there were other options available to the Chancellor and the Government which were also looked at up to the last moment-I think up to the day before the comprehensive spending review.

Q81 Mr Baron: Two quick questions, Foreign Secretary. A number of us on the Committee and outside are very concerned that, with the transfer of funding to the licence fee, World Service funding could be siphoned off to other areas within the BBC-the cult of celebrity and so forth-in order to chase audience figures. If you were in charge, what mechanisms would you put in place to ensure that that didn’t happen and that the World Service didn’t suffer unduly?

Mr Hague: The governance mechanisms are to remain essentially the same. James may have the actual wording in front of him, or he can look for it while I talk. Such provisions that are in the existing agreement, which mean that the Foreign Secretary has to approve the opening or closure of new language services, will be retained in the new arrangements. I agreed that with the BBC Trust at the time of this change. The Foreign Secretary will also continue to set the World Service’s priorities, objectives and targets, together with the BBC-in other words, will retain some overall direction of the World Service. So those safeguards will be there for the future. In addition, if the BBC set about systematically running down the entire thing in the way described, it would be open to us to change the arrangements again.

Q82 Mr Baron: Briefly, can I quickly return to the issue of DFID and funding from DFID? It seems to some of us that there is a disconnect in Government policy, and that we are sending £1.2 billion to India, which has its own space, rearmament and aid programmes, yet we are starving the BBC World Service of resources. Is not the way round that to promote the idea that knowledge is the best route out of poverty, and that the BBC is best placed to promote that?

Mr Hague: That is a wider question, but it is also a technical, legal and international point. What is ODA-able is not something made up by us; it cannot be defined as the Government wish, but must meet international standards and approval. When we show in 2013 that we are spending 0.7% of our national income on ODA expenditure, that has to be internationally certifiable overseas development expenditure. We can’t just change the definitions willy-nilly as we wish. We are operating within those definitions and the constraints that I described earlier.

Chair: We have just a couple of minutes left. That completes the questioning on the World Service, but there is a quick question from Ann Clwyd before you go.

Q83 Ann Clwyd: I wanted to raise the question of Bradley Manning, the US marine who at present is in a military prison, untried and unconvicted, and the treatment he has received. He has been kept in solitary confinement over the past 10 months, and he is denied access to the normal things that one uses every day. He is made to stand naked outside his cell every morning, and so on and so forth. As you know, Hillary Clinton’s spokesman has been forced to resign over comments he made about the treatment of Bradley Manning, which he called "counter-productive and stupid." Bradley Manning’s mother is Welsh, from Pembrokeshire. She has visited him recently and everybody is very concerned about his treatment. Will you raise the issue, or have you raised it? There is a lot of public interest in the treatment of Bradley Manning.

Mr Hague: On this case, Mr Manning’s lawyer apparently wrote on 2 February in his blog that Mr Manning "Does not hold a British passport, nor does he consider himself a British citizen." Beyond that, we cannot comment on an individual’s nationality without their consent. In that situation, our standing on the matter is limited. He does not ask for our help or consider himself British. In general, conditions in US prisons meet international standards. Solitary confinement is a procedure used in many countries and is deemed to offer protection both to the inmate and those around them. It is for Manning’s legal representative to challenge his treatment if they judge that it fails to meet international standards. The fact that the issue has been raised in this Committee can-and will-be brought to the attention of the United States. Our position legally and from a consular point of view is as I have just described.

Q84 Ann Clwyd: Can I just say that his legal representative published an 11-page document a few days ago? It was a statement from Manning and a complaint from his lawyer about his treatment. We are now receiving letters from constituents on the subject, so obviously I will be getting back to you on the matter.

Mr Hague: Do come back to me, and I will write back to enable you to respond to your constituents.

Chair: Foreign Secretary, thank you very much. We wish you well with all the troubles in the world that you are addressing, and I hope your meeting at 5 o’clock goes well.

Mr Hague: Thank you very much.