The FCO's Human Rights Work 2010-11 - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 57-136)


23 MAY 2011

  Q57  Chair: I welcome members of the public to this session of the Foreign Affairs Committee. It is part of our inquiry into the FCO's human rights work and its report of 2010-11. The Minister with responsibility for human rights in the Foreign Office, Jeremy Browne, is present. I welcome you and your colleagues, Minister.

  May I exploit your good nature to start with and bring up one point outside your human rights brief? You also have responsibility for the BBC World Service. As you know, the House passed a motion on Thursday afternoon calling on the Government to review their decision to cut it. We are in the process of dropping the Foreign Secretary a line asking how you are going to conduct this review and over what time scale. Is there anything you can say? Could you trail his reply for us?

  Mr Browne: Good afternoon to you, Chairman, and all the members of the Committee, and thank you for giving me an opportunity to speak about human rights. I should apologise, because I would have spoken in the House of Commons on Thursday in the debate that David Lidington covered for the Foreign Office, but I was travelling, which is why he stood in. I am, indeed, the Minister with responsibility for the World Service and am well aware of the undertakings that were given. I cannot give you a precise timetable in terms of, "The Foreign Secretary will come forward on x date with proposals," but, consequent to the debate and the House's decision on Thursday, we are looking at options—I understand that concerns have been raised by the Arabic service in particular—and what can be done to address the concerns that were raised. I anticipate that the time scale is weeks rather than months. I do not think this is a huge, protracted process. It is just revisiting some of the decisions and some of the budgets to see what can be done to address those concerns.

  Q58  Chair: Thank you. I hope that David Lidington conveyed to you the feelings of the House, which felt quite strongly about the issue.

  Mr Browne: He did. You probably do not want me to rehearse the arguments again at length this afternoon. Obviously there is a finite amount of money available for the Foreign Office family, if I can put it in those terms, and there is no money sloshing around without anybody wishing to spend it. So if extra money was made available we would have to see that it was taken from somewhere that was least injurious to another part of our diplomacy. But we are trying to do that in the light of the decision the House took on Thursday.

  Q59  Chair: Fair enough, we in turn will not rehearse the arguments either. We will move on to human rights. We note what you say. Can I start with a question about your two colleagues? With no disrespect to Mr Drew, we were expecting Robert Hannigan. We are delighted to see you here, Mr Drew, but we were wondering what had happened to Mr Hannigan.

  Thomas Drew: Robert Hannigan, who is also responsible for the Americas, has been tied up with the Obama state visit. I am his deputy and the Director for National Security for the Foreign Office.

  Q60  Chair: Thank you. Minister, the Foreign Secretary was critical of the last Government's ethical foreign policy and said that this is going to be more realistic and practical. What does that mean in human rights terms?

  Mr Browne: I don't want to unduly party politicise this subject matter. There is a broad consensus in British politics that human rights is a subject that ought to be taken seriously, that we ought to be serious about how we treat human rights in this country, that we ought to be an example of good practice around the world and that we ought to be demanding and vigilant about how human rights are observed or abused elsewhere in the world. The feeling is that we can always learn from previous experiences and that we can do better in some specific areas, and the Government are strongly committed to demonstrating an ongoing commitment to human rights. So the Foreign Secretary, for example, made an extended speech specifically on this issue, but it is a feature of our work in many different areas on an ongoing basis. I am sure we will come to this during the course of our discussion this afternoon, but this very substantial report, which was launched by the Foreign Secretary himself on 31 March, is evidence of the rigour with which we undertake our work in this area.

  Q61  Chair: Is there a change of approach in the report?

  Mr Browne: There is broad continuity inasmuch as I do not claim that the previous Government were not interested in human rights. We are constantly searching for ways we can be more effective at trying to promote human rights around the world. So, for example, the report highlights 26 specific countries where we wish to raise concerns. The previous report had 22. That does not mean that it is inherently better because the list could be as long or as short as you wanted it to be, depending on how many countries you wished to draw into the net to raise specific concerns about in the report. All I am saying is that all Governments have a different emphasis that they want to place and different areas they feel they can improve. In some areas, particularly in the light of controversy and the concern that has been raised about torture, the feeling is that we have tried to learn from past experience and we have tried to improve the rigour with which Britain conducts itself in this regard.

  Q62  Chair: How will you measure the effectiveness of what you are doing and your approach? What will you consider a good outcome?

  Mr Browne: There are some areas that lend themselves to measurement. Off the top of my head, for example, China is in the process of reducing the number of offences which attract the death penalty. Were one to be campaigning on the death penalty in China that would represent progress, although it is hard to attribute that to one specific bit of campaigning from one specific foreign Government or charitable organisation. So quite a lot of human rights treatment does not necessarily lend itself to numerical analysis of progress. In general over the last year, as it happens, and over recent decades, the world has, on balance, become a more liberal, open place. Britain is a champion of that agenda in the world. In some places, a step has been taken backwards and, in other places at the same time, two steps have been taken forward. We contribute to these processes on an ongoing basis. Sometimes they may lend themselves to numerical analysis but, a lot of the time, it is not quite as straightforward as that.

  Q63  Chair: You mentioned China, so can I take you to Russia? As you know, at the moment, the Khodorkovsky appeal is going on over there. There is a lot of concern that the Russians and their treatment of Mr Khodorkovsky, whatever the merits of the case may be, send a message to the rest of the world that it is not necessarily a level playing field for people visiting Russia. Do you have any comments to make on this case?

  Mr Browne: Concerns are raised by us right up to Foreign Secretary level with the Russians about human rights in Russia, both in general terms and specifically with regards to this case. My understanding is that the appeal in this specific case is due to be heard tomorrow, so watch this space. We are awaiting progress or a result on that. David Lidington, as the Minister for Europe, which includes Russia, will wish to comment and respond on behalf of the Department.

  Q64  Sir John Stanley: Minister, as you are aware, the US Department of State's annual report on human rights has produced a withering denunciation of serious human rights abuses in China. Among many other very reputable sources, it concludes that the human rights situation in China is actually deteriorating. Is it not therefore the case that the policy followed by the previous Government and continued by the present Government of trying to exert pressure on China by silent, private UK-China human rights dialogue has been an almost complete failure?

  Mr Browne: No, I don't think I would be as bleak in my analysis as you are, Sir John. I accept—how can I do anything other than accept—that China has a poor record on human rights. In some cases, it is must worse than that. For example, the treatment of prisoners or the number of people who are executed marks China out as one of the worst offenders in the world. The question for us is: how can we try to exert influence? There are plenty of countries in the world that don't comply with the standards we would wish them to on human rights. That is not because we don't make the case in what we regard as a compelling way to them. But, obviously, there is a limit to our influence, and we try to influence the Chinese in lots of different ways.

  Let me give you three quick examples—although we might have to expand on them. One is that we have statements of public intent—I suppose that you could even go as far as to say chastisement. We have occasions when we make our positions very clearly known. That quite often upsets the Chinese, but there we are. We also try to have a constructive dialogue with them and impress upon them the basis of our concerns and why we feel strongly about these issues. I often say to the Chinese, "I'm not saying what I am saying because I'm trying to offend or upset you necessarily; I'm saying what I'm saying because I genuinely believe it. I believe that people in China have just as must a reason to hope to live in a free, open manner as anyone else in the world, including in Britain."

  For example, through our embassy in Beijing, we try to advance human rights in a broader way. We might work with the Chinese or lawyers in China on the development of legal systems in China. That is not front-line campaigning with a banner outside the Chinese embassy or whatever it might be, but it is trying to work incrementally with civic society and sometimes with the grain of opinion—even political opinion—in China to try to make progress in a rather unflashy but valuable way. I suppose the point I am making is that China is a huge country; it causes huge amounts of concern about human rights; and we deploy a range of clubs that are available to us, rather than having a one-club policy, to try to encourage it in the right direction.

  Q65  Sir John Stanley: Minister, from the Foreign Office, you must take the same notice of what is going on in China as the rest of us and you must be aware that the human rights situation in China is deteriorating. That has been evidenced by one person after another, and some of those people are extremely prominent. They have ventured to express a different political opinion from the one-party Chinese state, have called for freedom of expression and have behaved in a perfectly peaceful and respectable way. The moment they have made such pronouncements, they have been locked up. They have been denied access to their families and to any form of open justice and are being treated in a totally abominable and intolerable way; and so, Minister, I come back to you. That is the reality of what is happening in China. Is the Foreign Office simply going to go on as before, while the situation deteriorates still further?

    Mr Browne: What I don't wish you to imply, Sir John, is that I in any way deplore that less than you do. We all want to see improvements in human rights in China. By some indicators in some areas, there may be improvements; by other indicators in other areas, there may be regression. Particularly in the last few months, there has by all accounts been a backlash against events in North Africa and the Middle East, which means that we have been going more in the wrong direction than the right direction in the last few months, but that has not been through lack of effort on the part of the Foreign Office. May I put the question back to you? If you have or any other member of the Committee has a suggestion about how I might go about bringing about good human rights in China, I am entirely open to suggestions. It is not through lack of willpower on our part. We are trying to do what we can, but as I say, if people think that they have a solution, please tell me.

  Q66  Sir John Stanley: The Committee will make its own conclusions in its report, but the point that I will put to you is this. Is the Foreign Office considering operating an alternative policy of much clearer, much more public and much more open criticism, rather than silent dialogue, which appears to be failing?

  Jeremy Browne: I think you imply that we are doing one or the other. That is why I made the point about a many-club policy. There are occasions on which we, in a very public—some would even say confrontational—way, explain to the Chinese why we disapprove of the actions that they are taking. On other occasions, we feel we may make further progress through not upping the ante in that way—that the Chinese may react against some of the more public chastisement and dig in their heels even more and that we may in some cases make more progress by trying, on a more private level, to convey our concerns. But it's not an either/or approach. A more aggressive and—dare I say it?—slightly more confrontational approach may yield greater dividends in one case, and another approach may yield greater dividends in another case. It may be that, in any given case, there is no approach that yields dividends, but that, as I say, is not from lack of effort on our part.

  We are trying to engage in all kinds of things. I have lots of quite interesting conversations with the Chinese Government about why I regard it to be in their own interest for them to improve their human rights record and about the fact that this is not us, as a western country, telling them that they have to adapt to live like us because we decree it to be a good thing for them. What I am trying to do is to convince them that if they stop and think about it, it is actually in their own interests to pursue this approach. Sometimes one can try to convince people through a process of intellectual jousting: on other occasions you may wish to be more abrasive and make the case more publicly. But we are trying to bring about the outcomes that we all desire. If people feel that a constant process of megaphone chastisement is likely to yield greater dividends, we can consider that, but quite a lot of people have advised me that it may have precisely the opposite effect.

  Q67  Mr Roy: Minister, in your work at the FCO so far, have there been cases in which Britain's record on human rights has held you back from taking a particular stance?

  Mr Browne: I am searching my mind for examples. I cannot think of anything necessarily holding us back. Our policy towards a particular country or a particular part of a country or a particular person is informed by our views on human rights at all times. There may be some cases. I have not, for example, visited Burma. You could say I have been held back from doing that. If Burma was a benign, liberal, open, tolerant society, as the Minister with responsibility for South-East Asia I probably would have visited it by now. I have not visited North Korea. I am about to go to South Korea. You can draw your own conclusions about which country we more instinctively approve of in terms of their political systems. In that way, it informs what we are doing the whole time.

  Q68  Mr Roy: Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been critical of the deportation with assurances agreements. What do you say to them in relation to what the FCO is doing to improve human rights standards in the criminal justice sector of countries with which the DWA agreements have been made?

  Mr Browne: This is a difficult area, because we are talking about a small number of people who may present a threat to security in this country, who, for one reason or another—we can talk about this in greater detail—we are not able to prosecute or find guilty of a specific offence in this country. They may represent a threat to national security, and therefore there is a reasonable expectation that we will try to respond to those national security threats, but we will do that in a way that is consistent with our obligations and our self-imposed moral codes on human rights. We try to make sure that we address all those issues by seeking assurances from countries that would give us cause for concern were we not to have had those assurances. We are operating these practices with only four countries at the moment. Each assurance is considered on a case-by-case basis. It is tested in court. Sometimes the courts will intervene.

  I am told that two or three years ago—before recent events in Libya—the court refused a return on the basis of the assurances that were given. There are pretty rigorous and robust systems in place, and there is no evidence so far to suggest that they do not work and that the assurances that are provided are not actually then delivered on. As far as we are aware, the system is effective and works in terms of trying to address all those otherwise potentially competing considerations.

  Q69  Mr Roy: But, Minister, are you 100% sure that none of the countries with which we have the DWA routinely practise torture?

  Mr Browne: The countries in question are Jordan, Algeria, Ethiopia and Lebanon. I think Libya was on the list, but for obvious reasons it no longer is. We would not require assurances if the countries were Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Canada. At the risk of sounding flippant, the countries in question are countries where there is cause for concern in the first place. That is precisely why we feel we need the assurances. If, on the other hand, we thought they were countries where the assurances were worthless, we would not be in that position either. They are countries that give us cause for concern. Their practices are not compliant with those that we would have in this country. None the less, we can, on a case-by-case basis, be sufficiently reassured that the assurances will be complied with, and it is on that basis that we undertake the policy.

  Q70  Mr Roy: I turn to the 2010 human rights report. What is your response to the suggestion that the human rights report should become an all of Government publication rather than only an FCO one?

  Mr Browne: May I start by saying what a significant piece of work this is? I know that I am slapping on the back the Department of which I am Minister, but it takes a huge amount of work to draw together information from our embassy network right around the world and from all the different Departments. People sit night after night writing 350 pages of fairly rigorous analysis. It is a very important and successful exercise and it forms a useful basis for a lot of our ongoing work throughout the following year. I hope that we have an opportunity to discuss that in a bit more length.

  There is a case for trying to widen the net even more and making it a whole of Government report. I would make a couple of counters to that. First, this is the Foreign Office holding itself to account for the foreign policy-led work that the Foreign Office does on human rights. That enables me as Foreign Office Minister to sit in front of the Foreign Affairs Committee and talk about what the Foreign Office is doing on human rights. There is a danger that if the report is "owned" by everybody, it is owned by nobody and there will be a loss of accountability.

  Secondly, in my experience as a Minister for a year, the business of government is fairly cumbersome. Trying to compile a report of this magnitude and comprehensiveness—it is written by a Committee that includes representatives of every Government Department—we do well to get a report every five years rather than every year. It is not a secret report. We share thoughts and ideas with obvious relevant Departments, such as DFID. If it wants to contribute or if there is a section that lends itself to working in conjunction with another Department, then we will do it. We are not hoarding it inside the Foreign Office. As soon as it becomes a Cabinet Office report, with every single Department trying to redraft every chapter, we might find that it became less effective rather than more effective as a result.

  Q71  Mr Roy: Yes, but in your answer, you said that this is the FCO holding itself to account. Is that best practice?

  Mr Browne: I did not mean the FCO holding itself to account. People say, "What is the FCO doing?" We are the Department that leads on Britain's relations with the rest of the world. There are concerns right around the world. We have already talked about China and Russia. When we are asked what we are doing about it, this is the answer. We can look at each section of the report. Specific issues such as the death penalty are dealt with. For each of the 26 countries, there are reports. We are not trying to say the Ministry of Defence thinks this, DFID thinks the other and the Department for Education thinks something else. This is the Department that is responsible for our relations with the rest of world saying what it is doing with the rest of the world. In that way, it makes it a more accountable document than trying to spread it so thinly that it lacks people who are willing to defend it and be responsible for it.

  Q72  Mr Roy: So, therefore, it is best practice?

  Mr Browne: Yes, I think so, but we are open to suggestions. The end objective that we all seek is to try to do what we can to wield influence around the world to advance human rights. This is a very comprehensive report that we are committed to producing on an annual basis and updating it online on a quarterly basis. It is a huge amount of work that Susan and her department pore over for literally months. It gives a good focus to our work.

  Perhaps I can briefly share an example of where I think that is quite positive. I was in South America last week, including in Colombia. The Colombian ambassador came to see me on the last working day before I left this country—that is not unreasonable or particularly notable, because ambassadors often come to see me just before I go to their country. Apart from having a general discussion about my visit, he said that he was interested to read the section in the report on Colombia. He accepted that a lot of the points in it were valid and that the situation on human rights was a cause of concern for the Colombian Government, right up to the President of Colombia. They felt that they were making progress. They felt there was more to do. He had actually gone through our report and tried to address, point by point, the areas that they were seeking to make progress on.

  Now, I regret to say places like China and Iran do not embrace the opportunities that the report provides with quite such enthusiasm, but the point I am making is that that was quite a good demonstration of how the report can work as quite an effective tool for gathering together our thoughts in one big compendium and allowing us to work on that basis. It is shared; we send it to every embassy, and every country in the world gets a copy.

  Q73  Mr Roy: Every country in the world?

  Mr Browne: As far as I am aware.

  Susan Hyland: It goes to all our embassies to pass on to the host Government.

  Mr Browne: I have had discussions with other countries' Governments or representatives, who admire it as a piece of work. As I understand it, the Americans, a bit like Amnesty International, do a report on every country in the world, so it is a slightly different exercise. I am told that some other countries—Sweden was one of the examples given to me—do a similar exercise, but not on an annual basis. We are doing something a bit different. As I say, quite a lot of other countries, and NGOs and human rights campaigners round the world, although they might have a view about the precise wording on page whatever, welcome the overall exercise and feel that it is helpful.

  Q74  Ann Clwyd: Minister, since the information you provide here is quite comprehensive, I would have thought you could have provided information in response to some written questions I tabled in April. They were quite simple. I asked, first, "how many and what proportion of British…embassies…High Commissions and…other overseas posts have a dedicated human rights officer". Secondly, I asked "how many…embassies, High Commissions and overseas posts have a dedicated trade officer". The reply I got from the FCO was this: "For operational and security reasons we cannot give further details of staff deployments and activity levels." How on earth are we supposed to assess what sort of commitment there is to human rights if you cannot tell us how many people you have working as dedicated officers on human rights in various countries?

  Mr Browne: I do not know whose name the answers were in, but I apologise that they were not to your satisfaction.

  Ann Clwyd: It was answered by Henry Bellingham, not by you.

  Mr Browne: We all speak for the Department collectively. Can I question the underlying assumption behind the questions, and then we can explore that a bit? The underlying assumption, I think—you may tell me I am wrong—is that the measurement of the commitment of the British Government or of each individual to human rights is the number of people working in an embassy or in the Government as a whole who, on a staff organisational chart, have "Human Rights Officer" written under their name. Let me cite Colombia as a good example—

  Q75  Ann Clwyd: Why couldn't you answer that question? It was a direct question, whatever implication you want to put on it.

  Mr Browne: We could not answer it for the reasons given in the answer, but let me cite the example from last week. Last Wednesday and Thursday, I was in Colombia, which is a country that comes up a lot in human rights terms. I had a meeting at the British ambassador's residence on the Wednesday evening of last week with a huge range of human rights campaigners—let me make it clear that there is a purpose to this answer. There were trade union representatives, representatives of indigenous people, representatives of gay rights groups—there were lots of different groups. There were about 70 or 80 people there. The next day, I had a meeting with the President of Colombia and I touched on some of the themes that people had raised with me the previous evening at that event. I had an hour-long meeting with the vice-president of Colombia, who is specifically leading on Colombian Government policy on human rights, where I went through what they are doing on human rights; what they are doing on trade unions; and what they are doing on all the different groups—indigenous people and so and on. The ambassador was with me, of course, in all those meetings.

  The reason why I say that is that no budget heading will state that we did more work on human rights than if I had never been there. No specific, dedicated human rights officers raised those points with the President of Colombia; I raised them myself, as did the ambassador. I would just caution a little bit about thinking that the Government's commitment to human rights can be measured by how many people we employ with the title of human rights officer, or how big the budget heading is that has human rights written above it. We are working on human rights the whole time.

  Q76  Ann Clwyd: It makes a big difference if you have a dedicated human rights officer. I know this from Iraq—seven years' experience of dealing with human rights officers and people who dealt with human rights in Iraq—where it was very important to have somebody who would push for certain things, such as issues on detainees and issues on rule of law. It was very important to have certain people pushing. You say in your Iraq report, "The promotion of human rights remains an important focus for us in Iraq." Is there a dedicated human rights officer in Iraq now?

    Mr Browne: I haven't been to Iraq, but I have worked with embassy staff in countries such as China who have a particular focus on human rights. The point I am making is this. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that we had an extra human rights officer in Colombia, but I had decided not to incorporate the human rights component into my visit last week, and I had decided not to raise those issues with the President of Colombia directly. By your criteria, we would care more about human rights than if I had done that, as the Minister. All that I am saying is that I do not think that that is a reasonable criterion by which to measure commitment. I cannot give you an exact answer about exactly which people we have in which place, but if we were to increase it by 5%, that would not mean that we cared 5% more about human rights than we do at the moment. Every single one of our ambassadors is a human rights officer. Let me put it in those terms.

  Q77  Ann Clwyd: We know all this; we have been around a long time, and we are told that ambassadors frequently raise human rights issues. I know from Iraq that unless you have a dedicated human rights officer, many issues never get raised at all. I would have thought on Iraq, for example, when you have three really devastating human rights reports from Amnesty International and from Human Rights Watch, you should be concerned about the amount of time people are able to give to countries where there are very problematic human rights issues.

  Mr Browne: I am concerned.

  Q78  Ann Clwyd: I imagine that is why you are hiding behind this answer: "For operational security reasons we cannot give further details of staff deployments."  

  Mr Browne: Dare I say it, you are setting yourself up as a person who is morally superior to me, and who cares more about human rights than I do.

  Q79  Ann Clwyd: Nonsense. I am just asking you to answer the questions.

  Mr Browne: And I am saying that all our staff care about human rights, and human rights are raised by people at the most senior level the whole time. Actually, having ambassadors in countries such as China who care deeply about human rights—who concern themselves with them and who raise them at very senior levels of Government—is relevant. It is a demonstration of our commitment to those subjects. I am in China myself on Tuesday. I anticipate, in my meetings in Beijing on Tuesday, raising human rights concerns, but that would not meet your criteria for demonstration of commitment to these matters. I think it is relevant that the Minister is going there.

  Q80  Ann Clwyd: I think you have answered the question, and I can see why you are hiding behind this answer.

  Mr Browne: We are doing it the whole time. The Prime Minister himself has raised human rights concerns in China. I just don't accept the idea that the Prime Minister not mentioning them but a dedicated human rights officer doing it instead would somehow demonstrate extra intent.

  Q81  Ann Clwyd: No, as well. Not instead—as well.

  Mr Browne: But they are doing it the whole time. We have dedicated human rights officers.

  Q82  Chair: On this point, you have country business plans for 2011-15. Do they include human rights objectives?

  Mr Browne: For which country?

  Q83  Chair: Do the country business plans for 2011-15 include human rights objectives?

  Mr Browne: Yes, but what I ought to say in terms of human rights is that we cannot promise that x country will have x level of human rights by 2015, because we are only responsible as a Government for final policy delivery in the United Kingdom. We can try to bring about progress in countries over that time scale, and that is what we try to do. On human rights, my experience as a Minister in the last year is that the specific issues which are afforded a lot of prominence—in fact, probably more than I might have anticipated when I was first appointed as a Minister—are human rights and climate change, as dedicated issues. I suppose trade and business is another one. Cultural diplomacy is another.

  To answer the question, we have people, certainly in bigger embassies—not embassies where we have only a handful of staff, but in some of the bigger embassies—who are concentrating on these specific issues and who are trying to advance British objectives on all those issues, including human rights.

  Chair: Thank you. John Baron.

  Q84  Mr Baron: Minister, last year the advisory group on human rights was created, and I think I am right in saying that three sub-groups were created, which you chair. The advisory group itself has met at least once. What activities have been undertaken by the sub-groups which you chair? How many meetings have you had since the advisory group was instigated?

  Mr Browne: You are right that the Foreign Secretary set up the group, which I sit on, but the Foreign Secretary himself chairs it, and he invited the members to be part of the group. It has met once, I think, so far—it was not set up on day one of the Government—and its intention is that it would meet every six months. The next meeting is scheduled for the beginning of next month. Roughly, it met six or seven months in, and it is now meeting 13 months in, if you want to put it in those terms. It has a list of distinguished people who represent a broad range of experience and insights on human rights. It does not mandate the Foreign Secretary; it enables him to draw on their insights and experiences. Discussions take place in a Chatham House way so that people can speak freely. The first meeting, which I attended, was, to give you a sense, a two-hour discussion. There was some open discussion.

  On the sub-groups, one is on the death penalty specifically. I have chaired a meeting of that, and there is due to be another meeting either next month or in July. One is on torture. I have yet to chair a meeting on that, but I think a meeting is scheduled soon. The only other one, I think, that we are exploring—it is a slightly different furrow to plough—is one on internet freedom, a particularly interesting subject after events in North Africa, and the degree to which human rights advance around the world less by Governments admonishing other Governments and more by grassroots emancipation.

  Those sorts of group might end up having a rather different cast list of people attending. Susan and other senior officers sit in on these deliberations. It is meant to give us a sounding board and help us to think issues through and draw on people's insights. The committee problem is, quite often, what is the concrete outcome from particular events that have taken place at particular meetings? There may be concrete outcomes, but most of the time, I think, it is an opportunity to be more reflective—

  Q85  Mr Baron: Can I press you on that, Minister? How are you going to assess whether these groups have been successful or not? It is difficult, I know, but there has got to be some measure of success to make sure that time is not being wasted. We all know how Government can work. If it is a difficult issue, you open up a consultation for a year or you create a sub-group for it to be discussed. At the end of the day, what is stopping these sub-groups from becoming nothing more than just Chinese talking shops?

  Mr Browne: I was reminded of this in the preparations for the Committee, because the meeting was five or six months ago, but two areas that we, as a Department, agreed to explore in greater detail and at greater length after the first meeting—the full Committee this is—were human rights in the context of business promotion, which you may wish to come on to during this sitting, and freedom of religious practice, which is always an issue. I am doing a debate on that in Westminster Hall tomorrow, so it is a particularly strong issue at the moment.

  On something like the death penalty group, which I myself launched four or five months ago, the Foreign Office has a sort of, if I can put it in these terms, death penalty strategy, which looks at different areas of what we might try and do to persuade countries to move away from the death penalty. There are some countries where the death penalty is rarely used, and there are some where it is not used at all, but it remains on the statute book and has not been used for a considerable period of time. We might try and persuade them to remove it from the statute book. There are some countries in the Caribbean, for example, where the death penalty is on the statute book and has not been used for a long period of time, but there is quite a lively debate that it should start to be used again. It might stay on the statute book, but we would discourage them from reactivating it. There are some countries that use the death penalty, but not extensively. Japan is an example. When I went to Japan, I made the case for them dropping it altogether, because, as I say, it is not widely used. There are some countries where even the most optimistic Minister would not expect rapid, immediate and complete progress on the death penalty, but, even in countries like Iran, we have may more modest, but never the less worthwhile, initial objectives such as trying to discourage the execution of children and pregnant women, trying to ensure that there are proper appeals procedures and so on.

  I would be very happy if every country in the world abolished the death penalty tomorrow, but if we are discussing a more targeted approach—what an embassy in country x could realistically aspire to try and progress over the next year or two—giving our embassies in China and Iran the target of abolishing the death penalty by the end of next year is probably quite a big leap. We would try and see where we can push at slightly open doors, and the opportunity with the Committee to explore which countries may be particularly receptive to progress or to particular messages or which countries may be most likely to regress back into the use of the death penalty is quite a useful exercise. It informs what our human rights department and what our embassies and high commissions are doing as well.

  Q86  Mike Gapes: Is the United States one of those countries? Will we be raising with President Obama the continuing death penalty in the US?

  Mr Browne: The United States is one of those countries. I think, from memory, we have five countries—or is it four? It is slightly controversial. The US stands out a long way, because the other countries are, in every other regard, not in line with the United States in terms of their wider respect for the rights of the individual. On this issue, however, we felt that it was justified to include the United States, and it is hard to argue the case to exclude the United States from those sorts of lists. That is one of the difficulties that I have, because three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council use the death penalty. I have made these cases in debates with students in Trinidad and with Foreign Office Ministers in Japan. I am not due to meet the President of the United States, and I will not have the opportunity to make the case to him.

  Q87  Mike Gapes: Do you know whether the issue is being raised with the President?

  Mr Browne: I am not aware that it is or it isn't. I have no more insights than you do.

  Q88  Mr Watts: The last Government had an ethical foreign policy and it seems that the current Government are trying to follow it, but we have also heard from the Secretary of State that he wants to give more emphasis to trade. As you would expect, the Committee is interested in what the implications of that shift in FCO policy are. First, there seems to be some indication that our ethical policy is dependent on the size of the trading opportunities between Britain and a country; for example, we have heard about China and America, and all sorts of relationships. We have an approach to those countries that is different from our approach to other countries. Is Government policy dependent on what is at stake and on the trading links between one country and another?

  Mr Browne: No. I was talking about participating in debates with students and others. When I visit countries, I have components of my programme that place a heavy emphasis on human rights issues, and with some of those countries we do a lot of trade and with some of them we do very little. There is no correlation—or reverse correlation, if you like—between the degree to which we raise human rights concerns and the amount of trade.

  Q89  Mr Watts: Some people believe that a strong, ethical foreign policy can enhance trade. Have you any evidence that that is the case?

  Mr Browne: I think I do believe that. On the whole, the countries that are most prosperous and open to free trade, open markets and interaction on an economic level with other countries tend also to be those with the highest levels of freedom and human rights. I accept that there are exceptions that slightly prove the rule—someone could say, "What about Singapore?", which would be an interesting way to kick off the debate because it is an extremely prosperous country and falls short of what we would like in terms of human rights. By and large, there is a correlation.

  I have just been in Latin America, and three decades ago a lot of the countries there had fairly closed economies that were ruinously run with, for example, extremely high inflation and they were governed by authoritarian leaders—some right wing, some left wing. Many, but not all, of those countries have opened up to more trade and inward investment, and have opened up politically as well. I am not saying that there is an absolutely precise correlation, but, to an extent, the processes of economic and political liberalisation have been part of an overall whole.

  Look at our history: over hundreds of years, as people became more prosperous and concerned about property rights and so on, there was a greater desire to codify their protections from the state in whatever form—whether an absolute monarch or a more modern state—so there is a reasonable correlation. Singapore is a small example, but you might say, "China", which is a bigger example, but a more complicated question. Let me put it this way, if us not trading with a country made it wonderfully free, open and democratic, then North Korea, Burma and Iran would be the most free, open and democratic countries in the world, because we hardly do anything with them.

  Q90  Mr Watts: Let us turn the question round the other way. It has been reported that some in your Department and parts of the Government believe that our stance on human rights is affecting our trade and that there is evidence that it is damaging British opportunities to get trade abroad. Do you have any examples of that or is that not reflected in your briefs or discussions with your officials?

  Mr Browne: I disagree with that assessment, but in terms of the discussion this afternoon, I do not doubt that, for example, a country like China may say to officials from the British embassy, "If you keep persisting with raising human rights concerns, it could adversely impact on your ability to secure contracts in China." You could see it as an impressive demonstration of our commitment to human rights that we carry on making the case in the way that we do.

  Let me go even further forward and look at it in a wider sense still. This is not the position, but let us say for the sake of argument that you, Mr Watts, as a Government Minister, were overwhelmingly concerned with the trade prosperity agenda, and completely indifferent to the human rights agenda, which you found a distraction. I argue that you would still come to the conclusion that the more open, liberal and free the world was, the more opportunities would exist for the trade you were in favour of. In other words, even without an enlightened, disinterested approach, you would come to a cynical, self-interested view that human rights were something you wanted to pursue because they helped you with trade.

  I will go even further. The sort of areas in trade terms that countries are most interested in from Britain, tend to be the more high-end and service sector-based trade, and that tends to be more highly in demand in a more open society. In other words, authoritarian regimes do not generally have a big demand for advertising companies from Britain, because they do not tend to spend a lot of money on advertising.

  Q91  Mr Watts: Let us test that for one second. You seem to be indicating that you agree that raising the issues of human rights is not damaging to trade.

  Jeremy Browne: No; it could be. I am not saying that there are no circumstances in which it could be damaging, and if that were the case, it is impressive that we stand so firmly by our principles, especially if you care greatly about human rights, as I do. Quite often the point is made that you either have to believe in trade or in human rights. The question invited us to say how many people we employed in trade and how many in human rights. That slightly suggested that if those numbers were turned the other way round, it would be an indication that the Government place an emphasis on one rather than the other. They don't need to be incompatible, and in the long term they are compatible.

  Q92  Mr Watts: Let me just pursue that point. If you think in the long term that it is good for trade, business and for Britain to raise those issues, why don't we do it more publicly with China? Ministers often cite the fact that we are raising these issues, but that we are doing it behind closed doors. We know that the Chinese are quite happy having things raised behind closed doors, but they are very touchy about it being done publicly. Are the Government considering doing that publicly, and trying to have more effect and push the matter back? Given the points raised by my colleague, in some cases it seems it could be argued that we are making the situation in China worse. We are not being effective in what we are doing so far.

  Mr Browne: I understand. I conceded to Sir John Stanley that I think the situation in China in some regards is worse than it was a few months ago. I've seen reports saying that the crackdown in China is at its most intense and draconian levels since Tiananmen square 22 years ago. That is because there is a lot of jumpiness in China about events elsewhere in the world, and about the enthusiasm with which countries like Britain are supporting the process of liberalisation in other parts of the world. I suppose you could argue that if there is a crackdown, it is as a reaction to our enthusiastic support for liberalism in the Middle East and North Africa—I would not argue that that is a reason not to enthusiastically give such support. The question that arises is: what do we do about it? It is in our interests to trade with China because lots of jobs are connected to that. It is actually in our interest for China to be a successful economy. China would become extremely unstable in ways that would not be good for British business or politics, or for human rights, were it to fall into a prolonged recession, for example. We still make the case for human rights strongly and in a number of different ways.

  As I said in the debates that I have with the Chinese, I am not trying to score points from them. I am not trying to have some sort of debate where I win and they lose, and they are humiliated and I am victorious or vice versa. I am raising these points because, first, we genuinely care about them—we are not trying to do the Chinese down, but we care about these points and we are completely sincere in our beliefs—and, secondly, because we believe that the interests of China are advanced by—

  Q93  Mr Watts: But should we do it publicly, Minister?

  Mr Browne: Well, we do it publicly. If I start going into great detail about what we do privately, it ceases to be private. However, as I said at the beginning, we try to make the case in a range of different ways with the same end objective in mind, which is to improve human rights in China.

  Dare I say it? As a politician, the temptation of course is to be seen to be doing the good thing by shouting loudly about it. As a politician, you may get more credit for that than for bringing about the objective but doing so quietly. I think that it was Ronald Reagan who said, "You can achieve anything you want in politics as long as you don't mind not getting the credit for it". I am not saying that we have achieved everything that we want, but it is not necessarily an exercise in basking in the most applause from China watchers.

  Q94  Mr Baron: Minister, may I bring this round to the issue of bribery? I think that Sir Edward Clay, a former high commissioner, suggested that pursuing UK commercial interests and at the same time trying to combat corruption made for a conflict when it came to UK diplomats, particularly those working in countries where bribery is rife. He also suggested in a previous evidence session that the Bribery Act 2010 will accentuate that conflict. I think that I am right in saying that that Act becomes effective on 1 July, so we are not far away from it becoming effective. Apparently, the FCO is currently assessing the implications of that Act and it has promised to keep this Committee informed. Can you now update us?

  Mr Browne: I asked for a piece of paper because my understanding of the situation is the one that you have just outlined in the question and therefore I did not know what I could add to it. As you say, we are providing guidance and practical assistance to UK companies on how they operate in countries and on how we feel that they should seek to comply with our values and best practice. We continue to consider how we can be effective at that.

  Q95  Mr Baron: Can you give us a little bit of evidence, in the sense that the FCO has said previously that it is assessing the implications, particularly of the Bribery Act 2010? As I say, that Act will be effective in about six weeks' time. Where are we in that assessment? Or is that something on which you want to come back to us later on?

  Mr Browne: I will come back to you, because my understanding is that we are at the point that I told you about, and indeed the point that you effectively said to me in your opening question. As I say, bribery is not in harmony with the British approach to business and we do not wish to see British businesses using that approach, but we must try to find ways and procedures that make that effective. Maybe I should give you greater detail.[1]

  Q96  Mr Baron: Come back to us when you can, Minister. However, given the time scale involved, I am sure that you will appreciate that we would appreciate an assessment before 1 July.

  Mr Browne: Let me read the note that has just been given to me. It says, "Still assessing". So this is rather revealing—the strings are pulling the puppet.

  Mr Baron: I appreciate your honesty, Minister.

  Mr Browne: We are still assessing guidance and we will keep the Committee updated on any guidance we give to staff, but let me give you an undertaking, Mr Baron, that I will go away and examine this issue in greater detail, and I will let you and the Chairman of the Committee know what more we can do. I do not doubt that we are assessing this issue diligently, but I would like to give you a fuller answer.

  Q97  Mr Baron: To be fair to you, Minister, in one respect I look forward to that assessment in due course, but in another respect are we asking you an unfair question? We have had other evidence sessions that suggest that what happens when a country or countries produce anti-bribery legislation is that it forces their companies to stop doing business with that country, which leaves the pitch clear for other countries' companies that are not covered by such legislation. Does this not reinforce the need for an international approach rather than just a bilateral approach?

  Mr Browne: This is a reasonable and interesting debate. I have two thoughts. First, I remember being in the House of Commons at, I think, Prime Minister's questions about six or seven months ago when someone asked the Prime Minister whether British embassy staff—I think, from memory—had paid any fees at something like Benghazi airport. It was in a situation where we needed to get people out.

  Mike Gapes: It was Tripoli.

  Mr Browne: It was Tripoli. He used an expression—I can't remember it—that basically said, "Yes." What struck me was that MPs collectively, of all parties, thought, or appeared to think, that the ends justified the means. If what was required to extract the British people from the dangerous situation was a whatever expression he used—I can't remember what it was, but it was something like "transit consolidation fee"—you had to operate within the context in which you were in. You may feel that that answers your question. I am not saying that that is the position of the British Government. We will seek to behave in the best way possible. You raise an interesting point.

  There is another thing that is becoming harder. Take Burma, which was an example raised earlier by Mr Watts. A lot of our approach to countries like Burma has been slightly predicated on the assumption that the West, or like-minded nations—let me not put it as crudely as "the West"—control the supply of everything to a country like Burma, and that therefore we can demonstrate our commitment to the values we all share and coerce countries that do not share those values into compliance by cutting off their ability to buy essential goods. That model is becoming harder to sustain—in fact, it may already be past its peak—when other countries in the world that do not, or do not appear to, or whose Governments do not, share those values supply the country that we have sanctions against. At that point, we are doing this for show or to make an interesting moral statement but, in terms of its practical effect, it is very limited. This is a related but separate point, but the point I am making is that that requires a bit of a rethink about the tools that we have at our disposal.

  Q98  Mr Baron: Can I come back to my question? What effort is the FCO putting into trying to ensure that there is an international approach to this? You have not actually addressed that. You have highlighted the disadvantage of going it alone, but what is the FCO doing to try to bring countries together to adopt an international approach which would, at the end of the day, be far more effective?

  Mr Browne: Let me put that dimension in my response. I agree that it would be more effective. The tension, in my experience, is always between the suit of absolute effectiveness and actually being able to do anything in a time scale worth doing it in. If every country in the world was scornful of the very notion of bribery, they would all sign up to our code of good conduct. We would not need a code of good conduct, because there would not be any countries in the world where we would need to use it. You would be asking countries in which bribery and corruption were rife to agree to our code of good conduct on how to operate to try to prevent bribery and corruption. You understand the point I am making about sentence structures becoming quite complicated.

  Mr Baron: That was a lengthy response.

  Mr Browne: But I hope that you understand my point, which is that we have to try to find ways. I will stop now. I was going to use examples of countries, but I would probably offend people. There are some countries with which we could easily find agreement, but they are not necessarily the ones that are undercutting British businesses in this regard.

  Q99  Chair: There is widespread interest—I was about to say concern—in what companies can do and what they can't do. We will read your response with interest.

  Mr Browne: I would not assume, from my answers, that there is a lack of attention being given to the matter. I am not able to share that attention with you in as much detail as I would like.

  Q100  Chair: Fair enough. It does need an accurate answer.

  Mr Browne: I take your point that it is a cause of concern.

  Q101  Sir John Stanley: Why have the Government not invited those outside the Government, including human rights organisations, to make a contribution to the Government's review of arms export licence approvals, which your colleague Alistair Burt announced on 18 February?

  Mr Browne: I do not know. Mr Drew might want to draw on that at greater length. The point made by the Foreign Secretary to this Committee on 16 March was that he was considering export controls with regard to arms, and that he would report to Parliament on his actions, and that report would be soon. I anticipate that will be a reasonably short time scale to this Committee and to Parliament as a whole. The implications would not be just for the parts of the world that are of immediate concern, but could be global. I suppose there is a tension between acting with the speed which I suspect this Committee and Parliament would wish to see, and the degree to which we cast the net in seeking a wider range of opinions.

  Q102  Sir John Stanley: Do the Government welcome contributions from outside organisations?

  Mr Browne: Yes.

  Q103  Sir John Stanley: So, outside organisations are free to make submissions to the Government on the review?

  Mr Browne: Yes, but outside organisations are free to write to me or other Ministers on any subject of concern about human rights at any point, and do. We will obviously take their views into account. It would be interesting to hear the views of the advisory committee if this subject is discussed at the meeting planned with the Foreign Secretary in a couple of weeks' time. We are trying to draw on people's opinions. It is a perfectly legitimate view but there are some people who don't think that Britain should export arms to anybody in any circumstances. I do not anticipate that being the conclusion of the review. People might feel because that is not the conclusion that they have not been listened to. I would not draw that conclusion. It is just that people may contribute conflicting opinions. However, we are open to ideas and would not wish to suggest anything else.

  The review is not a two-year, all singing, all dancing process with roadshows in regional capital cities and so on. It is an attempt to respond to fast-moving events in the world, where we feel that the resilience of our procedures has been strong, but where legitimate concerns have been raised, where regimes that have been in place—sometimes longer than I have been alive—have suddenly, without much advance notice collapsed, changed dramatically or are under great pressure. That must have a bearing on our approach. Because events are moving quite fast, we need to consider our approach in that light, and that is what we are doing. It is reasonable to understand what brought about the review and the time scales that are putting pressure on the review, and how we might try to have an outcome. It is not a free-thinking exercise where we have a blank sheet of paper and three years to mull it over. It is a process of re-examining our procedures to see if they are sufficiently rigorous and where they can be changed or tweaked to make them more rigorous, if we feel that can be achieved. If someone with an outside view wants to write me a letter about that and they have a compelling case, they can do so—anyone can write me a letter whenever they want. But the nature of the exercise is the one that I have just outlined.

  Q104  Sir John Stanley: As you know from answers that your colleagues have given to various parliamentary questions, the Government have so far revoked some 150 extant arms export licences for weapons and other materials that could be used for internal repression—licences that were previously granted to Egypt, Bahrain, Tunisia and Libya. Can you explain why the same policy has not been applied in relation to Saudi Arabia?

  Mr Browne: May I just ask Mr Drew to clarify the previous question?

  Thomas Drew: I will not speak about Saudi Arabia—I shall just give some clarification on the previous question. In the time scales, it was deliberately an internal, lessons-learned exercise. The Minister has made a point about welcoming any letters on the matter, but it is worth adding that we have had some informal consultation with NGOs as part of the process; we did not make it a formal consultation process.

  Mr Browne: On the information that has been presented to me, there is no evidence that equipment that has been sourced from the United Kingdom has been used in repression anywhere in the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf. But where concerns have arisen, export licences have been revoked. The judgment is made against the criteria. If the criteria are not complied with, the revocation takes place; if the criteria are complied with, unless there is an arms embargo against the country, the licence would presumably be granted. But the purpose of the review is to see whether we need to examine—or how we examine—those criteria.

  Q105  Sir John Stanley: That does not answer my question. The revocations have been in relation to four countries in which there is a clear risk that British arms exports that had been licensed could be used for internal repression. Similar weapons have been exported, under Government-approved licences, to Saudi Arabia. British armoured personnel carriers that were recently licensed by the British Government have rolled into Bahrain, where some of the most appalling human rights abuses have taken place. Why has the same policy not been followed in relation to Saudi Arabia?

  Mr Browne: Let me again start by agreeing the premise of your question, because there is always a danger in these Committees that the implication of the questions is that I, or the Government, care less about human rights in every given situation than members of the Committee. I do not accept that the Government—or I, as a Minister in it—are any less appalled by repression of people in Bahrain than anyone else who is sitting on this Committee. It is worth making that point.

  Q106  Sir John Stanley: There is no such insinuation behind my question. I am asking for a clear statement about why the Government have not pursued the same policy.

  Mr Browne: If I may say so, Sir John, I think that, up to a point, there is an insinuation behind your question.

  Q107  Chair: It is a pretty straightforward question.

  Mr Browne: The answer to the question is that it has not been demonstrated, in a way that conflicts with the criteria, that equipment exported to Saudi Arabia has been used in Bahrain in specifically the way that you describe.

  Q108  Sir John Stanley: If that is the answer to my question, I refer you to your Foreign Office colleague, Alistair Burt. His clear public statement is that we do not sell arms that could be used for internal repression—not have been used, but could be used. I suggest that it is absolutely clear that certain categories of weapons that have been given Government approval for export licensing to Saudi Arabia could be used for internal repression, whether in Bahrain, or against the Shi'a minority in Saudi Arabia. So why has not the same arms export revocation policy been followed?

  Thomas Drew: In each of these cases, particularly with countries where there is no formal arms embargo, it is a question of looking at this case-by-case—at specific equipment for specific areas. That is why we have ended up with the results that you describe. There is no arms embargo against Saudi Arabia, therefore we have looked specifically item by item, which is why we came up with the conclusions that we did.

  Q109  Sir John Stanley: May I suggest that it would look to an dispassionate outside observer that different criteria have been applied as far as Saudi Arabia is concerned, and the criteria being applied are that Saudi Arabia is too important to offend, financially, in terms of the arms export deals we have with the country and its oil position.

  Thomas Drew: Some of these issues will be dealt with in the—

  Q110  Sir John Stanley: Is the Minister not prepared to offer any response to that?

  Mr Browne: The criteria do not include the opportunities for buying or selling oil, as you know, Sir John. That is not the basis on which the criteria are assessed. The criteria are there. Each case is considered against those criteria. I take the point. I do not want British weapons or equipment to be used to suppress people anywhere in the world. I want people to be free to protest and express their views wherever they live. I would feel extremely uncomfortable if I thought there was a prospect that that equipment was being used for those purposes. We need some sort of objective criteria—unless one argues that we are never going to export anything to anybody—to work out in which cases it is reasonable to export product x to country y. I have been given assurances that those criteria have been met in these cases. That is why those exports have taken place. Where those criteria have not been met, there is a revocation, as we have explained.

  The interesting question is whether the criteria need to be adjusted to take account of changing circumstances. That is what is being considered. When you come back to the point of why is this not a more extensive process, my answer is that I think there is a degree of urgency to ensuring that we have got the bar at the right height and in the right place. I wholeheartedly share your objective. We need to have some objective criteria that mean that your and my joint objective is met in a way that people can understand and feel is reasonable.

  Q111  Sir John Stanley: Would you not agree, Minister, that it is not the criteria that need to be adjusted? It is the judgments that need to be adjusted. The fact that some 150 arms export licenses had to be revoked is the clearest possible acknowledgment that the judgments made to export the weapons in the first place were wrong. Given the adjustments that have been made in the judgments, which have caused the revocations, surely it is patently clear that the armoured personnel carriers and the other types of weapons that have been exported to Saudi Arabia are in as much danger of being used for internal repression as those that have already been revoked as far as Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Bahrain are concerned.

  Mr Browne: I do think that if the criteria are sufficiently wide or open to interpretation, people can arrive at a judgment that achieves an outcome that is the opposite of what we sought to achieve when we were drawing up the criteria, and the criteria need to be narrowed so that that scope for judgment does not exist to the same degree. Given that we share the same objective, that British equipment should not be used to suppress people in the way that you describe, if that is the outcome that we arrive at—I am not saying it necessarily is, but in a hypothetical situation—and the criteria have been complied with, clearly the criteria are not pitched in the right place to achieve our policy objective. The criteria need to be made more stringent or less open to interpretation, or both.

  Q112  Mr Baron: I don't doubt your sincerity, Minister. The problem is that we seem to have an FCO whose policy on the ground is somewhat different, and any reasonable person out there would judge that there is inconsistency in the approach to supplying arms to Saudi Arabia and other countries where licences have been revoked. This Committee pressed the Foreign Secretary on this issue on 16 March, and made the point that it is difficult to preach from the moral high ground if at the same time we are supplying weapons that can be used by autocratic leaders who turn against their own people. After five or six questions, the Foreign Secretary agreed to a review, subject to full parliamentary scrutiny.

  Since then, the Committee has heard nothing. I pursued the matter with an e-mail to the Foreign Secretary, and copied in all the Ministers, including your office, and the Foreign Secretary's PPS on 14 April. I was assured on the same day, with many thanks, that you were looking into a response, and would get back to me in due course, but there has been nothing, despite the Committee's raising this more than two months ago. That suggests that there are problems and inconsistencies, and that you are having trouble coming forward with a response. Where are we on that response to that line of questioning?

  Mr Browne: In my preparations for this Committee, I asked when we were likely to report to Parliament on the review that the Foreign Secretary agreed to undertake on 16 March, and I was told "soon", which is perhaps an improvement on "in due course". But I do not have a date. However, I take your point that we need to demonstrate to Parliament within a reasonably short period the thinking that has been taking place.

  Q113  Mr Baron: Could someone do me the courtesy of responding to my inquiries? Will someone look into that? A number of us raised the issue, we followed it through, but we have not had a response. That borders on discourtesy.

  Chair: If there is going to be a reply, I think it should be addressed to me.

  Mr Browne: I can give the undertaking you seek, Mr Baron. I will express to the Foreign Secretary, and through him to the Department as a whole, the Committee's view that as the undertaking was made more than two months ago, the Committee would appreciate a conclusion to the process reasonably soon.[2]

  Let me raise a slightly wider point. I think that what is happening in North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf is a genuinely significant moment in world history. I welcome the Foreign Secretary's undertaking to look again, because such dramatic changes are taking place, at the whole basis on which we consider such matters. There is a danger that we talk as if events have not shifted—I don't mean the Foreign Secretary; I don't think he has made that assertion. We must recognise that we are in new political territory, that new experiences are coming to light daily, and that we must look properly, as we are, at the basis on which we make decisions, given that those changes have taken place. However, I accept that a conclusion reasonably soon would be desirable for everyone.

  Q114  Mr Roy: Minister, may I take you again to the balance between human rights and trade? Amnesty International highlighted what it called "a lack of joined-up thinking across FCO, BIS, DFID, MoJ and other Government departments and agencies" on the place of human rights in trade and investment. Bear in mind that UKTI launched its new five-year strategy just over two weeks ago; that strategy does not mention the words "human rights", "bribery", "corruption" or "responsibility". Minister, what should the FCO therefore do to feed its human rights information and policies into the work of UK Trade and Investment? Are you personally disappointed that the words and criteria mentioned were missing from that strategy?

  Mr Browne: I am a member of Amnesty International, but it does not surprise me, even though I am an admirer of its work, that it regards UKTI as being insufficiently concerned about human rights issues because, with the best will in the world, I might expect Amnesty International to make that point.

  I do not accept that the Government are failing to pay due regard to human rights issues in the trade policy; it is a key consideration of ours and we make these points frequently to countries; as a Minister, I have made them directly to Ministers from other Governments. They have talked in terms of diminishing British influence and diminishing British trade opportunities being a potential outcome of the awkward points raised by people like me, and I still make them.

  There may be some short-term tensions, but I come back to the point that I discussed with Mr Watts—that in the medium to longer term, there is a compatibility between more human rights or more open democratic societies and greater prosperity or greater commercial opportunities. I do not see them as being inherently in conflict—in fact, the precise opposite—although in the short term there is scope for conflict in a given situation.

  Q115  Mr Roy: I understand that, but the question is: how does the FCO feed its human rights information policies into UKTI, and are you disappointed that those words about human rights, bribery, corruption and responsibility are not in the five-year strategy?

  Mr Browne: The newish responsible Minister, Lord Green, sits jointly in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Foreign Office. When he is available and in the country, he attends our Foreign Office team meetings. He is as much a Minister in our Department as he is a Minister in the Business Department, so I and other Ministers and officials in the Foreign Office have the opportunity to express our concerns, insights or enthusiasms directly to him.

  UKTI teams are part of our overall embassies in host countries. The point I am making is that when I visit other countries, I do a combination of events—some about human rights, climate change, promoting the Olympic Games or whatever it might be, and some that are more straightforwardly commercial, such as a reception for the British Chambers of Commerce with various inward investors, the Ministers and so on.

  To be honest, I am normally not aware of which person who comes from the embassy to each event with me works for UKTI. They all seem to be part of the sort of family of people at the embassy. My point is that my experience as a Minister, in the year I have been doing the job, is that when I go to said country the UKTI people seem to be pretty woven into the overall operation, under the auspices of the ambassador, rather than, as your question perhaps implies, being a sort of separate group with a separate agenda.

  Q116  Mr Roy: Let me make it easier to answer. Are you surprised that in a UKTI five-year strategy the words "human rights", "bribery", "corruption" and "responsibility" are not mentioned once? Are you surprised? Are you disappointed—yes or no?

  Mr Browne: I would be surprised if those concerns were not foremost in the mind of UKTI as it goes about its business, but I am confident that they are.

  Q117  Mike Gapes: May I shift the focus, as there are lots of things I could say, but we are short of time? May I take you to international human rights institutions? The UK has been on the Human Rights Council for two terms. It is a relatively new body, and next month we will cease to be a member, because we have to. How are we planning to engage with the Human Rights Council, when we cease to have the central role that we have had in the last four years?

  Mr Browne: Let me say an introductory—

  Q118  Mike Gapes: Specifically, I want an answer to the question, rather than a long preamble.

  Mr Browne: I hope that we will engage with it in all the ways that you would want us to. We make the case to Governments in bilateral meetings about human rights. We do so at international forums, in the United Nations, the European Union, and the Commonwealth. We have a number of ways of conveying our interests and concerns.

  Q119  Mike Gapes: I am talking about the members of the Human Rights Council specifically—not the Commonwealth or the EU, but specifically the Human Rights Council, as it will be constituted when its membership changes.

  Mr Browne: Yes, because we take opportunities to lobby countries in positions of influence, whenever we can, through our embassies and Ministers. A related example would be the UN Security Council and the Government's position on Libya. Through our embassy network and Ministers, we lobbied the countries on the UN Security Council, in advance of its vote on Libya. We are a member of the UN Security Council, but our attempts to persuade others of our points of view were not confined to sitting around the table. They were done through our ambassadors, our Ministers, and the ambassadors of the relevant countries, in this country. It was a wider, cross-Government effort.

  Q120  Mike Gapes: Can I get you back on to the Human Rights Council, and not the Security Council? Specifically, we have been a member, and have been in a central role, in which we have been trying to exert an influence. Your report—your 2010 document—describes it as being difficult for us to achieve our objectives.

  Nevertheless, without going into it at length, the fact that a resolution was passed about Syria and that a position was taken on Libya is very good. What I am concerned about is that given that we have been central to the few good things that have come out of the Human Rights Council—we failed, for example, with regard to Sri Lanka, but at least we tried—if we are not there any more, how will we make sure that our views, interests and global human rights issues are pushed in the way that we want within the Human Rights Council?

  Mr Browne: You are expanding on the question; let me expand on the answer. We will do it through permanent representation in Geneva, and through partnerships with other EU countries—or for that matter, other countries that are outside the EU, but see things in a very similar way to us. We can try to speak at the Council, even when we do not have a vote. We can try to lobby in-country, either through private meetings of a conventional diplomatic form—with our ambassador speaking to their Ministers—or potentially even publicly, through articles in newspapers in those countries, for example. I, as a Minister, can raise it during a visit, or during a telephone call to somebody. There are a host of ways to try and exercise influence. I am committed, as are the Government, to trying to get the best outcomes from what is inevitably an imperfect body.

  Q121  Mike Gapes: There is a review into the Human Rights Council, which began at the end of last year and is due to conclude later this year. I assume that we will no longer be on it when that report comes out. What are our objectives for that review?

  Mr Browne: You could take two approaches to the Human Rights Council. You could take the John Bolton approach, which is that there are quite a lot of countries on the Human Rights Council whose human rights record leaves a lot to be desired, and that therefore the whole process is inherently flawed. I hope that I am not putting words in his mouth; you understand the basic argument he makes. Or you could take the approach that if we confined membership of the Council to the countries that already conformed to our standards on human rights, it would be a rather exclusive club congratulating itself on its liberal views, so we are dealing, inevitably, with a rather imperfect organisation with a membership that is rather varied in its outlook, but that is the essence of quite a lot of what happens at the United Nations.

  We want it to be a success. We do not take the former view—the John Bolton view. We take the view that there is value in its work, that it can achieve desirable outcomes, and that it can help individual member states of the United Nations to progress their own thinking on these issues, but that in a rather imperfect world we cannot expect perfection from it on a routine basis.

  Q122  Mike Gapes: But your own report refers to institutional changes to strengthen the Council's performance. What are those institutional changes?

  Mr Browne: Maybe Susan could talk through her additional thoughts on that.

  Susan Hyland: In the review, we have been pushing for progress to try to improve the quality of the membership. That includes more robust membership criteria, but also using the mechanisms that exist already. For example, the states that stand for election make pledges and commitments. We try to work on holding those countries to account for progress against the commitments that they make as part of the process for election, or for standing again for membership. Those are two or three of the things that we can do to try to work on the quality of the membership.

  While the review is going on, we are not forgetting what we are trying to achieve, which is a more effective Human Rights Council focusing on the worst offenders. We have been pushing day by day in Geneva, and using our network, to do just that with the existing Council to try to set precedents for better and more effective action within the existing parameters. We have found that with a lot of effort on the part of the UK and like-minded countries, we have achieved some good results in precisely those ways in recent months.

  Q123  Mike Gapes: May I ask you about the membership criteria? Are you saying that we should move away from a kind of regional membership, such that you end up having Libya or Syria as a potential member? Would you move away and only have countries that were signed up to certain values? I cannot see how that works.

  Mr Browne: It is difficult. Mr Gapes, do not think that it does not pain me as much as it appears to pain you to see some of the shortlists in some parts of the world. You think, "This is not a stellar list of leading liberal benign democracies that we have here." Some of the choices are pretty invidious. Having said that, returning to my previous point, if you limited the membership criteria so that only Scandinavian countries and a few others could apply, then you may feel that the body lacked influence.

  Our approach is to have the net cast wide to try and draw, as you say, from different parts of the world. We think that is the best way—to try to include countries and draw them into the process, and not to have it as a small, exclusive club congratulating itself on its liberalism. But the further you cast the net, the more inherent compromises and weaknesses you get in the composition of the Council. I am not saying that that is not obvious to you here, but our preference is to try to draw it as wide as we can without making it completely ineffectual or perverse in its opinions. That includes drawing from different parts of the world, so it does not look like one part of the world is lecturing other parts of the world in a way that is unlikely to achieve the outcomes that we seek.

  Q124  Mike Gapes: I will move on to the International Criminal Court. We now have some experience of referrals to the ICC. We have the Sudan experience, which has not necessarily been ideal; we have the position of the Lord's Resistance Army's leader and what is going on in East Africa; and we now have the recent decision with regard to Colonel Gaddafi and key figures in the Libyan regime. Some have argued that an ICC arrest warrant for Gaddafi could make it more difficult to get him out of office and get a peaceful resolution to what some people regard as a stalemate, or near stalemate, in Libya. What is our view on that?

  Mr Browne: It is that we welcome the ICC approach and the desire for Colonel Gaddafi and I think two other Libyans—his son and one other—to be brought to trial. We do not take the view that you have just expressed—a realpolitik view—that there should be some sort of amnesty or exception in order to hasten a conclusion. The ICC approach is correct.

  Q125  Mike Gapes: Is it not true that, even though it may well be right to make that referral, it does make it more difficult, potentially, to get a resolution of the conflict on a peaceful basis?

  Mr Browne: That may or may not be the case. I don't think you can say definitively that it would make it harder, and I don't think you can definitively say that it would make it less hard, but we believe that that is the right approach to take. I am not saying that you necessarily take this view yourself, but I can understand that there is an argument that this is all a sort of barrier to bringing the thing to a quick conclusion. That is not our view; our view is that the actions of Colonel Gaddafi and the other two Libyans concerned warrant the view that the ICC takes. That is why we support its position.

  Chair: Minister, we have eight minutes left. I still have people trying to catch my eye, so I would be grateful if you could speed up your answers.

  Q126  Ann Clwyd: Minister, given the extent of your portfolio and the amount of travelling you have been doing—we have gone through some of the countries that you have visited—how much time are you able to devote to human rights?

  Mr Browne: My portfolio is fairly extensive and I travel quite a lot. However, I include a lot of countries in my geographic portfolio that are of particular concern to people in human rights terms. Geographically, I cover China, North Korea, Burma, Colombia and countries in Central America and the Caribbean that come up fairly frequently. Sometimes human rights are a big component of the travelling. It is not the case that I am either travelling or I am back at home doing human rights activity. It is a substantial part of my work load, but I have other significant parts as well.

  The only point I would make is that we have either one or two more Ministers in the Foreign Office than the previous Government did. I am not necessarily saying that that reflects badly on the previous Government—they may have had more Ministers in other Departments—but it does mean that the burden is not spread as thinly, or thickly. Anyway, to cut to the chase, I suppose if we had fewer Ministers, I would have more responsibility. Therefore, the pressure on me to be concerned with other issues would be all the greater.

  Q127  Ann Clwyd: Perhaps you could keep an eye on the kind of answers that they are giving to Members of Parliament. This is going back to the Scott report; it is the kind of example that was given during that report.

  Mr Browne: I had better not take responsibility for that, having been chastised. It is difficult. There was a debate in the House of Commons about whether we should cut the number of Ministers in the Government as a whole when the Government plan to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600, and there is a reasonable argument that if you do not, the number of Ministers will increase as a percentage of the legislature.

  The counter-argument, which I do not think I heard in that debate, is that the number of countries elsewhere in the world will not decrease by the proportion that we are decreasing the number of MPs in the House of Commons, and so the burden on Ministers in the Foreign Office will remain as high. With modern communications and the expectations of modern travel, that burden might be going up, and certainly when I list the areas that I am responsible for, people are often surprised by how extensive they are. If the other Ministers listed their responsibilities, they would be surprisingly extensive as well, because there is a lot of foreign to do.

  Q128  Mr Watts: You say that you support the ICC's decision to issue an arrest warrant against Gaddafi. Are you going to do that with the Syrian leaders? What are the criteria you support for an individual case to be taken against someone? What are the criteria that are used for Gaddafi that could not be used on many other people?

  Mr Browne: Not being a lawyer and not having insights into the ICC's criteria, I am not sure that I can give as full an answer as I would like.

  Q129  Chair: Perhaps you would like to write to Mr Watts.[3]

  Mr Browne: Yes. I think that perhaps your underlying question, Mr Watts, implies that there are two types of people in the world: good people and bad people. If only it were so straightforward. There are lots of activities that we disapprove of, but we are trying to bring about desirable outcomes in Libya and so our views on Libya and Colonel Gaddafi stand on their own terms.

  Q130  Chair: I would just like to ask you a question about countries of concern. What are the criteria for a country appearing on the list of countries of concern, and has that ever made a difference?

  Mr Browne: Some of them are fairly self-selecting, to be honest. You could have all kinds of criteria but if China were not on the list, or Iran were not on the list, you would be reasonably surprised. It is worth saying that the list of 26 in the report is not exhaustive. One could think of dozens of other countries where there are concerns; indeed there are, and we do raise them. The longer you make the list, the less attention you focus on those who are on the list, so there is a calculation—a decision—to be made.

  So I would not believe that there were absolute criteria to which we absolutely held ourselves. I think that it is countries that give us serious cause for concern and where we feel that there is a strong argument to be made and a strong programme of activities to undertake. I am sure that that is informed by various considerations, but it might also just be informed by practical experience rather than something coldly objective in those terms.

  Chair: That answer does not surprise me.

  Q131  Mike Gapes: May I quickly ask you about Sri Lanka? We commented on Sri Lanka previously, and I am pleased that the report has a significant section on Sri Lanka. The UN panel of experts report was welcomed by our Government. As you know, the Sri Lankan Government have rejected that report and say that they will not take any notice of it. There is a recommendation that there should be an international mechanism to bring to justice those guilty of serious human rights violations in that final phase of the Sri Lankan conflict in 2009. That is one of the recommendations of the panel. Do the British Government support it?

  Mr Browne: I am reading a note that I do not feel answers the question quite to my satisfaction, or to what I suspect would be yours.

  Q132  Mike Gapes: You have welcomed the report, but as far as I am aware no statement has been made as to whether we specifically support the recommendation of establishing an international mechanism.

  Mr Browne: The reason I mention the note is that it says we encourage all actors to study the recommendations of the report carefully and respond in a constructive manner, which you may feel is interesting.

  Q133  Mike Gapes: The Sri Lankan Government have already rejected the report. I am asking whether the British Government, in our name—I am not speaking about all actors—support the specific recommendation of the UN panel of experts.

  Mr Browne: My understanding is different from yours—that the Sri Lankan Government have not yet formally responded to the report, although it may have informally.

  Q134  Mike Gapes: I have seen statements made by the President of Sri Lanka. I do not know whether that is a formal enough response.

  Mr Browne: I would not wish to comment on the style of the President of Sri Lanka. I know this is a subject that you have taken a particular interest in. In terms of my geographic responsibility, I do not lead on Sri Lanka.

  Q135  Mike Gapes: Perhaps you will write to us.

  Mr Browne: Either I or Mr Burt, who is the relevant Minister, will bring you up to date on this.[4]

  Q136  Ann Clwyd: On Iraq—briefly, although there is a lot to say about it—the military came out yesterday. We made all kinds of promises about how we would continue to support Iraq. The three Amnesty International reports I mentioned earlier, which are very serious, talk about the reaction to the day of rage, the putting down of people demonstrating against bad services, high unemployment and so on. The absence of the rule of law remains a serious obstacle to an effective, functioning human rights culture in Iraq. There is torture and ill treatment in prison. Detainees who should have been released have not been released. What is our ongoing responsibility?

  Mr Browne: Maybe I can answer that briefly in these terms. If you look at the countries of the world where the Foreign Office is spending the most money—I accept that I said earlier that one should not automatically assume that more money or more people equals more commitment—Iraq, from memory, is in the top 10, and it may even be higher. It is right up there, just below the United States, which is out of all proportion to its importance in the world in other regards.

  That partly reflects high security costs, but it partly reflects the ongoing commitments and obligations that we have to try to contribute to the construction of Iraq in a way that meets the criteria that you suggested, and which I share, so it remains a major objective of the Foreign Office. Judged by any other criteria—global trade, the population of the country or whatever—Iraq would not be anywhere like that high. The reason it is as high as it is is precisely because of the objectives that you just suggested in your question.

  Chair: Minister, thank you very much indeed. It has been a long session. Thank you for your efforts.

  Mr Browne: I will follow up the points that I was unable to supply sufficient detail on.

1   See Ev 47 Back

2   See Ev 47 Back

3   See Ev 47 Back

4   See Ev 47 Back

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