Examination of Witnesses (Questions 57-136)|
JEREMY BROWNE MP, THOMAS DREW AND SUSAN HYLAND
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 optionsI understand that concerns have been raised by
the Arabic service in particularand 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
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
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
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
Mr Browne: No, I don't think I
would be as bleak in my analysis as you are, Sir John. I accepthow
can I do anything other than acceptthat 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
Let me give you three quick examplesalthough
we might have to expand on them. One is that we have statements
of public intentI 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 opinioneven political opinionin
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 publicsome would even say confrontationalway,
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 waythat 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 anddare
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
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 anotherwe can talk about this in greater detailwe
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 agobefore
recent events in Libyathe 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
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 comprehensivenessit
is written by a Committee that includes representatives of every
Government Departmentwe 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
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 countrythat
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
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 countriesSweden was one of the examples given
to medo 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
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
other overseas posts have a dedicated human
rights officer". Secondly, I asked "how many
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
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 thinkyou may tell me I am wrongis
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 campaignerslet
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 groupsthere 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 groupsindigenous
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 Iraqseven years' experience of dealing with
human rights officers and people who dealt with human rights in
Iraqwhere 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
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
rightswho concern themselves with them and who raise them
at very senior levels of Governmentis 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
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 insteadas 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
Mr Browne: For which country?
Do the country business plans for 2011-15 include human rights
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 prominencein
fact, probably more than I might have anticipated when I was first
appointed as a Ministerare 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 embassiesnot embassies where we have only a handful
of staff, but in some of the bigger embassieswho 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 farit
was not set up on day one of the Governmentand 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 exploringit is a slightly different furrow to ploughis
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
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 meetingthe full Committee this iswere
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 approachwhat an embassy in country x could
realistically aspire to try and progress over the next year or
twogiving 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 countriesor
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
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 correlationor reverse correlation, if you likebetween
the degree to which we raise human rights concerns and the amount
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 rulesomeone 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 leaderssome 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 formwhether an absolute monarch
or a more modern stateso 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
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 AfricaI 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 themwe
are not trying to do the Chinese down, but we care about these
points and we are completely sincere in our beliefsand,
secondly, because we believe that the interests of China are advanced
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
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.
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 revealingthe strings are pulling the
Mr Baron: I appreciate your honesty,
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 staffI think, from memoryhad
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 expressionI can't remember itthat 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 usedI
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
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 nationslet
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 sustainin fact, it may already be
past its peakwhen 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
interestI was about to say concernin what companies
can do and what they can't do. We will read your response with
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 placesometimes longer than I
have been alivehave 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 soanyone can write me a letter whenever
they want. But the nature of the exercise is the one that I have
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 repressionlicences 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 ArabiaI 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
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 examineor how
we examinethose 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 Governmentor I, as a Minister in itare
any less appalled by repression of people in Bahrain than anyone
else who is sitting on this Committee. It is worth making that
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
Q107 Chair: It is a pretty
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 repressionnot
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?
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-caseat 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 criteriaunless one argues
that we are never going to export anything to anybodyto
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 atI am not saying it
necessarily is, but in a hypothetical situationand 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,
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
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
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 shiftedI 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
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 Wattsthat
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 conflictin fact, the precise oppositealthough
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 eventssome 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 disappointedyes 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 specificallynot
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 reportyour 2010 documentdescribes 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 Councilwe failed, for
example, with regard to Sri Lanka, but at least we triedif
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 countriesor 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 formwith our ambassador speaking
to their Ministersor 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 viewthe 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 wayto 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.
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 Libyanshis son and one otherto be brought
to trial. We do not take the view that you have just expresseda
realpolitik viewthat there should be some sort of amnesty
or exception in order to hasten a conclusion. The ICC approach
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 doingwe have gone through some of the countries
that you have visitedhow 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 Governmentthey may have
had more Ministers in other Departmentsbut 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.
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 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.
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 calculationa decisionto 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
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 nameI am not speaking about
all actorssupport the specific recommendation of the UN
panel of experts.
Mr Browne: My understanding is
different from yoursthat the Sri Lankan Government have
not yet formally responded to the report, although it may have
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.
Q136 Ann Clwyd: On Iraqbriefly,
although there is a lot to say about itthe 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 moneyI
accept that I said earlier that one should not automatically assume
that more money or more people equals more commitmentIraq,
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 criteriaglobal trade, the population of the
country or whateverIraq 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.
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