Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)



  100. We sell components which are used in aircraft. We do not sell any big bits, as I understand it, we sell tiny pieces which go into other people's equipment.
  (Mr Cook) What we have sold to Israel is recorded in our three Annual Reports and it is there on the record, and we will go back through it and have a look at it. As of this moment, I am not advised of any equipment which has been used in Southern Lebanon.

  101. Can I turn then to the possible use of UK components in the Occupied Territories against civilians, and the position, as restated in endless answers is, as I understand it, that the British Government has no evidence that anything we have sold to the Israelis has been used against civilians in the Occupied Territories, and we have actually had a written assurance which was sent to the Foreign Affairs Committee from a part of the Israeli Government saying that they certified "no UK-originated equipment nor any UK-originated systems/sub-systems/components are used as part of the IDF's activities in the territories." If it were shown that any UK-originated equipment, even embedded as printed circuits in a missile or as part of a night sight, had indeed been used by any branch of the Israeli security forces in the Occupied Territories against civilians, what would or what could the British Government actually do?
  (Mr Cook) The most obvious consequence is that we would very much have that in consideration when we considered any future licence application. We have received the reassurance, as you say, of the Israeli Government and it says, "I hereby certify that no UK-originated equipment nor any UK-originated systems/sub-systems/components are used as part of the IDF's activities in the territories." I cannot advance on that for the Committee but I can say to the Committee that obviously we will reflect very carefully on applications for licences both against our criteria, which provide that we will not supply equipment for internal repression, and against reasonable defence in the Occupied Territories. If we feel that the equipment for which a licence is being sought is equipment which is the same or similar to what which may have been used in the last months, that will weigh very heavily with us.

  102. Given that all the equipment we have sold is, as I say, tiny pieces, it is not huge bits of anything, and that these have presumably been installed in other people's aircraft or tanks or whatever, how are British officials on the ground, as was stated in the letter from Peter Hain, actively checking whether any British-made equipment or components are being used in the Occupied Territories? Is anybody standing beneath planes and trying to spot which ones have our bits in and which ones have not? Do you think it is feasible to take at face value the assurances from the IDF? Do you think they know which precise aircraft have our bits in and which have not, and which ones are shooting up people and which are not?
  (Mr Cook) I have reported to the Committee the assurance we have been given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel, which of course is detailed in that it is not simply systems but sub-systems and components. I am not in public going to second-guess an assurance I am given by another sovereign government. On the question of what we can do on the ground, our Defence Attaché is meant to ensure he maintains a close interest in what is occurring in the Occupied Territories, but I have to be candid with the Committee and say, having licensed equipment there is a limit to the extent to which we can then subsequently, when it has left our shores, verify where it is or on what plane or wherever it is flying. We seek to but I cannot pretend to say that I have as good a system once it has left these shores as I have beforehand, and that is why we will be looking very carefully and rigorously at the current applications for export licences to Israel in the light of what has been used in the Occupied Territories.

  103. As you are looking closely at export licences to Israel, why did the Government permit Israel as a destination for a Military List Open licence for both military vehicles in 1998 and military vehicle components in 1999, rather than retaining control by asking the exporters to seek standard individual licences?
  (Mr Cook) 1998 and 1999 are long before the current violence within the Occupied Territories and they, of course, coincide with a time of optimism in the peace process. But the issue of open and individual export licences is a valid issue and it is one we have under consideration, and there may well be such open licences where it may be more prudent and appropriate in the future to handle the matter by standard individual licences.

  Chairman: That is a rather helpful and important comment. I will adjourn the Committee for ten minutes.

  The Committee suspended from 5.40 pm to 5.48 pm for a division in the House

  Chairman: On Israel, if we do go into private session, perhaps we can deal with any further questions that might be pursued then.

Dr Godman

  104. Secretary of State, the Chairman has asked me to be brief, so I have to obey his diktat. On the question of China, in response to our Report of July of last year, a promise was made by the Government to pursue any opportunity to establish a common interpretation of the EU embargo on China. What is the object of that embargo and have we now got a common interpretation of it?
  (Mr Cook) The answer to the question of objective is that it was a response to the Tiananmen Square massacre and I think it served two intentions in the minds of those who took that decision—and this of course was before my time. The first was a very clear international public expression of displeasure at what China had done and, secondly, anxiety to try and make sure that arms of repression which might contribute to that type of event should not be available from European countries. Unfortunately, and unlike most EU embargoes, it was very much a political declaration rather than a detailed agreement and in the decade since then it has never actually been pinned down as a detailed agreement, with the result that it is interpreted differently by the different Member States. We have pursued this within the European Union as we promised the Committee, and in many ways it would be in our own interest to secure an agreement in which other Member States interpreted the embargo in the way we do because we tend to be more strict than the others. That, of course, has the downside which I must warn the Committee about, that whilst in principle we would favour a common agreement on interpretation there is the risk that any common agreement might turn out to be less rigorous than our present national embargo because we are actually at the front of the pack at the present time.

  105. Is your conscience clear, if I dare put it that way, Foreign Secretary, over the record of your time in office in relation to the export of arms to China?
  (Mr Cook) Yes, and it is openly recorded within the Annual Reports we have produced. We are absolutely clear that what we sell to China is entirely consistent with the EU embargo and that actually we resist more than most of our other partner states, and the overall volume is not immense.

  106. On Taiwan, I take it that where arms exports to Taiwan are concerned attention is paid to the concerns of the Government in Beijing. Have you received any representations from Beijing concerning that?
  (Mr Cook) You mean in terms of sales?

  107. Yes.
  (Mr Cook) What we would not wish to do is to sell weapons in either case which would actually add to the tensions or differences in the area. We would be very anxious to make sure that nothing we did upset the balance of forces, nothing we did lent itself to increase tension. That would be a consideration which would drive us. It would not be taking, as it were, the Beijing view into account.

  Dr Godman: Thank you. Thank you, Chairman.

Mr Hoyle

  108. Foreign Secretary, I just wonder, you mentioned Tiannamen Square, does the same concern go as far as Tibet is concerned in China?
  (Mr Cook) I was merely explaining the origin of the EU embargo, which was a response to the Tiannamen Square massacre. Tibet is a matter of considerable interest to us. It regularly features in gatherings of both the United Kingdom/China dialogue and the EU/China dialogue. We ourselves arranged an EU troika visit to Tibet. We expressed a number of areas of concern. At the most recent meeting we raised what I call the question of religious freedom within Tibet, which is a matter of very great interest.


  109. On other licences, may I raise a rather curious and interesting one, Foreign Secretary. When Mo Mowlam visited Jamaica we noticed a licence had been granted for an export of 400 hand guns and ammunition for the Jamaican Police Force. That had been blocked in 1999 because of a number of fatal shootings by Jamaican Police. An assurance had been received that the police would be taught methods of non-lethal apprehension of suspects. Is this some interesting new sort of approach or tactic that we offer weapons on the sort of assurances that there will be reforms or that police will be trained in some future date in the use of these weapons?
  (Mr Cook) It is more than an assurance. What we have is a very clear precise agreement that there will be human rights training within the Jamaican Police in which, if I recall rightly, Amnesty will participate. We have consulted Amnesty reports before going ahead with this particular licence. There have been very welcome signs of increased interest and commitment on the part of the Jamaican Police Force. I agree with you, it is a novel development and I think it is a welcome one if we can get to a point at which the commitment to human rights and the commitment to a serious human rights training programme is introduced by the police force. That is actually a gain. Secondly, I would remind the Committee the reason why we are providing such weapons to the Jamaican Police Force is, frankly, because they do have very major problems with drugs running into and through Jamaica. The tragedy of the whole of the Caribbean is that quite often the drugs traders have better guns than the police.

  110. Do you see this as a possible pattern of a future where you have these sort of quid pro quos? This is going to be an interesting test case in some cases.
  (Mr Cook) It has to stick. We will certainly be making sure that it does. I think it might be prudent at this very early point not to make it a generalised rule, but we will be following this with close attention. If it produces an improvement, if the agreement brokered by Mo Mowlam proves to be one that does raise the standards of performance in Jamaica, it may be one, with caution and care, we could apply in other circumstances.

Ann Clwyd

  111. Does the training take place before or after they have had the guns?
  (Mr Cook) I think before. I am open to correction. It is going on now.

Mr Godman

  112. Is this a range of weaponry that is going to Jamaica? Are we talking about pistols?
  (Mr Cook) It is a specific contract which they have been seeking to obtain for a number of years. This is a long-lasting dispute between us and them. The way in which it is resolved is one that provides a degree of satisfaction to both of us. I am trying to find what particular weapon it is.


  113. Handguns and ammunition?
  (Mr Cook) It is side arms. As to quite what weapons they are, we can provide a note.

  114. What is interesting about it is that it was openly publicised that this will be the arrangement: a licence will be granted on these terms and on these conditions.
  (Mr Cook) It was by negotiation with the Jamaican Government. We welcomed the fact they made a public commitment to human rights and the police force.

Mr George

  115. Is it the case that people are arguing that the Jamaican Police were just shooting people at any provocation or in cells, or were they engaged in shoot-outs with criminals and people were killed in the process? It seems to me the distinction is important. If it was self-defence or engaged in some general fire shooting then we should not be quite so concerned.
  (Mr Cook) I would not discuss bona fide grounds for some historic episodes. At the same time I identify what is a serious problem. There are very serious gun fights in Jamaica, quite often with the drugs traders. We also have to make sure that we have regard to the other things that we do demand of Jamaica. We do demand of them that they take a vigorous approach to drug runners, who may, after all, be connected with drug rings in Britain. We cannot command of them that they take a firm line against drug runners and at the same time say, "We are not selling you any weapons with which to do it". The outcome, in which we are improving human rights observance in the police force and arming them with all they can cope with, is one which has a lot in it for both countries.

Ms Kingham

  116. I know we are going to go into private session. I will not go into the details of specific cases. I would like to speak about the granting of £3.5 million worth of licences for arm sales to Morocco. You have already mentioned in your answer to Dr Starkey the difficulties with identifying how and where those arms are used in areas where there is dispute about territory or occupation of territory. You seem to imply you rely predominantly on the information coming back from the state involved to guarantee that they have not used their weapons in a disputed area, which seems rather bizarre to me. There we are. Can you confirm, do you have any kind of tracking mechanism to identify whether weapons supplied to Morocco are used in the disputed territory of Western Sahara? Do you have any system in place?
  (Mr Cook) The United Nations mission is there and MINURSO oversees the refurbishment of the guns. This was a licence which was originally refused and there was then an appeal submitted. Inbetween our refusal and the hearing of the appeal, the United Nations in both Western Sahara and New York confirmed the refurbishment was within the terms of the ceasefire agreement and they were willing to supervise the refurbishment. They assessed the project as force neutral. On that basis, with the full agreement of the United Nations, we proceeded to grant the appeal. However, involved in the same application was a proposal for the supply of fresh guns and we rejected that. There is no licence for the export of weaponry.

  117. I was not going to go into the detail of that particular case here. What kind of systems does your department have to ensure that you monitor through? Do you have your own tracking mechanisms, or do you wait for NGOs or others to report instances to you, or do you take it on the say-so of the state?
  (Mr Cook) In this particular case we do have the UN mission there willing and perfectly capable of monitoring what happens, and, indeed, has volunteered. In other cases we would rely on reporting from our own posts, at many of which we have defence attachés. We would also draw on any other public information through civil society. In the introduction to our annual report we list quite a number of cases where we have taken specific action in specific countries to strengthen our end-use monitoring of what happens. I have to be frank with the Committee, we are not an imperial power, we cannot pretend to be an imperial power. Once the weapons leave our country and go into another country, our capacity to monitor them or to regulate them is necessarily limited. It is attempting a status in the world we do not occupy and frankly we do not aspire to occupy to do that.


  118. That is why we require greater vigilance on the original decision.
  (Mr Cook) Absolutely, I agree with that.

Mr Viggers

  119. Can the Foreign Secretary explain how the refurbishment of guns, which presumably enhances their efficiency, can be "force neutral"? What does "force neutral" mean?
  (Mr Cook) It is not my word, it is the assessment of the United Nations.

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