TUESDAY 30 JANUARY 2001 _________ Members present: Mr Ted Rowlands, in the Chair Ms Diane Abbott Mr Tony Baldry Ann Clwyd Mr Harry Cohen Mr Bruce George Dr Norman A Godman Mr Lindsay Hoyle Mr Piara S Khabra Ms Tess Kingham Mr John Maples Mr Martin O'Neill Mr Tony Rowe Sir John Stanley Dr Phyllis Starkey Mr Peter Viggers Mr Tony Worthington _________ RT HON ROBIN COOK, a Member of the House, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, MR WILLIAM EHRMAN, Director Interactional Security, MR TIM DOWSE, Head of Non-Proliferation Department, MR IAN BAILEY, Deputy Head of Export Control Policy Section, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, further examined. Chairman: Foreign Secretary, it has been such a good session that in fact we have only two issues to raise in private, but there may be a third if anyone wants to follow it up. One is Morocco and I think we got quite a way in public but Ms Kingham wants to pursue the detail. Ms Kingham 125. Yes, I do. First of all, I was very surprised to see that the 30 105 mm Moroccan Army guns are actually stationed in Western Sahara, which has taken it further than I would ever have expected the British Government to go in terms of granting a licence; to actually have weapons stationed within a disputed territory. I note in the response which the Government gave to the Committee in section 8, page 3, paragraph 2, it says: "This policy ...", which is our criteria, "... applies to spare parts as well as to main equipment. Thus, if approval would be inconsistent with the UK's international obligations and commitments, or if the arguments for approval are outweighed by concern that the spares would support the continued operation of main equipment that might be used for internal repression or international aggression, or by the risks to regional stability, or other considerations as described in the national criteria and the Code of Conduct, then the application should be refused." The next paragraph says, "In assessing whether or not there is a clearly identifiable risk that the main equipment whose operation the spares would support might be used for internal repression or that the intended recipient would use it aggressively against another country or to assert by force a territorial claim, consideration is given to what decision would be taken had the application covered the main equipment itself and not simply spares." We refused new guns for that area, so why have we considered it to be satisfactory to go ahead and allow spares for that equipment in a disputed territory? It seems to contradict what you are saying. (Mr Cook) I would remind you that we refused it in the first instance. When the United Nations then announced they had no objection to this and regarded it as being neutral in the process, it was rather like having our horse shot from under us. 126. Did the United Nations come to us and state that or did we go to the United Nations and seek further advice? Why did they not just accept our position as right? (Mr Cook) I cannot say who approached who first. It is not inconceivable it was a UK company. Do we know the sequence of events? (Mr Bailey) The exporter approached the United Nations. 127. An exporter went direct to the United Nations and asked them? (Mr Cook) The United Nations is part of the free world. Anyone can lobby the United Nations. 128. Is that not rather an unusual sequence of events? (Mr Cook) Yes. 129. And the United Nations felt able to discuss our arms policy with them and they then felt ---- (Mr Cook) I would have no objection to the United Nations expressing a view about the military balance or military supply in an area where the United Nations has an authorised mission, which it has in this instance. 130. What part of the mandate would that be, in the information here that it considered to be consistent with the UN mandate to supply refurbished equipment? What part of the mandate would that be? Can I have clarification on that? (Mr Cook) As far as we are concerned, we are not part of the mandate. The British Government is not mandated by the Security Council. The issue of MINURSO in Western Sahara is mandated to pursue the peace process and to help assist in a ceasefire. That led us into an awkward position on appeal. Fortunately the United Nations did not express a view on the six guns, it was also part of the same application and we have continued to refuse that. 131. We have ended up in a rather bizarre situation. We are ethically stronger than what the United Nations mandate recommends for that area. (Mr Cook) I would not bandy in terms of the UN as to who is more ethical. I would remind the Committee that only seven minutes ago you were complaining about complaints you got on the appeals process. This was an appeal. You are already complaining about delays. In the light of the UN's observations it is a fair outcome on appeal. 132. Can I just ask one other thing on this. I find this quite astonishing, quite frankly. We are all aware, I hope we are all aware, of the strength of MINURSO or the lack of it in that area, and particularly the lack of strength of MINURSO in Western Sahara itself. How on earth are they expected to oversee this, and are you convinced they have the capability to oversee the refurbishment and to ensure that those weapons are not used in their war, which is imminently about to break out again? (Mr Cook) Whether or not they have the capabilities is more for their judgment than for mine, but they have volunteered to supervise it. I would not want to get in a position of being manoeuvred to be critical of MINURSO. We have tried to be supportive of the peace process and the UN's role in Western Sahara. We have provided the facilities in London for the Baker conference between the two sides, which was held in my official residence. 133. We made our decision on the assumption we felt satisfied they would have the capabilities. (Mr Cook) Tess, I have to keep correcting you. Our decision was to refuse them. This was an appeal. 134. Who is making the decision? I thought it was supposed to be our foreign policy and our decision whether to grant a licence or not? (Mr Cook) Tess, if you would like me to recommend we do away with appeals--- 135. That is not what I am saying at all. (Mr Cook) If we are going to have an appeal system then we are in difficulty and the grounds for refusal are moved from us by the United Nations. 136. The grounds for refusal were taken away from us by the United Nations. Whose decision is that? At the end of the day is it our decision to decide to refuse a licence or do we have to go---? (Mr Cook) It is we who issue the licence at the end of the day. 137. Absolutely. (Mr Cook) I remind the Committee we refused this application. We had to give grounds of appeal when the applicant came back with this information from the United Nations. I would say, given that the exporter went to the United Nations, I am prepared to bet heavily if we had refused the appeal they would have complained to you. I have been through five minutes of complaint about complaints you get at appeal. The Committee cannot have it both ways. It cannot complain people complain to you and then complain to me when we take an appeal and deal with it fairly. Mr Godman 138. Can I ask, Foreign Secretary, Mr Bailey said the exporter had appealed to the United Nations. (Mr Cook) He appealed against the refusal. He approached the United Nations for the information. There is an established procedure which allows an exporter to appeal a decision taken by a national Government. It is an established procedure. 139. How many appeals have been made to the UN over the last couple of years? (Mr Cook) It was not to the UN, it was an approach. I think it would be unique. 140. Can Mr Bailey answer that? (Mr Bailey) The exporter, as part of the appeal against the decision to refuse the licence, cited the fact that he believed that refurbishment was consistent with the UN mandate with the Western Sahara. I need to check whether he approached the United Nations on that. One would assume that because they came back on that point they would have queried the point with the--- (Mr Cook) The UN did not confirm it to us. 141. Do you find that astonishing? (Mr Cook) I cannot say I am particularly pleased with what happened with this case to be perfectly honest with you. Mr O'Neill 142. Can I get it clear in my mind. You said that because the UN said that you did not have grounds for refusal of the appeal --- (Mr Cook) I am not asserting they said anything as crude as that in terms of the actual case, but they did say that they had no objection that the mission on the ground was supervised and it would have a neutral impact on the balance of forces. Difficult grounds to refuse them on. 143. You could have refused it, had you wanted to. (Mr Cook) The grounds on which we refused it were very severely undercut by that statement from the UN. I suppose it is possible we could have thought up new grounds for refusal, although I think that is called judicial review. As you say, on the whole applicants tend to be irritated by the process of an appeal and not particularly pleased with it. 144. At the end of the day, the prospect of a judicial review--- (Mr Cook) I am not saying that. 145. The possibility of a judicial review - you might have lost it. (Mr Cook) I am not saying that, Martin. I am not saying that the prospect of a judicial review was in our minds. Ms Kingham 146. You took away our ground for refusing the licence. Our reasoning was, "Member States will not issue an export licence if there is clear risk ... against another country". This is what happened in Western Sahara. What are they going to do with it? They are not there for the fun of it, are they? (Mr Cook) There is a limit to the number of times I can repeat myself because I am wearing the patience of the Committee. This was a case which we refused very much for those considerations. Unfortunately the applicant put in an appeal. The applicant prayed in aid United Nations advice. When approached the United Nations confirmed that advice. If in these circumstances we had not given grounds on the context of appeal there does not seem to be much point in allowing the appeal in any circumstances. We did still maintain our refusal of the licence to export traditional guns. That is entirely consistent with the position taken by the UN. Chair, I have to seek some protection from the Committee. If you want to have an appeal process you have to recognise that sometimes we are going to lose them. You cannot have an appeal process and then complain when we lose them. Mr Baldry 147. Can I ask a really boring question, which is not meant to be disrespectful to you or your officials. I am slightly surprised you have 16 officials here today. That is a signal to me either --- (Mr Cook) How importantly we take this Committee. Mr Baldry: --- that the lines to take are a bit flakey or they are officials from other departments who are not confident about the lines you are going to take. My boring issue is this. How often do you and the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry, International Development and Defence actually get together to discuss these issues collectively, or are lines to take on all of this done through officials and worked up through the departments? To what extent is this collective ministerial decision taken at Cabinet sub-committee level, or to what extent is this all worked up by officials? To what extent are these ministers working together or is this a laborious, what we see here, achievement of Government departments compromising and coming to some agreement? Chairman: It is a very interesting question but not one for a private session. Mr Baldry 148. Chairman, this only came up because it was only when we went into private session did we see how many officials there are. It seems a perfectly valid question because until that time I thought they were all members of the general public! (Mr Cook) If I can briefly respond. First of all, obviously, I would say 95 per cent of the contact is done at official level, indeed there is something wrong with the policy if it does not provide a clear framework within which the officials can resolve 95 per cent of the issues. Some of the cases will be raised with ministers and if they are raised with ministers in one department it will probably parallel the arrangement with ministers in other departments. Most of the resolving of that will be done by written submission rather than oral contact, but the Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary of State for Trade and I, and less frequently a representative of DFID, will meet and resolve major issues of contention and major questions of policy. I think I can assure the Committee we have met and discussed your report on both occasions. Chairman 149. This is a private session about specific things and there is one left and that is the Sudan which, if we may, we will briefly raise with you. The Annual Report lists IC 350, a category covering a number of potential precursors for chemical weapons. Following allegations that Sudan had used mustard and possibly other gases in the south of the country, we pursued this particular inquiry and a SIEL for **** to Sudan was issued in April 1999. What steps did the FCO/DTI take to check this out and make sure this could not be part and parcel of any potential use in chemical warfare in Sudan? (Mr Cook) First of all, can I just say, and this is not immediately relevant to the particular round of applications, and I will come back to that, but I would say that we have no clear corroborated scientific evidence that there have been chemical weapons used in the Sudan, and the Sudan is of course party to the Chemical Weapons Convention. To turn to the two applications, they were both from end-users who had bona fide industrial use for these chemicals, and indeed part of the difficulty of judgment in the case of chemicals is that they can either be precursors for chemical weapons or, more commonly, used for any number of scientific applications, a part of which quite often is agricultural fertilizer which we would want to promote. 150. In this case the end-users were what? This stuff can be used for ****, can it not? (Mr Cook) I am not briefed on who the end-users were but they were not weapons producers, and we were satisfied that they were bona fide uses for these chemicals. If it helps the Committee, I can try and write more detail on who the end-users were but it would have to be in confidence. 151. From your investigations or inquiries into this particular case, you are content that this type of material did not or would not have gone in any possible way to be used for military purposes? (Mr Cook) I am told that the licence for one of the chemicals was for the Nile Plant Company for the manufacture of rubbing compounds for use in automotive paints, so you would be looking for quite a wide diversionary route for it to end up in a weapons programme. 152. Did your officials as a matter of course check with the appropriate technical experts here that chemicals of this sort and this quantity - it was **** - would be consistent with the end-use? (Mr Cook) We are advised that both the purpose stated for it is plausible and the volume required is consistent with the stated end-use. Mr Cohen 153. Can I briefly ask about the Congo? I know there has been a tightening up of arms restrictions but I see from Oxfam in a recent briefing they did, "At present, there is little regulation of arms brokered to the region and little monitoring of the end use of arms exported. Oxfam GB is calling for arms-producing nations to tighten up export procedures to ensure that shipments of weapons to the region do not further fuel DRC's civil war." I know that is part of the British policy, are you satisfied that right across the EU that tightening up is there? (Mr Cook) Yes, within the EU, yes, I am satisfied. Just looking up the entry in the Annual Report, I see we gave nil licences for exports to Congo in 1999 and that is what I would expect. We are very rigorous. Having said that, the big problem with the Congo - back to what I was talking about earlier - is of course the illicit trade in terrain and geography where it is extremely difficult for outsiders to monitor what might be happening. There is a very significant volume of equipment going into the Congo but it is not going from Britain and it is not licensed by us. Chairman 154. Thank you, Secretary of State. It has been an exhausting and exhaustive session and we are grateful to you. (Mr Cook) I am grateful to the Committee. 155. I hope the exchanges we have had prove the value of our Committee but also of the whole process we began two years ago. (Mr Cook) I think the Committee has genuinely brought a very useful, added strength to the scrutiny perspective, and I think the dialogue we have had has also been of value to the public, and I welcome the exchange. Chairman: Thank you.