Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 124)



  120. Would you like to speculate with us as to how it can be described as force neutral?
  (Mr Cook) I am not sure. On the whole I resist speculation which I tend to find a fraught activity. The Western Sahara process has a very well-established and mandated UN presence. I think if they had resisted the application, we would, on appeal, have upheld our own refusal, but the ground for our refusal was rather removed by the UN removing any objection to it.


  121. Before we go into what I think will be a brief private session, may I raise one issue which I suspect you will say is Mr Byers' responsibility, but we have received, Secretary of State, very considerable continuous complaints about the appeals procedure. Besides the delays it would appear that the appeals against refusal are taking longer, increasing in number and creating considerable dissatisfaction. Do you have any hope to hold out that we can have at sometime a rather better procedure? I realise this is a DTI responsibility but may we put on the record that there has been a steady stream of complaints from individual companies. We invite them every time to offer us information and they do so.
  (Mr Cook) I am aware of the expressions of discontent and I can assure the Committee that just as we seek to achieve a performance target in relation to original applications, we do seek to achieve a performance target in relation to appeals. But I also must be frank with the Committee and say, by definition the appeals are into the cases we refused which therefore are among the most contentious. Earlier I was enticed by the prospect there might be only half a dozen cases you would find contentious, among the very small number of appeals we get you can be certain those are the distilled areas of complexity and contention, and therefore they do require quite often not only particularly careful handling but also very cautious and very thorough investigation. I therefore can assure the Committee we will do all we can to try and carry them through as expeditiously as we can, but do bear in mind that these are appeals against an earlier refusal where on the face of it there was a ground for concern. Some appeals do succeed, which shows the system is very fair, but it is never going to be a snap judgment.

  122. In that case, would it not be more realistic—I was going to say "honest"—to say that the 30 day target is not achievable? You have not achieved it in a single case of any appeal, so move the target. What is the value of a target you never hit?
  (Mr Cook) I think I would have to defer to my colleague as to whether or not we would wish to extend it, but a target, even if you are falling short of it, at least tries to help to sharpen the aim. Without any target, you might not—

  123. When you miss every time?
  (Mr Cook) As I say, these are the most contentious ones and they are exactly the ones this Committee would batter me around the other ear for if I granted them. So I have limited sympathy with complaints we are not moving fast enough.

Mr Khabra

  124. Has any difference been made in the trade? During the last four years have the proceeds from the trade gone down or gone up?
  (Mr Cook) The value of exports last year went down quite substantially but that is a result of many factors, one of which is the down-turn in the market particularly in East Asia and South East Asia, so there are a lot of factors which go into it. We have had a significant increase in refusals, not last year but the year before and it continued at a slightly higher level last year despite the reduction in the total number of licences, but I would not invite the Committee to read too much into that because as the industry becomes more sensitive and more acutely aware of what we will grant and refuse, we would expect the number of refusals to decline as they do not ask for things which will be refused.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. We have two or three private issues so we will clear the room now please.

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 2 February 2001