Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)

TUESDAY 30 JANUARY 2001

RT HON ROBIN COOK, MP, MR WILLIAM EHRMAN, MR TIM DOWSE AND MR IAN BAILEY

  80. So anything that requires a licence now, as part of a product created in this Framework Agreement it would still be covered by our licence and by our reporting system?
  (Mr Cook) Yes, and the licence would still appear in the Report.

Mr George

  81. I was thinking of a hypothetical case of where we were engaged in a project, let us say for manufacturing an armoured personnel carrier, on a European Union basis and it was destined for, say, Pakistan. If there was then, in this hypothetical case of a few years ago, a coup, would we at that stage be able to pull the plug or would it have gone too far?
  (Mr Cook) That is always an extremely difficult judgment and it is a difficult one in a national, unilateral perspective, never mind in a multilateral one. Nor, of course, is it quite unknown in the present circumstances anyway when there are so many collaborative projects. Frankly, once the material had left the country, there is little you can do to recall it, but if we find ourselves in a situation in which we had a collaborative project ready to go to a country in which there was a dramatic change of circumstances, I do not imagine Britain would be alone in being concerned about proceeding in those circumstances. Do remember that Sweden and Germany have also pursued policies on arms exports which are quite rigorous, and in those circumstances if there was a truly dramatic change then I would expect us to get agreement among all the partners about what the right course forward should be. I cannot see something as large as an aircraft carrier departing in circumstances in which only a minority agreed. Would that be a fair summary?

  82. I was thinking of an armoured personnel carrier, not quite as grand.
  (Mr Cook) Not quite as big as an aircraft carrier but nevertheless a substantial size. I think we would get agreement on that. I am also reminded that if such an export breached the EU Code of Conduct, it is not just the six of us who would have a view to express, it is all 15.

Mr Khabra

  83. When you impose sanctions on any country for whatever reason, do you actually automatically consider the supply of arms as well?
  (Mr Cook) Not automatically. It is usually the first line of action but it is not necessarily automatic. I would stress that our view on this is that sanctions and embargoes are best done on a multilateral basis, in other words if we can get an EU or, better still, a UN agreement on it, then it is worthwhile going down that road.

  Chairman: I think, Secretary of State, our Committee and you share very passionately one concern and that is small arms proliferation. You expressed this very strongly in the statement you sent out. I quote, "Small arms have been the basic method of mass killing over the past decade." Therefore, may we turn to this issue?

Mr Baldry

  84. Secretary of State, in your last Report you say, "The UK remains firmly committed to national and international measures that will prevent the illicit trafficking of small arms ...", and there is a conference in the summer of this year on Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons which is going to build on existing regional initiatives by agreeing concerted global norms and action. I wonder if you could indicate to the Committee what you see as the prospects for this conference? What actions do you envisage and who do you see policing those actions?
  (Mr Cook) First of all, we are actively exploring with our partners whether we can try and find some common basis to take to the conference, and therefore at the present time, whilst I can offer a menu of activities we might go for, I would wish them to be recognised as work-in-progress rather than a statement of firm policy. We will ourselves be hosting a round table on this issue next month, which I will be addressing, setting out some of these issues. We are very strongly exercised about both the trade in small arms and the enormous surpluses of small arms there are around the world. There are several steps which need to be taken. First of all, we would actually welcome a commitment within Europe not to supply small arms to non-state actors, in other words if you have a military fire arm it goes to the Government, it does not go to anybody else who might be a rebel or other non-governmental—I am trying to avoid the word "organisation" but you know what I mean—a non-governmental armed force. Secondly, we would want to make sure it was possible to do more to trace fire arms. They are currently marked at the time of production but it is very difficult still to trace them, and we need to improve upon that, so we can trace back where they came from, and that would be a means of invigilating the regulations. We need more measures to be taken against the illicit trade in fire arms. We need more measures in order to provide the incentive for surplus fire arms to be surrendered, and we would like to see exploration with international bodies like the World Bank whether there could be a structured fund which rewards the surrender of fire arms with development. Also we would like to see in all international peace settlements as a standard commitment the surrender and destruction of fire arms. Part of the problem in Africa is that once one conflict is resolved the weapons are then humped off and sold to the next conflict, and you have to stop that endless cycle of weapons. So there is quite a broad agenda which we would like to pursue and we are actually very active in trying to shape the debate for the UN conference. In terms of policing, ultimately this is a conference called by the UN and it would be done under the authority of the UN. Of course, places like the European Union, with our already existing and tried systems of the EU Code of Conduct and well-established and mature systems of administrative machines, are better placed to enforce it than others, but if it was carried with the authority of the UN it would have the authority of international law.

  85. By "partners", Foreign Secretary, do you mean European Union partners?
  (Mr Cook) In the first instance, yes.

  86. So if we are still hammering to work out the line to take with community colleagues, it does not sound particularly optimistic for a UN conference in the summer, does it?
  (Mr Cook) I would dispute that actually. I think there is a lot of goodwill among European colleagues to try and find a way forward on this. Some of that agenda I have outlined will certainly be agreed among European colleagues and the round table we are having here on 13 and 14 February is a good time in advance of the June conference and we will make good progress in trying to establish an international consensus.

  87. Who is the round table going to involve?
  (Mr Cook) I need to be guided. Apart from opening it, I am not sure.
  (Mr Ehrman) It will involve about 30 countries which are those countries in the European Union interested in this issue, and a wide range of other countries interested in the small arms issue. If I can add to what the Secretary of State has said about discussions within the European Union, the European Union has put in a draft paper on some of its ideas into the preparatory process for the conference, and we have reached a very welcome measure of agreement on a number of the issues which the Foreign Secretary mentioned—the question of pushing for tracing under the UN Fire Arms Convention, the question of only selling to other governments and not to non-state actors, and there is a lot of agreement too on the question of surrender and destruction, stockpile management and a number of other measures.

  88. My last question is, the UN conference is going to reportedly build on existing regional initiatives, your Report mentions a number of regional initiatives under the umbrella of different organisations, which, if any, of these do you consider to be a particular success? Are there any of these ones you would wish to hold up as real exemplars of the sort of progress which could be made?
  (Mr Cook) All necessarily are dealing with a very difficult problem. All necessarily have imperfections. The work that has been done in regard to South Africa has been quite commendable and successful. If we achieve the same degree of outcome in other African regions, for instance West Africa, we will make very good progress.

  Mr Baldry: I am sure everyone will be interested to hear what you have to say. Perhaps you can send as a copy of the speech.

Mr Worthington

  89. Are we talking in the illicit trade about the recycling of a huge stockpile for the fresh manufacturing of small arms and live weapons?
  (Mr Cook) Both, and more. One of the strongest, original sourcing comes from the surplus arms from the former communist world, where very large volumes of surplus weapons are now available and are available to countries with a lot of economic pressures. Some do come from the stockpile of weapons obsolete, in our terms, of other nations as the trade-up in terms of their own equipment. A lot of it does come from weapons that are already in circulation within Africa. All of these do need to be tackled. It is also worth mentioning that the destruction of surplus weapons post conflict also raises how existing military forces within the developed world manage the stockpile of surplus weapons.

  90. Is there fresh manufacturing? Who is doing that?
  (Mr Cook) Mr Hain has already put in the public domain those countries who are suspected of substantial trade in small arms, non-state actors for instance. One has to be frank about this and say that, of course, there are legitimate governments in Africa who have legitimate requirements for small arms. Indeed if they do not get them the balance of power shifts to the rebels. That is why in our annual report we transferred 10,000 rifles to the Government of Sierra Leone. We need to make sure that trade is regulated to legitimate recipients and that the illicit trade, which is significant in Africa, receives substantial international response in order to curb it and to bring it under control. If we can get general agreement, that would be valuable. I do not think that many of the governments in the countries where people are engaged in this would wish to oppose that. The question is whether they themselves have the capacity to control those who indulge in it.

  91. If you take a specific instance like Angola, we talked to Ambassador Fowler, of the UN Sanctions Committee, pointing out it was not just small arms it was 50 tonne tanks that were coming from Ukraine. What pressure can we bring to bear upon Ukraine in order to make sure they do not engage in what we would term illicit trade?
  (Mr Cook) We have to be a little bit careful, it is not the Government of the Ukraine that is providing that. There may be Ukraine individuals referred to by Ambassador Fowler. We need to work with the Government of Ukraine to make sure that activity—which is probably illegal in Ukraine, as well as elsewhere, because there is an arms embargo on UNITA and a Security Council Resolution in force, if I recall correctly—we need to work with them to make sure international law is applied. Although there are substantial pieces of kit being traded illicitly and in breach of arms embargoes, I would not undervalue the enormous contribution by the self-loading rifle. The self-loading rifle has become the true weapon of mass destruction of our time. It has killed millions over the past decade. That is the standard weapon of the rebel organisations across Africa.

  92. What is the action that would be most useful to bring that under control?
  (Mr Cook) I think that an international commitment to trade only with state actors and not to trade with non-state actors would be very helpful. It is a little bit odd that self-loading military rifles can be traded legally on the international market rather than only to Governments. Frankly, self-loading military rifles are the property of the military and the military should only be accountable to Government.

  93. In your discussions have you managed to engage China, so that can be a positive influence?
  (Mr Cook) I am not aware of what particular discussion we had with China in the lead up to the conference. I would be happy to be guided on this by Mr Ehrman. To be fair, China itself participating in the arms trade is not quite in the same league as some of the western countries.
  (Mr Ehrman) We are very much engaged with the Chinese in talking about UN firearms protocol and the question of tracing the weapons. We are working to try to overcome some problems they have in that area to see if we can move that forward before the conference.

Mr Cohen

  94. We know that the United States has a particular attitude about firearms, for example. Are you satisfied that that attitude is not thwarted in a way and then this area then becomes a problem?
  (Mr Cook) As Foreign Secretary I would not dream of putting my feet into the snake pit of American debate on domestic firearms.

  95. I was not saying that. On the same philosophy.
  (Mr Cook) As far as the question of export is concerned, they do have quite a tough regime, although it does not entirely match ours. There is room for dialogue. I feel they will play a positive and constructive part in the UN conference.

Chairman

  96. Can we turn on to some country cases. Israel has figured recently, and Dr Starkey has been pursuing that with some vigour.
  (Mr Cook) Before you start that, can I ask when we might go into private session?

  Chairman: The line of questioning is going to be still on the generalities rather than any specifics. If at any moment you feel that, we can reserve it for private.

Dr Starkey

  97. The first issue I want to explore is more a concern about the possible use of United Kingdom arms in the occupied territories. There are also concerns that up until last year United Kingdom arms may have been used by Israeli forces in Southern Lebanon. I would like to clarify your view on that. Has it always been that no United Kingdom equipment or components should have been deployed there, or merely that they should not have been used aggressively? What exactly does aggression mean when we are talking about Israeli forces who were in occupation of another sovereign state? What could they be doing there that was not aggressive?
  (Mr Cook) I am not aware that we have any evidence of United Kingdom equipment being used in Southern Lebanon. I am open to correction if I am wrong on that. Israel does have a legitimate right of self-defence. We welcome the courageous step that has been taken by Prime Minister Barak to withdraw from Southern Lebanon. I regret that fighting has continued there, not at the instigation of the Israeli side.
  (Mr Ehrman) Chairman, we have always looked very carefully at every application for Israel. We have not issued a licence for equipment where at the time of assessment we thought that there was a clear use, that it would be used for internal oppression or external aggression. That would cover your question.

  98. External aggression would cover any use in Southern Lebanon, in your view. It was the United Kingdom's view that we should not sell things to Israel in the past which could have been used in Southern Lebanon?
  (Mr Cook) The time this Government has been in office it is not the period which Israel has gone into Southern Lebanon. During that period Israel has withdrawn from Southern Lebanon, which is a step that we actually welcome.

  99. I think everyone welcomes their withdrawal. Within the period of office of this Government they were bombing power stations and they were in occupation of Southern Lebanon. I am simply seeking clarification that it was the policy that we would not have sold arms that we thought could be used in Southern Lebanon?
  (Mr Cook) If we had evidence that a licence was for equipment which might be used for external aggression, we would not grant it. To be frank, we are here dancing around a visionary problem. I do not recall ever being confronted with a decision which raised this question. Are we aware of any licence in the last four years which may have had a Southern Lebanon dimension? I take it we have not been selling the aircraft which have been carrying out the bombings to which Dr Starkey refers.


 
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