Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
WEDNESDAY 25 APRIL 2001
Sir John Stanley
120. The Government in its White Paper offered
a solution to this particular problem, how to combine proper controls
over the proliferation of scientific information which might be
relevant to the development of weapons of mass destruction and
try and let that control live sensibly alongside proper legitimate
academic work. In the last two sentences of paragraph 3.2.3 in
the White Paper, it says, "A possible solution to this ..",
which is the problem, " ... would be to add a provision to
the weapons of mass destruction related offences proposed in section
3.1 above ..", that is in the White Paper, "... making
publication of controlled technology relevant to the development
of weapons of mass destruction an offence. This would apply whatever
the medium of publication." The wording there is quite clear
and certainly much more restrictive than, Professor Floud, you
suggested in your opening remarks when a lecturer in neurology
or whatever it might be, or various parts of chemistry, might
fall within the ambit of it. It is making publication of controlled
technology relevant to the development of weapons of mass destruction
an offence. Given wording of that sort applied to the Schedule
in the draft Bill, would that set your mind at rest, or would
you like to offer any proposals to the Committee as to how you
feel the legitimate requirements of academia can be squared with
what I think we are all agreed on, the pressingly important need
to ensure information relevant to the production of weapons of
mass destruction does not proliferate around the world and get
into the wrong hands?
(Mr Bohm) I think the problem is in deciding what
information is relevant because that could be very basic scientific
research or it could be very specific technology well advanced
to the point of application. There is no distinction in those
words which enables a teacher to decide whether some piece of
information which could be useful, beneficial indeed, in medicine
or agricultural, or many fields, might also not be perverted.
It is the dual use problem. Those words make not the beginnings
of an attempt to distinguish. The Government's own approach in
other spheres in this field has been to talk about information
intended for use in connection with a programme of weapons of
mass destruction, and if we were talking about intent I think
we would find very much less difficulty because I think most of
us on this side found it very difficult to imagine ordinary academic
teaching and research being carried out with any kind of intent
of that kind at all. Indeed in the face of warnings by Government
to the possible dangers, I think, as Professor Floud said, the
universities have been in the forefront of objecting to and pointing
out the dangers of proliferation and would be very keen to take
that advice. I think it is the looming sledgehammer which remains
121. This issue of intangible technology has
been around for a few years now, mainly since reports that the
head of the Iraqi Biological Defence Unit got a PhD at the University
of East Anglia, which caused great concern. Arising from that,
the then Education Minister wrote a letter to Mr Edwards, the
then Chairman of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals,
saying, so that universities do not unwittingly assist proliferation,
"... the Government will provide information and guidance.
Because the focus of proliferation concerns naturally shift from
time to time, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office will keep
the universities up-to-date through the CVCP with the current
list of countries and technologies where a proliferation risk
arises." I have that letter in front of me, it is dated July
1994. Clearly that was a system in place. Is that system not working
satisfactorily from your point of view or from the Government's
point of view, as far as we know?
(Professor Floud) I think there have been lengthy
discussions since 1994 about this particular scheme, the so called
Voluntary Vetting Scheme, and I think the Government has agreed
that when it gives advice to universities it will also indicate
whether or not an applicant will be allowed permission to enter
the UK. I think they have also revised the list of disciplines
which are concerned. So our view is that this is significantly
more satisfactory than the original proposal, and I do not think
we have serious concerns about it at the moment, but Dr Tilbrook
might like to answer.
(Dr Tilbrook) Any work which is done for defence applicationand
here I am talking about work done specifically for a UK defence
applicationis very, very well controlled by a strong contractual
procedure between us and the organisation funding it, whether
it be an industrial company, DERA or the MOD. The controls which
are put in place in those circumstances are extremely adequate.
122. Do you get this list? I would be interested
to know how regularly you get this list of countries and individuals
perhaps from the Foreign Office to you as the successor body,
saying these people or people from these countries should not
be allowed to study here. Do you then pass that on to the universities
and they do not allow them to study? Is that what happens?
(Professor Floud) That is my understanding, yes.
123. May I just explore in the brief time we
have remaining to us your possible solutions to the problem? In
one way the Government I thought did address your first point
in paragraph 8 by saying on page 13 of Command 5091, if I can
draw attention to it, "... a licence should be required only
where the provider of information knows or is informed by Government
that the activity in question is intended for use in connection
with a weapons of mass destruction ...", and in a very useful
footnote it says that any information in the public domain would
be excluded. Does that not go a very long way to meeting your
worries and concerns and in fact cover your first point in paragraph
(Mr Bohm) Mr Chairman, I think it would, if it was
in primary legislation, meet it entirely. I think that is the
only difference on that point. I do not think there is really
a disagreement about what the right policy ought to be. I think
there is a disagreement about whether it should be seen, visibly
and obviously, to be entrenched.
124. So if we persuade the Secretary of State
to include a provision of that kind in the Bill at an appropriate
place in the Bill that would really meet you? The fact the Government
has made a commitment is actually very important in itself.
(Mr Bohm) Yes.
125. You want to have it
(Professor Floud) Yes, in tablets of stone.
126. Going back to your example of the project
you were talking about. Could that not be solved, as indeed we
have found in the dealings in other issues of intangibles, where
the Government issue an open general licence which would allow
that type of an exchange to take place?
(Mr Bohm) If the Government were willing to issue
open general licences it would indeed. It has not done so. The
existing licensing regime does actually prohibit the export of
cryptanalytic material, the general controls on cryptographic
material have largely gone but they are retained in the techniques
of cryptanalysis. That would have effectively interfered with
this project. My particular example happens to run up against
a current control.
127. Right. The information of the kind that
was being exchanged as part of that project, that was not information
in the public domain. If the public domain provision was in force
or in place would that have solved your problem?
(Mr Bohm) It would not have solved it totally because
like many research projects the researchers wish to conduct their
research in private and publish at a moment of their choosing
subsequently. If they were compelled to publish each exchange
as it went along, I think that would be fairly powerfully inhibiting
even where the content of everything is ultimately going to be
published. I think it is a legitimate academic desire to save
the material up and publish it at the moment of your choice without
your academic competitors getting too much wind of it. It would
mean that a pure public domain exception would not solve that
time lag problem.
128. I am reassured that if DERA or the MoD
gives a contract there are strong security measures in place,
although even the strongest measures will not be up to defeating
a truly determined potential misuser of information. It is one
thing the Government or the MoD passing down information to vice
chancellors. Are you satisfied that when information gets down
to the level of academics, do they tend to be conscious of the
requirements of the Government in terms of protecting very sensitive
information or would they say "Look, I am not interested
in what these people in the MoD or the Government tell us. I am
a student or researcher and I am not having them telling me how
I should teach or research". Are you satisfied the word has
got down to academics at the coal face?
(Dr Tilbrook) I am very satisfied on that because
certainly at Imperial College we have a number of individuals
who have been strongly involved in this industry for a number
of years and they would not have been able to retain that role
under the respective funding bodies who want to be put in work
with us unless we had adhered in the strictest way to everything
or expressed desires for confidentiality.
129. There have been some spectacular failures.
My colleague, Harry Cohen, mentioned one and I think another of
the heads of the Iraqi nuclear programme did a masters or doctorate
at Birmingham University. Those are two pretty substantial failures.
Are there any cases you would like to tell us in public or perhaps
write to us about in private where it has been known that there
has been a leakage of information to a foreign country that has
been detrimental to the interests of UK Government or western
governments in general?
(Dr Tilbrook) I personally am not aware of any in
my sphere of work.
130. If you find out perhaps you would let us
(Dr Tilbrook) Yes.
131. Lastly, the Americans tend to be slightly
more paranoid than even we are on these issues. Have you had any
discussions with your American colleagues as to how they resolve
or fail to resolve the problem in relation to the machinery of
Federal Government, be it the Department of Defence, Energy or
whatever? What kind of constraints do they operate under within
the area that we are talking about?
(Dr Tilbrook) That is something I am afraid I cannot
comment on. I have no knowledge of that.
(Professor Floud) Perhaps I could say that in terms
of the example that has been given, we all learn from the past.
The reason why the universities have accepted the voluntary vetting
scheme in the way that we have talked about earlier on was because
of learning from the past. I do not think that we should be accused
of failing to do so.
132. Against the point, if I could illustrate
it, for example, would a university accept a North Korean post
graduate who happened to be interested in ballistic trajectories?
(Professor Floud) Well, would the Government give
such a student a visa to enter this country?
Chairman: I am afraid time does not allow
us to do proper justice to the case as a whole. This is by way
of a preliminary hearing. It is a draft Bill. There is a consultation
period. You have alerted us very helpfully to some further concerns.
We have got the Secretary of State in our sights in about 40 minutes
time. I am sure that there will be ongoing discussions on this
to try and meet the concerns of the strategy. It seems to me we
have come some way but not the whole way. Thank you very much
indeed. I apologise for the brevity of our exchanges.