Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)|
25 FEBRUARY 2004
MP, MR EDWARD
OAKDEN CMG AND
Q1 Chairman: Foreign Secretary, welcome
very warmly to the annual get together with the Quadripartite
Committee. Perhaps first of all you would like to introduce the
two colleagues by your side.
Mr Straw: Edward Oakden, who is
Director, International Security, and David Landsman, who is Head
of the Counter-Proliferation Department, and there are officials
behind who are responsible day-by-day for the operation of our
part of the arms control system.
Q2 Chairman: Can I start by thanking
yourself and your colleagues for the replies to the questions.
Inevitably we have to ask a significant number of questions each
year when we scrutinise your Annual Report and we are very grateful
for the replies we have received.
Mr Straw: May I thank you for
that. I do a good deal of work on those and so do the two officials
sitting side-by-side. The people behind and those back in the
office have to do a phenomenal amount of work. Our duty is to
do it but it is useful to note that it is appreciated and it has
a value. I will pass it on to the officials concerned.
Q3 Chairman: Thank you very much. Foreign
Secretary, in the Intelligence and Security Committee's Report
last year they noted that "a small number of UK companies
are still trying to breach export restrictions". Are you
confident that those who try to breach export restrictions are
actually prevented from doing so?
Mr Straw: I am confident that
we are tightening up controls against them. By definition, you
can never be completely confident about these things. There are
people who make a great deal of money out of breaching arms control
regimes not only in this country but elsewhere and/or who support
a variety of failing states, states which do not observe international
standards, and also in respect of terrorists and in respect of
smaller arms criminal organisations as well. So in a sense it
is a similar question to that of: is any government getting on
top of crime? You think so but obviously you are never going to
be sure of the denominator. We are certainly doing everything
we can to tighten controls and, if I may, I would like to draw
the Committee's attention to a written Ministerial Statement that
I made this morning about countering proliferation of weapons
of mass destruction. This is specific to WMD. I placed before
the House a detailed statement about the steps that we are taking
to deter, check and roll back WMD programmes in countries of concern.
This builds on our experience, for example, in rolling back proliferation
as we have been doing in respectand I have been very actively
involved in thisof Libya, Iran and the al-Qaeda network
and much else besides. For example, in terms of the Proliferation
Security Initiative we are seeking agreements in respect of the
boarding of vessels. We have them in respect of the boarding of
vessels where we think they are carrying drugs; we now need them
where we think they are carrying prohibited weapons and we are
seeking such agreements with 10 of the largest commercial flag
states. We have got other proposals. There is the idea of a Security
Council Resolution on counter-proliferation. It is interesting
that counter-proliferation itself has not been discussed in the
Security Council since 1992. We are now seeking a consensus on
a Security Council Resolution and drafting is at an early stage.
It is extraordinary to me; we have now got a very clear and tough
Resolution 3073 on terrorism but not on counter-proliferation.
We are seeking ways in which we can further strengthen the safeguards
division of the International Atomic Energy Agency. I have seen
and admired their work day-by-day and at close quarters, not least
through my active involvement on both the Libyan and the Iranian
fronts, but they do need strengthening. Then something which is
of a particular and personal concern to me is the strengthening
of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. Colleagues may
be aware that there is a perfectly sound Convention on Biological
and Toxin Weapons per se but there is no enforcement mechanism
of the kind which applies to either nuclear weaponry or to chemical
weapons, and we have been seeking an international consensus so
there is in future a very clear enforcement safeguards mechanism
for biological weapons.
Q4 Chairman: Going back to the Intelligence
and Security Committee comment about there being a number of companies
trying to breach export restrictions, are you surprised that Customs
and Excise has brought only one prosecution over the last couple
Mr Straw: Customs and Excise do
a very good job and it has always been a key focus of theirs.
They have to operate on the basis of, first of all, the information
that is available to them and, secondly, and crucially within
the British system, in terms of what evidence could be adducible
in court. That is aside from the issue which the Home Secretary
is raising for consultation, which is whether intercept evidence
could be adducible in court. At the moment under Section 17 of
the Investigatory Powers Act it is not at all. There are also,
as Dr Berry you will be aware, general rules on evidence which
mean that intelligence (which is the basis for a lot of this counter-proliferation
enforcement activity) cannot be adduced in court either because
it is not good evidence or because it would compromise the original
source. In my judgment Customs do the best job they can but there
is always room for improvement and we are in no sense complacent.
Q5 Chairman: Can I ask you a final question
on the general issue of export controls. The new Export Control
Mr Straw: which I have
before me for greater accuracy!
Q6 Chairman: Excellent! Of course that
seeks to extend controls not just to technology transfers in tangible
form but transfers in intangible formcomputer files, et
cetera, et cetera. Whose job is it going to be to check electronic
communications leaving the country and how is it going to be possible
to do this?
Mr Straw: I will be able to provide
some more detail in closed session, if I may, about some of the
methods that we use.
Q7 Chairman: We are always a bit reluctant
to go into closed session unless we have to.
Mr Straw: You may be but I am
a bit reluctant to give too much information, thank you very much.
If you want these people caught then it is a good idea if I do
not give it to you in open session. It is very straightforward.
A good deal of work goes on in that respect to counter all sort
of threats to our international security. I am grateful to you
for drawing attention to both the Act and also the statutory instruments
that go with this because they do, as you say, seek to regulate
not only goods but also the transfer of intangibles, and controlling
that information is very, very important if you are countering
WMD proliferation but also other proliferation as well. It is
Q8 Chairman: That might be an example
that we will come back to in confidential session.
Mr Straw: I think you should.
I am very happy to answer it but you will forgive me for not going
down this route of explanation in public session.
Chairman: Thank you. Fabian?
Q9 Mr Hamilton: Foreign Secretary, I
wonder if I could move on to end-use conditions especially in
relation to Indonesia. I understand that until August 2002 the
Indonesian Government was bound by an undertaking not to deploy
British-built military equipment to Aceh and to provide advance
warning of any possible deployment. When you wrote to the Committee
on 3 October 2002and I do not expect you to remember the
details of the letterto inform us of the Indonesian Government's
advance warning of its intent to deploy British-built armoured
personnel carriers to Aceh, why did you not also tell us that
the Government had agreed to do without such advance warnings
in the future?
Mr Straw: I cannot answer that
question offhandI do not know if Mr Landsman or Mr Oakden
canand I would need to have details. You kindly conceded
that I would not have an immediate recall of the original letter
which is, after all, getting on for 18 months ago, Mr Hamilton.
Let me say colleagues here round the table may or may not agree
with the decisions which I and ministers make, but I have always
sought to be completely open with the Committee and if I am going
to do something which is controversial, still more so. I will
have to provide a further explanation. Had I been warned in advance
I could have given an answer. I simply do not know is the answer.
Q10 Chairman: For clarification could
I just say, Foreign Secretary, you wrote to this Committee on
3 October 2002 not mentioning this change and it was not until
we had a parliamentary answer from Mr Mike O'Brien that we were
advised this change took place in August 2002. With respect, whoever
drafted the letter of 1 October 2002 was probably aware of what
had happened in August 2002. Our concern is that we only found
out about this change from a written parliamentary answer substantially
after the Government had made this decision.
Mr Straw: I will look into it.
I have no interest in being anything but completely straightforward
and open with this Committee. Sometimes by definition it has to
be in confidential session. If that question had been one of the
many I received before then I would have been happy to provide
an answer today.
Q11 Mr Hamilton: I am sorry you did not
receive advance notice of it. Can I look at the general position
though because if any country agrees to end-use conditions and
makes assurances to us and then breaches them how do we actually
Mr Straw: There is a general issue
about policing end use which is difficult for all countries and
the principal way you make judgments about end use is on the history
of that country and the history of the arms supplier as well.
You have to rely, as you do in many other areas, on judgments
about past conduct being a good indication of judgments about
future behaviour. In some cases where we have had undertakings
and they have clearly been broken then that affects the decisions
that we make. Colleagues will recall that two years ago it emerged
that chassis which were British built, albeit 30 or 40 years ago,
were being used by the Israeli Defence Force in the Occupied Territories.
We had had some undertakings about them before, they were clearly
not being followed, so we made a decision to discount any future
undertakings, and so we do. We are seeking to strengthen as far
as we can end use arrangements and Mr Landsman or Mr Oakden may
like to add something to it.
Mr Oakden: It is an area that
we have said we will look at doing more and at the last Committee
hearing you mentioned the Blue Lantern exercise which the Americans
have mounted. We have looked quite hard at what that procedure
Q12 Chairman: Sorry to interrupt, I do
not think we are talking about Blue Lantern. We are talking about
when the Government has secured assurances from the government
of a country to which arms are exported about the use to which
those weapons would be put and whether or not advance warnings
about the deployment of those weapons would be made, which used
to be the case in Indonesia. That is the issue. I am interested
to know why, for example, the Government no longer wants advance
warning of deployment of these weapons when that was proclaimed
as being a major undertaken given by the Indonesian Government
until the policy changed in August 2002. Why did that policy change?
Mr Straw: As I say, I do not think,
although I speak from recollection, that the background to Mr
Hamilton's questioning is quite as dramatic as is being implied.
If I had had notice I could have provided you with some detail
about this but there we are, I will have to write to you.
Q13 Chairman: Foreign Secretary, I am
trying to be helpful here, what is the current policy in relation
to assurances provided by Indonesia?
Mr Straw: What is the current
Mr Oakden: The Indonesian Government
have given us repeated assurances that they will not use British-built
equipment in a way which would infringe human rights obligations
or in an aggressive way. We have repeatedly sought confirmation,
and I can give you specific instances over the last year, to confirm
that those assurances remain in effect and, on that basis, and
I think this is probably the answer to Mr Hamilton's question,
we do not think that the question of notice of advance deployment
arises, in the sense that the Indonesians have already given us
assurances that they will not use this British-built equipment
in a way which would contravene the consolidated criteria.
Mr Straw: If they are not going
to use it they are not going to use it so there would not be a
question of them giving notification of using. It does not arise
and I think that is the point we are making.
Q14 Chairman: With respect, it does arise.
In Mike O'Brien's answer to a parliamentary question on 12 June
last year he said: "Before August 2002 the Indonesian Government
provided assurances that British-supplied military equipment would
not be used in Aceh or anywhere else in Indonesia against civilians
to prevent the exercise of their rights of free expression"
et cetera. "The Indonesian Government added that if
against expectations they were to contemplate the use of such
equipment in Aceh at a later stage, they would inform the British
Government in advance." At the time therefore the British
Government were celebrating the policy, which was that we had
the assurance they would not use equipment in these circumstances,
but in addition there was a double arm lock; if they were to think
about it then they would inform the British Government in advance.
Mr Straw: What is your question
now? What is your anxiety?
Q15 Chairman: Firstly, that to suggest
that the second condition is irrelevant now is incorrect. It clearly
was not irrelevant to the Government not too long ago and it is
really a question about the status of the assurances you received
from the Indonesian Government.
Mr Straw: I will do my best to
go into this. I am surprised that you did not think it appropriate
to give me forewarning of such a detailed question, if I may say
so, given the fact that I am subject to all sorts of really detailed
questions on all sorts of subjects in advance. If I had had the
information ahead of me I could have answered the questions on
it. The arms control system covers a huge range of countries and
of subjects. We do our best to digest all the briefing that we
can but on a detailed issue like this where we have not had notice
of the large number of letters that go backwards and forwards
between the Committee it is a bit more difficult to give the answers
that you are seeking here. If I had had the information in advance
I would have done so. I promise you I will follow it up as quickly
as I can. If you want to see me again in session I am happy to
oblige. Until I have been able to look at the matter in the way
in which I look at literally hundreds of issues you raise with
me on other matters, I am sorry that I cannot give you a more
Chairman: We had advised your office
that we were going to raise questions about Indonesia.
Q16 Mr Hamilton: I am sure you will know
the answer to this, Foreign Secretary. Have any British officials
or ministers visited Aceh at all in recent years?
Mr Straw: Officials have. I visited
Indonesia. I certainly did not go to Aceh. I went there the year
before last. I am told that officials have been.
Q17 Mr Hamilton: Would it be possible
to let us know details of those visits in writing?
Mr Straw: Yes, of course, but
not off the top of my head.
Mr Landsman: The most recent was
in February this year, very recently.
Q18 Ann Clwyd: Foreign Secretary, as
you know Indonesia has always been a controversial issue, particularly
the export of arms to Indonesia. According to the most recent
US State Department report on human rights in Indonesia they say:
"Soldiers and police murdered, tortured, raped, beat and
arbitrarily detained both civilians and members of separatist
movements. These abuses were most apparent in Aceh . . . where
members of an on-going separatist movement killed at least 898
persons . . . during the year. Human rights violations in Aceh
were frequent and severe during the year." I think the broad
question we are concerned about is what appears to be the rapidity
with which the Government appears to view Indonesia as an eligible
market for UK arms sales and I think that is a legitimate matter
for debate. I think last time you came you said that you would
look at the US system of end use monitoring. Mr Oakden did refer
to it a moment ago. What conclusions have you reached about the
possibility of formalising a British system of end use monitoring
following your consideration of the US Department's Blue Lantern
Mr Straw: Thank you for the question.
It goes without saying that I share the concern about the reports
of abuses of human rights in parts of Indonesia, and we apply
the consolidated criteria with very great care, particularly with
countries like Indonesia. We looked at this issue of end use monitoring
to which Mr Oakden referred and which is called the Blue Lantern
programme, as I understand it, and is run by the Office for Defense
Trade Controls Compliance Department What they do is use indicators
or warning flags to identify exports of potential concern. Under
their system every US mission overseas is required to have a Blue
Lantern point of contact. In some posts but not all it is the
customs attaché or the defense attaché who carries
out this programme. I wrote to members of this Committee and I
hope you received the letter. I am advised that we already carry
out the vast majority of the work of the Blue Lantern programme
as part of our current programme and procedures. Although we have
not badged it as a separate programme. Obviously the integrity
of a system of export controls is very heavily dependent on being
pretty certain about how they are going to be used in the end.
If those procedures are defective then it renders the whole system
defective. At the same time this is a problem as much faced by
the US as by us. Since by definition you are selling to third
countries, the degree of direct control you can have over those
third countries or organisations within them is going to be more
limited than if you are selling within your own country. What
I said in my letter is that we are going to encourage relevant
officials to make greater use of the facility that is already
available to them to request end use monitoring on a case-by-case
basis and to remind them of the indicators which would suggest
such action. I will keep a close eye on this as well and I am
sure it will be useful for the Committee to do so too. There is
already quite a lot done on end use monitoring, including the
particular case which I drew to the attention of the House of
Commons two years ago, the case to which I have just referred,
where it was our defence attaché in Tel Aviv who gained
knowledge by really quite good detective work of the use of these
armoured personnel carriers which were based on British chassis.
That amounted to direct end-use monitoring and I then made it
known to the Commons and to your Committee. There is already a
lot but we are trying to upgrade it because you cannot just say,
"This is Blue Lantern and we will put it into the UK".
We have to build on the relevance of the way the Blue Lantern
system operates for the UK.
Q19 Ann Clwyd: Could I quickly ask you
would you then assert that we do have a regular system of end-use
monitoring of arms that are exported from Britain?
Mr Straw: We have a system for
it. The question is are we able to monitor the end use in every
circumstance? The answer to that is no. Are we seeking to upgrade
the monitoring we provide? The answer to that is yes.