Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-84)|
RT HON WILLIAM HAGUE MP, SIMON FRASER CMG AND JAMES
16 MARCH 2011
Chair: I welcome members of the public
to the Foreign Affairs Committee. In this sitting, the Foreign
Secretary will be giving evidence to the Committee as part of
its rolling inquiry into developments in UK foreign policy. Apart
from an opening on topical points, the first part of the sitting
will focus mainly on the Middle East and North Africa. Then we
will move on to the World Service, piracy and, if there is any
time left, any other topical issues that may come up.
I extend a warm welcome to the Foreign Secretary.
This is the fourth time that you have appeared before us since
the election, so we cannot complain. I also welcome the permanent
under-secretaries, Simon Fraser and James Bevan. It is very good
to have you all here.
Foreign Secretary, you will be well aware of
the issue that was brought up at Prime Member's Question Time
about a UK rescue team foiled by red tape. I will now hand over
the questioning to Frank Roy.
Q1 Mr Roy: Foreign Secretary,
there is disbelief that a highly respected and experienced rescue
team such as the International Rescue Corps is at this moment
returning from Japan because it was not given the appropriate
paperwork by our embassy in Tokyo. Indeed, their spokesman has
said, "The team has had excellent help from the Japanese
embassy in London and the authorities in Tokyo but it broke down
when they couldn't get the relevant paperwork from the British
embassy in Tokyo
This was the 32nd world disaster we have
We have never encountered the position where the
British embassy, our own country, came up with a show-stopper".
What is going on?
Mr Hague: First, let us be clear
that the search and rescue team sent by the United Kingdom departed
at the weekend. The Government arranged a search and rescue teamthe
59 fire and rescue staff, the supporting medical team, rescue
dogs and so onin co-ordination with the Japanese Government.
As the Prime Minister pointed out at Question Time, we do not
want people to get mixed up. There is a major British effort
going on to help the search-and-rescue effort in Japan. As you
say, it is the International Rescue Corps, and we have been advising
them about how they can play a role in the rescue operation.
The important thing to stress is that everybody who is helping
out has to be part of a co-ordinated plan set out by the Japanese
Government. That is understandable.
Indeed, at the weekend, when I discussed with
the Japanese Foreign Minister our own Government-sponsored team,
they asked if there was an initial hesitancy because they wanted
to be sure that they would be able to use them as part of their
plan. I understand that, before flying to Tokyo, the IRC contacted
the Japanese embassy in London which, I am informed, explained
that, if the team decided to travel, they would need to be self-sufficient
and that the Japanese Government would not be able to provide
It is right that the Japanese Government remain
in control of the situation and are making decisions about which
search-and-rescue operations to support. They proceeded to Japan,
but were not able to support themselves logistically in the way
that the Japanese Government had requested. The British embassy
staff made contact with the team when it arrived in Tokyo, and
we have sent a letter of support to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
this morning at the request of the Japanese Ministry. We followed
that up with phone calls. It is not true that their effort was
delayed by British red tape. The difficulty here is people not
being able to fit in with the overall Japanese plan of how they
are conducting their operations.
Q2 Mr Roy: I am sorry, Foreign
Secretary, but that is totally at odds with what the corps are
saying themselves. They are saying that they spoke to the Japanese
Foreign Minister, that they had permission from the Japanese embassy
to go, and that the stumbling block was only when they arrived.
It was the British embassy itself that proved to be the stumbling
block, not the Japanese.
Mr Hague: It is not totally at
odds. I am not saying that the Japanese embassy said that they
should not go, but that the Japanese embassy advised them that
they would have to be self-sufficient and that Japan would not
be able to provide logistical support. They arrived there with
no transport, logistical or language support in place. That gave
rise to the difficulty. They are a respected organisation, and
we want them to be able to help on many occasions in the future,
but sometimes it is convenient to blame our embassies for difficulties
that had arisen in other ways.
Q3 Mr Roy: Surely they are
not just doing this for convenience. They are a highly respected
organisation that has been to 32 world disasters. They know what
they are talking about. They knew the authorisation. They needed
the authorisation to buy fuel. Indeed, when they left Tokyo,
they had to leave medicines and food at the airport, because that
is what they had hoped to give out in this humanitarian effort.
We are not talking about amateurs, but the most highly respected
organisation, Scotland-based, that we have in this area.
Mr Hague: We are not talking about
amateurs in any respect, either in respect of the Japanese Government
or the British embassy. There are some differences in the accounts
and we will all want to get them ironed out. We will all want
to know exactly what has happened in this case. I am giving you
the information that I have. People should not just jump to the
conclusion that it is all the fault of one groupthat is
the British embassy. From what I have been told, that was the
advice given by the Japanese embassy. So any group arriving to
assist the search-and-rescue operation in Japan either needs to
be integrated into that operation in advance, or needs to arrive
with their own logistical support. Clearly, if they don't fit
into the plan, the British embassy does not have readily available
all the logistical support that groups arriving would need. The
embassy is absolutely fully stretched, even though we have sent
50 additional people to reinforce it. What has gone wrong here
might be a bit more complex than some people make out.
Q4 Mr Roy: Will you come back
to the House with details?
Mr Hague: Oh yes, we all want
to get completely straightened out on what has happened. I would
just caution against accepting one side of the argument.
Mr Roy: Indeed, Foreign Secretary.
Q5 Chair: Thank you very much.
Foreign Secretary, would you like to give an overview of what
is going on in North Africa at the moment? Or shall we go straight
Mr Hague: It is worth saying a
word of overview. We will be debating this on the Floor of the
House tomorrow, I think. What is happening in North Africa and
the Middle East is already one of the three most important events
of the 21st century, and it is rapidly becoming the most important9/11
and the 2008 financial crisis being the others.
I suspect that we are only in the early stages
of what is happening in North Africa and the Middle East, that
it will bring some degree of change to all countries in the Arab
world and, indeed, that it will ignite greater demands for good
governance and political reform elsewhere in the world, beyond
the Middle East. This is an historic change of massive importance.
The argument we make as the British Government,
in particular to our EU colleagues, although I was also making
it at the G8 Foreign Ministers' meeting in Paris yesterday morning,
is that the response of Western nations has to be bold and ambitious,
in a way that is commensurate with such a degree of change. We
have to recognise that we cannot dictate to these countries how
to run their affairswe should not try to do sobut
we have to make sure that we act as a magnet for positive change,
just as we acted as a magnet for change in Eastern Europe after
the end of the Cold War, which was a more straightforward concept,
because Eastern European countries aspired in many ways to follow
a Western European model. This is more complex and difficult,
but we have to find equally powerful ways of acting as a magneteven
quite radical ways.
We should, for instance, find ways to allow
those countries to be in an economic area and a customs union
with the European Union, and we should make the extensive support
that we can give them conditional on real economic openness and
political reform. This demands a major change in Europe's approach
to its neighbourhood and a major revision of many of our foreign
policy goals. I don't want in any way to understate in our discussions
the massive importance of what is happening.
Q6 Mr Baron: May I pursue
that a little with you? You talk about political reform and you
have gone on record as saying that we need a more open and flexible
political system. The Prime Minister has talked about the "building
blocks of democracy". Do you feel at all uncomfortabledo
you believe that it has been wrongthat at the same time
we have been selling arms to autocratic regimes in the region,
in particular crowd control arms, which can and have been used
to suppress popular dissent? Do you see a contradiction at all?
Mr Hague: To a degree, yes. There
are many different things in your question, Mr Baron. Arms sales
to countries in the Middle East can include the armsthe
defence equipment, to put it in a different waythat we
sell to a country like Kuwait, which has been invaded in our memory.
It is an allied country which has introduced many democratic reforms,
and it has to be able to defend itself. I don't think anyone would
suggest that we should not, therefore, be trading with a country
like that, including in defence equipment. Parallel arguments
can be made about many other countries in the Middle East.
There is an issue about crowd control equipment,
as you said. We have strong criteria in this country, maintained
under successive Governmentsthe consolidated European Union
and UK criteria for exports, which have been rigorously applied
under successive Governments, more so than in the vast majority
of other countries in the world. Yet, clearly, we have seen instances
in the past few weeks where grave concern has been caused to the
Government and to other people in Britain about the use of some
of that equipment. There is an argument that either we don't sell
such things at all, or we do sell them and people can use them.
To sell them and then say, "Well, you can't use them,"
is a rather ridiculous situation to get into.
We have to review how our export controls work
in that regard, but I don't think it should stop us from being
able to trade with countries whose security is fundamental to
global security. We should be able to trade in some of the hardware
that they need to defend themselves from external attack.
Q7 Mr Baron: I take that point.
There is room for discretion and to differentiate when one is
selling equipment to enable a country to defend itself. There
is no doubt about it, we have been selling arms, particularly
crowd control arms, to countries that, as we knew at the time,
could easily use them on their own populations. We sold those
arms to autocratic regimes. What advice did the FCO give to No.
10, for example, on the recent trade mission led by the Prime
Minister at a time of such instability?
Mr Hague: Trade missions, which
the Prime Minister has led to various parts of the world, are
vital to this country's economic future. He has led them to India,
to China and, a few weeks ago, to the Gulf statesthat is
the one you refer to.
Trade with the Gulf statesI think the
UAE, for instance, is this country's 13th largest export marketis
very important to our economy. It is true that some people objected
to the idea that defence equipment was being sold by some of the
companies on that tour. But, again, these are countries whose
external security is in our national interest. In the Gulf they
are neighbours of Iran, and they are in a very troubled region
of the world. So the Prime Minister and I were in full agreement
that such companies should be there as part of his trade mission.
Q8 Mr Baron: I hope you don't
mind, but I am going to press you on this. We talk about promoting
political reform and about democracyat times it almost
seems as if we are preaching about those issuesbut would
you agree the best place from which to do that is from the moral
high ground? We have been selling such weapons to autocratic regimes
in the area that have turned them against their own populations.
That cannot be right. You talked about reviewing policies. Will
you undertake a full review of our policy in this region, so that
we learn from the lessons and apply them to future policy?
Mr Hague: It depends what you
mean by a full review. There are problems in certain areas, particularly
crowd control, which you have raised, but no one is suggesting
that the Gulf states have misused the weapons intended for external
defence. We are talking here about how crowd control mechanisms
are used. Should they be sold at all if there is a problem?
Q9 Mr Baron: Can I help you
on that? Why don't the Government match action with words and
say, "When it comes to those specific arms that can be used
against a domestic population, the Government will promise to
undertake a full review to ensure that we don't make the mistakes
of the past"?
Mr Hague: We will have a review.
There is no doubt about that. The area to concentrate on is the
one you are talking about. I will go that far to meet your request.
Q10 Mr Baron: Will that review
be subject to parliamentary scrutiny?
Mr Hague: Absolutely. Anything
the Government decide on such things must be discussed in Parliament.
Indeed, there could be Foreign Affairs Committee scrutiny.
Q11 Sir John Stanley: I assure
you it would be subject to scrutiny by the Committees on Arms
Export Controls, which I chair and which will be reporting shortly.
At Prime Minister's questions today, the Prime
Minister referred to the desirability, indeed the necessity, of,
in his words, getting rid of the regime in Libya. Can you tell
us whether you consider that there is a course of action that
can be agreed by the international community that will have the
result of getting rid of the Libyan regime? If so, what is that
course of action?
Mr Hague: The prime movers in
this are the Libyan people themselves. This is not, and it must
not become, the international community dictating to Libyans who
is going to lead them or what future Government they are going
to form. We, the whole of the European Union and many other nations
around the world, have said that given the way that Gaddafi has
behaved, including the use of heavy weaponrythis goes back
to Mr Baron's pointagainst his own population, he has lost
all legitimacy and should go. What happens in Libya must be owned
by the Libyan people themselves. We should never lose sight of
that. The Libyan opposition groups are very clear on that. They
have asked for things such as a no-fly zone and humanitarian support.
They do not ask for military intervention from outside that goes
beyond that, such as armies on the ground. They specifically do
not want that and say specifically that they don't want that.
There is, therefore, a limit to what the international
community can do, but we think that it can do more. Lebanon tabled
a resolution, with the support of ourselves and France, last night
in the United Nations Security Council, which would increase the
pressure in various ways on the Gaddafi regime, such as enforcing
the arms embargo on it, extending the range of designations of
its economic entities and individuals, and introducing the authority
for a no-fly zone. Those are things that we can do. That corresponds
to what the Arab League has asked for and actively supports. I
believe that it would actively participate in some of those things.
It also corresponds with what the opposition groups in Libya have
Q12 Sir John Stanley: Do you
believe that that resolution will be supported by the American
Government, and do you think it will be vetoed by either Russia
Mr Hague: What happens now in
the United Nations will develop, even over the coming hours. There
is a meeting of the Security Council members starting seven or
eight minutes from now. There may be further meetings later today
and tomorrow. That resolution is very clear and is on the table.
When it was explained to other nations at the Security Council
yesterday, many of them needed to go back to their own capitals
overnight for further consultation. We wait and see. While this
Committee is sitting, we will also be learning from the UN Security
Council what the reaction of the other members is.
Q13 Sir John Stanley: Are
you saying, Foreign Secretary, that if the United Nations Security
Council fails to agree this new resolution, you see no other international
prospect for being able to change the totally unequal balance
of military forces inside Libya?
Mr Hague: I do not want to suggest
that the resolution would change the unequal balance of military
forces in Libya. It would do the things that I have described.
As I say, everyone is very clear that the prime movers in thisthe
prime opposition to the Gaddafi regimeare the people of
Libya. They want to remain at the forefront of that fight. Without
a further United Nations resolution, of course, it is harder to
tighten the pressure that we have already applied to the Gaddafi
A lot of measures are contained in resolution
1970, which was passed two and a half weeks ago. We have now frozen
£12 billion of assets in this countryI believe that
that is the latest total. The United States has frozen even greater
totals. As you aware, we have taken such actions as stopping the
supply of bank notes from this country to the Gaddafi regime,
which has already added up to £1 billion. There are many
measures that we have taken, and it is hard to tighten those measures
further without a Security Council resolution. There is a very
powerful case for the resolution on those grounds, and on the
grounds of providing the authority to protect the civilian population.
That brings me to an essential point: what we are engaged in trying
to do in Libya is protecting the civilian population, not intervening
to make a decisive difference to a conflict in which the opposition
are the prime movers. They own that conflict, if you like.
Q14 Sir Menzies Campbell: You mentioned
protect, so perhaps I can take you up on that, Foreign Secretary.
It is sometimes called the right of humanitarian intervention,
or liberal intervention, and it is based on Prime Minister Blair's
speech in Chicago. Can you see any circumstances in which, if
no United Nations resolution were forthcoming, the British Government
might be moved to accept the doctrine of the duty to protect?
I think you made some passing reference to that in the course
of answers yesterday in the House of Commons. As you know, the
criteria for that are fairly well known: there has to be systematic
abuse of human rights; only necessary force is able to be used;
there has to be consistency with other United Nations resolutions;
and, perhaps most significantly, there have to be reasonable prospects
of success. Taking those criteria and the hypothesis that no UN
resolution can be achieved, can you see circumstances in which
the British Government might feel empowered to invoke the duty
Mr Hague: There could be circumstances.
To answer your question any other way would exclude all such possibilities,
and I don't think it would be right to do that. We have said that
for any actions that we take, there must be a clear legal base,
and you referred to some things that are necessary in order for
any action to be legal. There must be demonstrable need, and there
has to be regional supportfrom the Arab world, and from
people inside Libya themselves. When it comes to something like
a no-fly zone, the Arab League support is very clearly there,
in a most unprecedented way.
Q15 Sir Menzies Campbell:
And the Gulf Co-operation Council as well.
Mr Hague: And from the Gulf Co-operation
Council. As for the Arab League making such a statement on affairs
concerning one of its own members, I don't think that has ever
happened before. Those have been our criteria throughout.
There are circumstances in which countries can
act to protect civilian life without a United Nations resolutionexactly
as you describedso I don't think we should exclude doing
so, but the clearest and simplest legal base for such action is
a United Nations Security Council
resolution, with the clear
legal mandate and broad international support that that shows,
which is why we are doing this work now at the Security Council.
Q16 Sir Menzies Campbell:
I quite understand why that is the preferred route, but am I to
take it from your answer that if that route is closed off, the
Government will, at the very least, consider the alternative of
the duty to protect?
Mr Hague: It depends on the circumstances.
You are asking me whether there are any circumstances in which
we would do that, and the answer is that yes, there are circumstances,
but that requires us to foresee exactly what is going to happen
over the coming days.
Q17 Sir Menzies Campbell:
I am certainly not inviting you to do that, but I just want to
be sure that the duty to protect is on the table.
Mr Hague: It is on the table.
Sir Menzies Campbell: Thank you.
Q18 Chair: Foreign Secretary,
we were going to come to the legal basis for a no-fly zone later
on, but as we're on the subject, and Sir Ming and Sir John have
covered it, we will stick with it. You say that there has to be
a clear legal basis, but do you not agree that a responsibility
to protect is not a clear legal basis? In fact, it is a legal
basis that is much argued over and is not clearly defined. It
may be a legal basis, but it is not a clear legal basis.
Mr Hague: Again, it depends on
the circumstances. I'm sure there are circumstances in which one
could argue that there is a clear legal basis. Let us take an
instance from the last 20 years, such as the catastrophic events
in Rwanda. If we had really known what was going to happen, or
if the Government of the day and nations across the world had
known exactly what would happen and the scale of the slaughter,
would they have had a clear legal basis for doing something about
it, given the responsibility to protect and the legal right, which
the vast majority of lawyers assure us is there, to act in the
case of overwhelming humanitarian need? Well, yes, I think there
would have been a legal basis for that. Of course it is a grey
area, because these are relatively new concepts. They have not
been applied in many circumstances. Each set of circumstances
that arises is quite different from any other, so it is not as
if there is a mass of case law in the world on this. When people
ask, "Are there some circumstances in which countries have
the right to act and it is legal, even without a Security Council
resolution?", from all the legal advice that I have received
in office so far, there are such circumstances.
Q19 Chair: Of course, responsibility
to protect still requires a Security Council resolution, and if
you are not going to get a chapter VII, you are not very likely
to get a responsibility to protect either.
Mr Hague: In the case of overwhelming
humanitarian need or in self-defence, nations are allowed to take
action. By the way, I am not advocating that; I am just explaining,
because you are asking me what the position is. Clearly, what
we are working for is a resolution at the Security Council.
Q20 Chair: We want to know
what the clear legal basis is you are working on, but it sounds
like work in progress.
Mr Hague: The clearest legal basis
is a Security Council resolution. But are there some circumstances
in which you can take certain actions without that? Yes, there
are. That's the answerI can't make it simpler than that.
Q21 Chair: Do you not accept,
however, that if you go down this road and you intervene in Libya
on a military basis, it sets a very dangerous precedent. We have
civil wars all over the area. There's quite a nasty situation
developing in the Ivory Coast. What justification would you have
for refusing to intervene in the Ivory Coast if you have intervened
Mr Hague: There are various factors
to weigh. It is dangerous to make an absolutely hard-and-fast
principle about these things because, as I have said, every single
case that comes up is going to be differentin the numbers
of people affected and in the impact on the British national interestso
there are a number of factors to weigh.
This is a country on the southern boundaries
of Europe where long-term instability brings many threats to us
and to our neighbours in Europe concerning uncontrolled migration
and a breeding ground for extremism or terrorism in the future.
It is in our own national interest for what is happening in Libya
to proceed to some orderly outcome, as well as it being morally
right, of course, for loss of lifeand loss of life on a
considerable scaleto be avoided, if it can be. That has
to be weighed in the balance. Of course, one can raise other
instances in the world, but they will not be quite the samethey
will not all affect our national interest in the same way.
Q22 Chair: But if it is in
the national interest to succeed in Libya and you establish a
no-fly zone, what happens if it doesn't succeed and just results
in a stalemate? Wouldn't you agree that you shouldn't really go
down this road unless you are actually prepared to put troops
in on the ground to back it up, because you shouldn't make a threat
unless you can deliver on it?
Mr Hague: Then you run up against
some of the arguments I deployed earlier. Troops on the groundquite
apart from the fact that we are, of course, fully committed in
what we are doing in Afghanistan at the moment, so we have to
bear in mind our own resourceswould not meet the criteria
of regional support and of a clear legal base, which are two of
the important criteria that I set out earlier. We have to bear
those things in mind.
Q23 Chair: Does it not therefore
follow that if you can't envisage putting troops on the ground,
you shouldn't be doing a no-fly zone?
Mr Hague: A no-fly zone can be
one means of trying to protect the civilian population. What is
set out in our Security Council resolution is about protecting
the civilian population in Libya. It is for a no-fly zone. It
has a particular paragraph on civilian protection and the authorisation
of humanitarian assistance. It is to do with the thorough enforcement
of the arms embargo, the seizure of more regime assets, and the
creation of a UN panel of experts to follow up the various sanctions,
seizures and freezing of assets. That is what it is directed at,
and that is distinct from ground troops intervening in a major
Q24 Mr Ainsworth: Foreign
Secretary, you have just told the Committee that it is enormously
important, in your view, that the Libyan people are seen to be
leading on this, and that other Arab nations are seen to be taking
the lead. When we look back over the past couple of weeks, it
appears to me that the American Government's position has been
one of supporting exactly thatto force others to take the
leadwhereas our position appears to have been one of wanting
to jump up and down and to be seen as taking the lead ourselves.
Is that fair?
Mr Hague: No, not at all. In everything
we have done, as I have described already, we have taken full
note and taken our lead from opinion in the region and in the
Arab world. Indeed, many of the things that we have advocated
and called for, including what we are putting forward now at the
UN Security Council, are largely at the behest of Arab nations,
both in the declaration of the League of Arab States agreed on
Saturday and also in their diplomatic representations to us. So
we have been consistent about people in the region taking the
lead on this.
Q25 Mr Ainsworth: Resolution
1970 was passed on 26 February. It specifically didn't use any
words that would involve military action, because there was no
support for it, and yet on the 28thonly two days laterthe
Prime Minister started talking about no-fly zones. I don't know
how many times the Prime Minister has said we are in the lead
on this. A couple of weeks after he first starts talking about
no-fly zones, we don't move a resolution at the European Council,
we don't move a resolution at NATO and we only now move one at
the United Nations that's not going to get passed, is it? Our
diplomatic position has been shot to pieces over the past couple
of weeks, hasn't it?
Mr Hague: No, absolutely not.
We do take the leadwith other nations: with France, for
example, in the European Council, on this subject; and yes, in
the United Nations Security Councilbut those Arab nations
that I am talking about are not there to do that. There is no
inconsistency between taking the lead in those things and allowing
the lead in what should happen in the world, the strong representations
about what needs doing, to come from the Arab nations. There is
only one of them, Lebanon, on the United Nations Security Council;
there is none in the European Union, of course. So, yes, we do
our best to respond to what is coming out of that region and a
common plea that comes out of itto help protect the people
of Libya. It was the central demand of the Arab League on Saturday
to take measures that protect and support the civilian population
in Libya, and that is, as I have just been describing, the thrust
of our resolution at the United Nations Security Council. That
is why the Prime Minister has been talking about the options that
are now in this resolution that we're putting forward, so there's
no inconsistency between those things.
Q26 Mr Ainsworth: Isn't it
good diplomatic practice to take soundings before you go sounding
Mr Hague: You can see how many
soundings we took by the fact that we were able to pass UN resolution
1970 so quickly, with the unanimous support of the Security Council.
Q27 Mr Ainsworth: It doesn't
talk about military action at all.
Mr Hague: No, but you are asking
about British diplomacy over the past week and whether we take
soundings before we take certain actions. That was passed unanimously
at pretty much record speed, with the United Kingdom holding the
pen and driving it through. The action of the UN Human Rights
Council, which was unprecedented and led to the suspension of
Libya from the UN Human Rights Council, was a British-initiated
process; we collected the 16 signatures needed to get a special
meeting of the UN Human Rights Council. The resolution that is
on the table at the United Nations Security Council, with Lebanon
and France, is obviously also the result of a lot of work with
Q28 Mr Ainsworth: What percentage
chance do you think it has of being carried?
Mr Hague: It has to be negotiated
with other countries. It is wrong to say that it has zero chance:
if it had, we wouldn't be putting it forward. British diplomacy
has, in those respects, been very active, very good and has worked
closely with other nations in an appropriate way.
Chair: A last question on no-fly zones.
Q29 Mike Gapes: Prime Ministersorry,
I gave up wanting to be that a long time ago, but thank you.
Mike Gapes: Prime Minister John Major
Mr Hague: Well corrected.
Mike Gapes: Some 20 years ago, Prime
Minister John Major led the way with a no-fly zone to protect
the Kurds without putting troops on the ground. Are you ashamed
or disappointed that our Government are unable to do the same
to protect people in Benghazi?
Mr Hague: This is what we are
talking about, so we are not ashamed of what we are putting forwardof
course not. We are committed. We have just been talking about
the legal basis for that, but it has to have international support.
Let me stress that any action that we take has to have broad support.
Q30 Mike Gapes: John Major
did not have a UN Security Council resolution. He did not have
international support, apart from the agreement of the US. Is
not the real problem the prevarication in the Obama Administration?
Mr Hague: No. On that occasion
I think you will find that it was possible to justify the no-fly
zone legally under a previous UN Security Council resolution.
We are going back 20 years, but, if I recall correctly, that was
the case. It is not an exactly parallel case, but what we do here
has to have international support and participation. Let us be
clear that the United Kingdom is not going to do this on its own.
We will be working closely with France. We have called for contingency
planning in NATO, which has taken place, and we regard Arab participation
as essential in the operation of such a no-fly zone. Arab nations
have called for it. We believe that they will be prepared to participate
in it. This cannot be a case of the United Kingdom acting on its
Chair: Foreign Secretary, as you can
see, there is a lot of interest in this particular subject, but
we have a lot of other subjects to cover, so we will move on.
But we may return to it at the end if there is time. Ann Clwyd
is going to talk about the Middle East peace process.
Q31 Ann Clwyd: Yes, Chair,
I will in a moment, but I must say that I think I am the only
one in this room who was on the mountains of Iran and Iraq 20
years ago. I saw the helicopter gunships being used against the
Kurds. I agree with what Mike Gapes said. John Major reacted very
quickly to that and I saw the results of it. Thousands of Kurds
were saved as a result. Subsequently the Shi'a in the south were
saved because of the no-fly zones. I fully support them, because
I have seen the result of them.
I was going to ask precisely the same question.
Did John Major have a legal basis for doing it or did he just
go ahead and do it? He reacted very swiftly to the cries of help
from the Kurds. Now we hear the Libyans also crying for help,
with the terrible voices of doctors in the hospitals and people
on the ground. We will be blamed in future if we fail to take
quick action on this occasion. I hope you get a result today from
your attempts to get something through the Security Council, because
I do not think that another day can go by, when we know that people
are being attacked from the air by the fighter jets of Gaddafi.
Mr Hague: There were a variety
of views about it. Security Council members are meeting now, as
we speak, to discuss this, so there is no lack of action on the
part of the British Government.
Q32 Ann Clwyd: May I ask you
a question about the Arab League? It is a very good development
that they have actually come out in support. The Arabs have a
lot of weaponry of their own. Could they not provide a no-fly
zone? Why is it necessary for the rest of us to do so?
Mr Hague: They could participate
in a no-fly zone. Militarily, one could question whether they
would be able to provide a no-fly zone together. It might be possible
that they would be able to do that. Although they agreed their
statement on Saturday, they would have differing views and different
capabilities when it came to participation in a no-fly zone. But
as I indicated in answer to the earlier question from Mr Ainsworth,
we regard it as very important that Arab nations participate in
such a no-fly zone. Whatever happens in Libya, this must not become
the western world dictating its opinions to the people of Libya.
We are very clear about that. It is consistent with what I said
earlier about the Libyan people owning what is happening in Libya.
Any actions such as a no-fly zone cannot just be an action embarked
on by western nations alone with only western participation. That
could easily be turned around in many ways, or result in actions
or casualties that are then purely blamed again on western intervention
in Middle Eastern affairs. That is why it is so important to meet
the criteria that I set out earlier: a demonstrable need, a clear
legal basis and broad support within the region, which, in this
case, means active participation in the region.
Q33 Ann Clwyd: Could I ask
you about the implications for the Middle East peace process as
a result of what is happening now in these countries? Do you think
it will have any impact at all? How do you see it going from now
Mr Hague: It has an impact. Here,
there is a heavy responsibility on us to try to ensure that the
impact is to give new momentum and energy to the Middle East peace
process. The danger is that the peace process becomes a casualty
of change in the Middle East. The great danger is that the wider
changes in the Middle East become a distraction that consumes
the political energy and attention of all the nations concerned.
There is also a danger that some of the Arab countries in the
Middle East may develop in a way that makes them less well disposed
to the peace process in the future. So there is an urgency to
the peace process.
We have underlined that strongly to the United
States, which holds the leading role in driving forward the peace
process, to the Government of Israel and to the Palestinian leadership.
President Abbas was here last week, and I discussed it extensively
with him. We will do everything we can to support a resumption
of talks, and we believe that an essential step in that is that
the Quartet should make clear parameters for direct talks between
Israelis and Palestinians in the future. Those parameters should,
in our view, include a clear statement of a settlement being based
on 1967 borders, with equivalent land swaps. That is something
that the Quartet has not been able to state before, but which
should now be made clear. Sorrythat's a long answer to
Q34 Ann Clwyd: Can you explain
what happened with the upgrading of the Palestinian presence to
a mission? I was at a conference in Vienna last week, discussing
the plight of Palestinian political prisoners. People were particularly
pleased to get this piece of information. Can you talk about that
for a moment?
Mr Hague: Yes. I announced last
week the upgrading of the Palestinian delegation in London to
a mission. I don't want to overstate itthis is largely
symbolic, on the grounds of the close work that we do with the
Palestinian Authority. As you know, we give a lot of aid to the
PA and Palestinians, and we work closely with Prime Minister Salam
Fayyad and President Abbas. So I think it is appropriate for the
Palestinians to be a mission. We do not recognise them as a state,
so this is in no way a recognition of statehood. We want a Palestinian
state to emerge from the Middle East peace processa two-state
solution agreed between Israelis and Palestinians. It is an upgrading
and recognition of the close work that we do with them, which
is in line with what many other countries have done. It also involves
some practical improvements for them and their diplomatic representation
in Britain, such as the ease of getting visas for their staff.
Q35 Ann Clwyd: Ban Ki-moon
put out a strong statement at that particular conference. He voiced
concerns "about the thousands of Palestinian prisoners held
in Israeli detention facilities, and publicly urged Israel to
release prisoners as called for by the Palestinian Authority."
Are we putting pressure on Israel to do that?
Mr Hague: This came up in the
House yesterday. Of course, we raise concerns wherever they arise
about treatment of people in prison anywhere in the world with
any country. Yes is the answer to your question, but the prime
focus of what we are trying to do is to get Israelis and Palestinians
to make the big compromises that are necessary from both sides
to give new momentum to the peace process.
Q36 Mr Watts: Foreign Secretary,
I am sorry to take you back to no-fly zones, but is there not
an element of loose talk here by the Prime Minister, who seems
to have a whole history of thatwhen he made the speech
on Pakistan in India, and when he said that Gaddafi was leaving
the country when he was not? He seemed to indicate that no-fly
zones were a serious option when he was not in a position to deliver
it. Wouldn't it have been more sensible for the Prime Minister
not to have made those comments? Should he not have tried to seek
the support of our partners and try to put a no-fly zone plan
in place before he went around the world giving the impression
that a no-fly zone was likely in the foreseeable future, bearing
in mind that the Libyans on the ground are currently almost giving
up the idea that a no-fly zone will ever be introduced?
Mr Hague: "No" is the
short answer to your question. By the way, don't accuse the Prime
Minister of things that I have said; among the things on your
list was one of the things that you should have been accusing
me of, not him.
Mr Watts: Loose talk.
Mr Hague: I am sure that you are
happy to try and pin that badge on all of us. But no is the answer.
First of all, one cannot achieve this outcome secretly. The measures
that we have put forward in the Security Council can't just suddenly
be sprung on everybody as though we had never discussed them before
and nobody has ever raised them before. In order to get to the
point where we are at the Security Council putting forward this
resolution, it has been essential to have the Arab League set
out their support for it and for other nations to call for it.
So everybody keeping quiet about it, and Prime Ministers around
Europe saying nothing about it, wouldn't help.
The second objection I have to your line of
argument is that I think that the possibility of stronger international
action, including such things as a no-fly zone, has affected the
behaviour of the regime in Libya. They are using air assets in
their attempt to crush the rebellion, and we don't know this,
but one can speculate that they have used those assets, so far,
in a particular way in order to avoid overwhelming international
support for a no-fly zone, mass attacks on civilian locations,
and so on. So it is entirely possible that the Prime Minister
and others' raising that possibility has saved many lives so far.
Q37 Mr Watts: Would not an
alternative view be that Gaddafi has adapted his own strategy
to crush the opposition to him in Libya in a way that is unlikely
to see a no-fly zone introduced in the Libyan area? It seems to
me that if you are seeking to get a UN mandate for that, it is
unlikely to happen, for the reasons that some of my colleagues
Mr Hague: You can argue it that
way round, but taking into account the factors that I have just
described, it is not possible to gather sufficiently strong international
support for such a thing without talking about it in public, nor
would it have the deterrent effect, in the meantime, on the regime.
Many of the things that we have done have been designed to have
such an effect. I have not mentioned, so far, that the reference
to the International Criminal Court in UN resolution 1970 is also
important in trying to deter people in Libya, on any side of the
dispute, from committing crimes against humanitycrimes,
abuses and atrocities.
The possibility of a no-fly zone is also one
of the deterrents against the use of air power on a big scale
against civilian populations. So, taking those factors into account
and accepting that there is an argument the other way, I think
the balance of judgment has to be that it is the right thing to
advocate in public such measures, which help to deter what might
be even worse behaviour than we have seen.
What do you think about Saudi Arabia's strategy in dealing with
unrest? How confident are you about its longer-term stability?
Mr Hague: We all know that it
is hard to foresee what will happen in any of the nations of the
Middle East. Let's be clear about that. They are all introducing
various degrees of reforms or various degrees of improvements
to the lives of their own populations as they respond to what
has happened. We have no indications of serious instability at
the moment in Saudi Arabia. There have been some demonstrations.
There has been the gathering of some thousands of signatures on
Facebook pages. One of those pages related to last Friday and
it did not result in widespread demonstrations. That is what we
have seen so far.
Clearly, Saudi Arabia is very concerned about
events in Bahrainwe are all concerned; one way or another,
I am very concerned about events in Bahrainand Saudi Arabia
has sent forces there. I spoke to Prince Saud, the Saudi Foreign
Minister, about this on Sunday evening and he assured me that
these were for the defence of installations and the external defence
of Bahrain, while it would be the Bahraini forces and police that
tried to restore order in their own country. So that is where
we are on Saudi Arabia.
Q39 Mike Gapes: On that question,
are you concerned about the potential for a conflict between Shi'a
and Sunni, not only in Bahrain, but also because there is a substantial
Shi'a population in some other countries, including Saudi Arabia? Mr
Hague: Yes, primarily in Bahrain. Bahrain is in a very
difficult position as a country, because of this sectarian division.
The majority of the population are Shi'a, as you know. But a sizeable
minoritybetween 30% and 40%are Sunni, including
the ruling family. Of course, this creates a difficulty in how
to bring about democratic reforms. The important thing is that
the national dialogue offered by the authorities in Bahrain continues
to be on the table and that opposition groups in Bahrain respond
positively to it. Just before I came in here I spoke to the Bahraini
Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khalid Al Khalifa, who assured me that
this would remain on the tablethat the Bahraini Government
remained absolutely determined to continue that process of dialogue.
I encouraged him very much to do so.
Q40 Mike Gapes: I went on
the BBC website just before I came in here and it showed that
there were tanks in the main square in Manama. There were also
reports on the radio this morninga woman broadcasting on
the "Today" programme from inside a hospital. She claimed
that troops were on the roof and going through and she was obviously
very worried. You talked about national dialogue. I cannot see
that national dialogue is possible in a situation where that kind
of activity is going on.
Mr Hague: Yes. That was one of
my questions to Sheikh Khalidis national dialogue still
possible after these events? Of course, they have to hope in Bahrain
that it is, because that is the only peaceful way forward. His
argument is that it isafter a time. What you say, and what
I have been describing, underlines the importance of this and
of stressing restraint on all sides in Bahrain, because there
have been casualties among protesters in earlier demonstrations.
Last night, apparently, two policemen were killed by a car being
driven into them. So there are casualties on both sides. Both
sides, protesters and authorities, have to exercise the necessary
restraint to allow peaceful protest to take place but national
dialogue to be resumed.
Q41 Mike Gapes: Generally,
all these events have happened very quickly. More than 30 years
ago, one of your predecessors, David Owen, instructed the FCO
to produce a study of the failings to predict what was happening
in Iran. That report has recently been declassified and published.
I understand that you had an FCO seminar just before Christmas
where you looked at that. I don't know whether you were involved
Mr Hague: I gave permission for
it to be published, but I wasn't at the seminar.
Q42 Mike Gapes: I know that
subsequent to that we've heard from you that you didn't say that
the FCO has taken its eye off the ball and so on. Nevertheless,
why was it that the events and the instability in North Africa
in particular were not on the top risks register of the FCO? Why
have we not had sufficient people on the ground, giving us the
information that we need? That was the failing pointed out in
the report commissioned by David Owen on the events in Iranthat
we needed political officers who spoke the language, we needed
desk officers with experience, we needed continuity and expertise,
and we needed people to talk to the Opposition, as well as the
Government, and to go out of the cities, and so on.
Mr Hague: In a moment I will ask
the Permanent Secretary to come in, because that is partly an
institutional question about the Foreign Office, and it is time
that somebody else said something at this table.
I have a couple of things to say about this.
First, I have come into the Foreign Office with a strong view
that the need for geographic expertise, deep political knowledge
of countries and proper diplomacy within countriescontacts
with all sides, and so onneeds to be accentuated in how
the Foreign Office conducts its business. I have made it clear
that future careers will be decided on the basis of the development
of those skills and activities among our diplomats.
Nevertheless, to defend the diplomats we have
now, the problem with predicting the changes in the Middle East
was not predicting that something big was building up; it was
predicting when on earth anything would happen. To give an example
of that, in Egypt it was certainly the analysis of our embassy
that a huge problem was building up, and that was why, when I
went there in early November, the purpose of my visit was to urge
the Government to give the space for democratic opposition to
develop. The analysis of the embassy when that didn't happen in
the elections at the end of November was that a catastrophe had
happened in Egypt. Even so, you have to bear in mind that these
countries, many of which had thousands of spies and informantsvast
intelligence services of their ownhad no idea what was
about to happen.
Q43 Mike Gapes: You said November.
Why is it, then, that the deputy ambassador in Cairo, although
he might have been being flippant, put something on a blog in
February saying that he was completely surprised by the speed
of events and had no idea of what was happening?
Mr Hague: That is exactly the
Mike Gapes: Is it?
Mr Hague: The timing of events
was a huge surprise to the Egyptian Government. It would be a
great mistake for anyone to think that if only we had five more
diplomats, two more intelligence officers, or whatever it may
be, in one of these capitals we would have known all about this
coming. Because these events are not a conspiracy, a cabal or
a political leadership launching a revolution; they are demographic
events. They are events that have arisen among the mass of the
population without leadership and organisation. That is their
While I have a lot of sympathy with your general
argument about the skills needed in the Foreign Office, you could
have had 1,000 times those things and I am afraid you would not
have known when the revolutions in Tunisia or Egypt were going
to take place. And even with all those things, you may not know
when the next one is going to take place.
Q44 Mike Gapes: So when is
the next the next one coming? Perhaps Mr Fraser can give us some
Mr Hague: Yes, at that point I
will hand over to the Permanent Secretary.
Simon Fraser: It is true that
we didn't predict the events in Tunisia and Egyptnobody
predicted thembut Middle East instability was, in fact,
on the Foreign Office's top risk register.
Q45 Mike Gapes: The Middle
East was, but not North Africa.
Simon Fraser: Middle East instability
was, but within the region we had been particularly focusing on
Iran and there had been a lot of instability in Lebanon. I absolutely
accept that we had not identified Tunisia and Egypt as a particular
focus of that instability.
As to where the next crisis is going to emerge,
we are clearly facing a difficult situation in Bahrain and we
have been discussing that. We have already taken measures to anticipate
the possibility of further deterioration of the situation in Yemen,
which is very delicate. Those would be two countries in which
we are clearly keeping a very close focus on developments.
Q46 Rory Stewart: At the moment
these crises are breaking out all over the place, but if we look
to the five and 10-year picture, where do you think Britain should
be in relation to the Middle East and North Africa? What do you
think Britain's position should be? What should our strategy be?
What is your attitude towards the medium to long-term?
Mr Hague: We should be more heavily
engaged than we have been for a long time. I don't mean just diplomatically,
but commercially, particularly with the more open economies, and
I mean in terms of education and culture. I think that there should
be an across-the-board elevation of the British national relationshipthe
relationship between peoples, civil societies, political parties
and Governmentsin line with what I have advocated for a
long time. I have already started to introduce many Middle Eastern
nations. I think this makes the case for that even stronger.
For instance, with Egypt and Tunisia, as they
now try to develop civil society and open political systems, there
is a very important British role in supporting that. We are a
world leader in that regardcivil society, impartial institutions
that stand above politics, and long-standing political parties
that respect each other's right to hold Government. We are a world
leader in such things, and I think we can offer a lot in that
regard, provided we don't do it in a patronising way or in a way
that expects those countries to adopt every detail of our own
We should do all that, and we should be strong
allies of the countries in that region in trying to bring about
peace in the Middle Eastbetween Israelis and Palestiniansand
to confront the danger posed by the behaviour of Iran in several
respects, including the continued development of a nuclear programme.
In terms of strong bilateral relationships in that region, conducting
policies that promote stability and helping the region to confront
threats, there is a very big role for Britain.
Q47 Rory Stewart: Can you
give us a sense of what options you might haveinstitutionally,
or in management or resources termsto adapt the Foreign
Office to respond to that vision for the next five to 10 years?
Mr Hague: Again, I might ask Simon
Fraser to come in on that.
It is going to require a diversion of resources.
In fact, it has already required a diversion of resourcesthe
Middle East and North Africa department has grown considerably
over the past few weeks in terms of the number of people in the
Foreign Office devoted to it. I think that that might turn out
to be a permanent change for the next decade. Of course, we will
have to see what happens over the coming months, but if this is
as important for world affairs as I was arguing at the beginning
of our meeting, it requires a greater proportion of the energy
and manpower of British foreign policy to be devoted to it. Simon,
do you want to add to that?
Simon Fraser: Just to add, in
the short term, it is absolutely true that there has been a very
considerable diversion of resources. For example, on Libya alone,
in Londonexcluding our postswe have had about 120
people working each day, while we have also been setting up separate
crisis management centres on Bahrain and Yemen, so there has been
a very considerable short-term resource allocation issue. But
looking beyond that, clearly there are implications, one of which
is the skills agenda, which has been alluded to already. We need
to make sure that we have the people with the language and regional
expertise to be able to help us understand and influence events
in the region. That is something that we are already addressing
in our planning for the next spending round and allocation of
resource. Of course, we will have to look at what this means for
staff in London in this policy area, as well as in our posts overseas.
Clearly there will be long-term implications.
At the same time, if we had had this conversation
two months ago, we would have been talking about the strategic
shift in the world towards Asia, the emerging powers and the new
economies. What we need to do, taking a long-term view, is to
balance those things out and make sure that we have a correct
and balanced assessment of the medium and long-term priorities
for our foreign policy.
Q48 Andrew Rosindell: Foreign
Secretary, the lessons to be learned from North Africa for the
Middle East are obvious. Do you agree that we should be doing
a lot more to persuade the Gulf states to act early and go for
political reform? What role can Britain play to assist in that?
Can we perhaps better use the Westminster Foundation for Democracy
to go there, advise them, and help them to develop their democracy
fast to avoid another Libya taking place in one of the Gulf states?
Mr Hague: There might be a role
for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, to which I have
given a slight increase in funding from the Foreign Office this
Sir Menzies Campbell: Ah!
Mr Hague: I am glad that that
has met with a few grunts of approval from the Committee.
Q49 Sir Menzies Campbell:
What about the World Service, while you are at it?
Mr Hague: The sums there are rather
larger. This is an extra half a million to the Westminster Foundation
There may be a role for the Westminster Foundation,
of course, but we are already playing a strong national role.
The Prime Minister's speech in the Kuwaiti Parliament at the
end of February was a powerful statement in favour of democratic
values and political reform. The Gulf states differ in their
adoption of reforms. They are all different from each other.
It is essential to respect the fact that there
are major cultural and historical differences between all the
countries of the Middle East but, of course, in Kuwait they have
already made very substantial, political reforms. In recent weeks,
the Sultan of Oman has announced important reforms and major changes
in the personnel of the Government. We have already discussed
Bahrain. We will continue to argue for open economies, and more
open and flexible political systems, without trying to lay down
how every nation conducts its affairs.
Q50 Chair: You may be interested
to know that the Tunisian ambassador came to see us last week.
He expressed a strong interest in meeting the Westminster Foundation
for Democracy for those very reasons.
Mr Hague: North African countries
are classic examples. Many new political parties are being developed
in Tunisia, and in Egypt likewise. On Morocco, it is important
to study the speech of King Mohammed at the beginning of last
week in which he announced major reforms to go more towards a
constitutional monarchy as we understand it. Again, that opens
many opportunities for British engagement.
Q51 Ann Clwyd: You mentioned
that the International Criminal Court suggested that it might
have some impact on modifying the behaviour of the leading figures
of the Gaddafi regime. There is not any sign of that yet is there?
Even if Colonel Gaddafi and his closest accomplices were to remain
in power, they would have impunity under the International Criminal
Court rules as those in governmentholding positions as
Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and so onare not covered
under the investigations of the International Criminal Court,
so it could not bring any charges.
Mr Hague: Remember that President
Bashir of Sudan has been indicted by the International Criminal
Court. In any case, people do have to worry now because the reach
of international justice can be long and its memory can be long.
It is valid for us to continue to get the message across to people
in Libya that they will not be able to rely for ever on their
impunity from the reach of the criminal court. We have seen a
day of reckoning for some of the people involved in terrible crimes
in the Western Balkans in the 1990s, and I hope that there are
one or two more days of reckoning to come for people who are still
at large. That is something that the Libyan regime now has to
take into account. Clearly, if they manage to re-establish themselves
in power internally, they will have on them the massive weight
of the sanctions and restrictions that were in the Security Council
resolution that has already been passed, which would be added
to by the one that we are advocating. They would face all those
difficulties. They would still be there and it would not be possible
instantly to arrest them, but they would have to worry for the
rest of their lives that international justice would catch up
Q52 Rory Stewart: Following
on from the question of Foreign Office governance, one of the
issues raised recently was the helicopter landing in Benghazi
and the whole issue of the deployment of the SAS. Are there any
lessons to learn from that formally and institutionally on the
way in which submissions reach the Foreign Secretary and on processes
that could be put in place to try to ensure that decisions are
Mr Hague: This raises a big subject.
The instant answer to your question is not yes, because there
are many missions of different kinds that take place around the
world and come for authority to the Foreign Secretary or the Defence
Secretary. They are normally presented in a way that allows you
to make a reasoned judgment. There is not an institutional problem
in the way decisions are presented to Ministers. It is true, in
current circumstances, that many decisions have to be made quickly.
Not all detail is as thoroughly laid out as it can be when we
are on a more normal footingwhatever that isthan
currently. I do not, however, think that there is a systemic
problem in that regard, no.
Q53 Mr Ainsworth: Foreign
Secretary, there were a number of British nationals who felt let
down when they were stranded in North Africa. Some of them were
very vocal about it. It was reported that the Prime Minister had
to get on the telephone at 3 am GMT to make you and the Defence
Secretary get the rescue effort off the ground. Did that happen,
and if so, why was it necessary?
Mr Hague: No, I do not recall
speaking to the Prime Minister at 3 o'clock in the morning. Although
I often speak to him at strange times of day, I did not on that
particular occasion. Certainly, there was a delay of one day18
hours, reallyin what we had hoped to see as the rapid evacuation
from Tripoli airport when the commercial flights stopped. I found
that, as the Prime Minister did, very frustrating, which is why
we both apologised to the country for it.
That delay happened for a number of reasons.
There was every expectation that at least three flights would
have been there that day, 23 February, with more than enough capacity
for all the British nationals who were at the airport to leave.
All for different reasons, those planes did not goone,
particularly irritatingly, for mechanical reasons.
We had to get on top of that situation, which
we quickly did. In the night that followed, all the nationals
who had been waiting were able to leave, and then, each day, all
those who came to the airport were able to leave. We finished
evacuating our nationals ahead of most other countries; in fact,
in our evacuation from Libya we brought out 43 other nationalities.
The idea that all other countries had finished evacuating people
ahead of us was clearly wide of the mark.
On that particular day, we had a problem. There
are lessons to be learned from that. I announced a review, which
we will publish, on how we can improve our procedures. There are
countries where we are engaged in either looking at how we can
evacuate people, or we are in the final stages of planning that.
We have already learned some of those lessons.
Q54 Mr Ainsworth: The Committee
has received correspondence relating to the fact that some Foreign
Office staff behaved in a less than professional way and that
there was a lack of urgency when dealing with people who were
distressed and felt in danger. We have also received evidence
that some of the members of the warning system that was set up
in Egypt, who were equipped to be in communication, did not even
live in Egypt. Will those issues form part of your investigation?
Mr Hague: If there is anything
that you have seen as a Committee that you want to feed into that
review, I would encourage you to do sobut quickly, because
I want this review to be finished this month. We are facing these
situations on a regular basis. We have to learn from them quickly.
Anything that is sent in by members of the public we want to learn
from as well.
I would not want to leave the world with the
impression that Foreign Office staff did a bad job. There are
formidable difficulties in these situations. The teams we sent
to Tripoli airport worked for five days and nights, without ever
having anywhere to go to sleep themselves, to help British nationals
through an airport with many thousands of people of all nationalities
clogging the airport and with little help from the Libyan authorities
in getting them out. They did a fantastic job. Our embassy in
Malta worked so hard to get people through Valletta and get them
home. There are people in the Foreign Office who have done fantastically
well on this, as well as some admitted problems that have arisen.
Q55 Mr Ainsworth: It is a
very busy time and that continues. We now have the emergency with
the tsunami and the nuclear situation in Japan. What impact is
that having on the consular service and how is it holding up?
Mr Hague: That might be something
for the Permanent Secretary to talk about. Certainly it is a huge
demand on the consular service and on the Middle East and North
Africa Department of the Foreign Office. We have more simultaneous
crises going on in the world than at any time in recent decades,
all of them with consular implications as well as major political
implications. Simon, do you want to expand on that?
Simon Fraser: It is true that
it has been a very unusual set of circumstances. Since January
we have had seven crises of one sort or another, running either
one after another or simultaneously. In the weekend before the
difficult week that the Foreign Secretary described in Libya,
we had Bahrain becoming difficult, the earthquake in New Zealand
and then Libya within a period of two or three days. To be honest,
that imposed considerable strains on us.
There are lessons about the resilience of the
systems, which we are going to learn. Clearly, at the moment we
are running very hot in our capacity to deal with these crises.
We have, as I have said already, put an awful lot of additional
resource on to it in the short term in order to try to ensure
that we have the capacity of staff who have had a decent amount
of sleep, and the right amount of knowledge of what they will
face when they come on duty, to deal with the situation.
In addition to the staff in our embassies, who
have done remarkable work in many circumstances, we have been
running a crisis centre in London. That has been running since
January and has been running 24 hours a day, seven days a week,
since early February. It is staffed by people who have been volunteering
in addition to their jobs, and receiving very little additional
reward for doing so.
I do think it is appropriate, despite the problems
we have had, to pay tribute to those people. Without their dedication
and their commitment, we simply would not have been able to handle
Q56 Mr Ainsworth: Is it true
that you have brought back retired diplomats? To what extent has
that been necessary?
Simon Fraser: We have drawn on
the advice of retired diplomats. We have consulted them. We have
brought in people who are, for example, on training courses preparing
for postings in order to build up our resource and also because
in many cases these are people who have regional expertise, which
is valuable, and therefore it seems sensible to draw on their
expertise. They have been very willing to do so.
One example is that our former director for
Asia Pacific, who is currently on language training, has come
back to do night shifts to look after the Japan crisis so that
he can relieve the current director. I am very grateful to him
for doing that. That is one example of many.
Mr Hague: Just on the point about
former diplomats, before this crisis, I have been determined that
the Foreign Office will use more of the skills of people who have
left. It is a great shame that people who have been outstanding
ambassadors come in at the age of 60 to say goodbye to the Foreign
Secretary and we never see them again. Yet they have a tremendous
amount of knowledge and expertise. I want us to develop a much
stronger networkan alumni network, if you likewhere
we can use the skills of those people on various crises, but also
on longer-term issues for the Foreign Office.
Q57 Mr Ainsworth: But this
is not just capacity.
Mr Hague: No, they can help with
capacity in the way that Simon has described, but they can also
help to improve the health of the entire institution and foreign
policy making in this country in the long term.
Simon Fraser: On the point about
capacity, we obviously cannot staff perpetually to be dealing
with seven consecutive crises; we have to have resilience and
agility to respond. We tend to focus on the senior staff. Actually,
it is the junior staff in the office, who have stepped up to the
plate as well, who, for example, have been looking at identifying
the people in the countries, trying to locate British nationals,
and who have made a tremendous contribution to this whole effort.
Q58 Mr Roy:
Just as a thought, that reminds me, Foreign Secretary, of the
description of an old boys' networkbringing in people who
have retired instead of nurturing young talent.
Mr Hague: It is possible to do
both, you know.
Mr Roy: Maybe you should just do one.
Mr Hague: We won't be taking that
Q59 Mr Roy: Foreign Secretary,
let me take you back to the statement you just made on the 18-hour
delay at Tripoli airport. That confused me because it seemed to
me to be far more than 18 hours. The FCO gave advice on the Sunday
that people's lives were in danger and that they should leave
Libya by commercial means as quickly as possible. However, you
didn't give the authorisation until 10 pm on Monday 21 February
to use commercial flights, according to the parliamentary answers
that you have sent me. My first question is: why was there a delay
of more than 24 hours between giving the advice to leave Libya
and your giving the authorisation to contact the charter companies?
Mr Hague: Because commercial flights
were continuing up to that point. There were still commercial
flights out of Tripoli on Monday. This has happened in other situations.
In the case of our evacuation from Cairo a little earlier, commercial
flights continued throughout, and most people were able to leave
in that way. We supplied charter aircraft as well.
Q60 Mr Roy: I know that British
Airways was coming out, but then changed its mind. But surely
someone must have realised that there was no way that the amount
of British nationals who wanted to leave Tripoli were all going
to go on those few flights.
Mr Hague: No, that is not the
case at all. You are talking here about hundreds, not thousands,
of people, so it doesn't need that many aircraft to take people
out in the particular case of Tripoli.
Given that the commercial schedules of BA and
BMI were meant to have continuedtwo flights going in every
day throughout that weekthose flights would easily have
been enough to take out all the British nationals who wanted to
leave. When those commercial flights suddenly stopped, the flights
that we were hoping would go in on the Wednesday would have had
more than 600 seats. The total number of British nationals evacuated
from Libya was 800. That would have been 600 seats in one day.
Q61 Mr Roy: But sorry, you
also brought out foreign nationals as well.
Mr Hague: Yes, we brought them
out because we had spare seats. We sent far more seats than the
numbers of British nationals who needed to be evacuated. Some
charter planes had relatively low passenger loadings because we
over-provided. On all but that day, when the planes we had intended
to go didn't go, we over-provided capacity for British nationals
Q62 Mr Roy: On those flights,
Foreign Secretary, why did you announce that the charter flights
had already left? Why were you left in a position where you thought
those flights were on the way?
Mr Hague: From memory, I don't
think I did that. I think I said that they were going, and we
gave a time that they were going. News outlets took it upon themselves
to say, "Oh well, that's the time. The time has now passed.
They have left." Of course, they managed to conk out on the
Q63 Mr Roy: Finally, why did
you speculate about rumours that Gaddafi had fled to Venezuela
in one of your statements? Do you now regret getting involved
in that statement?
Mr Hague: Because I was asked
about it. I am an open sort of guy; you know how I try to answer
your questions. The question was whether I had any information,
and my answer was, "No, we have no confirmation of where
Colonel Gaddafi has gone, if he has gone. There is no confirmation.
But we have some information that he is on his way to Venezuela."
However, I can always adopt the strategy of not answering questions,
which maybe I will do with even more circumspection in the future.
Mr Roy: Not here, though.
Q64 Chair: Foreign Secretary,
we have to vote in one minute's time. We have spent an hour and
a half on the Middle East and North Africa, which is more than
we had scheduled, but I am sure that everyone will agree that
it was very important. We still want to discuss the World Service
and piracy. Can we be back here by 4.12 pm?
Mr Hague: Yes. I would only add
that I have to chair a meeting of Cobra between the Divisions,
and 4.45 pm is the agreed cut-off of our meeting. I have some
very urgent operational matters to attend to.
Chair: We will try to be disciplined,
but we have some important questions.
Mr Hague: Yes, sure. We will have
to try to have short answers.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Chair: Foreign Secretary, welcome back.
There was a rumour that there may be another Division, which would
be very irritating. Let's move on to the World Service. We are
very concerned about the World Service and the impact that the
cutsthere is no other way of putting itwill have.
[Interruption.] You will have to go at quarter to 5?
Mr Hague: I can stay until 4.50
pm, but that will really be stretching it.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Chair: We will start again, Foreign Secretary.
Thank you very much for coming back. I will get you away by 4.50
pm. We will concentrate on just the World Service and we will
write to you about piracy, because that is something that can
be dealt with by correspondence.
Q65 Mike Gapes: Foreign Secretary,
we had an evidence session last week in which witnesses described
the cuts to the World Service as "disproportionate"
compared with other parts of the FCO family. Would you agree with
Mr Hague: No. One can, of course,
argue about many of the details of this, but whatever they are,
they are not disproportionate. The situation that we inherited
in the new Government was, as you will recall, that there had
already been cuts to the Foreign Office spending total, which
were exacerbated by exchange rate movements. In fact, this Committee,
or this Committee's predecessor, made strong representations about
the loss of the overseas pricing mechanism. The FCO family, as
it were, had already taken quite substantial reductions in expenditure.
As you know, we came in with a comprehensive
spending review and I have had to make a further contribution,
although we have restored, in a new form, the foreign currency
mechanism, to put right what was done wrongly over the past few
years. But if you take the whole period, which is the only fair
way to take it, from the start of reductions in the FCO baseline
in 2007-08 to the end in 2013-14, the World Service will be the
same proportion of FCO spending at the end as it was at the beginning.
Then it will go on to a different footing. It will be funded out
of the licence fee, and I hope that will secure its future.
Q66 Mike Gapes: You told us
in an earlier statement that "the strategic importance of
the countries" that the World Service serves should be prioritised,
taking account of "the need of their populations for independent,
impartial news". How does the decision to end shortwave transmission
in Mandarin Chinese reflect that strategic priority and the need
for impartial views?
Mr Hague: In the case of some
of these services, the online demand is growing, and that is certainly
true of Chinese. These services have to change and develop in
various ways. In an ideal world, one would be able to maintain
every service, including all the shortwave services, but we have
to make sure that the World Service lives within certain parameters
of public spending, and therefore some reductions have to be made.
What it is doing is building up the online service, for which
there is growing demand and which enables communication with vast
numbers of Mandarin Chinese speakers outside China. With the limited
resources available, that is the sensible way to go. The new,
enriched service for Chinese will aim to reach out not only to
people in China but to 67 million Chinese people who live outside
China, and to be more appealing to younger audiences as well.
Q67 Mike Gapes: You talked
about priorities and resources. How can you justify the decision
to approve ending the Hindi shortwave service, which apparently
only saves £600,000, and loses 11 million people out of the
total World Service audience of 180 million?
Mr Hague: Again, there have to
be some reductions. It is not possible to be in government at
the moment and not make any reductions anywhere. What has happened
on Hindi is that the World Service has managed to identify savings
from within its budget since the original announcement was made,
which will allow the Hindi shortwave service to continue in a
Q68 Mike Gapes: One hour a
Mr Hague: Yes; from, I think,
three hours before.
Q69 Mike Gapes: Only for one
Mr Hague: Yes, but the World Service
has to work out how to develop its services in the future.
Q70 Mike Gapes: But, Foreign
Secretary, if you were making these decisions yourself, rather
than just approving them, would you have made the same decisions
with regard to the shortwave services in Hindi or in Mandarin
that were made by Peter Horrocks and the management of the World
Mr Hague: They are their decisions
and they must be their decisions; it is not right to micro-manage
those things. I have no reason, having looked at it, to think
that they are making the wrong decisions with the resources available,
but it is part of all our jobs to make sure that they deliver
the most value and the most services with the resources available.
I'm not saying that everything they've decided is perfect, but
I think the general way in which they are trying to develop and
safeguard services is correct.
Q71 Mike Gapes: But they are
taking out, in the case of Hindi, 11 million people and moving
the focus to what you seem to be in favour of, which is an online
process. We have seen in North Africa the ability of Governments
to cut off internet access, and shortwave is clearly getting out
to rural areas, rural populations, not just the eliteexactly
the kind of thing that means we can get across to the ordinary
people, rather than just the elites.
Mr Hague: What is happening, to
take the Hindi service as an example, is that the head of the
Hindi service has suggested that the shortwave service might be
able to attract commercial funds to make it self-sustainable and
has asked us to support his approaches to the World Service administration
about that. We have helped to ensure that this decision is reconsidered;
the Hindi shortwave service is going to continue, as we have said,
and this will give the service a chance that the proposed self-sustaining
model will work. It will not necessarily close in a year, but
now they need the encouragement to make sure that this new model
succeeds. We have to have new models of delivering these things
because the country has been left in the most shocking financial
condition one can ever imagine by the Government you supported.
Q72 Mike Gapes: You could
have made alternative decisions about where to cut and not cut
the World Service, which is a very important part of soft power.
Mr Hague: Well, I could, but I
believe that that would have been wrong. That is because other
parts of the Foreign Office family would then have had to have
a disproportionate share of reductions over time. We have done
something else, of course, to alleviate this problem for the futureto
eliminate this problem, in some wayswhich is in 2014-15
to move the World Service into being funded by the licence fee.
That will allow the development of the World Service in new ways,
if it is imaginatively taken up by the BBC. To have the World
Service permanently dependent on Government spending rounds, rather
like the once nationalised industriesthe water industry
used to be dependent on Government capital spending roundsprobably
isn't the right model. What we are doing here is creating a more
sustainable model for the future.
Q73 Chair: May I test you
on one point? You said that the reduction in World Service expenditure
was the same as the reduction in Foreign Office expenditure. The
capital settlement for this year is £253 million for the
World Service and it is dropping to £227 million.
Mr Hague: The current spending
Q74 Chair: Yes: in 2010-11,
it is £253 million; by 2014-15 it drops to £227 million,
which is a reduction of £25 million, which is 11% or 12%.
I don't think you're reducing by 11% or 12%, are you?
Mr Hague: Actually, allowing for
inflation, on a comparable basis, we are reducing by 9% or 10%.
The point I was making to Mr Gapes is that I am looking at it
over the full period in which the Foreign Office has had to make
spending reductions, which started under the previous Government.
At the end of that periodI hope it will be the end of that
periodthe percentage of total FCO spending accounted for
by the World Service, as it transfers into the BBC licence fee,
will be the same as it was at the beginning, having gone up in
the middle. That is why these figures can be produced, but from
the beginning to the end of FCO reductions, it is the same percentage.
Q75 Chair: I will get our
accountants to have a look at it.
Mr Hague: We can supply you. I
am armed here with James Bevan, the chief operations officer who
knows all these figures inside out.
Chair: This is something that can be
dealt with by correspondence rather than cross-examination now.
Sir Menzies Campbell: I am content with
the questions asked by my learned junior.
Mike Gapes: I am not learned.
Mr Hague: But you are junior.
Q76 Andrew Rosindell: Foreign
Secretary, very briefly, is not the English language our greatest
asset? We have used it to influence the world over many centuries.
Is it not really short-sighted, therefore, to allow the BBC World
Service to be reduced in such a way, whereby parts of the world,
such as the Caribbean, will no longer be able to receive that
service? Is it not short-sighted to do that?
Mr Hague: As I said, it is not
desirable to reduce any of these services, but we have to reduce
spending in the way that I have described. The World Service has
to adapt to new technologies and new markets. It has to try to
find new ways, in some cases, of financing what it does. In an
ideal world, one would not close any of those things. The Caribbean
service is one of the services affected. Originally, the World
Service wanted to close a wider range of services and I refused
to let it do so. You are rightEnglish is one of our great
assets in the world, but some degree of change here is unavoidable.
James, do you want to add something to that?
James Bevan: I should like to
add something, if I might, on the Caribbean service specifically.
The dedicated Caribbean programming is going to end on 25 March,
but it is important to remember that it is only two hours and
45 minutes per week. What will remain is BBC World Service English,
which will be available throughout the whole region on FM and
will reach about 80% of the total population in the Caribbean,
so the English service is going to remain.
Q77 Rory Stewart: Foreign
Secretary, as you have picked up, the Committee as a whole is
very keen for a more generous settlement for the World Service.
One idea is to see whether we can find funding from the DFID budget.
I understand, of course, that you are not responsible for the
DFID budget, but if the lawyers can get round this issue, are
you broadly in favour? Would you put your support behind the idea
if we could convince the DFID Secretary that DFID money could
be used for such purposes? Is that something you would like to
see if the money could be made available?
Mr Hague: Such issues have to
be addressed by the Government. Despite your invitation to differ
from the International Development Secretary, I will resist that
invitation. What he would want me to make clearwhat the
Government must make clearis that the International Development
Act governing the spending of DFID makes reducing poverty the
core purpose of DFID's existence. That Act sets out when DFID
can provide assistance, in what forms and on what terms. The core
funding to the World Service could not be deemed to meet the terms
of the Act as poverty reduction. Poverty reduction is not identified
as the purpose or objective of the BBC World Service in either
the BBC Royal Charter or the BBC World Service Broadcasting Agreement.
Some of the spending of the World Service can
certainly be classified, on particular services rather than core
funding, as ODA spending, but some of that will be required anyway
to be classified as ODA spending to meet our own FCO requirements
of the next few years. We have given them £25 million of
their grant on that basis. So there is not the leeway here just
to divert a whole chunk of money for the core funding of the World
Service in the way that you might be attempting to set out.
Q78 Rory Stewart: Is there
any movement we can make under governance and civil society headings?
Quite a lot of what DFID does may be aimed towards poverty reduction,
but it does support governance, civil support and free media activities
worldwide. Is there no more movementnot a few more million
we could squeeze in some way?
Mr Hague: Again, James may be
able to comment on that. We can look further than that, but I
do not think that it will differ much from the £25 million
that is already in the figures. James, do you want to talk about
James Bevan: That is right. There
was in the original settlement a provision of £25 million
a year for the World Service which it was required to score as
official development assistance, and we think that it can because
we are clear that a lot of its activity does help promote an end
to poverty. With DFID we are now working with the World Service
to find ways to classify as official development assistance as
much as it makes sense to, and report it to the OECD in the normal
way. Regarding a formal World Service approach to DFID, I understand
that they haven't made one. That is a conversation that the World
Service will need to have with DFID.
Q79 Rory Stewart: May I very
quickly say that the sense the Committee got from the World Service
was that they don't feel they have the support to make that approach
to DFID? If the situation is that the World Service is expected
to approach DFID, and the World Service expects the Foreign Office
to approach DFID, the likelihood is that there will be no more
money forthcoming for the World Service from DFID. So, can I encourage
one more push at this, just in case there are a few more million
Mr Hague: I don't think there
is much leeway for DFID for the reasons I described. The BBC has
stepped in with additional funding for the World Service and we
are trying to help them. At the moment we are subject to what
they can say to us about their existing plans. I may be able to
give them an extra £3 million this financial year, which
may help in various ways, but I want to be satisfied on how it
will be used. We are not neglecting the case for helping them
out at the margins if we can.
Q80 Sir John Stanley: Foreign
Secretary, from the answers that the Director-General of the BBC
gave to my questions last week, and the supplementary submission
we've had from the BBC, we now know that the date on which the
BBC Trust and executive first became aware of the Government's
proposal to transfer the funding of the World Service to the BBC
was 11 October 2010. That was precisely nine days before the Government
announced the spending review. Please will you tell us the date
on which, as Secretary of State, you signed off your approval
of the transfer of World Service funding from the Foreign Office
to the BBC? If you don't have it at hand could you tell us in
Mr Hague: I think we may have
to come back to that in writing, but I will say that the final
agreement within Government on this was only reached shortly before
the comprehensive spending review was finalisedthe day
before, I think. I suspect the answer, from memory, is going to
be 18 October 2010, but we will have to come back to you in writing.
Clearly there were various options open to the Chancellor and
the Government on what to do here. This is an attractive option
on the grounds of a secure future for the World Service, and a
genuine reduction in public expenditure. It is a huge saving off
the FCO baseline. It is a genuine public spending reduction, because
it then goes into the licence fee. However, there were other options
available to the Chancellor and the Government which were also
looked at up to the last momentI think up to the day before
the comprehensive spending review.
Q81 Mr Baron: Two quick questions,
Foreign Secretary. A number of us on the Committee and outside
are very concerned that, with the transfer of funding to the licence
fee, World Service funding could be siphoned off to other areas
within the BBCthe cult of celebrity and so forthin
order to chase audience figures. If you were in charge, what mechanisms
would you put in place to ensure that that didn't happen and that
the World Service didn't suffer unduly?
Mr Hague: The governance mechanisms
are to remain essentially the same. James may have the actual
wording in front of him, or he can look for it while I talk. Such
provisions that are in the existing agreement, which mean that
the Foreign Secretary has to approve the opening or closure of
new language services, will be retained in the new arrangements.
I agreed that with the BBC Trust at the time of this change. The
Foreign Secretary will also continue to set the World Service's
priorities, objectives and targets, together with the BBCin
other words, will retain some overall direction of the World Service.
So those safeguards will be there for the future. In addition,
if the BBC set about systematically running down the entire thing
in the way described, it would be open to us to change the arrangements
Q82 Mr Baron: Briefly, can
I quickly return to the issue of DFID and funding from DFID? It
seems to some of us that there is a disconnect in Government policy,
and that we are sending £1.2 billion to India, which has
its own space, rearmament and aid programmes, yet we are starving
the BBC World Service of resources. Is not the way round that
to promote the idea that knowledge is the best route out of poverty,
and that the BBC is best placed to promote that?
Mr Hague: That is a wider question,
but it is also a technical, legal and international point. What
is ODA-able is not something made up by us; it cannot be defined
as the Government wish, but must meet international standards
and approval. When we show in 2013 that we are spending 0.7% of
our national income on ODA expenditure, that has to be internationally
certifiable overseas development expenditure. We can't just change
the definitions willy-nilly as we wish. We are operating within
those definitions and the constraints that I described earlier.
Chair: We have just a couple of minutes
left. That completes the questioning on the World Service, but
there is a quick question from Ann Clwyd before you go.
Q83 Ann Clwyd: I wanted to
raise the question of Bradley Manning, the US marine who at present
is in a military prison, untried and unconvicted, and the treatment
he has received. He has been kept in solitary confinement over
the past 10 months, and he is denied access to the normal things
that one uses every day. He is made to stand naked outside his
cell every morning, and so on and so forth. As you know, Hillary
Clinton's spokesman has been forced to resign over comments he
made about the treatment of Bradley Manning, which he called "counter-productive
and stupid." Bradley Manning's mother is Welsh, from Pembrokeshire.
She has visited him recently and everybody is very concerned about
his treatment. Will you raise the issue, or have you raised it?
There is a lot of public interest in the treatment of Bradley
Mr Hague: On this case, Mr Manning's
lawyer apparently wrote on 2 February in his blog that Mr Manning
"Does not hold a British passport, nor does he consider himself
a British citizen." Beyond that, we cannot comment on an
individual's nationality without their consent. In that situation,
our standing on the matter is limited. He does not ask for our
help or consider himself British. In general, conditions in US
prisons meet international standards. Solitary confinement is
a procedure used in many countries and is deemed to offer protection
both to the inmate and those around them. It is for Manning's
legal representative to challenge his treatment if they judge
that it fails to meet international standards. The fact that the
issue has been raised in this Committee canand willbe
brought to the attention of the United States. Our position legally
and from a consular point of view is as I have just described.
Q84 Ann Clwyd: Can I just
say that his legal representative published an 11-page document
a few days ago? It was a statement from Manning and a complaint
from his lawyer about his treatment. We are now receiving letters
from constituents on the subject, so obviously I will be getting
back to you on the matter.
Mr Hague: Do come back to me,
and I will write back to enable you to respond to your constituents.
Chair: Foreign Secretary, thank you very
much. We wish you well with all the troubles in the world that
you are addressing, and I hope your meeting at 5 o'clock goes
Mr Hague: Thank you very much.
1 See Ev 17 Back