Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
TUESDAY 30 JANUARY 2001
MP, MR WILLIAM
40. Can I just say, I think you exaggerate the
influence of Members of Parliament on these decisions. I think
Members of Parliament have little influence on the decisions.
If we go back to arms to Indonesia in 1997, I do not believe if
Parliament had had prior knowledge of the arms sale that Parliament
would have approved it. The US Administration told us in the United
States, when we were talking about these matters, that, even if
it had been suggested to them, they would not put it to Congress
because they knew Congress would throw it out. In a lot of situations
like this, where exports to certain countries are contentious,
prior scrutiny would give Members of Parliament that ability they
do not have now.
(Mr Cook) I hear what you say, Ann. I can assure the
Committee that parliamentary views and the views of this Committee
do weigh heavily with those who take the decisions. There was
no decision in 1997 on exports to Indonesia. Are you referring
to the decision taken earlier?
41. Can we pull this together by concluding
with one question, do you accept that our statement, the authority
to export arms is a different degree of sensitivity from other
types of ministerial casework?
(Mr Cook) It is probably fair for me to say it is
amongst the sensitive decisions we take in the Foreign Office,
but the Foreign Office is not a department with a large programme
budget. I am quite sure that the DTI would not regard some of
their decisions in industry to be any less sensitive in its direct
impact nor the MoD on a whole range of decisions they take. Decisions
we make can be contentious. If I look back over the last four
years and the decisions I have taken as opposed to the decisions
taken by my predecessors, out of those 10,000 a year applications
we are looking at probably less than half a dozen that have become
42. That is the point we made from the start,
Secretary of State.
(Mr Cook) It does rather undercut your idea that one
type of casework is more sensitive than the other.
43. I think it shows that there is a small collection,
the threat of 10,000 licences is not a valid point, that it is,
in fact, a small group of contentious licences which would be
the subject of prior scrutiny.
(Mr Cook) It is entirely valid so long as you are
asking me to send you them all, that is what are you doing.
44. We will seek to refine that. I will take
that away. I think your admission of dealing with a small collection
is exactly what our case is. That a lot of the practical issues
you have raised in this respect are, therefore, if I dare use
the word, exaggerated.
(Mr Cook) I did not seek to exaggerate it. I merely
point out that it is hard to see it quickening up the process
we are trying to speed up and which the Committee criticises us
for not speeding up.
45. Secretary of State, whatever criteria you
use to supply arms to countries in an area of conflict, such as
India, Pakistan and China, how do you morally justify supplying
arms at the same time to three different countries which have
got issues of conflict in each of them? It is an explosive area
and I cannot understand what criteria you use.
(Mr Cook) I think later on we will be discussing some
individual countries and individual applications. I have to be
careful how I approach any particular individual country in an
open session. To respond to the other question on both India and
Pakistan we apply our criteria. In the case of Pakistan, as the
Committee knows, we had an extensive and lengthy review of our
arms exports policy which did result in a statement to the House,
and it is on the record. Effectively what that resulted in was
in us proceeding with those licence applications which are related
to the naval side of the business but refusing a large number
of applications which were from the military ground forces or,
indeed, the air force, from either being relevant to the nuclear
ambitions of Pakistan, to any confrontation on the border and
the line of control with India or to internal repression. A large
number were refused, and indeed the number of refusals will be
stated in the Annual Report. In the case of India, we would consider
very carefully any evidence that material for which an application
had come in had been used in or near the line of control, and
that is actually a current factor with us and I was looking at
just such a case quite recently.
46. What about China? There is another country
where we have worries.
(Mr Cook) China has a quite separate policy position
in that there is an EU embargo on China.
47. If you do not mind, China is on our agenda
later. I do not mean to cut you off but it is on our agenda. I
would like to pull together this current exchange, could we take
it that if we, the four Committees, come back with a refined proposal
neither you nor your colleagues have closed minds on this issue?
(Mr Cook) If the Committee wishes to put to me a refined
proposal, I will of course consult with my colleagues. I cannot
give you any undertaking about it changing their minds particularly
on the issues of principle which I have referred to, but I will
certainly make sure it is thoroughly considered.
Chairman: May we turn to the second area which
has been of very great interest and concern for this Committee
and that is Scott, the Scott Report and legislation on the Scott
Report and other aspects?
48. I do not think I need remind you, Foreign
Secretary, of the Scott Report, since you read it from cover to
cover. You will have also noticed some of the things Richard Scott
has said in the last few weeks. January 2001 is slipping away
and there is still no draft Scott Bill and he said at the time
in his report that the use of war time powers and emergency war
time powers after the emergency has long since passed could be
an excuse for the pursuit of administrative convenience and that
the Government should not continue to rely on those powers. Since
they have actually been in force for the four years we have been
in Government, could you tell us if parliamentary counsel has
been given the drafting instructions and what is the timetable
for the draft Bill?
(Mr Cook) I could not answer your first question because
this is a Bill of course for the DTI and I honestly do not know
whether or not they have given instructions. I do not know if
any of my Foreign Office officials can guide me on this. I am
told they have.
49. I think this Committee would like to look
at the departmental drafting instructions rather than wait until
the draft Bill, because I know NGOs have been consulted about
the content of the Bill, and if we were able to do that it would
enable us to look at the policy issues rather than waiting for
the statutory language to give effect to that.
(Mr Cook) I cannot speak for my colleague, Mr Byers,
on that point. If material has been shared with NGOs, a priori
I see no ground or principle why it should not be shared with
the Select Committee, but I will take up with the DTI that proposal.
50. Is it of concern to you that this draft
Bill has been so long in the making?
(Mr Cook) The first thing I would say is that the
great majority of the recommendations of Lord Justice Scott have
actually been implemented. It is true that to complete the picture
we need to carry through the reform of the legislation. This Government
produced a White Paper on that in July 1998 and invited comment
on it and there was quite a substantial and prolonged discussion
in response to that, and I am not sure it was a bad thing that
that discussion went on for as long as it did because if we had
closed it down earlier you would not, for instance, have had the
commitment which was given by Stephen Byers only in September
of last year that he would include arms brokering in the forthcoming
legislation. We now have a commitment to produce a draft Bill,
I am pleased that has gone to parliamentary draftsmen, and I hope
the publication of that Bill will give us an opportunity in this
session to scrutinise it, to debate it and, depending on the length
of the session, there is always the possibility it could be introduced.
51. It is normal, Foreign Secretary, for parliamentary
draftsmen to give an estimate or timetable for the amount of time
taken to produce the legislation, can you please tell us what
the timetable is for this legislation?
(Mr Cook) I have no idea because I am not the appropriate
Secretary of State but we can try and get an estimate for you
when publication might be.
Mr Viggers: Thank you.
52. Somebody will give us that estimate?
(Mr Cook) I can try, Chairman. It is not my department
so it is not within my gift. It may be in confidence but we will
try and give you some guidance.
53. Prior scrutiny of legislation is actually
now built into our procedures and in fact our four Committees
would be very happy to undertake that prior scrutiny.
(Mr Cook) I would welcome that myself.
54. The sooner the better.
(Mr Cook) I know from the experience we have had with
the International Criminal Court Bill that prior scrutiny can
be very valuable in producing the final Bill.
55. Will it cover the issue of licensed production?
I do not know if you heard a Radio 4 programme this morning, or
you have been briefed on it, about licensed production in the
(Mr Cook) Yes, I listened to it with rising indigestion.
56. Have you any idea whether the Bill will
be covering the issue of licensed production? Our last report
said we thought that it ought to be covered by legislation.
(Mr Cook) It is a matter which is being considered
by the DTI. I cannot myself say whether or not it is part of the
instructions to parliamentary draftsmen. Since you raised this
morning's programme, can I say that it was rather confused in
what it was alleging. It did refer to kits which had gone to the
Philippines for assembly. This, of course, is no loophole, kits
which go for assembly are subject to the same licensing process
as any completed weapons system, and those particular kits were
licensed in 1992 for assembly in the Philippines. We are not aware
of a licensed production facility within the Philippines and certainly
the GKN Alvis plant at Subic Bay is an assembly plant, it is not
a production plant and is not therefore a licensed production
57. So if, in fact, there was an application
to send further kits of similar arms it would require a licence
and would be subject to the full licensing procedures?
(Mr Cook) Yes.
58. The European Code of Conduct came under
the UK Presidency in June 1998 and is a great advance and I pay
tribute to you for that, but obviously we need to move on from
there and tighten it up, and the Committee called for, and the
Government agreed actually in response, that there needs to be
a minimum level of transparency EU-wide. What real progress is
being made to get that greater transparency? You have rightly
said that our Annual Report has a lot of information, some of
the others are not so good and often you just get policy statements.
Are we getting any progress in getting that greater transparency
across the EU?
(Mr Cook) First of all, I thank you for what you have
said about the Code, and actually I do think it is an immense
break-through just to have a system in which not only have all
15 members signed up to the same criteria, particularly on human
rights, but we have actually put in place a quite unique system
of notification and denial on contentious cases in which any one
of us can object if another country is taking up a contract which
we ourselves have refused because of our criteria. That actually
is a very surprising innovation which many people did not think
we would get. It is working quite well and is promoting the same
standard in application of human rights criteria and not simply
individual standards. You are correct that few of the other countries
come anywhere near the transparency we have shown. The way forward
on this which we keep trying to urge is more requirements on reporting
within the Code, because we have to produce an annual report and
I think the annual report on the Code of Conduct has been circulated
to the Committee, that is based on returns from each of the 15
nations, and the more transparent we can make that the more transparent
is the reporting by each of those 15. However, I would not understate
to the Committee that getting agreement among all 15 countries
can be difficult, but we are on the side of transparency and it
would actually be in our interest for everybody else to be as
open as we are.
59. I welcome that. I think there is a need
for greater transparency in a denial system, at least there should
be the figures of what has been denied and also the reasons given
as well. There has been, from what I understand, a rise in consultations
over this matter of denials. Is it happening that we are being
under-cut when we deny an arms export and somebody else comes
(Mr Cook) The figures are actually published in the
annual report of the Code, they are in annex 1, and they show
the number of notified denials. For instance, to take the case
of the United Kingdom, in the last year we notified 26 cases where
we had refused a licence within the terms of the EU Code. That
of course does not cover all of our refusals, which were over
100, but those were the ones we refused in terms of the EU Code.
Now if you take the same year, there were two occasions when we
were approached by other countries who were interested in taking
up the contract which we had declined, which is not bad actually
out of the total proportion. I would say there are very few cases
where one country proceeds to take up a contract which another
country has declined, and where it does occur it is almost entirely
because there is some difference of interpretation of either the
Code or of the contract. For instance, they are required to consult
us if the contract they appropriate is essentially identical,
and sometimes on examination it does not turn out to be essentially
identical, so what may appear as an under-cut is not really the
same contract, but they are a very small proportion of the total
and my general view is that the system is working well.