Examination of Witness (Questions 47 -
TUESDAY 11 JUNE 2002
Sir John Stanley
47. Welcome to the Foreign Affairs Committee,
thank you for joining us this morning. I should like to start
in the key area of regulation. The Foreign Secretary, when he
published the Green Paper on private military companies, coupled
that with an answer to a parliamentary question which he gave
on 12 February to Mr Stephen Pound, MP. The Foreign Secretary
said in that answer, "The private military sector is a growing
phenomenon which could develop in a helpful or an unhelpful way.
I shall be surprised if we emerge from the debate with the conclusion
that the best solution is to do nothing at all". Interestingly
in your own paper,
for which we are grateful, you are somewhat critical of the Government
for not offering as an option the do-nothing route. You say in
your paper, paragraph 9, ". . . the one option that it does
not offer is DO NOTHING. Or, DO VERY LITTLE". You are then
very frank and you say in paragraph 10, "I am hugely ambivalent
about regulation". In paragraph 12, you say, ". . .
I am not persuaded that a system of regulation is actually necessary.
The real challenge is to winkle out companies like Sandline, hell
bent at scooping up a lucrative contract no matter how idiotic
its military plans might be". I should like to ask you whether
your sole requirement for new regulation is the winkling out of
companies such as Sandline. How do you think that can be achieved
other than by some form of new regulatory and legislative process?
(Mr Bilton) The word "ambivalence"
does mean just that and "huge ambivalence" means I am
really troubled by the question. Let us go back to the starting
point for all this. The starting point for all this is Sandline
International and the Arms for Africa affair. This was a scandal
which involved the British Government, which severely embarrassed
it, which caused a commission of inquiry to be held by Sir Thomas
Legg and an inquiry by your own Committee. As a result of that
you suggested that the Government bring forward a Green Paper
about this subject. Having brought forward a Green Paper about
the subject, the Government have taken on board many of the points
which I know Colonel Spicer is extremely keen on in terms of regulation
of this industry which existed up to now in an unregulated way.
I have spoken very recently to a good number of soldiers about
this, currently serving and former soldiers, and the argument
which has been put to me is "If it's not broke, why are we
fixing it?". There are reputable private military companies
run by reputable people. May I say that when I say that I have
to draw a distinction between Colonel Spicer the individual and
the company for whom he worked and the people who financially
backed that company? I have no reason to believe he is anything
other than an honourable former soldier. I want to make that very
clear. However, what he does and what his company does, and I
have evidence of what it was involved in in Papua New Guinea,
severely concerned me. Regulation or no regulation? Up to now
we have had an ad hoc, unofficial system where former soldiers
setting up private military companies approach Her Majesty's Government
when they are in turn approached by a foreign government and ask
whether this would impact in any way on British foreign policy,
because that is what we are talking about here. Military companies
going overseas are in essence, if they are sanctioned by Her Majesty's
Government, carrying out British foreign policy in some way, shape
or form. I am not so sure that the situation has reached the level
at this stage where we need a huge bureaucratic machinery to vet
the private military companies to license individual soldiers
because I am not sure that we actually have the mechanisms to
be certain in our own minds that what they could be doing is going
to be in our best interests. There is a sense in which, by having
an unofficial system, you deal with people whom you know to be
reliable, but you can also pull the plug on that system when you
feel that things have got out of hand. What concerns me is when
things go wrong. Imagine the scenario where 100 of Colonel Spicer's
employees go overseas and they are on a peacekeeping mission and
things go badly wrong. Colonel Spicer's company needs reinforcements
urgently. Where is he going to get them from? Where are they going
to come from? Are they going to be his 100 licensed soldiers or
is he having to go into the market to grab as many former soldiers
from wherever he can in order to get reinforcements to get his
men out of trouble? What mechanism is he going to use to ship
them there? When the British Government sends its men overseas,
it has an enormousyou as a former Armed Forces Minister
know thisbackup, an enormous logistical machine behind
it, servicing it with all its requirements. I cannot believe that
Colonel Spicer's 100-man force is going to have anything like
the wherewithal to deal with serious trouble when it arises. My
principal concern is that by going in and regulating, you are
somehow giving sanction to, authorisation to, recognition of,
the actions which are going to be carried out subsequent to granting
of a licence.
48. I understand your concerns about regulation,
but may I bring you back to my question? You said "The real
challenge is to winkle out companies like Sandline". What
I want to ask is how you propose the Government empowers itself
to winkle out companies like Sandline as you have proposed?
(Mr Bilton) There is a thing called the Export Arms
Control Act in the United States. This is used largely to govern
the private military companies within the United States and their
activities in terms of exporting weapons. Colonel Spicer's company,
when it was involved with Papua New Guinea, shipped its weapons
from a company in Belarus to Papua New Guinea via Bulgaria. As
far as I can tell, there is no means of regulating the shipment
of $7 million worth of weapons from a third country to a third
country providing they do not pass through British hands. One
of the things we do actually need to do is tighten up the mechanisms
by which companies are able to deal in weapons going from countries
outside the UK. If the company operates from inside Britain, then
I believe we ought to have at least some control over it, but
it could be done through something like an Export Arms Control
Act. That might help you a long way with regulating what is actually
Sir John Stanley: That is arms brokering, which
I can assure you is a matter for close attention by this Committee.
49. You touched a moment ago in your opening
remarks on accountability. You talked a great deal about the lack
of logistical backup for private military companies. To some extent
of course that is their problem because they are operating privately.
The important issue I should like to test out with you is this
whole question of accountability and recognising that private
military companies clearly do not work under the sanctions of
the Geneva Convention for warfare, yet clearly their personnel
are being put into situations where they are faced as individuals
with exactly the same pressures and threats to their lives as
regular armed forces members would be. I am particularly interested
to hear from you whether you believe it is in any way feasible
to operate a system of regulation and sanctions on the activities
of individuals who find themselves in a combative role, where
their own personal preservation is probably their first priority,
whether or not it is possible to have an audit trail on the activities
of such personnel and whether there is a feasible means of regulating
those activities through the sanctions of something like the Geneva
Convention and bringing to account anyone who transgresses against
them? Do you believe the commercial pressures are sufficient,
as has been argued?
(Mr Bilton) The short answer is no, I do not. One
is entitled to go back in time and look at cases. My article in
The Sunday Times Magazine about Papua New Guinea was in
essence a case study of how a particular contract was arrived
at and what happened under the terms of that contract. In the
operational plan which Colonel Spicer drew up, it made specific
mention that there were to be no human rights abuses. That was
very clear. In the transcripts of evidence presented to the second
commission of inquiry in Papua New Guinea, the head of the special
forces unit for Papua New Guinea, which was being trained by Colonel
Spicer's South African forces, gave evidence of something which
troubled him and his men. The South African officers in charge
of the South African forces who had been air lifted into Papua
New Guinea had decided to hire in, obtain the help of, ten Bougainvilleans
to act as guides through the jungle terrain of Bougainville, which
incidentally cost the Japanese 30,000 lives against the Australians
during the Second World War. At some point in his evidence the
officer said that the disquiet of his men was at having these
guides in close proximity to Papua New Guinea special forces soldiers;
it troubled them because of the security aspects involved. The
words used by a non-commissioned officer from the South African
forces were, "Don't worry, we'll get rid of them afterwards".
This was taken to mean that these guides would be liquidated afterwards.
The word got back to Papua New Guinea later on and I know it was
offered in evidence that this was one of the reasons why General
Singirok, the Commander of the Army had pulled the plug on the
operation; one of the reasons, there are many other reasons. They
were worried about the things which were going to be done in their
name to people who were essentially citizens of Papua New Guinea.
Colonel Spicer being an honourable manand I state that
againcould in no way have wanted anything done like this.
However, several hundreds of miles away in the jungles of Bougainville
something dreadful could have been done. Who was going to be held
responsible for this? Who was going to report back and say to
him that they had to despatch these people?
50. You have given a very graphic example but
may I summarise what I think you are saying and ask you to agree
or not, as the case may be? I think you are saying very strongly
that it is frankly impossible for a private military company to
exercise the same degree of regulation and control over fighting
personnel in remote locations which are applicable under the Armed
Forces Act in this country.
(Mr Bilton) I find it very hard to believe that soldiers
who are not receiving regular training, regular indoctrination,
regular assessments of why the country is sending them into a
particular location, who are not getting letters from home, who
are not receiving decent food and all the things which go with
51. Or threat of sanctions through the system.
(Mr Bilton) These are things which lead to terrible
events being perpetrated in military conflicts and I cannot see
how those men could have been brought to account. Frankly I cannot
see the same levels of accountability that we have with our own
soldiers, who are after all licensed; they are licensed because
they take an oath of allegiance to the Crown, that is their licence.
Sir Patrick Cormack
52. It seems to me that there are only two logical
conclusions to your position: either that you have tight regulation
to bring these people as close as possible to regular members
of the armed forces, or you get rid of private military companies.
There is no other logical conclusion to your arguments.
(Mr Bilton) You are right, there is not.
53. Which do you opt for?
(Mr Bilton) I do not believe in getting rid of public
military companies, I think there is a perfectly desirable
54. You believe in getting rid of Colonel Spicer's
(Mr Bilton) Hang on a second; I do not want to personalise
this around Col Spicer, I wrote about Sandline and its activities,
based on a very full record of what happened in a small country
on the other side of the world.
55. But you have been. It does seem to me, from
what you have been saying, that you have been doing a sort of
Mark Anthony, "So are they all, all honourable men".
(Mr Bilton) I have not come to praise him.
56. We know it as well as each other, I am sure.
The fact is you have, although trying all the time to say that
Colonel Spicer is an honourable man, "So are they all, all
honourable men", you have been damning his company, Sandline.
You have done this on the basis of one operation some years ago.
I should like you to tell this Committee whether you believe that
company still deserves the sort of strictures that you directed
at it in your article in The Sunday Times or whether it
does not, and if it does why? What has it done since then to compound
its felonies and make you even more convinced that it should be
(Mr Bilton) I have no idea at all what Sandline has
done since its operation in Sierra Leone, no idea at all. I do
not think you have either, Sir Patrick.
57. It is your self-appointed job to, is it
(Mr Bilton) Self-appointed, yes, without any authority
to demand information. The way one gathers evidence for journalistic
purposes is by going and talking to people and examining the record,
such as exists. I have to tell you that to try and unearth some
of the details about what happened in Papua New Guinea and the
companies behind Sandline International required a great deal
of hard work. Thank goodness for the internet, the fact that the
transcripts of evidence for the first commission of inquiry in
Papua New Guinea were put onto the internet. Thank goodness for
personal computers and the fact that I was able to obtain the
transcripts of the second commission of inquiry, all 77 days of
it, and was able to read every single page of that; it ran to
about 7,000 pages. Do I have any evidence that Sandline International
have done anything terrible since 1998? No. But we have not heard
anything about any private military company since 1998.
58. I find your evidence riddled with inconsistencies
and ambivalences. You came and you said at the beginning that
you did not really want regulation, though you admitted to a certain
mental confusion. You then went on to say that although you did
not want regulation, you did want to get rid of companies like
Sandline. It seems to me you are basing everything upon one situation
which you investigated, very thoroughly, and wrote about very
graphically some years ago. Then you say in answer to my first
question that the logical outcome of your position is either that
you have tight regulation or you have abolition. You admit those
are the logical outcomes but you cannot decide which.
(Mr Bilton) I did not actually say abolition. I am
not an abolitionist. You actually offered the two. I am not an
abolitionist and I am not a tight regulationist. What I think
is that "the thing wasn't broke until Sandline broke it".
59. Are you going to share anything else with
this Committee about your fears? After all, you are operating
this morning under parliamentary privilege, so what else can you
tell us to convince us that we do not need regulation, but we
certainly do not want Sandline, that "the system isn't broke"
yet you have this terrible, terrible example which you have written
about? I just find your position wholly, wholly inconsistent.
(Mr Bilton) May I ask you a question, Sir Patrick?
5 See Evidence, pp Ev 13 to Ev 15. Back