Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
THURSDAY 21 MARCH 2002
MP, MR WILLIAM
Chairman: Foreign Secretary, welcome to your
first visit to the Quadripartite Committee. Welcome also to members
of the public. It is good to see some interest in these matters.
The purpose obviously is to take evidence on the Annual Report
for 2000 but also on developments since then. Thank you for the
written response to the questions that we asked earlier in the
year. Towards the end, we will be raising some questions on prior
Parliamentary scrutiny. First, let us start with some specific
issues arising from the report.
1. Secretary of State, Criterion One, which
involves respect for the UK's international commitments, either
regarding UN sanctions or EU common positions: we understand that
there is evidence that other EU States have exported equipment
to China, which the UK has refused to license under our interpretation
of the arms embargo. On the other hand, have there have been any
instances where the UK has agreed to license any equipment when
it has been notified that another Member has refused a licence?
(Mr Straw) Mr Chairman, may I say, by
way of a preliminary, that I am delighted to be here. I might
have said that it is a joy, as ever, but that might be misinterpreted.
Secondly, may I introduce the officials with me: William Ehrman,
who is Director, International Security, and Tim Dowse, who is
Head of the Non-Proliferation Department at the Foreign and Commonwealth
Office. To Mr O'Neill, may I say that some of the detail of this
I will need to take in the private session, for reasons which
will become clear once we go into private session.
2. Secretary of State, I am sorry to interrupt
you at this stage. Could you give some general indications?
(Mr Straw) That is exactly what I am going to do.
My aim is to be as forthcoming as I possibly can in public session
but by definition some of the reasons for going into private session
I can only explain privately, otherwise we are going to be in
a circular situation. To deal with what I would like to say in
public, the criteria which we have are a consolidation of national
criteria and also of EU criteria as well. The EU criteria, although
they are criteria which are common to all the European Union countries,
are obviously dependent upon national application and therefore
it must logically follow that there could be cases, whether in
respect of China or anywhere else, where one country in good faith
and on similar evidence would come to a different judgment from
another country applying the same criteria. I would also say that
since some of these issues involve extremely fine questions of
judgment, if you took a random group of this Committee and said,
"Make a decision" and another random group and said
to them, "Make a decision" on exactly the same facts
and data, you could end up with two different sets of decisions.
That is what we are dealing with here.
3. Does that come out of the fact that within
the 15 Member nations there really is not a consensus as to a
common interpretation? Would you like to say what is the obstacle?
Is it on the one hand that the UK is taking, let us say, a high
moral stand and is too restrictive or are there some people who
think that the UK is not restrictive enough and therefore there
is this failure to agree?
(Mr Straw) I do not think it is either. I think that
all the European Union countries are committed to the EU Code
and they are also committed to their own systems. It happens that,
in terms of parliamentary scrutiny, we are much more advanced,
I think, than any other European Union country, with the possible
exception of Sweden. The Swedish system can be dealt with later.
I have suggested, I think, that there are many disadvantages from
the point of view of parliamentarians about the Swedish system
and many advantages for ministers to be held accountable. That
is part of that. I think it just follows from different interpretations
of the same rules and of course arms embargoes and export controls
run straight into issues of defence and foreign policy, which
Member States of the EU guard jealously as within their own national
competence and share not as a Community competence but share under
what is known as pillar two of the European Union. I also have
to say that even if there were a complete harmonisation of Community
law, as it were, as long as these were decisions not taken by
a single institution but in different States under a Directive,
then there would be differences of interpretation. What we try
to do is to share information, particularly between ourselves,
so that there is, over time, a more consistent application of
4. There are also problems, Secretary of State,
of profound and differing national interests with the defence
industry. To what extent, in your judgment, is the original purpose
of the whole project being undermined by widely differing interpretations
by Member States?
(Mr Straw) I do not think it is. I can go into more
detail about this when I come to give evidence in private, but
I have been struck, in the time that I have been dealing with
these applications - and I have to say within the British Government
they are dealt with extremely carefullyby the care and
seriousness which, from my perspective, I believe is shown by
other European Member States. I obviously have no brief from each
of those but that is my view. So far as national interests are
concerned, yes, as Mr Anderson will be aware, in our criteria
as laid out by Peter Hain in his written answer on 26 October,
he said, actually quoting Robin Cook from 1997: "The Government
are committed to the maintenance of a strong defence industry
as part of our industrial base as well as of our defence effort,
and recognise that defence exports can contribute to international
stability by strengthening collective defence relationships; but
believe that arms transfers must be managed responsibly."
Then at the end he goes on to mention other factors which are
under the operative provision of the EU Code of Conduct, which
specifies that Member States, where appropriate, take into account
the effect of proposed exports for economic, social, commercial
and industrial interests, that these factors will not affect the
application of the Code. They list those factors but it also makes
clear elsewhere in the criteria that an export licence will not
be issued if the arguments for doing so are outweighed by the
need to comply with the UK's international obligations and commitments.
My concern is that they could be used for internal repression
or international questions by risk to regional stability or other
considerations. You have the background which is that we have
a big defence industry and we have national defence interests
but you also have these criteria, some of which are taken into
account and some of which override that.
5. Of course there would be subjective elements
and there will be different weights given to different criteria
but the whole purpose was the aim of consistency.
(Mr Straw) I agree with that.
6. How do we work towards a consistency of approach?
Is there beginning to be built up case law in respect of individual
(Mr Straw) At the moment we do not have case law because
this does not come within Community competence; in other words,
it could not end up at the European Court of Justice. It is a
matter which is embedded in Member States' national interests
but if you mean by "case law", is there a sharing of
experiences, is there a desire certainly by foreign ministers
of the European Union, and I think by others, to ensure that,
since we have a single code and EU criteria that should be applied
consistently, the answer to that is "yes". I would just
say this to you, Mr Anderson, as a fellow member of a similar
profession, the legal profession, that you can apply criteria,
however detailed, consistently and yet two sets of people may
arrive at the margin at different judgments, and sometimes these
are very fine.
7. In the light of experience so far, there
must be a spectrum of those who apply the criteria strictly and
those much less strictly. Where do we appear in the spectrum?
(Mr Straw) I think we are pretty good. In a sense,
one of the things we need is a greater degree of information about
(Mr Dowse) I think from the experience that we have,
and you are absolutely right, we have now had the operation of
the EU Code of Conduct for several years, it is true we are building
up experience. One way you can judge whether the system is working
is by the number of consultations that take place. Under the rules
of the Code of Conduct, when any Member State issues an export
licence for a transaction essentially identical to one that has
previously been denied by another Member State, it will first
consult the Member State that issued the denial. Although, as
a result of that consultation, we are not obliged then to follow
the denial, the process of consultation in itself obliges Member
States to look that much more carefully at their export procedures,
and it is not something that is done lightly to undercut a denial.
The fact is that there have been relatively few cases year by
year where these consultations have had to take place. It has
happened in a relatively small number of cases. So I think that
is one piece of evidence that in fact the guidelines, the criteria,
are being applied pretty consistently across the EU.
8. We now move on to a different issue. When
we have asked in the past about military equipment exported to
Israel, the Government's response has been that there has not
been any evidence that this has been used against civilians. Clearly
Ben Bradshaw made a statement on 11 March, and we have had a letter
today from the Foreign Office clarifying the position. It now
seems that indeed UK-manufactured equipment has been used by the
Israeli Government against civilians in the Occupied Territories.
My question, Secretary of State is: how can we be sure that the
example that has now come to light is an isolated example?
(Mr Straw) In a mathematical sense of proving a negative,
it is almost always impossible to prove a negative. Do we take
care to check, so far as we are able, on the end use of this equipment?
Yes. It is precisely because we do take care that this example
has come to light. It came to light because of very rigorous checking
by our defence attaché and his staff in the Occupied Territories.
I think it is a testament to their work on behalf of the Government
and also, if I may say so, on behalf of Parliament, that they
have managed to pin down the connection. What they discovered
is that these were Puma armoured personnel carriers which had
been deployed in the Occupied Territories in September of last
year. There were sightings in November and December of last year
and a Nachpadon APC observed first in the Occupied Territories
on 29 January 2002. These vehicles have chassis which were essentially
cannibalised from Centurion tanks which were exported to Israel
between 1958 and 1970. They do not look like Centurion tanks at
all. It requires a high degree of skill to appreciate that a chassis
from a Centurion tank could form the basis of these Puma and Nachpadon
APCs. It is as a result of observation by the defence attaché
and his staff going into the Occupied Territories, I may say at
some degree of personal risk, that they were able to identify
this and set out the other circumstances. As you will see, I decided
that Parliament should be informed on the day on which I was informed.
9. Was this the outcome of routine, rigorous,
end-use monitoring or was it just a lucky observation?
(Mr Straw) No, it was not just a lucky observation.
Part of the job of defence attache"s is to do this. We may
come on to the general principles of end-use monitoring. Obviously
how far it is possible physically to control the end use if you
have a government which is determined to break undertakings depends
on the size and nature of the equipment. If it is easily transferable;
it is difficult. In this case actually I suggest that it was pretty
difficult to identify but it was identified. If it is equivalent
to whole tanks as exported or whole aircraft or artillery pieces
as exported, it is relatively straightforward. We are not dealing
here with a perfect system but we are dealing here with a system
which I think the Committee will accept is considerably better
than the system which existed three or four years ago.
10. I do not think anyone suggests that the
system has not got better in recent years. Your Department's letter
to the Committee today points out that the Israeli Government
had given an assurance on 29 November 2000 that no UK-originated
equipment, nor any UK systems, et cetera, are used as part
of the Israeli defence force activities in the Occupied Territories.
A clear undertaking has been given there that you are now telling
us is false.
(Mr Straw) Certainly not being followed.
11. Not followed, false, wrong, misleading.
(Mr Straw) We have to find out. We have to await the
response of the Government of Israel before we make judgments
about whether the undertaking was given in bad faith. It could
have been given in good faith but we are checking. We want proper
recognition that the Centurion tanks had been cannibalised in
this way. However, whatever judgment we come on to as to that,
the simple fact of the matter is that the undertakings which were
given by the Government of Israel on 29 November 2000 that, as
you say, none of the UK-originated equipment has been used by
the IDF in the Occupied Territories, turns out not to be the case
and I take that extremely seriously, which is why we are pursuing
it with the Government of Israel, as well as why I laid the letter
before Parliament in the form of the answer which Ben Bradshaw
gave to George Galloway on the day that I first had this drawn
to my attention.
12. There is a number of items of equipment
listed in the report: machine guns, et cetera. What actually
happens? Do the Israelis, when they are engaged in activities
in the Occupied Territories, say, "Well, hang on, we had
better put those UK-manufactured machine guns down and pick up
someone else's machine guns"? What does the Government really
know about the end use of this equipment in a very complex situation
such as that in the Middle East? Are concerns about this justified,
in your view?
(Mr Straw) I think, as long as you have a system of
licensing, which I strongly support, we should all be concerned
about circumstances in which, either inadvertently or advertently,
the undertakings which governments give about end use could be
broken. I think, on the whole, experience shows they are not and
that where material is sold under clear undertakings, governments
do not break those undertakings because it is not in their interests
to do so. Over time, that would put them beyond the pale of the
international community. But within the availability of resources,
which is a crucial issue, and what is practical, of course we
should strive for means by which we improve the overall regime.
I do not argue with that.
13. Are you re-examining end-use monitoring?
(Mr Straw) Yes. In the world in which we live you
are not going to be able to end up with a situationperhaps
you could do but it would be extremely expensive and I am not
sure it would achieve more than we currently achieve or are able
to achievewhere you have a system of end-use monitors.
Of course we are going to examine very carefully the full details
of what happened in this case, certainly. I will also make sure
that the Committee is fully informed about that, and it may well
be that you will want to return to this at a further session.
14. Can I turn to Criterion Fourpreservation
of regional peace, security and stabilityand particularly
ask concerning India and Pakistan? The Report for 2000 appears
to indicate that India and Pakistan were the most likely zone
for the arms race which could undermine regional peace and security
at that time, and the Government recognised that. In your judgement,
has the threat to regional security improved or worsened since
(Mr Straw) Since 2000? It has varied from month to
month, day to day. I think it was in the middle of 1999 that Kargil
took place, so it was very serious at that time. There were then
some negotiations between India and Pakistan in the east and it
has been going up and down like that. In the last three months,
it became serious after the terrorist attack on the State Assembly
in Srinagar on 1 October and a lot of diplomatic and other efforts
were put in to try and reduce the tensions, including action which
was taken by President Musharraf to ban a number of Pakistani-based
terrorist organisations which were almost certainly behind that
attack. Then, as we know, on 13 December there was the attack
on the National Parliament, the Union Parliament, in Delhi and
tensions then rose. Overall, again if you are asking me about
averages, given the fact of Kargil and what happened in 1999,
it is probably on average about the same, although day by day
15. It is very much a roller coaster?
(Mr Straw) I would not say that. It is a serious situation
and it is one obviously we take account of in determining whether
licences should be issued. I am well versed in trying to make
judgments in respect of Criterion Four. It is one of the crucial
things I know every member of the Committee has on board but sometimes
others may not: by definition, arms are materials designed to
be used in an aggressive manner because these are instruments
of violence, but this is about whether the export would be used
aggressively against another country or to assert by force a territorial
claim. Then we have to go through a balancing judgment against
the other criteria, including, for example, the criteria in respect
of international obligations. That then runs into things like
obligations under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373.
16. Do you think that the UK Government's position
on the situation between India and Pakistan can be reconciled
with what is extremely strong marketing by UK defence manufacturing
companies to sell arms and equipment to that area?
(Mr Straw) Yes, I do. Unless we make a decision that
we are going to pull out of defence industries, then what we have
to do, it seems to me, is to make judgments on a case-by-case
basis in the round against these criteria but against the fact
that, if the criteria are met in a sense that the export appears
to be one that is not caught by the criteria, then it is an export
of defence material which ought to be made. I do not believe that
the licences whose issue I have been a party to have contributed
to a breach of Criterion Four because otherwise I would not have
made the judgments there. I agree there have been some licences
which I have refused in respect of both Pakistan and India where,
amongst other criteria I think have been potentially in breach,
Criterion Four has been one of them.
17. Can I ask a slightly different question
about India. As I understand the export controls, they seem to
infer that licence applications should be considered with regard
to whether a defence export might hamper a country's sustainable
development. I am a bit confused by India because you and the
Prime Minister and others have been promoting the sale of Hawk
jets to India, which are going to cost India just under £1
billion, as I understand, but India is our largest recipient of
bilateral development aid. £1 billion is equivalent to 10
years' worth of UK development aid to India. Effectively what
is happening is that we as taxpayers are subsidising primary health
care and basic education in India to the tune of £1 billion
every 10 years to enable the Indian Government to purchase Hawk
jets from us. I just do not quite see how that is consistent with
any concept of supporting sustainable development. I wonder if
you can help me on that.
(Mr Straw) I will do my best to help you, Mr Baldry.
First of all, I am not going to comment on the possible sale of
Hawk jets because there has been no contract. Yes, it is certainly
true that I and other Ministers have made representations to the
Indian Government about that particular sale, but that is a separate
issue from whether, if we were presented with a particular application
for a licence, we would approve it against these criteria. That
would depend on the circumstances at the time. Who knows whether
or not the contract is entered into or otherwise? So far as India,
however, is concerned, India's overall defence spending is as
a proportion of their GDP, and when I looked into itand
I have to say I have double checked thisthat is surprisingly
low, given what is a large number of people involved in their
defence services. When you go around Indian cities, you see large
garrisons. Notwithstanding that, that is partly because India
is a huge country of over one billion people. Their defence spending
looks like being somewhere between 2.5 and 3 per cent of their
GDP, which is, roughly speaking, the same proportion as for many
countries in Europe. On the issue of sustainable development,
you will be aware that one of the criteria is that of sustainable
development, but it is whether the proposed export would seriously
undermine the economy or seriously hamper sustainable development
of the recipient country. As with any other criteria, those have
to be weighed in the round against aspects of the criteria which
were set out two years ago.
18. That is the point I am putting to you, Secretary.
Would you not think that 10 years' worth of bilateral UK development
aid waved around is rather a substantial sum?
(Mr Straw) I am sorry, I am not going to go down that
route. As I say, that is based on a hypothesis, first of all,
that the contract would be awarded to a British contractor; and,
secondly, having been awarded, that the British Government would
then license it. Whether we license it, if it is awarded, depends
on the circumstances at the time but of course, may I say that
we would look at all these matters very carefully and report to
19. I think that affects the integrity of this
Committee and how we pursue policy in this area. Sometimes we
are approaching these things in a rather artificial way because
I think you very fairly acknowledge that you and the Prime Minister,
and indeed it is a matter of public record, have lobbied the Government
of India on this particular contract. If you are then saying that,
because no contract has been awarded, you are not prepared to
answer questions on it, fine. Can I just push you on this, that
if a contract should be awarded, I and I am sure others would
wish to pursue in detail this whole question of sustainable development,
otherwise I think it becomes a pretty artificial exercise.
(Mr Straw) Thank you very much for the notice. Funnily
enough, I thought that might be the case. Indeed, I do not think
you would be doing your job if it were not.