House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
CommitteeS ON ARMS EXPORT CONTROLS
Strategic EXPORT CONTROLS
BILL RAMMELL MP, MS JO ADAMSON
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Committee on Arms Export Controls
Roger Berry, in the Chair
Mr David S Borrow
Mr Adam Holloway
Mr Bernard Jenkin
Sir John Stanley
Witnesses: Bill Rammell MP, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ms Jo Adamson, Deputy Head of Counter Proliferation Department, and Mr Andrew Massey, Head of Arms Trade Unit, counter Proliferation Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, gave evidence.
Q120 Minister, welcome. For the record, can you introduce yourself and your colleagues?
Bill Rammell: Bill Rammell, Minister of State at the Foreign Office; on my left, Jo Adamson, who is the Deputy Head of the Counter Proliferation Department at the Foreign Office; and on my right Andrew Massey, who is head of our Arms Trade Unit within CPD.
Q121 Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. I want to start with questions on arms exports to Israel, so could I also thank you for yesterday's written statement, following the questions that we put to Ian Pearson about whether UK-supplied equipment may have been used by the Israeli defence forces in the recent conflict in Gaza. Thank you for the advice that we were going to get that before this meeting; it is very helpful. We would have been slightly miffed if it had come out tomorrow, and we are very grateful that it came out yesterday because we have a basis for a conversation. Minister would it be fair to say that the answer to the question, whether any UK-supplied equipment was used by the IDF during the recent conflict in Gaza, essentially is "yes" but that it was mainly in the form of components for incorporation in the United States, in F16s and Apache Attack Helicopters, and then were exported to Israel, and also there were some components directly supplied to Israel? Would that be a fair summary?
Bill Rammell: Yes. Let me start by saying, Chairman, that I am grateful for your thanks that we gave you advance sight of the ministerial statement. It had been our intention to get it out before the recess, but we wanted to double-check and make sure that it was as accurate as possible, and therefore it only proved possible to do it yesterday. Broadly, your description is correct. We say within the statement in the third category, where we are talking about combat aircraft helicopters, naval vessels and armoured personnel carriers, that we believe that there is IDF equipment that was used in Operation Cast Lead, and it almost certainly contained British-supplied components. What it is important to make clear is that our arms export control procedures have not changed in any way; all applications are assessed on the basis of the information that we have available at the time, and all of these export decisions were in accordance with the criteria on that information that we had available at the time.
Q122 Sir John Stanley: Minister, as you know, in your response to the debate we had in Westminster Hall on the Committee's last Arms Exports Control Report, you referred to further work taking place within the Foreign Office to establish whether or not UK arms exports and components exports were in breach of the EU consolidated criteria. Is the written statement that you issued yesterday the end product of the considerations going on in your Department as to whether or not the criteria have been breached, or is there further work going on, and will there be a further statement?
Bill Rammell: Let me be clear: we are confident that the criteria were not breached when the sales were approved, because you look at all the available evidence and you take that evidence from our posts, from NGO, newspaper and media reports, and a whole variety of sources; and then based upon that evidence you make a judgment about whether there is a risk that the various criteria will be breached. In all of these cases, at the time the decision was made, we did not believe, based on the evidence, that there was a breach of those criteria, and that is why the sales were approved. That is the case. Looking forward, what we have said is that we are reviewing all of our extant licences, and if information becomes available so that we believe, based upon the information we now have, there is a risk the criteria will be breached, those licences can and will be revoked. That process is ongoing, and I hope that that can conclude as quickly as possible. We have said that, as is absolutely correct, with all arms export sales, you take account of the evidence that is available, and the evidence from Operation Cast Lead will be taken account of when we reach future decisions on new exports.
Q123 Sir John Stanley: Yes, but that skirts round what is the key issue of concern. It may be that the criteria were being adhered to at the time the licence was granted - and I very much welcome your risk assessment as to what might happen in the future in relation to British weapons systems and components that have been licensed to go to Israel either directly or indirectly - but the key issue is whether or not the use that was made of British-made weapons systems and components in the recent conflicts, in Lebanon and most particularly in Gaza, did or did not represent a breach of the EU consolidated criteria. That is the issue that I hope the Foreign Office is addressing, because it was not addressed in your written statement as of yesterday, nor in your reply to the Committee today.
Bill Rammell: Forgive me, I believe we have addressed it, where we specifically
say that we are looking at all of our extant licences to see whether any of
these need to be reconsidered in the light of the recent events in
Q124 Sir John Stanley: Minister, can we assume that you will make certain this Committee will be informed as to the outcome of this review that is taking place, not merely whether some licences are being revoked, but I am sure the Committee wishes to know whether you have taken a decision that no licences have been revoked in the light of your view of what is going on. In either circumstance, I am sure the Committee will wish to be informed of your conclusions.
Bill Rammell: I can certainly give that commitment; that when we have reached the end of that process, I will ensure that not only - as is inevitable - that be made aware publicly, but we will communicate directly with this Committee.
Q125 Chairman: Has the Government refused any licence applications, say over the last five years, for the supply of components for F16s for use by the Israeli Air Force?
Bill Rammell: Yes, and let me provide some additional information. In respect of F16s, helicopters and armoured personnel carriers, either on an incorporated or an unincorporated basis, there have been no approvals since Lebanon 2006.
Q126 Chairman: Why were they refused?
Bill Rammell: Based upon our assessment against the arms export criteria, and the risks inherent in the application that there could be a breach of one or more of the criteria.
Q127 Chairman: Can you be more explicit?
Bill Rammell: Without going back in detail through the files, no. As I said before, we take account of the information we have before us, and the fundamental judgment is: do we believe there is a risk that one or more of the criteria will be breached?
Q128 Chairman: Was it because it is well known that F16s have been used offensively by the Israeli Air Force against the occupied territories? Is that not the obvious reason why you said no?
Mr Massey: In answer to the question, have we refused any licences in the type that you describe, the answer is "yes". Without pulling up the licences and going through them forensically, it is difficult for me to give you a direct answer as to the grounds on which that particular licence was refused. It could have been refused for any number of reasons. We can certainly go away and come back to the Committee with the details as to why those particular licences were refused.
Q129 Chairman: I can only think of one reason why you should seriously consider rejecting a licence application of that kind; it is because everybody knows the history of the use of F16s by the Israeli Air Forces. My question is, therefore: if in these cases you made a decision that it was unacceptable to provide components for F16s for use by the Israeli Air Force, why does that policy not extend across the piece?
Bill Rammell: Because inherent within our arms export processes is that each application has to be judged by its merits on a case-by-case basis. If I were to go down the road now of committing, in all circumstances, regardless of what was happening on the ground, to refusing in principle an application, not only would that be a breach of our procedures, but it would be judicially reviewable by an arms export manufacturer, who could say, "You have not judged this in accordance with the Arms Export Act."
Q130 Chairman: It would be fair to say that my understanding of what I believe the reason for refusal to be is not a million miles away from the truth, is it?
Bill Rammell: Again, I think I would take up Andrew's suggestion that we write to you specifically on the circumstances. I dealt with a number of these and previous ministers have, so I am not going to pluck arguments out of the air.
Mr Massey: If I could clarify, the reason I say this is that without the information in front of me I cannot tell you specifically whether it was refused under criterion two, criterion three, possibly criterion four or possibly even criterion seven, and that is my reluctance to state the grounds without going back and reviewing it.
Chairman: We thank you for the offer of the detail.
Q131 Mr Holloway: In all but name, and for practical purposes, we have a kind of arms embargo against Israel at the moment!
Bill Rammell: No, we do not. We judge each application on its merits, on a case-by-case basis.
Q132 Mr Holloway: Since 2002 there has not been an application that has been granted?
Bill Rammell: Not, for want of a better phrase, for a whole item. There have been sales for incorporated items
Q133 Mr Holloway: As I say, in practical terms, in all but name, is that not an informal embargo against Israel?
Bill Rammell: No, I do not believe it is because you judge each case on its merits.
Q134 Mr Holloway: Are you planning to grant any?
Bill Rammell: What I am planning to do is to do what we are properly authorised to do, which is to judge them on their merits. What I cannot say is that the circumstances change. Your judgment may change because you operate according to the ----
Q135 Mr Holloway: But our judgment since 2002 has pretty much been not to sell arms to Israel, so that is a kind of informal embargo, then.
Bill Rammell: Again - sorry - there have certainly been incorporated items that have been approved for sale since 2002; but since Lebanon 2006 for F16s, helicopters and armoured personnel carriers, there has not been a sale either on an incorporated or an unincorporated basis.
Q136 Mr Holloway: Because we do not trust the Israelis to use them properly.
Bill Rammell: We make a judgment based upon the evidence at the time. That is not a definitive judgment for all time. If you go back in history, there are all sorts of locations and countries where there may be particular concerns based on the circumstances at the time, which change over a period of years. If you set your procedures in tablets of stone, you would not be responding to the reality of the situation.
Q137 Mike Gapes: If we are exporting components to the United States, is it not in reality impossible to have an embargo on a country like Israel, given that 95 per cent of Israeli military hardware is imported from the United States, and much of that hardware of various kinds will include small components that have come from other countries? Is that not the real problem that you have got?
Bill Rammell: Certainly on a historical basis, yes. Once you have sold the component, it can get
Q138 Richard Burden: Can I pause to add my thanks for the statement, which I think is very transparent and very welcome. We have been here before, have we not? The issue of armoured personnel carriers being used in contravention not at that time of consolidated criteria because the criteria were not consolidated, but in contravention of the licences for which they were granted, was exposed several years ago. The then Foreign Secretary said the fact that they were being used for purposes in contravention of the licences would be taken into account in future arms sales. That was well before Lebanon. After that, it seems that they were sold, and after that there was the sale of components for F16s, before Lebanon. What I want to establish is this: have we now changed and firmed up policy, or are we just doing a re-run of the previous policy, which is constantly saying, "in the future we will check if the basis on which licences have been granted has been breached"? If we are doing the latter, it sounds as though we are in a perpetual state of shutting stable doors after horses have bolted. If it is the former, should we not say we are toughening up our stand on Israel?
Bill Rammell: I genuinely do not want to mislead the Committee. I do not want to pluck answers out of the air
about what happened five, six, seven years ago, at that particular sale. What I can say - and I know this to be the
case, because not just in respect of
Q139 Richard Burden: It presumably also indicates that the UK believes that there is a very, very serious risk that arms exports or components exports, directly or indirectly to Israel, will be used in contravention of the consolidated criteria irrespective of whether guarantees have been given that they would not.
Bill Rammell: If I reply in the affirmative to that, then I actually breach our procedures, because we have to judge each one of them on its merits, on a case-by-case basis. That is what we do.
Q140 Richard Burden: Jack Straw, when he was Foreign Secretary, said precisely that; he said that actually Britain would not in the future rely on guarantees given by Israel; it would do further checks. Does the UK consider there is a considerable risk that Israel would use arms exports for reasons other than included in the consolidated criteria?
Bill Rammell: There are all sorts of legitimate sales to Israel that do take place, for items that are used within the Israeli defence manufacturing industry and for re-export to other countries, for dual-use items, for civilian items, and we have historically, as is a matter of record, approved arms sales to Israel but on a case-by-case basis we take account of the evidence before us prevailing at a particular period of time, and we reach a conclusion about whether there is a risk of any of the criteria being breached. It is on that basis that we reach conclusions.
Q141 Richard Burden: The reason I am asking this question is that to me it looks as though if there has been over the last few years, certainly since Lebanon, an increase in number of refusals, if it has been known in the past that armoured personnel carriers have been used in contravention of the licences for which they are granted, if it is now known and acknowledged that F16 fighters on two major recent conflicts have been used in contravention of those criteria, then the main problem is components that are re-exported to Israel: why do we not include Israel as a list of prohibited countries for re-export under the new open general trade control licences?
Bill Rammell: Because we do not have an embargo of Israel, and quite apart from the specific merits of the arms export control procedure I do not think politically - and I know this is something you are very committed to - an embargo against Israel would help us achieve the kind of outcome more broadly in the Middle East that we are all looking for.
Q142 Richard Burden: I was not asking about an embargo and I will ask a final question about an embargo in a minute, but this is about control and implementation of the criteria. If there is a risk - and there clearly appears to be a risk - that components will be used for purposes other than we think would be acceptable, why do we not give ourselves more control over whether or not they are going, rather than allow them to be exported through a third country, where inevitably we have less control?
Bill Rammell: We can go back to the statement that the then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw made in 2002 in terms of incorporation because there has been a dramatically changing arms export industry in which there are inter-dependencies. I do not think, as an absolute matter of policy, that to cut ourselves off from that would be in the interests of our defence industry or our armed forces.
Q143 Richard Burden: You have been very clear that you would not want to go down the road of an arms embargo against Israel because it would potentially rule out sales of arms and components that would be legitimate, perhaps for self-defence. Does the UK Government take the same view on arms exports directly or indirectly to the Palestinians?
Bill Rammell: We are not dealing with a nation state in the same way and we actually -----
Q144 Richard Burden: That is hardly their fault, but -----
Bill Rammell: No, and we are doing our level best to get to the situation where we can have a viable Palestinian state, but I think I am right in saying that at the moment, because it is not a nation state in the same way, it would not be eligible for armed exports in the same way as other states.
Mr Massey: That is my understanding. It is fair to say that we have made exports that have gone to the Palestinian Authority, armoured vehicles for use by the government, for example; so there are exports that are going in to the Palestinian Authority, but I suspect your question is: are we exporting offensive arms?
Q145 Richard Burden: No, defensive arms, for civilian purposes and elsewhere.
Mr Massey: In that sense, we are doing what you are asking.
Q146 Richard Burden: One thing that would, presumably, be quite often defensive - and I do not know if Israel has approached Britain for this - is if, say, Israel applied for a licence for an anti-tank weapon, that might be granted on the grounds of attack and you need anti-tank weapons to stop it. In principle that could be a weapon that could be supplied to the Palestinians.
Bill Rammell: We are really in the realms of the theoretical here. I am not sure that the civilian authorities within the Palestinian territories would apply for a tank -----
Q147 Richard Burden: As far as I know, they have not.
Bill Rammell: For civilian purposes there are some sales that take place.
Q148 Sir John Stanley: An important point of clarification of your previous answer, Minister: you said that you were entirely satisfied that at the time of the F16 head-up displays and components licences for those were granted, you were satisfied that the EU consolidated criteria were met. You will be aware that we received from Ian Pearson's officials an amendment to the letter which he originally wrote to the Committee on 19 February, and in that amended letter, which was conveyed in an e-mail of 12 March from Mr David Johnson at BERR to our then clerk, the text was amended to read as follows: "At the evidence session I stated on the basis of advice I had received that no export licences for F16 head-up display and other equipment to Israel had been granted since 2002. While this is correct, I would like to clarify that this refers to licences for the export of F16 HUD components direct (to Israel) for use in Israel. Since that date there have been a small number of licences granted for these goods where, although not going direct to Israel, we were aware that Israel was the ultimate end-user." The question I have for you is, first, will you provide the Committee with the details of the "small number of licences granted" since 2002 for F16 head-up displays with regard indirectly to Israel, when the Government knew that Israel was the ultimate end-user, including the dates when those licences were granted. Can you confirm for the Committee that at the time of those dates, when those licences were granted, in each and every case you were satisfied that EU consolidated criteria had been complied with?
Bill Rammell: We will confirm it in writing. The answer is "yes" to both. We will certainly provide you with that detailed information. Secondly, I know from my ongoing practice as a Minister that this is the case, but obviously in preparing for this Committee I have gone through this in great detail with officials and I am very confident that at the time that each of those sales was undertaken, the judgment was that they were in accordance with the arms export criteria. I will confirm that in writing.
Q149 John Battle: At our last Committee in March, I pursued the question of embargoes as opposed to individual licences with Sri Lanka, and I was a bit disappointed by the evidence of the Export Group for Aerospace and Defence, because they made the remark that if Western democracies were to place embargoes on places like Sri Lanka, then all they would do, because they had not got their own indigenous production, is go elsewhere to countries that might not be friendly to us. I thought that that was a most unsatisfactory answer. I was rather more encouraged by your answer in the House of Commons in February, where you assured the House, and the country really, that since the breaking of the cease-fire in January 2008 that the UK has not issued any licences for lethal goods or any other military goods that would prolong or aggravate the internal conflict in Sri Lanka. Since February, since March, and until today, the situation has magnified and is much worse. As I pointed out at the last Committee meeting, there is no proper press reporting of what is going on, but there are rumours of thousands of people being slaughtered in the Tamil enclave as we sit here. In the rest of your reply you said you did not think the situation in Sri Lanka would be improved by the introduction of an embargo on defence equipment. In my time as a foreign minister we did - and you have given a very coherent case for this - case-by-case judgments, but we also had embargoes on certain countries to send a very clear political and indeed commercial message to those countries that we wanted them to act differently. Has the time not come for you to think about not only imposing our own embargo on Sri Lanka, but joining with colleagues in the UN and the EU now to impose an arms embargo on Sri Lanka now?
Bill Rammell: I very much share your concern about the current situation in
Q150 John Battle: I am not sure that I completely accept that, given the role of the Chinese and the Indians, and the fact that the Indians could probably be the most influential, but are in a difficult position because of the election at the moment. I accept the difficulties at the UN, but could you also refer to the EU, because someone somewhere has to start sending pretty heavy signals of pressure? Who can put pressure on Sri Lanka? Otherwise, our Government is wasting its time, frankly, sending an envoy, Des Browne, to negotiate at the UN and the Sri Lankan authorities to try and obtain some leverage on the government to make some difference. If he is out there as a lone ranger it is not going to be very helpful. What more can we do internationally?
Bill Rammell: Just because I underlined the difficulties of getting international
co-ordinated action, do not for a minute imagine we are not trying to achieve
that. I think the statement that the
Foreign Secretary agreed with Secretary Clinton in January or February, calling
for a cease-fire, was a very positive step forward. The fact that we had a statement through the
UN in support has been positive, and statements from the European Union. We are in discussions with the Indian
Government about the pressure they can bring to bear. I think the situation in
Q151 John Battle: I am still left in doubt whether there are any circumstances in which we will bring about embargoes on any country! I want to move away from what the Export Group for Aerospace and Defence is saying because we do have embargoes on some countries. Can you envisage that in the future we will impose no more embargoes?
Bill Rammell: No, there are countries where we have embargoes. The judgment you have to make when you go for an embargo is that you have reached the end of the diplomatic road and you have no other levers at your disposal. Once you go down that road, let us not delude ourselves that in some senses you lose the leverage because they say "you are not engaging with us at all" and the drawbridge comes up. You can use that card, but I do not want to be in a situation of using an embargo because it demonstrates you have lost a lot of influence.
Q152 Mike Gapes: I want to raise a question about why we take such a tough line on the Israelis, but since 1997 we seem to have taken a very lax line on the Sri Lankans. There is a very important document we received from Safer World, which lists components, communications equipment, armoured vehicles, naval guns, naval equipment, sold to, exported to the Sri Lankan Government every year from 1997 onwards. It lists the kinds of things that they have been using, not just in the last few weeks, but over several years in their conflict with the organisation LTTE. It is quite clear from reading this that even if we had an embargo now the horse has bolted! I welcome the fact that in 2008 we said that exports would not be continued, but in 2006, according to this Safer World document, when the truce broke down and hostilities began to escalate, we were still exporting air guns, aircraft military communications equipment, armoured all-wheel drive vehicles, components for general purpose machine guns, components for machine guns, components for military air engines, components for semi-automatic pistols, small arms ammunition, components for combat aircraft. I could go through the same for other years. There has been a lack of focus on this conflict, and you yourself accepted that casualties in Sri Lanka have been greater than anything that has happened in Gaza, and the international community, partly because the Sri Lankan Government does not allow journalists in and also that there are human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, has not been focusing on this conflict and has not been for years. In retrospect would you now say that perhaps we should have been much more strict with Sri Lanka in the last decade so that they would not have been able to use equipment that was exported from this country for use in their internal conflict?
Bill Rammell: Again, we make judgments on a case-by-case basis. On the basis of the information at the time -
those are rigorously looked at, and those sales were judged to be in accordance
with the criteria. I would say it, would
I not, but I do not think it is a fair criticism of the stance the Government
has taken, as a country, in respect of
Q153 Mike Gapes: Would you not at least accept that whilst we have tightened up the procedures with regard to Sri Lanka in the last few years, we did not have such tight procedures with regard to Sri Lanka in the last five, six, or seven years?
Bill Rammell: I honestly would not accept that criticism, because you make the judgment based on the evidence that is available at the time, based on what is happening on the ground. You are referring to changes that have taken place since those incidents took place. If you went back through history, bluntly we would not sell arms to anybody because of what has happened in the past. You base it on the evidence available.
Q154 Mike Gapes: Is it not true that knowing that there was this ongoing conflict, which has been going on for 20-odd years, and knowing that the cease-fire and the agreement that was supposedly in place were very, very weak and eroding, and knowing that we were providing equipment that could be used, and has been used in recent years, that we should have been more careful about it in the past?
Bill Rammell: States have a legitimate right to proportionate self-defence. Taking account of that and looking at all the
available evidence of what is happening on the ground, you do not judge that a
sale will breach any one of your criteria, then in those circumstances it is
legitimate for a sale to take place. Had
we, based upon what has been happening in
Q155 Mr Borrow: Can we move on to changes in the guidelines for the UK Suppliers' Group, in regard to the issue of India. As I understand it, the UK Suppliers' Group had a policy that said you had to sign the non-proliferation treaty in order to be involved in exporting nuclear materials, and also that you had to have a comprehensive agreement with the International Atomic Energy Authority. Those guidelines were changed to allow exports to India, and that was in the absence of a comprehensive agreement with the International Atomic Energy Authority, although there is an agreement of some sort in place. That could have been halted, as I understand it, if the UK had objected to the change in the guidelines. Did the UK Government consider objecting to those changes in guidelines?
Bill Rammell: As soon as this deal was mooted we made a judgment in the broadest context about whether we thought it was a beneficial change, and from the beginning we supported this change. It will make a contribution, both in energy and climate security terms; and particularly it is a mechanism, bearing in mind our long-standing belief and policy commitment that we wanted India to sign up to the non-proliferation treaty and for all sorts of reasons India has chosen not to do that, effectively this is a means of drawing India in to the broader non-proliferation regime. In return for that we have delivered some significant advantages that the Indian Government has undertaken voluntarily. For example, India has committed to sign and adhere to additional protocol with respect to their civil nuclear facilities, refraining from transfers of enrichment and reprocessing technologies to states that do not have them, instituting a national export control system capable of effectively controlling transfers, continuing particularly its moratorium on nuclear testing and its readiness to work with others towards a fissile material cut-off treaty. All of those are things that we wanted to happen for a long period of time, and by looking at this practically and pragmatically we have managed to bring them about through this mechanism.
Q156 Mr Borrow: To what extent are those agreements specific to the current government in India, and to what extent would they carry forward to a government of a different complexion in India?
Bill Rammell: Even in respect of international treaties, future governments' hands are not bound, and you can renegotiate.
Ms Adamson: I would add on that that the membership of the Nuclear Supplies Group itself has agreed to trade under certain conditions, that is the condition under which the exemption was granted; so it could be for the members of the Nuclear Supplies Group themselves to say, "You are not meeting the commitments that you set up before." I think the NSG itself and the members thereof have the power to say, "You are not living up to your commitments."
Q157 Mr Borrow: Can you understand that many people would see the accommodation that was made for India as a sign very much that India is a powerful player, and therefore that special consideration was given to India that would not have been given to a country that was not considered of such importance internationally? Would that seem to set a precedent that if you are powerful enough or important enough you can change the rules, or the rules will be changed to accommodate you?
Bill Rammell: I would look at it differently.
We have wanted, for years, to get
Q158 Mr Borrow: Finally, Minister, I understand that new criteria are currently being considered by the Nuclear Supplies Group. To what extent are you confident that were those new criteria to be agreed, that there would not be a risk of nuclear exports to countries outside the non-proliferation treaty countries?
Bill Rammell: I am very confident of that because the whole of our focus, both through that process and through the IAEA process is to seek to do everything possible to stop the spread of nuclear weapon technology.
Q159 Malcolm Bruce: Minister, the UK Government has argued strongly the case for an international arms treaty, although there have obviously been hiccups along the way. My understanding is that the General Assembly has set up a series of meetings, six one-week meetings starting in March, with the next one in July. Can you give us an indication of what has happened in those meetings and what the preparations are for the next one?
Bill Rammell: You know that we have led the way in calling for an arms trade
treaty, and if we can get it, and get it in the way we want, that can be a
significant step forward for populations of peoples whose lives are terrorised
and made unstable by the trade in such weapons.
Through the European Union we are funding a series of regional seminars
Q160 Malcolm Bruce: Are those meetings in Africa a UK-Government initiative?
Bill Rammell: European Union.
Q161 Malcolm Bruce: They are separate from the OEWG but feeding into it?
Bill Rammell: That is right. We are working through the Open-Ended Working Group and bilaterally with countries across the world to try and garner support for the ATT. We launched this process back in September. We then had an event back in October or November where we brought the Diplomatic Corps together at the Foreign Office to seek additionally, on top of what we were doing in different countries, to try and get the message across.
Q162 Malcolm Bruce: NGOs and many others, obviously as a principle would support what the Government is trying to achieve, and I do not think there is any disagreement on that front; but they are a little sceptical as to what will be determined in the end, given the number of countries that are reluctant to get involved or not support it. The suggestion is that the treaty might include the Conventional Weaponry for UN Register of Conventional Arms and small arms and light weapons, and this is regarded as a rather low threshold; so from the UK Government's point of view would you support this seven-plus-one treaty, or do you have a higher aspiration? I am not asking you to reveal your negotiating hand, but it is important to indicate how high you are aiming, and your view of the danger of getting to what might be regarded as the lowest common denominator.
Bill Rammell: I think that is an absolutely legitimate concern, and I understand where it is coming from. The reality that the Government politics and certainly international negotiations are the art of the possible and you have to pursue this with partners, but we most certainly do not want a weak treaty and will do everything in our power - and I do have a difficulty without revealing a negotiating hand - to ensure we set the threshold as high as possible. If, at the end of the day, we get a weak treaty that does not make a material difference, I would regard that as a failure.
Q163 Malcolm Bruce: It is worse than that, is it not, because it provides cover for continuing trade?
Bill Rammell: Yes.
Q164 Malcolm Bruce: In December 2008 - and the date is important of course - at the UN Assembly meeting the US voted against and 19 countries abstained. Obviously, there has been a change of administration in the US, and some of the rhetoric has also changed, but perhaps you are in a better position than I am to say whether you feel there is a substantively different approach coming from the United States? Obviously, voting against the working group is a pretty destructive position. Have they shown any indication of being prepared to engage, or any change of tone, and what effect might that have on the other 19 who were reluctant?
Bill Rammell: I think I would say it is work in progress. If you go to the first meeting of the Open-Ended
Working Group the
Q165 Malcolm Bruce: Are the United States likely to be engaged on anything more than seven-plus-one, the point being that you can use all kinds of other equipment, which is not within the seven-plus-one but nevertheless is potentially very destructive? I appreciate that you are in a negotiating position, but at the moment they are not prepared to engage in any treaty. Is it possible to have a treaty that has real reach without the United States; and is there not the danger that if the United States engage, they drag the bar down rather than raise it up?
Bill Rammell: I will bring Jo in, but I would just say that the response from the
Q166 Malcolm Bruce: So they are attending the Working Group, even though they voted against it being set up?
Bill Rammell: Yes, and I welcome that fact. As I say, the tone of the comments was not "no, no, no," it was, "let us be realistic; what can we achieve?"
Ms Adamson: I was at the meeting in
Q167 Malcolm Bruce: If the United States is engaging, that is obviously good news. Are there any other states that would be a cause for concern? In other words, if we solve one problem does that just bring us into conflict elsewhere?
Bill Rammell: The answer to that is "yes".
Q168 Malcolm Bruce: Obviously, we know who they are but -----
Bill Rammell: But I am not sure that parading a list of those we need to do work with helps us.
Q169 Malcolm Bruce: Is there any positive change in other areas?
Ms Adamson: If the Americans are interested, that changes the dynamics a little bit anyway, certainly among the P5, I would say.
Q170 Malcolm Bruce: Russia and China we are talking about.
Ms Adamson: We have been banging our heads against the wall last year, but if you have this opening with the US being more positive and engaging, and thinking how we can make a treaty happen, rather than never, then the others look more interested automatically.
Bill Rammell: Just one more positive straw in the wind with respect to the
Q171 Mike Gapes: Can I begin with President Obama's recent speech in Prague about a nuclear-free world and a complete marked shift of approach to the Bush administration: what is our Government's assessment of that speech, and particularly on the question of the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, which was briefly mentioned by Jo?
Bill Rammell: I think it is very encouraging.
I think both the re-commitment to the start to the process, the
reductions in the huge arsenals from both the
Q172 Mike Gapes: As you know, we have the non-proliferation review conference next year. The European Union had a meeting in December about what are called "new lines of action to combat proliferation of weapons of mass destruction". I understand that the Government is supposed to bring forward proposals on the follow-up to that meeting. What action are we planning to take to ensure that our country meets the target of achieving the objectives of the new EU lines of action by 2010?
Bill Rammell: We are currently working towards the creation of our national implementation plan in relation to the new lines of action, and that plan is due this summer, so we can hit the 2010 -----
Q173 Mr Borrow: When you say "summer" does that mean July or October?
Ms Adamson: We have said we should try and have something towards the end of June. We have got together with officials from other Government departments and worked on the plan. Given that our own target is June, it is not late summer, it is more before summer!
Bill Rammell: To add to that - and again I would say it, would I not - we would regard it as part of the leading pack on implementation on these issues. The whole point of the new lines of action is to ensure that every European Union state is up to that standard. That is why, in addition to the six-monthly strategy progress report, we have asked for a frank analysis of EU achievements against the new lines of action, so we can look at what progress is being made throughout Europe.
Q174 Mike Gapes: Are the French on board with us on this, as the other nuclear weapon state within the EU?
Bill Rammell: That is certainly my understanding.
Ms Adamson: There was a seminar in
Q175 Peter Luff: There is always the difficult question of dual use. Can we look at the European situation. Ian Pearson told us that there was a commission proposed on dual use being considered by the Council working group. Where have those decisions got to?
Bill Rammell: This is the re-cast or amendment of the EU Dual Use Regulation. That has now been completed. The re-cast will go to the Council of Ministers on 5 May. There is then a publication period and it will come in to force 90 days after that publication.
Q176 Peter Luff: So you know what change will come out of it. In particular is the UK going to be able to implement new brokering and transit controls to comply with UN Security Council Resolution 1540?
Bill Rammell: Yes, it is proposed to extend the coverage of the regulation to transit trans-shipment, which effectively gives customs officers the additional powers to open consignments to ensure that they are actually what they say they are.
Q177 Peter Luff: Are there any implications for domestic legislation here?
Bill Rammell: It is an EU regulation, and in terms of best practice we are at the leading edge of this anyway.
Q178 Peter Luff: I am going to ask you now two mutually contradictory questions, I appreciate. There are two quite separate concerns about dual use. The first is what we hear from the NGOs and indeed from defence manufacturers about levels of compliance in the dual use sector. They point to, "A sector of what should be a regulated industry operating wholly or outside the regulatory regime, which is clearly unacceptable." What do you feel about that?
Bill Rammell: I do not think that is the case, but, look, there is a balance to be struck between the regulation you put in place and the way that that not only deals with a problem but then impacts upon legitimate trade. I think we have got the balance right, but it is something that we keep constantly under review, and there is a whole series of areas - for example, as the Export Control Act has been reviewed, where we have looked at it and received representations, and made changes to the processes.
Q179 Peter Luff: One NGO has said to us that they think at present given that the constituent elements of a so-called dirty bomb are most likely found on the dual use control list, the greatest important effort has to be focused on the greatest perceived threat. Do you think that is a fair comment?
Bill Rammell: No, I do not.
Q180 Peter Luff: Actually, you are making it easier to ask my second question, which becomes less mutually contradictory in this circumstance, because I have the opposite concern. We had an interesting letter from Ian Pearson telling us about tighter policies towards Iran, and saying that with regard to specific companies it can be seen from the Iran list on the ECO web site that licences have been refused to end users in Iran where previously they have been granted, and a further tranche of companies was added to the Iran list on 26 February this year. What concerns me - I have a constituency case, as you may guess, behind this - is a company in the petrochemical sector, which has traditionally supplied to Iran. Interestingly, it has had problems getting to Iraq as well, which is rather strange - but that is another matter and that is not for this list today. It is now finding that there is a long period over which the export licences are being considered - they are taking too long to get the answer "no", in a way getting "no" quickly - but that is more a question for BERR than for you, I appreciate. What really concerns me is that they are very clear that they are getting "no" to all this equipment and they are basically giving up on the Iran market, where there are huge gas and oilfields waiting there to be exploited. That would be all right if European competitors were taking a similar policy, but it is quite clear that Iran will instead get its equipment from Germany. That really does rather upset me. Are you really sure there is a coherence of European policy specifically in relation to dual-use equipment for Iran?
Bill Rammell: We are certainly seeking to achieve that. It is a two-way street. I have certainly been lobbied by ambassadors
of other European states saying that in respect of their manufacturers we are
not doing enough. I do not believe that
that is the case, and I make no apology for saying that in respect of
Q181 Peter Luff: I feel slightly aggrieved that my constituents lose their jobs, and people in Stuttgart will get them instead.
Bill Rammell: I, and other Ministers, have lobbied very hard elsewhere in
Q182 Peter Luff: I may write to you about this.
Bill Rammell: I would be happy to talk about it.
Q183 Malcolm Bruce: My constituency interest is with the oil and gas industry, with major suppliers there. In the downturn in the North Sea, it is quite likely that suppliers of equipment will be looking for export markets, and as you will be well aware, a lot of those are in somewhat volatile places. What assurance can we have - and it is a two-way process - that they will be properly monitored but at the same time they will not be disrupted, because very often that is how they are going to fill the gap during a downturn? It is equally clear that they need to be aware that if they are moving into newer markets, they may not be fully aware of all the dual use implications.
Bill Rammell: Sure. In respect of
Q184 Richard Burden: In December of last year the EU agreed its Directive for the simplification of defence product transfers within the EU. That is due to come in this year. Do you see problems for the UK in the implementation of that harmonised licensing regime?
Bill Rammell: No. I think it has been a very positive outcome. There were concerns, and certainly the European Scrutiny Committee flagged this up to us and we took on board those concerns about potential loss for national discretion, the extension of Community competence and potential for limitations of inter-governmental co-operation through the negotiations that took place particularly in December. We managed to resolve those and the European Parliament adopted the directive on 16 December, and that will proceed for adoption at a future Council of Ministers meeting very shortly.
Q185 Richard Burden: For it to work from now on, though, it will obviously require all EU states involved to handle the regulations in a consistent way. Are you confident that that will be the case? Are there any areas of concern, and how will that be monitored?
Bill Rammell: It will certainly be monitored by the Commission and nationally by individual governments. The Directive certainly permits us to operate the regime very close to the current one because, for example, we have long moved towards a simplified licensing system within our operations, so I do not think we have anything to fear from this. We need to ensure - and the Commission will take a role in that - that that is the way it is applied across the European Union.
Q186 Sir John Stanley: Minister, I am sure that you would be as appalled as all members of the Committee would be if it were the case that IEDs being used by the Taliban in Afghanistan, resulting in the killing and maiming of our service personnel were found to contain British-made components. I trust it was drawn to your attention an article that appeared in the Independent on 21 February under the heading Taliban using British devices to make bombs. The article read as follows: "Explosive devices made in Britain are being used by the Taliban to carry out bomb attacks on UK forces in Afghanistan, it emerged yesterday. A British explosives officer is said to have made the startling claim during a briefing to Foreign Secretary David Miliband as he was on a visit to Afghanistan this week. The officer informed the minister that British-made components had been discovered in the remnants of bombs used by the Taliban." Minister, will you confirm to the Committee that a British explosives officer did indeed brief the Foreign Secretary, as reported?
Bill Rammell: No, I am not able to do that. I am genuinely not aware of the report that you are referring to. I would just add the caveat that there are, on a weekly basis, reports that end up in newspapers, particularly relating to foreign affairs, where you delve beneath the surface, and they are not accurate. Nevertheless, I am not aware. I will go away from this meeting and find out the facts and figures and come back to you in writing as quickly as possible.
Q187 Sir John Stanley: We would certainly like to know whether such a briefing was given to the Foreign Secretary, and in the terms referred to in the report. Assuming that this report is not totally fictional, and that it has basically a reasonable degree of factual accuracy, could you also tell the Committee, Minister, what action the British Government will be taking, what steps it has taken since the briefing the Foreign Secretary was given to identify the British company or the British individuals that have been responsible for manufacturing these parts; how these parts came to be exported out of the UK and by what route; and what steps the British Government is taking to ensure as far as it possibly can, using all the resources available to it, that British manufactured parts under no circumstances ever end up in Taliban IEDs, killing and maiming our service personnel?
Bill Rammell: With respect, Chair, there is a whole series of premises there that I am not going to affirm to today. I will get to the bottom of this and I will write to you with a detailed response. However, were it to be the case - and I do not know whether it is - that British components had been exported to arm the Taliban, that would be totally and utterly unacceptable. It would be a breach of our arms exports criteria, and we would need in those circumstances to do everything in our power to stop it reoccurring. As I say, I have not seen the article. It would not be the first time that an article had appeared that was not accurate, but nevertheless I will get to the bottom of it and I will write back to you.
Q188 Sir John Stanley: Minister, I have to say that if I had been doing your ministerial job and such an article turned up in my daily press cuttings, my goodness I would expect my officials to make certain it did turn up - this was on February 21, and on that day say I want the full background to this briefing and exactly what the Foreign Secretary was told and what we are going to do about it. I am disturbed, frankly, that this article has not been brought to your attention.
Bill Rammell: I am being frank with you. The press cuttings are like that on a daily basis. I have not seen it and it was not drawn to my attention. Nevertheless you have raised it with me and I will get to the bottom of it and get back to you urgently.
Q189 John Battle: Can I ask you about the restrictions on re-exports because there was a case in 2007, a classic case of India and Burma and helicopters from the EU. At that time, the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, said she was minded to consider adding a re-export clause to contracts, but since that time the Minister in person in January before this Committee said he was not minded to, and refused to consider a policy of re-export conditions on licences; yet the impression we would get is that where the EU has put in "no re-export without permission conditions", they get a better hearing from India than we do. Would it not be wise for us to reconsider this position to see if we could do something to get a grip on re-exporting of equipment that we sell to people, which then they pass on?
Bill Rammell: Firstly, on the facts of the case with respect to India, my understanding is that in the first instance there were two British Norman Islander aircraft that were over 25 years old, and had reached the end of their effective life -----
Q190 John Battle: Ours?
Bill Rammell: Yes. They were gifted to
Q191 John Battle: How do we reconcile that with the EU position, because the EU is actually putting on that condition of "no export" in fact without conditions?
Bill Rammell: That is not my understanding.
Mr Massey: No, that is not the case. I
think that is a misunderstanding. There
are certain states within the EU that have a "no re-export" clause placed in
their legislation. When I talk to my
colleagues sitting around the COARM table in
Q192 John Battle: It is individual states.
Mr Massey: Yes, individual states, not the EU. I think the problem we also have with the Indian helicopters is that when the story ran it gave the impression that this export had already taken place, and that was not the case. When we inquired, the Indians said: "Quite categorically, we have not made any exports, and we have no intention to do so." From our perspective that was the end of the story.
Q193 John Battle: It is not the individual case so much as the principle of controlling the re-exports, but you are suggesting the EU has not got the position - it is individual states. However, you are still not minded to sharpen up our procedures?
Bill Rammell: If it would really sharpen up, then I would be prepared to look at
it, but I am just not convinced, particularly because of the issue of legal
jurisdiction. Let us take your
example. Say the Indian case to
Q194 Chairman: If the contract specified that India, for example, could not re-export to a country subject to sanctions, I accept that enforcing that decision might be problematic, but if India understood perfectly well that no further arms export licences would be granted if they breached that contract with us, do you not think that would provide a significant deterrent to re-export to a country subject to an embargo?
Bill Rammell: But we have that deterrent implicit within our own controls at the moment, in that if a country engages in that practice, that will be taken down and used in evidence in any future arms sale to that country; so I think you achieve the same end without having - the absence of jurisdictional capability to deal with it.
Q195 Chairman: So your phrase "used in evidence" means it would have that effect? People realise this, do they? Is it absolutely clear? Are there any cases where you have had to remind countries that if they were to re-export they would be in breach of our expectations?
Bill Rammell: No, but it is absolutely part of the assessment process that is undertaken that when you make a judgment about the sale to that country, you also take into account the potential for re-export.
Q196 Chairman: Is it UK policy that if a country to which we exported arms were to re-export to another country subject to a UN or EU arms embargo, that that would be the last time an export licence was granted to them?
Bill Rammell: Again, because it is judged - I am not ducking it - on a case-by-case basis, I am not sure I can be that emphatic. It would certainly be assessed as part of the process. I can check back and write to you, but it would be very difficult for a sale to go ahead once that had been identified.
Q197 Mr Jenkin: In regard to extraterritorial trade controls and the representations that the Committee has received from NGOs regarding anti-vehicle land mines, rather topically following Sir John's point: the third review conference included a joint declaration, which the United Kingdom signed in 2006, aimed at preventing the transfer of AVMs to certain end-users. But the FCO website suggests that the export of AVMs is only under the heading of policy restriction rather than under the category B controls. Why is that the case?
Bill Rammell: Cock-up, not conspiracy. It should not have been on the FCO website, and that has been amended. It was a genuine mistake. I think you are right in describing, because there was not an international consensus on this issue in terms of reclassification - we went ahead with 19 other states and made a series of commitments, for example for preventing transfers other than to authorised agents, to prevent transfers that do not need stated detectability and active life standards, and to put in place tighter verification and documentation requirements. That is what we are proceeding to try and undertake, but I take it on the chin, that that should not have been described on the FCO website in the way that it was, and it has been removed.
Q198 Mr Jenkin: It is in category B, is it?
Bill Rammell: No, it is not. The reason for that is that category B occurs where there is an international consensus about the degree of concern. Not only does that not exist; but explicitly we did not achieve that. That is why we have gone down the road of trying to take individual actions in concert with 19 other states. However, I do not shut the door on category B listing, if we could achieve it at a later stage; but because there is not that international consensus, we have not achieved it.
Q199 Mr Jenkin: Which are the countries not in the consensus?
Mr Massey: I have not got a list, but we can get one.
Q200 Mr Jenkin: Does it include other EU countries?
Mr Massey: Yes.
Q201 Mr Jenkin: So other EU countries are actively selling anti-vehicle land mines.
Bill Rammell: We achieved internationally the consensus on anti-personnel land mines, and because it is similar technology and there are similar concerns, in principle we would like to stop the sale of anti-vehicle land mines. We are not in a position to be able to do that at the moment, but I will clarify to you which countries are within the group and which are not.
Q202 Chairman: Why can they not go in category A?
Mr Massey: We have got exactly the same problem as category B; we still do not have an internationally agreed definition of what we think they are.
Q203 Chairman: --- where they are, then.
Mr Massey: Yes, we have a declaration.
Q204 Chairman: We are talking about our export controls, are we not? What is there to stop us putting anti-vehicle land mines in either A or B?
Bill Rammell: Look, you could, but I said previously we try, because we are dealing with competitiveness and industrial concerns, not to create an un-level playing-field, and that is why we have gone down the route we have. We have made a number of specific commitments that I think clean up and police the export of anti-vehicle land mines. However, I do not rule out for ever and a day that we might move to category B listing, but that would have to involve some agreement and consensus with international partners, which is not there at the moment.
Q205 Chairman: We very much welcome the moves the Government has made in relation to extraterritorial controls, as you know, Minister, and there are some areas where we still think more could be done - and this is one of them. In a sense it seems a little odd to say, "The UK cannot do this because of international negotiations." We could further apply extraterritorial controls and could apply it to anti-vehicle land mines if we wanted to, as you rightly say. Which category they would be put in is a little arbitrary, is it not?
Bill Rammell: Except that if you look in practice at the commitments we have made with 19 other nations, that achieves what people want us to achieve. We are moving forward on that and trying to deliver. I am not sure at the moment that category B listing would provide anything additional to that.
Q206 Mr Jenkin: Why not put it in category B?
Bill Rammell: Because if you undermine the principle that you list category B or category A on the basis of international consensus and heightened concern, if you breach that principle I think you lead to a number of unintended consequences.
Q207 Mr Jenkin: So it is not that we are now issuing licences for the export of anti-vehicle land mines, but we would not be issuing if it were under category B? It makes no material difference.
Bill Rammell: That is my understanding.
Mr Massey: When we talk about licensing of anti-vehicle land mines, we are only
aware of one licence since November 2006, which was an export to
Q208 Chairman: I am sure the Committee will give that further consideration. Minister, can I ask a final question about restricted material that the Committee receives, for example following your colleague Ian Pearson's evidence earlier in the year, one of the follow-up letters had a restricted section concerning head-up display units and F16 fighter jets. At the time many of us could not understand why the information was restricted. Our clerk then had negotiations with BERR and it was partly derestricted. There have been one or two examples like this. My personal view is that the Government is very open about these things, and you have been very open and frank with us today; but even my charity gets tested when I look at these documents, and for the life of me I cannot understand why certain things are restricted in the first place, then we have a quiet moan about it, and hey-ho bits are quickly derestricted. This is not the best way to proceed, is it, Minister?
Bill Rammell: No. I take that on the chin. In preparing for this evidence session I discussed it with officials, and it is in nobody's interests for items to end up on a restricted basis where, frankly, with some minor amendments they could end up on a non-restricted basis. I have instructed officials to view communications with your Committee on that basis for the future. Does that mean I can guarantee in all circumstances that something will not be restricted? No, it does not, but the bias of justification or the threshold for justification within the department will be set much higher to communicate with you in restricted terms.
Q209 Chairman: We obviously appreciate the need for restricted information and we deal with restricted information that is made available to the Committee. At no time has that restriction over years and years and years ever been abused. We respect that restriction. I do not think I need to press the point that our view is that, in the past, departments have been a little over-cautious.
Bill Rammell: I think you are making a very fair point, and I would hope that in the future you will see a change in practice.
Chairman: Minister, unless any colleagues have a final question - there are other interesting things happening today as well as this meeting - can I thank you and your colleagues very much indeed. We are very grateful and look forward to the written responses to one or two questions, which you kindly promised. We know they will be in a derestricted form, so thank you very much indeed.