Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)|
THURSDAY 27 MARCH 2003
MP, MR PAUL
1. Minister, welcome. I am sorry to have kept
you waiting for a moment or two outside. We had things to deal
with beforehand. Thank you very much indeed for coming. You are
more than welcome. We realise what a busy period this must be
for you. I wonder if we could go straight in to talk about the
scrutiny of ESDP. I wonder if you could tell us why it appeared
to take so long for the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office
to put together a plan on how to permit scrutiny for the various
activities in which ESDP is taking part, because we would have
thought that all parties were aware both of the timescale for
the missions and the need for scrutiny by Parliament. I wonder
if you could tell us about that, bearing in mind the Government
overriding the scrutiny on the military mission.
(Dr MacShane) Thank you, my Lord Chairman.
I apologise for not appearing before the previous Committee. I
am grateful for your acceptance of that due to pressures in other
parts of my work. I do regret the fact that it has taken so long
to put in clear and robust arrangements. That reflects discussions
with other ministries that have points of view on this. We have
to get the balance right between the absolute obligation for Parliament
and the scrutiny committees to have time and information to allow
proper examination of ESDP decisions, but we also have to understand
that ESDP will need to make decisions quite rapidly because of
the pressure of events. Then, of course, perhaps the most difficult
aspect of all of this is: How do we balance the need for Parliament
to scrutinise with ensuring that there is proper operational security
for military operations in which our own troops and indeed other
European troops are involved? It concerns classified information.
I have every confidence in parliamentary colleagues on that issue,
but NATO and EU have their own security concerns, allied and friendly
governments have their own security concerns. We hope now that
we have the right mechanisms in place. I notice that I seem to
spend a lot of time signing off on explanatory memorandums, much
more now than even a few months ago, because of ESDP requirements,
but, I apologise, it has taken longer than we thought to get these
mechanisms up and running.
2. Thank you for that. Minister, if I may go
back, a little earlier I failed to welcome Mr Chilcott and Mr
Johnston. If, Minister, you would like either of them to embellish
anything you have said, the Committee would welcome that very
much. Could I also say that I did tell the Committee of your great
courtesy in telephoningI think it was from Vienna, if I
(Dr MacShane) One of those airports, my Lord Chairman.
They are all the same these days!
Chairman: You kindly telephoned me to apologise
and I appreciated that very much indeed.
3. Could I pursue that question, Minister, please.
You say you believe it has improved. Could you tell us how in
concrete terms you think it is going to be improved in the future
and what are the main lessons you think you have learned from
this exercise so far.
(Dr MacShane) I think the fact now that we will send
the necessary documents very swiftly to the scrutiny committees;
we will submit the explanatory memoranda covering unclassified
ESDP text; and we will submit unclassified explanatory memoranda
summarising classified documents. In a broader sense, I hope that
more parliamentary colleagues will travel to other European countries
and take a greater interest in CFSP and ESDP policy. I think we
will be operating now on the same basis as CFSP documents; that
is to say, joint actions, common positions, council decisions
which will be deposited for scrutiny, but I think we must accept
that at times decisions in this field just take so much more quickly
than on domestic policy matters from Europe that it will not be
possible always to have prior scrutiny of the implementation of
policy. But the discussion of how we arrive at policy and the
nature of the policy debates that will take place under ESDP,
I attach the highest performance to those being before parliamentarians,
so they understand what we are doing and what we are saying in
the name of the British Government in the context of ESDP.
4. So that I am clear, are we saying it is the
sensitivity of some of the documents or the sensitive things like
the concept of operations and the capabilities we were acquiring?
(Dr MacShane) There, obviously, our colleagues in
the Ministry of Defence, my Lord, will have positions that they
may not wish to put into the public domain for obvious operational
reasons. But I would make a clear division between the policy
discussion and debates that will take place as the ESDP evolves
and as CFSP evolves over time and actual operational details for
reasonable security reasonsand it is not just a British
point of view; we have to reflect the concerns of allies and partnersand
then the difficulty when something flares up and one has to take
decisions very, very quickly and it may not be possible obviously
to put material before the scrutiny committees on the basis of
their rhythms of meetings. But our general view, as I say, is
to put as much as possible before the Committee before final decisions
5. Are you saying, therefore, that you think
the structure is about right but it is just getting the process
(Dr MacShane) I think it is about process. I think
also we will be on a learning curve on this. I think now, following
discussions inside Whitehall and with the partners, we have a
right approach and we opt for the maximum openness, but it will
be tested over time.
6. You have already told us that classified
documents will be the subject of unclassified summary. May I perhaps
go back one stage further. We have your letter to Lord Grenfell
of 5 or 6 February. You talk about classified information. Really,
the basic question: Who decides whether the document is classified
in the first place?
(Dr MacShane) In ESDP, clearly, it will be the Council
Secretariat acting on behalf of all the Member Governments sitting
in the Council of Ministers of the European Union. Their decision
will be influenced by whether the document contains information
contributed by ourselves, other Member States or by NATO which
has been deemed to be classified and we would expect that to be
respected. But we will deposit explanatory memoranda in front
of the scrutiny committees which summarise the policy content
of classified text. Clearly, if the classified text is, as it
were, orders of the day for military operations, then I expect
those summaries will be rather short because we do not want to
reveal what we plan to do.
7. My Lord Chairman, may I ask the Minister
further. You said that if we had submitted classified information
you would expect the Council Secretariat to respect that. Do we
have an absolute right to insist that it remains classified? I
say "we"; does any Member State putting the information
forward have a right to insist it remains classified or is there
an element of discretion with the Council Secretariat?
(Dr MacShane) I think it is the same rules that would
apply within NATO, the same rules that can apply in terms of foreign
policy issues which are communicated "within the EU but not
to go out into the public domain". I have confidence that
people will respect that because other countries also take positions,
in some cases, rather more rigorous and robust, on what their
own public are allowed to know.
Baroness Park of Monmouth
8. Just following that up, Minister, I have
been looking at Appendix B to your letter to Lord Grenfell and
there are these stages that are set up. I wonder whether you could
explain how the first threewhich are, Council agreement
on concept, Council agreement on joint action, and Council decision
to select a military strategic optioncan possibly be classified.
I can understand that from possibly stage 4 onwards there would
be very strong arguments for it, but, before that, surely what
is being discussed is the principle of whether a machine that
has been created might or might not be used in a situation which
must be fairly publicly known.
(Dr MacShane) The point is that the distinction between
a general policy discussion and operational implementation can
be much more narrow than one imagines. If, at the level of the
Council, there is serious discussion about sending troops to intervene
in a given region of crisis, does one want that to be known from
the moment of the decision, the policy decision, to the people
who might have to deal with that intervention until such time
as one has troops ready to go into operational action.
9. Minister, has there ever been a confidential
Council decision? Moreover, are we not talking about us, not the
general public, when we are discussing this matter?
(Dr MacShane) I think there have been confidential
Council decisions. I think that the issue of whether one makes
public decisions about which the military say to us "Please
don't" is something that all the European Union Partner States
would have to take very seriously.
10. Forgive me for pursuing this further, but
what is to stop you issuing it to us and saying, "This is
confidential, this is delicate, therefore please do not discuss
it in a public session."
(Dr MacShane) Nothing. Nothing at all, Lady Park.
I think that will again have to evolve over time. I think we have
evolved over time, setting up the Security and Intelligence Committee
in the Commons which now receivesthese are backbench MPsvery
classified information. I think you are absolutely right that
European parliamentarians at the national and European level will
not want these decisions, as it were, suddenly to see the light
of day without some parliamentary scrutiny. It is a process which
we will have to test over time. But we do not want to find ourselves
in a position, having made commitments today on the record in
a parliamentary committee, that then can be thrown in our face
when military people tell us in x years time, "Look, we want
to spring a surprise, so please don't announce this on the . .
11. If I may pursue it a little further. Minister,
you will know there are a number of members of this Committee
who have been close to government, both in a parliamentary and
a public service role, and I think it will be familiar to all
those members of seeing documents marked confidential over which
one scratches one's head and says, "Why on earth has somebody
written confidential"or even "classified""on
the top?" We are all accustomed to wondering why that has
happened. Could I ask you specifically to use the goodwill of
government, so that, where there are documents which it would
be helpful for this Committee, particularly, to see, you could
go through a process which I have known before. I was on the Foreign
Affairs Committee down the other end of the building for 10 years
and it was quite a familiar arrangement that classified documents
were entrusted to the clerk of the committee and members of the
committee could go and see them provided that the document was
never taken away from the safekeeping of the clerk. It would be
helpful if you could give us an undertaking that sympathy would
be given to that approach for classified documents, were it felt
that you were not endangering secrecy or anybody's livesI
mean, nobody would want that, but where there is something which
was classified but there was really not much need for itbut
it wasthat it could be made available to the Committee.
(Dr MacShane) My Lord Chairman, I am very sympathetic
to that. I notice on my briefing it has stamped "Restricted"
on the top but it is actually what I am saying to you on the record.
12. We are grateful that you are so open!
(Dr MacShane) It must be something that is endemic
under our system. Lord Inge could perhaps answer this better because
in my experience it is always the military who do not want to
say that Christmas Day generally falls on 25 December just in
case the enemy finds out.
13. It depends who the enemy is, of course.
(Dr MacShane) I think the problem is that to give
a formal undertaking might put me at odds, particularly, with
some of our NATO partnersbecause we are wanting to make
NATO a full partner in this whole operation and they have some
more stringent rules themselves. The general approach which you
outline seems to me to be quite reasonable but then one person
says that this might endanger military operations one way or another
and another person says it will not. Do you err on the side of
caution and keep everything secret or err on the side of openness
and then face the accusation you have given some tiny bit of information
away that could damage operations? I am in favour of the latter
approach, I have to say, but I will certainly examine this and
I think, over time, Europe cannot commit troops, put men and women
in harm's way, without that being fully accountable and scrutinised
by their elected representatives.
Chairman: I think that is the last thing anybody
on this Committee would wish to do.
14. If I may defend my old ministry, my Lord
Chairman. You have put it very starkly, I think, Minister. If
you are talking about giving away information that will affect
operational capability, then I would very strongly agree that
should be classified. If you are talking about general concepts,
then I cannot understand why that has to be classified.
(Dr MacShane) I agree with you, my Lord. I do not
even see why it should be restricted.
15. The only other people who mightand
it would not necessarily be my ministryis if, in designing
the concept, you have to talk about the warring factions or whatever
on the ground and that becomes politically and militarily sensitive.
That is the only reason I can see it being done.
(Dr MacShane) Thank you.
16. Shall we move on. Let us leave the ESDP
scrutiny and move to the General Affairs Council. I understand
you would like to make a statement, Minister, which we would much
(Dr MacShane) We had a successful General Affairs
Council last week, which prepared the way for the spring Council
of Heads of Government which I also attended. There was a commitment
to see the EU actively involved in humanitarian relief for Iraq;
a commitment to an effective European contribution to allow all
Iraqis to live in freedom, dignity and prosperity under a representative
governmentin other words, to be free from the tyranny of
Saddam Hussein; a commitment to the fundamental role of the United
Nations in the international system and for the United Nations
to play a central role during and after the current crisis, with
the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people continuing to be met
through the Oil-for-Food Programme; a commitment to the full and
effective disarmament of Iraq; a commitment to strengthening the
transatlantic relationshipwhich was very strongly stressed
by all 10 heads of government of the new Member States of the
EU when they spoke to the existing EU heads of government when
I had the honour to represent the United Kingdom at the lunchtime
meeting on Friday; a commitment to the territorial integrity and
sovereignty of Iraq; a commitment to work for the reinvigoration
of the Middle East peace process, with the publication and implementation
of the "road map"; and a commitment to strengthening
the capacity of the European Union in the context of the CFSP
and the ESDP. So, although there are massive diplomatic differences
on how to handle Iraq, the President of the French Republic, I
think, said that we should leave historians to analyse the last
six months' wrangles of the UN and move forward, and I think that
was the general wish of the representatives of the General Affairs
& External Relations Council. There were a lot of other issues
discussedthe Western Balkans, the spending of aid and trade
moneybut on Iraq it was a positive statement.
Lord Powell of Bayswater
17. I have one follow-up question, my Lord Chairman.
I was interested to hear what everyone apparently agreed at the
Council on humanitarian aid to Iraq when this war is over and
on the role of the United Nations. How has the impression got
around that the French President has said he would veto a United
Nations role following the conflict in case it retrospectively
seemed to endorse the military activity?
(Dr MacShane) The French Foreign Minister Monsieur
de Villepin is currently addressing backbench MPs in another room
somewhere in this building and I hope that question will be put
to him. Indeed, it is right to say that President Chirac, I think
on Saturday, referred to French disagreement, while the conflict
was continuing, to new UN resolutions. My latest information from
Paris is that France is now reconsidering that position and of
course the Prime Minister is discussing with the President of
the United States today what role the UN should play. I personally
think that with, I think, $9 billion locked in escrow accounts
from Iraqi oil, now is the time for the UN to release that money
and to put some material hope back into the hearts and homes of
the people of Iraq.
18. You would be confident, Minister, on the
basis of the discussion of the General Affairs Council, that the
French would not in fact obstruct this?
(Dr MacShane) I very much hope that to be the case.
19. You mentioned frozen deposits of cash around
the world which the UN might agree to release. I understand that
some of that money has already been released. Would you regard
that as legal?
(Dr MacShane) I am not sufficiently an expert on international
law, I am afraid, my Lord Chairman, but I do know that the UN
has a very rigorous legal department which examines these issues
in the most minute and particular detail. So if they are spending
money, I am sure it is with due and proper authority.
(Mr Chilcott) May I add something? Under United States'
legislation they have powers, which we do not have in the United
Kingdom, for them to make use of certain Iraqi frozen assets for
the benefit of the Iraqi people, and there have been moves, if
these are the assets to which you are referring. I think, under
United States law, what has happened there is perfectly legal.
For ourselves, this is something at which we are looking, and
we are coming to the conclusion that, without a change in our
own legislation, we would require Security Council authorisation
to make use of these frozen assets.