Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
TUESDAY 10 NOVEMBER 1998
1. Good morning. We are very pleased you are
able to join us this morning and thank you for your evidence.
One of the things which comes out of your evidence which we should
like to start with is the question of parliamentary scrutiny.
You are quite clearly disappointed that there is no prior scrutiny
of ELAs. Could you tell us what you think is lost as a result
of this? Do you really think that there are people who are slipping
through all kinds of undesirable kit? If that is the case, can
you give us some examples? We are looking at this as select committees;
several select committees are concerned about what may well be
the outcome of the annual report, so we are trying to address
this. Do you think there is any virtue in an ex post facto
system or do you think that is simply bolting the door after the
horses have galloped away?
(Fiona Weir) We both have a lot to say
on that and you have rolled a lot of extremely useful questions
into that introduction. If we go straight into this issue of public
and parliamentary scrutiny, one of the reasons this whole process
has been set up is the aftermath of the Scott Report. This very
much challenged the impact that the secrecy surrounding export
licensing was having and the adverse impacts of that. Since that
process was set up, we have also had a commitment within Government
to an ethical dimension to foreign policy. We now have growing
debates around freedom of information. The opinion polling which
Amnesty International, Saferworld and other organisations has
carried shows very clearly that 90 per cent of the public are
opposed to selling arms to countries which commit human rights
violations. Interestingly 77 per cent of them feel that there
is far too much secrecy surrounding the licensing process. Despite
the favourable climate which I have outlined, in the past few
years we have seen a number of examples of sales by British companies
which fuel the repression and torture trade going on. There have
been high profile exposes on TV programmes, there have been expose«s
by pressure groups such as Amnesty International. To use the case
of Frank Stott from ICL Technical Plastics Limited as an example,
he admitted selling electric shock batons to China a year after
the Tiananmen Square massacre for copy manufacture. Last year
he was prosecuted and fined £5,000 under the firearms legislation.
He was only able to be prosecuted for physically holding a single
electric shock baton in this country but not for the much more
worrying concern we have that at the moment people are able to
broker deals whereby as long as these pieces of equipment do not
touch British soil, they can in fact take part and profit from
organising the export of this kind of torture equipment. You might
think after those high profile expose«s that this kind of
practice would stop, but it has not. There have been much more
2. May I interrupt you because I think you are
confusing two points here? We are looking at export licences from
applications by British manufacturers sending kit made in Britain
out. We will be looking at brokering. At the moment you are in
danger of confusing the two. Perhaps you could take them separately,
if you would not mind, so we can deal with each element. There
is a blurring here and it might be useful to try to deal with
them in discrete boxes. Could you confine what you are saying
to us, at this stage at least, to the question of British manufactured
defence equipment or British assembled equipment, because we may
get parts from other countries? We should like to start with something
which has a bit more of a Union Jack on it than you are suggesting.
(Fiona Weir) If we return to the core licensing procedure,
it is fundamental that one of the things which can be effective
in ensuring that the right questions are raised and identified
about the exports of particular equipment is prior scrutiny. May
I give you an example of a high profile deal very recently, the
export of armoured personnel carriers to Indonesia where people
saw on their TV screens UK manufactured equipment being used against
peaceful demonstrators in Indonesia earlier this year, very clear
Union Jacks on those kinds of pieces of equipment? There should
have been a very good informed public debate before any licence
application was granted. If we do not get prior scrutiny, if we
do not set up a system which allows NGOs and academics and others
to alert parliamentarians to particular licence applications which
are coming up, which may have these implications and may be used
to commit human rights violations, then you as parliamentarians
will be confined to commenting after the event, probably at the
moment 11 or 12 months after the event, but without any real ability
to stop certain pieces of equipment being exported. That is very
much what we want from this process.
(Mr Eavis) The main benefits of an element of prior
scrutiny are that it will lead to more effective decision-making
over arms exports and will lead to a more responsible policy because
there will be more space to take into account the impact that
proposed deals will have on regional security, human rights and
development concerns. Most importantly of all, it will provide
an added deterrent effect. This came out in the Scott Report.
If you leave the decision making to a small group of civil servants,
then there is little deterrent effect on their Minister or the
civil servants themselves. They may go ahead with the more dubious
of deals or they may push the borderline, knowing that they will
not actually have to defend that deal in front of parliament.
This was mentioned by Lord Justice Scott, and William Waldegrave
himself raised the point that if he had had to stand in front
of a parliamentary committee to justify the exports to Iraq, then
they probably would not have gone ahead. That deterrent effect
is really important.
3. There are two elements here then. There is
the customer and whether or not we should be selling to Indonesia
for example. Alternatively there is the kit, the military equipment
which is being sent. How would you suggest that parliament look
at this? What form would parliamentary scrutiny take? We have
to get down to the nuts and bolts of it.
(Mr Eavis) There is a variety of possible systems.
It depends how ambitious one is. The US system allows for 30 days'
advance notification to Congress of exports above a certain value.
That threshold value of US$14 million is far too high in our opinion.
However, there is a process whereby 30 days in advance of licences
being approved export licences are placed in front of Congress.
One idea we have had is that there could be a rolling register;
the DTI could produce a rolling register which could be made available
to parliament so that parliament could then question proposed
licences. Then there is another system, which is not as ambitious
but will be very effective and in our opinion it is the minimum
which should take place and it is a system which operates in Sweden.
There is a small parliamentary group which meets behind closed
doors, a confidential discussion; they meet with the Minister
once a month and he presents to them the licence applications
which they are considering before the decision has been taken.
He asks those MPs their views on how these licences match up against
the export control criteria. That still has an element of confidentiality
but it is still a process which brings in opinions from parliamentarians.
4. On this question of value, US$14 million
is about £8 million and that would not have caught the Chinese
electric baton deal, would it? You are not really going to catch
much in the way of the kind of offensive weaponry which you were
identifying as normally being the means whereby repressive countries
police their citizenry unless you go down to a very low level.
Is that not the case?
(Fiona Weir) We would not recommend a wholesale adoption
of this particular system.
5. I am talking about the Swedish one.
(Mr Eavis) The Swedish one covers all licence applications.
There is no threshold; there is not a value threshold. It covers
all licence applications. The reality is that the committee is
only really interested in those exports to sensitive destinations.
6. Is it customer driven really?
(Mr Eavis) Yes.
7. May I press you on how far you wish to go
in the case of exports to regimes of which we disapprove? Clearly
there is quite a number. Would you seek to ban all exports? If
we are looking at policing equipment, you have said you would
clearly put electric batons in that category, but what about conventional
batons, walkie-talkies, handcuffs? How far down the line do you
think we ought to be going or do you think we just have a blanket
(Fiona Weir) Amnesty International bases this on very
careful research. We would ban some whole categories and they
include any kind of equipment produced primarily or solely for
the purpose of torture. We would similarly ask for a ban on any
equipment used in any form for executions, for implementing the
death penalty. When you get on to dual use and other such equipment,
what we look at very carefully is which kinds of equipment have
been used or can reasonably be assumed to be used in a particular
country to commit human rights violations. We examine very carefully,
for example, how "disappearances" in Turkey happen,
what the use is or is not of armoured vehicles and military helicopters.
When we called for the ban on the armoured personnel carriers
in Indonesia it was because we had collected very clear evidence
that they had in fact been used in this way in that context. We
are looking at a very careful assessment on a country by country
8. But we would not have evidence about how
certain things were going to be used. Let us suppose we were asked
to supply the sort of baton rounds which have been used in Northern
Ireland to a regime which was suspect, would you immediately think
we should say no to that?
(Fiona Weir) We would first carry out an analysis
of the situation in the country and what was happening there and
combine that with an analysis of what we know about how this equipment
has been used and there is no simple matching up of a type of
equipment with a country.
9. How would we get the necessary information
other than through you?
(Fiona Weir) It seems that for parliamentary scrutiny
to work well it would have to be informed and parliament would
need, as you would with any information you debate, to get views
not just from the defence industry but from informed NGOs and
academics. All of those bodies would play a role in alerting you
to things which might perhaps not otherwise have been spotted.
We are not looking at a system where parliamentarians plough one
by one through a great number of detailed licence applications,
but where there is an opportunity to alert parliamentarians to
ones which might be sensitive. Let me give you one example. In
Tiananmen Square, traffic control equipment was used to photograph
and help capture dissenters. A similar such system has now been
installed in Tibet in Lhasa, an area with no traffic congestion.
NGOs such as Amnesty International might have alerted you to the
possible use of equipment which might otherwise have seemed innocuous.
As with anything parliament debates, you will rely on that kind
of informed opinion and you will weigh up the differing views
which come to you. You have to have the process which allows us
to feed that information through to you in advance of a licence
application being granted, if we are to be effective and not simply
commenting afterwards that we were disappointed with what happened.
10. I have listened carefully so that we do
get it right. My worry is that we could grind the whole of every
department to a standstill if it were everything which was exported
which suddenly had to be double checked. Would there not be a
different approach, whether it be by country, to say this country
is one which ought to be questioned and ought to be looked at
more seriously, so that anything which is exported there ought
to be checked? This country is on the A list which is fine, so
you do not worry about that. Do you not think there ought to be
some formula? Otherwise the danger is that you would not export
anything, we would put people out of work, the danger being that
the whole thing grinds to a halt and what we find out is that
the French, the Chinese, whoever they may be, South Africans,
suddenly fill up the contracts because this country is not processing
the orders. How can we short circuit some of the issues you have
raised and ensure one which is effective so we actually trade
with the right countries and not the wrong countries, but also
making sure that we do not put people out of work in this country?
(Mr Eavis) You could have a list of sensitive destinations
on which you are going to focus your attention. Under the previous
government the Department of Trade and Industry used to publish
a list of sensitive destinations and I would have thought that
a parliamentary committee in the first instance could focus on
those countries. Clearly there will be a large proportion of the
trade with which there will be no problem; very few concerns will
be raised with the majority of our NATO allies, barring Turkey
perhaps and some other OECD countries. This is what happens in
the Swedish example. The idea that things get held up has been
rejected by some of the officials in Sweden. They are saying it
does not happen like that. One goes ahead with the licensing process.
11. Are you really comparing like with like?
It is very easy to talk about Sweden which is not as comprehensive
in defence exports as this country and it certainly does not trade
in as many countries. To say this is what Sweden is, is not comparing
like with like in fairness. Sweden is on a much smaller scale
than we in this country and that is the danger. In fairness you
ought to look at this country which is much more dependent jobwise
on defence than Sweden ever will be.
(Fiona Weir) We are not looking to a complex and cumbersome
process. We are looking at relying on the expertise already there
in the Foreign Office to make lots of sensible recommendations
rather than a crude list where political situations change regularly.
We are looking for a system whereby applications are posted on
the web or publicly available in some form which allows NGOs or
academics or others to alert parliamentarians to anything which
might have slipped through or may be sensitive which requires
a further degree of parliamentary scrutiny. That can be a fast
efficient process and it does not need to be tied down a lot of
the time. It is vital that this Committee looks very hard at the
quality of information which will be available to you. It is not
just the issue of prior scrutiny which we think is so essential.
It is also about looking at the information you get both before
and in the annual report which you will be receiving. Some of
that information may be aggregated in a way which entirely obscures
the picture you are getting: categories like ML10 which cover
parachutes and combat aircraft, ML6 which covers everything from
armoured personnel carriers to bullet-proof tyres. This kind of
information is simply not useful. You as parliamentarians will
want to see in that report comprehensive information which really
gives you a picture of what is going on. Will you be told details
about licenced production deals? For example, a company in Turkey,
Ottocar, is assembling Land Rovers under a licenced production
deal with a British company. Once we relinquish control, we are
not able to stop those machine tools essentially, 80 per cent
of which are exported from the UK, being assembled in Turkey and
having the machine guns and other equipment added and being turned
into vehicles which are indeed implicated in human rights violations.
These vehicles are now being exported to Algeria and Pakistan,
but we have no control over the process. How will you get the
kind of information which allows you the true overall picture?
What will happen about Crown immunity and Crown agents, agencies
like DESO and DSA? Will you have information about what they are
doing? Will you have information about government to government
deals like the Al Yamamah deal, the biggest arms export deal ever?
These are all enormous potential holes in the quality of information
which you will be receiving and ones which you really need to
insist are filled.
12. I want to look at the process of this. If
one has an application and it is publicised, you rightly say the
quality of advice in the Foreign Office is usually very good.
Ministers making decisions as to whether or not to grant export
licences are very often having to consider a whole number of sometimes
quite grey areas in the advice they receive from the Foreign Office.
Are parliamentarians going to do any more than be able to put
up a flag that there may be concerns about something? To be able
to form a proper value judgement as to whether or not arms should
be exported, would depend also on us getting that same quality
of advice from Foreign Office officials. It is very difficult
to second guess Ministers without the benefit of that advice.
(Mr Eavis) The added value of parliamentarians being
involved in the process is that there are no vested interests
as such. Whether it be the DTI, the MOD or the Foreign Office,
they each have an element which is concerned with promotion of
trade. If some of these decisions are on the borderline, I just
wonder, if they knew there was going to be parliamentary scrutiny.
whether with the decisions on the borderline they would err on
the side of caution and decide they actually needed to say no
to this export. It is the fact that they would know that parliament
would be involved in the process. It would be those more dubious
deals, the ones which are pushing the boundaries on export control
criteria, on which parliament would have most impact.
13. You rightly drew our attention to the importance
of arms traffickers and brokers. In both submissions you call
for a register of approved arms dealers. Could you say a little
more about how that would work? Who would be included, who would
be excluded, should it be UK based or EU wide or whatever? How
would that work because it is clearly an important issue?
(Mr Eavis) What we both call for is that UK persons,
domiciled in the UK, should have to register with the DTI and
they should have to apply for a licence to be involved in a brokering
activity. The controls governing brokering agents would be the
same level of control as though a company were trying to export
goods directly from the UK. Clearly there is a problem in that
an individual could set up residence in Germany or France or another
member state, so at the same time we are also arguing that there
should be European Union wide agreement on the issue of brokering
and trafficking. If you look at the controls in operation of a
number of other Member States, some Member States do have effective
controls on brokering agents. Sweden is one again but also Germany.
Germany is clearly a much more prominent manufacturer and its
economy is more dependent on arms manufacture. Both Sweden and
Germany ask arms brokering agents to register and to seek a licence.
One of the things we are hoping will come out during the German
presidency is that they will prioritise the issue of arms brokering
and that there can be steps to a European-wide agreement.
14. Are you aware of any practical problems
which have arisen in Sweden and Germany or is it just that it
is a matter of political will?
(Mr Eavis) In Germany one of the practical problems
is that people move across the border to bypass those controls
and that is why there is a need for national control to go hand
in hand with European-wide controls.
(Fiona Weir) May I say how much we do welcome the
White Paper proposals actually to close some of the loopholes
in brokering? I wanted to raise this because we are very concerned
about the industry responses which you will hear later. This process
has examined the issue of brokering for about three years now
and officials at DTI and elsewhere have had adequate opportunity
to think through the implications. We should be very concerned
if this Committee were to accept arguments that somehow this is
a hasty new area on which there may be an attempt to rush legislation.
We repeatedly hear the arguments, "How can you actually try
to close down brokering loopholes without an adequate system of
policing? Surely it would be ineffective?". It is important
to tackle this one. We do not not call burglary a crime because
we do not have police cameras trained on every house in the country.
The very act of making brokering illegal would mean that the more
reputable end of the industry would immediately distance itself
from such practices. That would be a very immediate gain. As soon
as you had your first high profile expose« and conviction
under the new laws, you would then have the less reputable end
of the industry thinking extremely carefully about whether it
was going to continue with such practices. I would not underestimate
the very powerful way in which making certain practices illegal
can really help to stop certain practices occurring.
15. May I get my mind round this? For someone
to be a broker, they would have to put down a sizeable deposit.
For example, if you want to act as an agent for football players
I think you have to lay down a bond of £100,000. Not that
I have views on the subject but I take that just as a simple EU-wide/UEFA
approach to things. I am sure there will be brown paper bags in
motorway cafes under that system still, but really what I am getting
at is that we are talking about the EU to start with. I have heard
stories of trading for example using Bulgaria as a conduit. There
is evidence apparently that arms have gone to both sides in the
Congo using Bulgaria as the conduit. I take the point about the
value of deterrence but I wonder whether by having a system of
licensing you are actually going to catch the kind of people who
have the ingenuity to do this. You might be imposing a system
which in theory is worthwhile and important but in fact is irrelevant
when it comes to dealing with the bad guys.
(Mr Eavis) But it is not irrelevant in terms of current
practices at the moment. There have been several instances recently
which have either involved UK-based companies or European-based
companies. The Sandline example, arranging the export of 30 tonnes
of arms from Bulgaria to Sierra Leone, is a very good example.
If Sandline had had to register with the DTI and had had to seek
a licence, then I am sure that many of the recent problems could
have been avoided.
16. Do you think that in a case such as that,
where it seemed there were rather important people pulling strings,
though we do not know where the strings ended up and we do not
know who were pulling them but it is alleged that they were, that
these seemingly ingenious and apparently quite powerful individuals
would have sidestepped these arrangements you are suggesting?
(Mr Eavis) I am sure that some people will try to
sidestep the arrangements but I support very strongly the point
Fiona was making, that you need to have a deterrent effect and
a criminal sanction so that you are going to deter a sizeable
proportion of those companies who many again be thinking about
moving into that area. You will not get all of them, but we would
be able to reduce the amount of trade which does take place involving
brokers and traffickers at the moment.
17. You have drawn distinctions: there is the
EU, NATO and then there are OECD countries. Who would you wish
to get into this? The EU to start with and then NATO or both simultaneously?
(Mr Eavis) Because a number of discussions are taking
place anyway amongst the European Union Member States, they will
probably start with the European Union. That would follow on nicely
from the recent agreement on the code of conduct governing exports.
Brokering was at least referred to and discussed within those
debates although the code of conduct itself does not cover brokering
agents. Through the European Union one could also begin to address
some of the countries of central and eastern Europe through the
fact that they will be joining the European Union. One of the
conditions of membership could be that they also have effective
controls in this area. You can start with the European Union and
then you can move outwards.
(Fiona Weir) It is also very important to understand
the dynamics of the various debates on codes of conduct within
the arms trade. What we find repeatedly is that when a level one
initiative is taken by a country it has a strong impact on debates
in other countries and creates a process whereby it is much easier
to get similar improvements in that country. You get a constant
ratcheting up of those kind of controls. Britain is really in
a position at the moment, because we are at the key point in this
process of examination which has been going on since Scott, to
say that we will take a lead, we will set an example and we will
adopt the kind of licensing regime which will have an enormous
influence on the EU code and on practices within the US over the
18. Just to press you on how you would assess
the countries who should be proscribed, clearly you could not
proscribe any other EU member country otherwise we would be in
breach of our Treaty obligations, even if sometimes we have disapproved
of their behaviour. You mentioned Turkey several times. Turkey
is a member of NATO so it would be quite difficult to proscribe
Turkey so long as it remained a member of NATO. The Turks would
probably turn round and say they are dealing with an armed separatist
movement which they would say was analogous to ETA or the IRA
and that they have a fully functioning parliamentary democracy.
How do we draw these rules up?
(Fiona Weir) This is why we say again and again that
we cannot have very simple lists and categories. It does require
a judgement, up-to-date intelligence and analysis. Let us say
the situation in Kosovo deteriorated and tensions in Macedonia
grew. We might reach a situation where we were concerned about
Greek involvement in that dispute and where arms to Greece might
become a problem. It is not out of the realms of possibility that
we would be concerned about other EU countries. In the case of
Turkey, if you look at the economic sphere, we regularly use our
economic relations through the EU Customs Union to put pressure
on Turkey to improve its human rights record. Despite Turkey's
role as a NATO ally, we do think it is right that we raise with
Turkey its adherence to international human rights law. There
is no reason why we should not put the same pressure on Turkey
with regard to exports of particular types of equipment from Britain
which we know are being used to carry out violations. We simply
cannot on a diplomatic level raise our concerns about "disappearances".
We are not talking about the legitimate rules of humanitarian
law: we are talking about breaches of human rights law and humanitarian
law which are going on. We cannot raise concerns about "disappearances"
and deaths in custody if we know that UK companies are complicit
in supplying the kind of equipment which is carrying these out.
19. It is certainly perfectly proper for us
to raise these issues as we do with all sorts of countries, countries
which may be future applicants to the EU, for example, where we
have raised human rights issues and countries of central Europe.
I understand that. How far would you go? In the case of Turkey
you have talked about Land Rovers. Would you ban the export of
all vehicles to Turkey from this country?
(Fiona Weir) We look at equipment which is used to
commit human rights violations. May I say that one of the key
problems we have with the current draft of the White Paper is
this definition of internal repression as one of the key criteria
because it is not a term with common currency; it is not an understood
term in legal terms and it would miss out exactly this kind of
example. For example, in the case of an internal armed conflict,
or say Turkish troops were pursuing Kurdish groups across the
border into Iraq, there are several instances which simply would
not be covered and we would urge this Committee to ask for a definition
which is understood in international legal terms and covers any
breaches of international human rights law and humanitarian law.