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Lords Chamber

Volume 597: debated on Wednesday 24 February 1999

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House Of Lords

Wednesday, 24th February 1999.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon.

The Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery—Took the Oath

Peerages: Teachers

2.37 p.m.

Why no recommendations have been made for the award of peerages to teachers serving in, or recently retired from, maintained schools.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment
(Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, in appointing life Peers since 1958 successive Prime Ministers have been concerned to see that all the main areas of our society are properly represented in the House. I accept that the maintained schools sector is not represented in great strength, though the House does include Members who have direct experience of schools as former teachers and others who take an interest in primary and secondary legislation. The suggestion of representation from the maintained schools sector is one that the new Appointments Commission may wish to consider.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her faintly encouraging reply on that point. She may be aware that I pressed this particular point during the passage of a number of recent education Bills. While your Lordships' House has never been short of lawyers, doctors, clerics, soldiers and higher academics, does the noble Baroness agree that the same cannot be said for teachers; that is, with the exception always of two or three from the independent sector, which educates less than 10 per cent. of the population? With, at the latest count, 23,043 maintained schools to choose from, does the noble Baroness also agree that it should be possible, as well as desirable, to tap into some current expertise which would help this House with its never ceasing deliberations on education, education and education?

My Lords, I entirely accept that there is a great deal of expertise out there from which this House could benefit if it were able to tap into it. But we have to take into account that it would be difficult for serving teachers to make a major contribution to the House because of the nature of their work and the hours that they have to put in in their schools. However, there are perhaps slightly more former teachers in the House than the noble Earl may realise. I tried to tot up the number simply on the basis of my knowledge of people's backgrounds and I got to 12 quite quickly. Indeed, I have in mind a number of my noble friends. For example, my noble friends Lord Glenamara and Lord Hardy of Wath were head teachers, and my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington was a teacher. But I have to accept that they did not come here because they were teachers; they were politicians and then came to your Lordships' House.

My Lords, the noble Baroness touched on the difficulty of appointing a serving teacher. However, it is not just a matter of time; indeed, it would be almost impossible for a serving teacher to be a fully active Member of this House. Indeed, unless the person was financially independent, it would be impossible for him or her to become a fully-fledged Member of this place. As I said, it is not just time. Let us say, for example, that a teacher from Durham became an active working Peer in this Chamber. It would be extremely difficult in terms of time, logistics and money, which means that such a proposal would only favour teachers from London. I think that would be really rather offensive. Does the Minister accept that?

My Lords, I accept what the noble Baroness said about the difficulties of serving teachers becoming active life Peers. Indeed, she is entirely right in that respect. However, it is conceivable that the House could benefit from the contribution of recently retired teachers or head teachers. There is no reason why they should not come from outside London.

My Lords, although there is much past teaching experience in this House, we are rather deficient in terms of recent and current experience. Indeed, the education world, especially in schools, has changed greatly in recent years. Therefore, while the recent high-profile award of honours to serving teachers is most welcome, does the Minister recognise that it would actually be a double benefit if we were to make some awards, which, as well as giving an honour, would actually contribute to the combined experience and expertise of this House on appropriate occasions?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for mentioning the substantial increase in the number of serving teachers who have been given honours. Indeed, since this Government took over in May 1997, the number of serving teachers who have been given MBEs, OBEs, CBEs, KBEs and DBEs has doubled. I believe it is the first time for a very long time that any serving teacher has in fact been given a knighthood or a DBE. That is something that we should welcome. I also accept the noble Lord's other point.

My Lords, given that we are today awaiting the release of the inquiry report on the death of Stephen Lawrence, can the Minister comment on the fact that children from ethnic minorities are six times more likely to be excluded from maintained schools than those from the majority community? Indeed, the number is rising. Further, can the noble Baroness tell the House what training in race awareness is given to senior teachers—that is to say, the kind of people who might become Members of this House?

My Lords, I think the right reverend Prelate's question is a little wide of the Question on the Order Paper. However, I can confirm that this matter is of enormous importance and the Government attach great importance to the training of all teachers and head teachers in racial awareness. We expect teachers in our schools at whatever level to be totally and utterly committed to racial harmony in their schools, to dealing with racial bullying and to ensuring that racial discrimination does not take place.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness tell the House when the scheme for "Oscars" for teachers will get off the ground?

My Lords, I am pleased to hear from my noble friend of the honours which have been given to teachers from the maintained sector. However, it might also benefit the House to hear from those of us who are consumers of the maintained sector as parents, and who went through the comprehensive system ourselves. Will my noble friend comment on that?

My Lords, the contributions that parents make to debates on education in your Lordships' House are enormously important, as indeed are the comments of grandparents, speaking as one myself.

My Lords, did the noble Baroness notice that in his supplementary question the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, made no mention of considering the contribution that engineers make to our national life? Can the noble Baroness say how many members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers have been appointed life Peers since 1958? I declare an interest.

My Lords, I am extremely sorry that I cannot tell the noble Lord exactly how many members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers have been made life Peers. However, I am sure that debates in your Lordships' House would benefit hugely if members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers were appointed life Peers.

My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will allow my question as she may consider it is a little wide of the mark. However, is it not equally important to consider principals of further education colleges—who, after all, teach children of the same age as those in ordinary schools—who could make a great contribution to the House? Perhaps their working hours would make it rather easier for them to attend the House than is the case with active head teachers?

My Lords, as the Minister responsible for further education I would hugely welcome the contribution of principals, or indeed other people who teach in our FE sector. It is a large sector. There are now 4 million students in further education and it is a sector which is sometimes forgotten. However, I believe that the workload of people who are taking forward the Government's lifelong learning policies, developing better opportunities for 16 to 19 year-olds, and raising the standards of further education colleges would again make it difficult for a serving principal, deputy principal or member of staff of an FE college to be fully active Members of your Lordships' House.

My Lords, we have only three Questions today. I would be interested to hear the Minister's reply to my question. The noble Earl's Question asks,

"why no recommendations have been made".
Does the noble Baroness know how many recommendations have been made? Does anyone else know that, other than the present Prime Minister, previous Prime Ministers and their advisers?

My Lords, I cannot answer that question. I would be rather surprised if records have been kept over the years of all recommendations that might have been made for life peerages. I think it is exceedingly unlikely but I shall certainly check up on that and let the noble Baroness know.

Family Carers: Government Strategy

2.47 p.m.

Whether they will introduce tax, benefit and housing policies which more closely reflect the social and economic contribution made to society by those who care for elderly or disabled members of their own family.

My Lords, the Government published a national strategy for carers on 8th February. It includes a range of proposals to improve support for carers including a new charter of what people can expect from long-term care services; reducing council tax for more disabled people; new legislation to allow authorities to address carers' needs directly; support for young carers, including help at school; and a new special grant to help carers take a break.

My Lords, I greatly welcome the Answer which the noble Baroness has given. Does she agree that the Government are to be greatly congratulated on instituting a major change in emphasis away from the emphasis on institutionalised care and towards partnership with those 5.7 million unsung heroes around the country who are looking after disabled and elderly members of their own families, often at great personal sacrifice? Are the Government satisfied, however, that the £890 million over three years which has been set aside for this scheme—which, spread over 5.7 million carers, amounts to £52 per carer per year—will be adequate to fulfil the excellent and ambitious programme set out in this report?

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's comments on what I believe is an important, major change in emphasis which has been warmly welcomed by carers' associations. Like him, I pay tribute to the millions of our fellow citizens who do so much to support those people who receive care from them.

On the question of resources, substantial resources are being made available which will help us to provide new money for practical policies to support carers and to make sure they can have a break from caring. It is important to recognise the role of new legislation to allow authorities to address carers' needs directly, not simply the needs of the person who is receiving care. The Prime Minister made it absolutely clear when he launched the strategy that it is just a start. We believe it is a substantial and important start on which we will all have to build.

My Lords, with regard to the position of a carer looking after a sick husband, who now finds that if he dies after 6th April next year the pensions he expected will be halved, can the noble Baroness say whether the Government have any plans to compensate or help such people if they have taken mistaken financial decisions as a result of not being informed of the true position by the Department of Social Security?

My Lords, this is a serious issue. It is one on which I do not have full information. If the noble Lord will allow me, I will write to him on this specific point.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there are precedents from long ago of paying for carers? Carers existed long before there were hospitals or social workers. In the 17th century, substantial grants were made frequently from the poor law to those who cared for their own parents, and to those who cared for their own children in a good number of instances. Does my noble friend agree that where mothers wish to look after their own children, that is preferable to paying childminders or nannies? Do the Government have practical plans to encourage those mothers?

My Lords, the contribution of those who care for others—whether they are children they are bringing up, disabled children, the elderly, people who are sick, or the long-term sick—is tremendously important. As regards parents, the whole basis of the Government's policy is to make sure that there are real choices for people who have caring responsibilities. We need to support those people who choose to combine their caring and parental responsibilities with working through the sort of employment policies that allow them to do so in a way that does not act to the detriment of their families.

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that, by forcing people—particularly those on invalid care allowance—to attend a compulsory interview to discuss full-time work, the Government are giving out the wrong signal that carers who in effect give their lives towards looking after somebody else are not doing a full-time job?

My Lords, I do not think it is the wrong signal. Interviewing those who are not working enables them to understand what support would be available if they chose to work and what the options are. That is tremendously important. We are not talking about compulsion, about people having to go out to work, but about making sure that people are aware of the choices available. For some people the choice of being able to obtain financial security and the self-respect that, on occasions, can come from going out to work is a very important choice.

My Lords, as this welcome policy initiative for the support of carers unfolds, can the Minister give an assurance that special attention will be paid to the needs of those families who care for severely disabled children, often for very many years, and to the needs of young carers who support their parents, often before they go to school and on their return? Will their needs receive particular attention?

My Lords, the needs of young carers were particularly highlighted in the strategy. They have perhaps not been acknowledged sufficiently in the past. That is why we are very anxious that a member of staff should have a responsibility for addressing the needs of children who combine being children with being carers. The noble Lord also mentioned children who are long-term sick, and particularly those who have life-threatening diseases. I hope that the new children's nursing teams that are being established in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, and which are currently being piloted, will provide tremendous support for those families.

My Lords, can the Minister estimate the annual savings to the nation made by those who care for members of their family?

My Lords, as I understand it, there has never been a government estimate of the exact economic contribution made by carers. The figure of £34 billion has been estimated by some groups outside government. Obviously it is a very difficult figure to quantify—no one can be certain about it—but none of us should underestimate the enormous role that carers play. Nor should we underestimate the responsibilities—financial and otherwise—which would fall on the community if they were not caring for their relatives.

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness about carers knowing their options. Does she accept that care in the home will almost always be cheaper and more cost effective than care in an institution? Will the Government therefore look very carefully at pension credits in respect of full-time carers?

My Lords, the pension needs of full-time carers has to be addressed; that is why we are looking in terms of the second pension. We need to make sure that people who have not made contributions because they have taken time off work to care for someone will be allowed credits for that. As to the cost of caring in an institution or in someone's own home, one cannot always say that it goes one way or the other; it depends very much on the quality of care provided in the institution and the quality of care provided at home. I accept that many people would prefer to have care in their own home. Allowing someone to stay at home while their carer has a break, rather than having to go into an institution for respite care, is exactly the sort of flexibility that we are trying to bring in and allow under the terms of the strategy.

Food Aid: Eu Surpluses

2.56 p.m.

What steps they propose to take to ensure that the estimated 800 million people currently undernourished in the world will be given food aid from the surpluses in Europe.

My Lords, undernourished people need the chance to develop sustainable livelihoods and not to rely on hand-outs. Government policy is directed to this end. In short-term crises, food aid can play a role, but only provided it meets local needs and dietary preferences. Food from the same country or region is therefore normally preferred over European agricultural surpluses.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. Does she agree that it is very difficult for Members of your Lordships' House, when they quite often visit the third world, to justify our agricultural policy in Britain and in the western world, where we pay producers for not producing food which is badly needed in other parts of the world? Will the noble Baroness consider putting new proposals to our European partners to see what can be done to help to overcome this humanitarian problem that exists in the third world?

My Lords, I can understand the noble Lord's concern. As a member of the European Community, one of our key tasks is to work towards the reform of the common agricultural policy. It is also important to remind your Lordships that the Government's position is very clear on development issues. Food aid can play a role only in the short term. It is an inefficient form of resource transfer compared with technical and financial assistance. In the longer term, poverty is best addressed by improving the livelihood opportunities that are open to poor people. That is the core of our strategy and that is why our international development budget is focused on poverty eradication. We are committed to the world food summit goal of reducing the number of undernourished people in the world by half by 2015.

My Lords, is the very worthy statement that the noble Baroness has made about know-how and encouraging people to grow their own food—at least that is what I inferred from what she said—agreed by the other members of the European Community? What sort of influence do we have among the other member states to encourage them to adopt such a policy and be wholeheartedly behind it?

My Lords, we have been taking a leading role in this area since the publication of our White Paper on international development. After all, 30 per cent. of our international development budget goes towards EC aid. Our objective is to try to maximise the contribution of the EC's development programmes to the international poverty target to which we are committed, which is the halving of extreme world poverty by 2015. We are currently in negotiations with our European Union partners because those budgets are now being set. We want that target to be part of the EC's development aid strategy. We have also published our institutional strategy paper which sets out the terms on which we expect to work with our European partners and with the European Commission over the next number of years. I shall be glad to send the noble Baroness a copy of that paper.

My Lords, bearing in mind what my noble friend has said about the long-term aim of eradicating poverty, can she say what proportion of the international development budget is spent on food aid and how that has changed in recent months in the light of the Government's policy?

My Lords, in the period 1985 to 1995—no more recent figures are available—food aid as a percentage of overseas development assistance has dropped from 11 per cent. to 4 per cent. For the United Kingdom, it has fallen from 9 per cent. to 2 per cent. Globally, the figures have dropped partly as a result of a decline in overproduction but, in terms of the UK, part of the decline has been the result of our clear strategy to use food aid only in emergencies and to look at other areas like sustainable development, debt relief, building partnerships with local communities in the countries which we are targeting and our commitment to poverty eradication.

My Lords, although I do not disagree with the long-term objectives of the policy of this country and of the European Community, is not the reality of the situation that we have burgeoning surpluses in the West while there are areas of the world where people are starving because they cannot even till their own ground? Of course it is better in the long-term for food to be grown locally, but in the meantime is there not a way of utilising the surpluses of the West to benefit those areas of the world that need it? This is not a question of emergencies. An emergency might be a matter of a few months. These areas need sustained support for years before they can reach the stage when they can produce their own food, especially as in many of these areas agriculture is a very difficult proposition. Is not the real problem in the end the question of distribution?

My Lords, I hope to reassure the noble Lord that some of our aid budget is targeted towards food aid. But we are concerned that that is not the only mechanism that we use. In non-emergency situations we would not want to go down the route of using only food aid as a mechanism for development. In 1998–99 the UK has already provided £38 million for emergency food assistance to, among others, those affected by the war in the Sudan and to the victims of the devastating floods in Bangladesh and China. Multilateral organisations are also involved. As I have already said, we are keen to look at long-term sustainahility.

It may assist your Lordships if I give an example of the kinds of projects we would fund on the back of emergency aid. In Kenya we are supporting an Oxfam managed programme which is looking at strengthening the livelihood systems and community coping mechanisms in an attempt to ensure that poor people in future will be less vulnerable to the impact of drought. So we are looking at immediate needs and long-term needs as well.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the European Union aid programmes, such as the TACIS and PHARE schemes, represent some of the most maladministered programmes of the European Commission and that these are notorious for fraud and corruption? What specific action are the Government taking to ensure that this is urgently remedied by the European Commission?

My Lords, towards the end of last year I answered a Question on fraud in European Union aid programmes and I set out very clearly the action we were taking in terms of working with the Commission and supporting some of the proposals which were being made by the European Parliament. In addition, as I have already said, we have developed an institutional strategy paper which sets out the terms on which we intend to work with the European Commission. We have analysed extensively in that paper the strengths and weaknesses that currently exist within the European Commission's aid programmes. Again, I would be happy to send the noble Lord a copy of that paper.

My Lords, I welcome what the Minister said about the question of food aid and also the Government's continuing commitment to reduce world poverty, but will she specifically underline a point to which she made reference; namely, the Government's continuing commitment to reduce world debt, which, though not wholly related to this specific issue, is certainly partly related to it?

My Lords, I have had to address the issue of world debt before and I know it is one that concerns many of your Lordships. It is an extremely complex situation. We are committed to working with the international financial institutions to find the best possible way to ensure that we can help to relieve the burden of debt but in a context where, bearing in mind corruption and other problems, these countries actually benefit from debt reduction. It is a complex situation.


3.7 p.m.

My Lords, after the first debate today, my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is being made in another place on the publication of the report of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. That will be followed by my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, who will, with the leave of the House, repeat two Statements; one on Kosovo and one on the Foreign Affairs Committee report on Sierra Leone.

Obscenity Bill Hl

My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to amend the law relating to obscenity. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.—( The Earl of Halsbury.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

Genetically Modified Crops Bill H L

My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to regulate the use of certain genetically modified organisms for agricultural purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.—( Baroness Miller of Hendon.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

Business Of The House: Debates This Day

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Leader of the House, I beg to move the Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debates on the Motions in the names of the Lord Mayhew of Twysden and the Lord Trefgarne set down for today shall each be limited to three hours.—( Lord Carter.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Deputy Chairmen Of Committees

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Lord Methuen be added to the panel of Lords appointed to act as Deputy Chairmen of Committees for this Session, and that the Lord Henley be appointed to the panel in the place of the Lord Strathclyde.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Youth Justice And Criminal Evidence Bill H L

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:
  • Clauses 1 to 13,
  • Schedule 1,
  • Clauses 14 to 47,
  • Schedule 2,
  • Clauses 48 to 62,
  • Schedules 3 to 5,
  • Clause 63.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Belfast Agreement

3.10 p.m.

rose to call attention to the value of the Belfast Agreement 1998 (the Good Friday agreement), and to the dangers inherent in failing to secure from all its participants the prompt and complete implementation of all its provisions; and to move for Papers.

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, we all await with fascination and anxiety the unfolding of events in Northern Ireland. There is an argument that when matters are so uncertain, when the stakes are so high and many of the factors so sensitive, Parliament should bide its time and hold its tongue. I acknowledge that argument, but I do not share it. I am delighted to see that at least 16 Members of this House wish to speak in this debate. I am especially delighted that they include my noble friend Lady Park, who is newly restored to us following a serious operation.

We should, of course, be understanding of the restraints that circumstances impose upon Northern Ireland Ministers. We should acknowledge the complexity of the interacting forces and issues with which they have to deal. But I do not think that we are obliged, in order to be responsible, to hold back at this time from comment and serious questioning. After all, for all the progress—and it is great and highly creditable—the scene is deeply fraught with danger and anxiety. Indeed, it may well be a good thing for others outside this Chamber and outside these islands to have an opportunity to gauge the strength of feeling and opinion that exists. It may even be an advantage for Ministers to have an opportunity to explain, to use a Northern Ireland form, where we are at.

The Belfast agreement was concluded 10 months ago and it dominates the scene today. I have more than once heard the noble Earl, Lord Longford, describe the agreement as the best thing that has happened to the island of Ireland for a very long time indeed. I cannot rival his experience, but with plenty of Irish blood myself as well as English blood, I respectfully agree. It was a great achievement on the part of all the participants. I pay particular tribute to the determined impetus given by the Prime Minister, and by Dr. Mowlam. I also pay tribute to the political courage that has been shown, notably by Mr. Trimble and Mr. Seamus Mallon. Neither has been content to stand in the trenches that are so familiar to their parties.

There are many facets to the value of the agreement, but at the head and forefront I place the fact that, today, all parties agree, and all participants agree, that the future of Northern Ireland will be determined only by the wishes of most of the people who live there—wishes that they are to be able to express freely and with no one leaning on them. That is a great advance from the days when the Irish Government insisted on the claim to the whole island. While that claim pertained, very many unionists only looked across the Border with distrust and indignation. That was in part an explanation, and a wholly understandable one, for a continuing siege mentality, a mentality that was greatly stimulated by the way in which the Anglo-Irish Agreement was negotiated in total secrecy.

There is another plus, and it is again democratic in character. Republicans have traditionally and contemptuously dismissed Northern Ireland as an illegitimate, invalid, failed statelet. But by negotiating the agreement and by participating in the resulting elections, they now accept the validity of a legislative assembly for Northern Ireland. That is so notwithstanding the fact that the Assembly has, and looks like continuing to have, a majority of parties supporting the Union, and that that Assembly will be the basis for an executive committee that will govern Northern Ireland democratically. To have the validity of all that accepted by nationalists, not to mention republicans, is an advance indeed. The agreement will also allow common cause to be made more effectively between North and South on economic, social and other matters that extend across the border; and that is valuable too.

Achieving these changes has made very heavy demands upon the credulity and nerve of all in these islands who cherish the rule of law or who have bitter memories of lawlessness, or who are sceptical of tigers purporting to change their spots. They have had to take on trust Sinn Fein's assertion, as well as the assertions of those loyalist parties affiliated to equally evil paramilitary organisations, that they are now in truth committed to non-violence, and to wholly peaceful and democratic means of pursuing their political objectives. Those words come from the agreement itself and they describe the fundamental principle underpinning it. That commitment is demanded of all participants.

It was very difficult for people to generate that trust, and it has been harder still to sustain it, in the light of several deeply worrying factors. The first was the failure, by the time of the agreement, to make even a start with the decommissioning of illegally held arms. The independent commission under General de Chastelain was already empowered; but with one welcome but small exception, the LVF, that failure has been maintained.

The next factor was the repeated infliction by paramilitaries on both sides, politically represented in the talks, and in the Assembly, of so-called punishment beatings, better described as hideous mutilations. A revolting example is reported as occurring in Beesbrook, South Armagh, only last night when death threats were carved on the arms and legs of a woman by eight men who had burst into her home. I wonder whether the Minister is yet able to tell the House what group is thought to have been responsible.

The motives for these attacks have generally been no less political than the motives of those who were responsible for the bomb at Canary Wharf or, on the other side, for the massacre that took place in the bar at Grey Steel. Euphemised as "civil administration", their purpose has been to elevate their perpetrators in their own communities above the scrupulously disciplined RUC. There have also been the banishment, or exile, orders issues by both loyalists and republicans. They represent a very serious intrusion and assault as well. It was reported in The Times a couple of days ago that 64 people, including 15 families, were exiled by loyalist and republican paramilitaries in January alone. As many as 18 more have had to leave this month. They are usually given 24 or 72 hours to get out. I wonder whether the Minister can confirm those figures.

It is small wonder then, in the light of those factors, that the agreement's provisions for the early release of prisoners convicted of terrorist crimes were the most difficult of all for people to accept and support; as I did myself, and continue to support. The agreement provides that all those convicted of scheduled offences committed before the date of the agreement and serving sentences of five years or more shall be eligible for early release, provided that the organisation to which they are affiliated has established and is maintaining a complete and unequivocal cease-fire. As your Lordships know, many of those prisoners who in the view of the Government are now eligible under this enacted scheme have been sentenced either to life imprisonment or to very long determinate periods in prison for offences of the utmost gravity. Yet the declared intention and expectation is that all shall be released by next summer.

That was far different in character from a change made by the previous government in the Northern Ireland (Remission of Sentences) Bill 1995. That measure merely restored to Northern Ireland the same level of remission, namely 50 per cent., that is the norm in England and Wales. It had no application at all to murderers or other lifers, many of whom—were it not for the present agreement—would not have been released until about 2010.

However, if the 1995 scheme is seen, as I have heard argued today, nevertheless to have been a concession, it was certainly a concession that bought nothing, because within a few weeks the IRA let off the bomb at Canary Wharf and brought their cease-fire to an end. If there is a lesson there, then so be it.

What is beyond doubt is that the Belfast agreement makes a vastly wider concession, in totally different circumstances. That is doubtless why the Prime Minister, when campaigning in the referendum for a "yes" vote, along with all other party leaders, sought to coat the pill so thickly with reassurances and safeguards.

I acknowledge the reality that without such provision for early release of prisoners it is unlikely that there would have been any agreement at all. But such is the gravity, to say nothing of the potential danger of overriding the sentences of the courts to this extent, that a most rigorous scrutiny surely has to be maintained on what is delivered in return.

The Prime Minister said, during the referendum campaign, that as time went on the test for a complete and unequivocal ceasefire would get more rigorous. It would be helpful if the Minister could say whether that has happened, and if so, how. He said, however, that from the outset in making an overall judgment on all the relevant information the Government would look to see whether an organisation was committed to the use now and in the future of only democratic and peaceful means to further its objectives.

He also said that account would be taken of whether an organisation had ceased to be involved in any acts of violence, or preparation for violence, and whether it was co-operating with the commission. Violence would have to be seen to have been given up for good. Those safeguards were vital. "We will make them stick", the Prime Minister said. They would he enshrined in legislation.

For my part I do not doubt for one Minute that the Prime Minister meant all that completely sincerely, for it was the very least that could justify the drastic measure that had been agreed. We are told that the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 now achieves those limitations. We are told that, on that basis, the Government's judgment remains that on all sides a complete and unequivocal ceasefire is indeed being maintained. I hope that the Minister will be able to help as to how that conclusion is reached in the context of what I have described. It is a conclusion that causes me and many others much anxiety.

For my part, I tried to express it in this House in the context of prisoners as long ago as 30th July last year. When I did so, it was not an attack on Ministers but an expression of opinion, just as in our time those noble Lords' belief that the renewal of the anti-terrorist legislation, or some of it, was wrong and unnecessary was no more than an expression of opinion.

The Government do not cease to assert that the agreement must be delivered in its entirety. My Lords, just so. But we understand that no fewer than 54 mutilation attacks have been made this year alone as against 236 last year. The Minister might be able to confirm those figures; and from the chief constable we learn that the political parties represented in the assembly are responsible for them.

I have already referred to the exclusion orders. Does it make a difference that the attacks are on victims within what are called "their own people"? It is hard to see how in those circumstances the maintenance of a complete and unequivocal ceasefire can be discerned. For my part, I should welcome the Minister's assistance on that matter too.

Then there is the very important matter of the decommissioning of arms. With the welcome exception of the LVF, there has been none whatsoever. Yet, if you hold stocks of semtex, for example, how can you claim that you are not involved in acts of preparation for violence, for that can have no possible defensive purpose. I realise that the agreement sets no date by which the decommissioning must begin; nevertheless, is it not inherent in the spirit of the agreement that decommissioning should have proceeded in parallel with the enormous changes that have been initiated in pursuance of the agreement? I think of the inquiry into the future policing of Northern Ireland, the equality commission, the British-Irish Council, and so forth.

What worries people is that it seems so hard to establish with clarity what significance the Government attach to the mutilation assaults and the banishments carried out at the direction of the organisations whose prisoners continue steadily to be released. I suggest that the Government have had from the outset a lever to hand that could well bring about the discontinuance of the outrages that typically have left men and women with shattered legs or emasculated or dead.

That lever is constituted by the power and the entitlement that the Government have under the agreement to discontinue the early release of prisoners until such time as an indication is given that these attacks are finished for good. I submit that to use that lever would have been to apply the agreement, not to walk away from it. I greatly fear that if the Government persist in denying the validity of the lever, then public confidence will slip away just as the lever itself will slip away, with the continued early release of the prisoners.

In conclusion, it is only fair to note from the Belfast Telegraph in recent days that there are welcome signs that the UDA has declared an end to beatings, in north and east Belfast at least, and that the IRA—although they have made no declaration—appear this month to be desisting. If that is true, it is very welcome as far as it goes.

But those who direct the paramilitaries have shown in the past that they can turn them on and off at will. It would help if the Minister would give an indication as to how the Government assess this latest, and, I repeat, welcome development. After all, we are approaching the deadline for the establishment of the executive council.

If such violence were resumed, would it still have no consequences for the early release of such prisoners? I referred at the beginning not only to the great value of the agreement but also to the anxieties that trouble so many people. I hope that the Minister, whom we all admire, will be able in his reply to allay those anxieties, at least in part. I beg to move.

My Lords, before we begin the list of speakers, I draw noble Lords' attention to the fact that when the clock says "07", the speaker is into his eighth minute. There are now only five minutes to spare in the whole debate.

3.26 p.m.

My Lords, the opportunity given to the House by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, to discuss the Belfast agreement is most welcome and timely. In asking noble Lords to give attention to the value of the agreement, the Motion allows us all to reflect on the truly magnificent job that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has done since her appointment following the general election in 1997.

Together with her colleagues, Dr. Mowlam has shown courage and not a little patience, as she has sought to bring about the hope that is the real value of the Good Friday agreement.

The value of the agreement is clearly recognised by the people of Northern Ireland and, I suggest, the whole island of Ireland. It is recognised by many more who live many miles away from those troubled shores. Those who have witnessed the violence that has caused great suffering to so many understand and recognise the value of the Good Friday agreement. It is so valuable that it has to be nurtured, encouraged and supported by all who want to see the hope it represents turned into reality.

Such a transition will not happen overnight; it will have to be worked for. That is what the Secretary of State and her colleagues are doing, day and night: toiling to make the agreement work.

The Motion in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, also calls attention to,
"the dangers inherent in failing to secure from all its participants the prompt and complete implementation of all its provisions".
In making such a call we must also recognise the dangers inherent in seeking to make progress at a faster speed with the attendant risk of not getting the process of implementation right. We would do well to reflect on the substantial progress made since the agreement, to my mind a truly historic agreement, that was arrived at last April.

I have no doubt that the Minister, my noble friend Lord Dubs, will later in this debate outline in some detail the real progress that has been made since the signing of the agreement.

Following the strictures from my noble friend Lady Farrington, I shall try not to go into great detail. I shall draw attention to a number of important issues, two of which were touched on by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew: first, the establishment of the new Northern Ireland Assembly. A few years ago such a thought would have been unspoken; we would not even have considered the possibility of getting a new Northern Ireland Assembly. We have had the election of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. Agreement has been reached on the future structure of the Northern Ireland departments and arrangements, together with the functions of the first North-South implementation bodies.

Reviews of policing and criminal justice are under way. Those of us who have made visits to Northern Ireland and have friends in various sections of its community welcome with open arms a review of policing and criminal justice and the progress that has been made in setting up the human rights and equality commissions. That is real progress which a few years ago would have been unthinkable. All of this progress, and more, is made possible by the Belfast agreement of last April. If implementation takes more time than any of us would like we would do well to remember the almost three decades that preceded the agreement. No one can pretend that implementation will or can be an easy process. Hearts and minds must come to terms with the new situation that the agreement heralds. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, I recognise how difficult that is for people who have suffered family tragedies and witnessed the mutilations to which reference has been made. While that is very difficult, families who have suffered so much have hope. Understandably, that is not easy for them but that hope is there.

Throughout the past 30 years there has been a bi-partisan approach in this Parliament to the difficulties and suffering of the people of Northern Ireland. It would be a tragic mistake if that joint approach was put at risk at this vital moment of history. I earnestly hope that the prize of long-term stability and peace will be sufficient for all of us to give wholehearted support to those who at this very moment seek to overcome the very real problems that remain to be resolved.

The value of the Belfast agreement is recognised by the people of Northern Ireland who have so much to gain from the hope that it holds out for them. The price of failure is too dreadful to contemplate. It is the duty and responsibility of all of us to see that it does not fail. If that means that we must follow the example of the patience shown by the Secretary of State and many others who are working to make progress, surely that is a small price for any of us to pay.

3.32 p.m.

My Lords, I too thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, for initiating this debate. As a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland he can take credit for helping to pave the way for the Good Friday agreement. As some of us will remember, in 1996 in particular he showed immense courage in pursuing what at the time was a highly controversial policy. It can be truly said that he is one of the several architects of the Good Friday agreement who deserves the commendations of this House. Northern Ireland has never been short of men and women of outstanding courage. Clearly, the names of Mr. Hume, Mr. Mallon and Mr. Trimble spring to mind, but there are many other unknown and unrecorded heroes and heroines who have done their best to try to bring about reconciliation in that country. My noble friend Lord Redesdale and I are aware that we cannot be good substitutes for our noble friend and former spokesman on Northern Ireland, Lord Holme, but we shall do our best.

I remember long ago, as Minister of State responsible for Northern Ireland, visiting the Province and becoming dimly aware of how deeply divided were the two communities in tradition, culture and history. When one looks at the Good Friday agreement one should never forget what a huge gulf of history has been bridged by it. Therefore, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, that this is a pearl without price.

Having said that, I should like to say a few words about one aspect that is not normally touched upon in Northern Ireland debates. I address my remarks particularly to those in the nationalist community who still have the vision of a united Ireland. One of the most striking features of the Republic of Ireland is the way in which it has managed to put the past behind it and to build a future that is much more promising than the past. The remarkable economic achievement of the republic clearly displays the way in which that country looks to the future and has in the past 25 years moved from a gross national product per capita that is 60 per cent. of that of the United Kingdom to one that is equivalent to 90 per cent. I believe that that was one of the bonuses of the Republic of Ireland moving on from its very troubled history and addressing and making the most of the prospects that lay before it.

I turn to the Good Friday agreement and the issue of decommissioning, which was dealt with by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew. The most difficult dilemma faced by the Government is that described by Gerry Adams (rather unexpectedly) as the division between those who are pro-agreement and those who are anti-agreement. The very issues that have placed the Good Friday agreement under strain are ones which are pursued by those who look for nothing so much as the failure of the agreement. Those responsible for the terrible mutilations—and the whole House will share the outrage expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, at the most recent of those mutilations in Beesbrooke—will also be conscious that there are many evil men and women whose greatest desire is to destroy the Good Friday agreement because it does not serve their purpose. The difficult road down which the Government have to travel is, at one and the same time, to encourage those who have signed the agreement to carry it out not only to the letter but also in the spirit while yielding nothing to those on both sides of the communities in Northern Ireland who wish to destroy it.

Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, noble Lords may take some comfort from the decline in the number of, yes, mutilations rather than punishment beatings that has occurred recently. They will also ask themselves whether this is a continuing and steady decline or merely a short incidental alteration in what has been a very frightening escalation in recent months. I urge noble Lords to consider very carefully those who are responsible for these terrible acts and do not wish to see the rule of law re-established in the Province. I also echo the comment of the noble and learned Lord in regard to exile. When one considers other parts of the world, exile is called by another name; it is known as ethnic cleansing, which all of us bitterly condemn.

Northern Ireland has an amazing tradition in both communities and has the potential to become an example not only to itself but, in a world troubled by profound religious and ethnic conflicts, to other parts of the world that have also embarked upon peace processes. That is why the Good Friday agreement is so crucially important not only for Northern Ireland but far beyond. I commend the Secretary of State and the Minister for the ways in which they have continually pressed forward with the Good Friday agreement.

I very much hope that some of the recent intimations suggest that more and more people begin to understand how vital it is to ensure that this agreement survives and is then built upon. I hope that in the good spirit in this House for the establishment of a stable and lasting peace in Northern Ireland we shall be able today to give strength and hope to those who have so courageously fought for that agreement and are now trying to build upon it.

3.38 p.m.

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew very warmly for his generous words. I am glad to be back.

The Belfast agreement has set in train many seminal social and political changes. What the two governments and the Assembly can do they are doing. The major change without which nothing will really work is the removal of paramilitary weapons from Northern Irish politics. That, alas, is the one thing which is not set in stone in the agreement as a pre-condition. It was an assumption which was expected to have the same force but which does not. The parties are merely committed to using their influence but, as Martin McGuiness pointed out only a month ago,
"Sinn Fein made it abundantly clear to both Prime Ministers during the Stormont talks that [it] could not deliver IRA disarmament".
He said on the same day that there was "no prospect whatsoever" of the IRA surrendering arms to secure Sinn Fein/IRA's entry to government and, therefore, absolutely no point in the two governments pressuring them because "it would not work". Gerry Adams reinforced that when he said that the IRA was never a party to the agreement—I thought that was why Sinn Fein was in the talks—that Sinn Fein had no power over the IRA and that for it decommissioning meant only the abolition of the RUC and the withdrawal of all British forces. In those circumstances it is difficult to see what President Clinton can do to change the situation, as it is reported he hopes to do next month on St. Patrick's Day.

It is not of course impossible that the IRA might, as a gesture, then order one of its surrogates such as the Continuity IRA to give up some token weapons. I hope that we shall remember then the dangers of believing such a token gesture. I hope, too, that the opportunity will not he lost at any White House meeting to ask what, if anything, the American Government are doing about the continued fund-raising for the Continuity IRA. When I asked the Minister about NORAID funding in November, he had no information. Perhaps it might be sought on this occasion.

However, Martin McGuinness said something ominous which should give us cause to consider whether another most important part of the Belfast agreement—security, policing and justice—is being neglected. He said that the key was the removal of the causes of conflict and gave warning of "big trouble" if the Patten Commission fails to recommend the disbandment of the RUC. He said:
"Any fair-minded reading of the Accord shows Patten has to produce a policing service acceptable to both communities, and that effectively means producing a new police service".
The agreement indeed talks about,
"enabling local people and their political representatives to influence policing policies".
It also laid down that such a force much be "free from partisan political control". But so far as the nationalists are concerned, that is evidently aimed at the RUC as at present constituted. The agreement wants a police force,
"accountable to the community it serves and representative of the society it polices".
I find it disturbing that when Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness refused recently to attend a meeting with the Secretary of State to discuss beatings by paramilitaries, Sinn Fein/IRA argued that paramilitary attacks were the result of a "policing vacuum" which will exist until the RUC is disbanded and replaced by a new and "acceptable" police service.

Now that Sinn Fein/IRA has secured the release of a significant number of prisoners, and apparently the Government as a matter of principle will not use the release of prisoners as a lever, I fear that its next and most dangerous objective will be the abolition of the RUC and the creation of a series of regional/sectarian people's police forces manned by former paramilitaries. Gerry Adams has already said that,
"changes in the RUC are not enough. The RUC is not acceptable. Reform is not an option. An entirely new and real policing service is required".
And of course Sinn Fein/IRA has ensured that the Patten Commission has met plenty of focus groups who say that not one existing RUC officer would be accepted into the new force. I hope and believe from the many tributes paid to the RUC by Ministers that, should the commission recommend the Sinn Fein/IRA formula, it would be rejected—although there are many possible changes which the RUC itself would probably welcome. One such increase is in the number of Catholics; but it was never the RUC's fault that there were so few. That sprang from the fact that it took a brave man to join and expose himself and his family to a lifelong threat of murder. However, I fear that in the talks in the White House Sinn Fein/IRA might develop the theory of the vacuum in policing to bargain for some major changes in the RUC which could destroy its capacity to provide reliable intelligence and could put whole communities at the mercy of the paramilitaries of either side. I believe the destruction of the RUC to be the prime target of Sinn Fein/IRA at present—apart of course from any warning shots that it may be intending to fire over our bows on the mainland.

Concessions on that front today might easily seem a small price for the Government to pay for a promise to take the guns out of politics at some time. But it would be letting the Trojan horse within the gates and would be a monstrous betrayal of ordinary people, the victims of paramilitaries. I realise that Ministers undoubtedly understand this. My concern is that the Americans may not.

It is a critical moment. Men and women, victims of both the IRA and the loyalists, are coming together across the sectarian divide in such organisations as FAIT. It is heartening to see that Members of another place have recently recognised the monstrous arrogance that allows the paramilitaries to send whole families into exile. So far as I know, the IRA has still done nothing about telling the families of those it murdered where the bodies lie; and it has certainly not apologised for murdering and beating the wrong people, as it has done. If given real encouragement, I believe that the ordinary man in the street is ready to give evidence to the police. But it must be admitted that it takes great courage and it is difficult for them to overcome the code of "no informing". It was shocking to see that witnesses to the murder, which we must now call manslaughter, of Garda Jerry McCabe refused to testify for fear of what would happen to them. That was in the republic where the Garda are their own, but the IRA still rules.

Let us make sure that we do not allow Sinn Fein/IRA to destroy civil liberties and public peace, not only through sending families into exile and carrying out murderous attacks on individuals, but by damaging, if not destroying, the framework of law and order within which men and women are entitled to live. I believe that the courage being shown by ordinary men and women and their readiness to cross sectarian lines demonstrates that they believe that they are living, or could live, in a different, less violent world. So much in the agreement is good, but people need positive, public support for every act of courage and readiness to use the law as it should be used, to bring evil men to justice. We should also be seen to be upholding the forces of law. I hope that Amnesty International will publicise to the world the hateful deeds of a small minority and destroy their image of brave freedom fighters once and for all.

3.45 p.m.

My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, for providing us with the opportunity to take stock of progress in the implementation of the Good Friday agreement.

The noble and learned Lord correctly compared the rate of progress on sections of the agreement. The most glaring difference is that which separates the two aspects which, more than any others, have disillusioned a vast number of people—possibly the majority of the 71 per cent. who voted for the Good Friday agreement. First, I refer to the amnesty for convicted murderers. I use the term in its correct sense because that it how it is perceived by people throughout this nation; it is the way in which it is perceived throughout Northern Ireland. It is an amnesty for convicted criminals, convicted murderers. Secondly, there is the utter failure in the first year of the agreement to secure disarmament of terrorist parties. I use the words "terrorist parties". Hitherto there were terrorist bands, terrorist movements, but they are now terrorist parties because they are taking their place in the Northern Ireland Assembly and, if they get their way by certain means which I may mention later, they will be in the Executive Council of Northern Ireland without surrendering one round of ammunition.

I have to say with regret that the greater part of the blame for failure attaches to Her Majesty's Government. It was in the power of the Government to establish a firm linkage between the release of murderers and a requirement to dismantle the apparatus of guerrilla warfare in the control of terrorist parties now masquerading as democratic bodies.

I have to say, frankly, that there is no confidence in the capacity or will of Her Majesty's Government to resist a ploy in the form of a token surrender of perhaps a dozen rusty rifles for the purpose of securing immediate access to membership of the Executive. We may hear more on that when it comes to the St. Patrick's Day celebrations in Washington and New York. Indeed, many who voted yes in the referendum suspect that the sordid deal has already been done and is simply being kept under wraps until next month.

The event will trigger a government initiative codenamed Normalisation; and that is another important matter. Indeed, some of it has already been implemented. I give a few examples: the discouragement, ever so subtle, of effective policing; pressure to dismantle fortified posts in police stations; phasing out security precautions throughout the commercial and industrial sectors; and what appears to be toleration of a campaign of exile. And those are just the beginning.

The bogus justification for the mistaken idea of normalisation is that peace has broken out. We are all thankful that the warfare in its earlier form is for the moment no more, but how can that be the main justification for the mistaken, phoney campaign of normalisation? How can that be when the main terrorist parties flatly refuse to dismantle their capacity to wage guerrilla warfare and when they consider that it might be useful to supply the terrorist muscle to augment their political demands at any given time?

Or how can peace be taken for granted when reconstructed terrorist machines, misnamed "splinter groups", now have the capacity and the equipment to launch a murderous campaign in both islands? And how can peace be assured when we have the most deadly threats in the shape of unidentified terror forces, whose existence I reported to your Lordships on 3rd September 1998? Did the Provisional IRA transfer at that time vast stocks of arms and explosives to those unidentified forces on the understanding that eventually they might be returned to their donors; namely, the Libyan Government? What we have seen of normalisation this far amounts simply to a lowering of our guard when it is clear that, unfortunately, terrorism can and probably will erupt at any time.

On 8th February 1999 in the debate on the Departments (Northern Ireland) Order (col. 87 of the Official Report) I questioned the wisdom of the increasing number of departments, from six to 11. I venture to applaud the Treasury—I gave it the benefit of the doubt—for its generosity in financing that. The estimated cost of running the Assembly was then some £14 million a year. Therefore, I trust that the Treasury will not be greatly alarmed by the report of a committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly which recommends that the figure be increased—and I gather that that has been authorised—from £14 million to £36 million a year, with, no doubt, costs escalating year by year. In others words, the Northern Ireland Assembly is overtaking your Lordships' House, which last year cost only £39 million to run.

Am I right in believing that the Assembly costs—two-and-a-half-times what was estimated only four months ago—will be met from the Northern Ireland (Appropriation) Order and therefore deducted from monies allocated to education, health, social services, agriculture and transport? Does this unexpected demand disturb the Minister and his ministerial colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office who will be blamed for the shortcomings? Would it not be prudent to transfer Assembly costs from the appropriation order to the Northern Ireland Vote, perhaps as an alternative to granting the Assembly tax-raising powers?

3.53 p.m.

My Lords, unlike the previous speaker, to whom we listened with accustomed attention, I have no particular connection with Northern Ireland. However, I wish to call your Lordships' attention to the fact that, although to us it is the most immediate and terrifying problem faced by the Government, it is only an incident in Europe's long history of ethnic and religious conflicts taking violent forms from time to time. I believe that lessons can be learnt from observing those conflicts.

One of the lessons I would learn is that the protagonists, if they feel strongly, are unlikely to get rid of the means of enforcing their will. Therefore, I have always doubted, and still doubt, whether there was a serious intention on the part of the IRA or its political wing to make it impossible for it, by the surrender of weapons, to recommence the struggle. As my noble friend Lady Park pointed out, it is therefore enormously important that the powers of the state, the powers of the police, should under no circumstances be diminished until there is evidence that the intention to renew an arms struggle has disappeared.

We are told—and it was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Park and others—that the negotiations balancing membership of the executive in Northern Ireland with the decommissioning of arms are to be tackled at a quasi summit in Washington. Indeed, the relations between Britain and the United States, normally close and intimate, as one would hope, have for a long time been bedeviled by the issue of Northern Ireland. I must admit a certain discomfiture, a certain anxiety, when I am told that President Clinton will be the dues ex machina for this process. A little while ago it was reported in the press, and so far as I know it has not been denied, that the American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, addressing the Kosovo Liberation Army—which, mutatis mutandis, is not that unlike the IRA, although its case may be stronger—said that what it needed was a peaceful leader on the model of Gerry Adams. If the American Secretary of State believes that Gerry Adams is a man of peace, we shall not achieve much understanding at a meeting in Washington in which she, presumably, will play a prominent part.

Therefore, I very much hope that a great deal of attention is being paid by Her Majesty's Government and their representatives in the United States to trying to convey to American opinion—and there is evidence that it has moved over the years—the fact that this is an anxious and delicate moment; that by the demolition of the RUC we are perhaps being asked to give over a population, both Protestant and Catholic, to domination by movements which rely on armed force. As has also been said, we have not yet had a satisfactory explanation as to why it is possible in the United States to raise any funds for any element in Ireland. What would be thought if we in this country were raising funds to assist the curious movements which have now developed in the American West? The United States is our friend and perhaps the key to the solution of the problem, but unless it gets it right it can only make it worse.

3.58 p.m.

My Lords, I join noble Lords in thanking the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, for initiating this timely and challenging debate. As a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, he and his good lady are much respected in the Province. Their strong commitment and sensitive and practical approach to long and deep-seated political and social problems greatly helped the Province survive ugly terrorist sectarian violence during his years there.

I welcome the fact that there are some 21 speakers. That will surely be of some help in raising the general awareness of the problems in Northern Ireland.

In November 1996, when the noble and learned Lord was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, he introduced the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Bill. The passing of that legislation in 1997 is an example of the high degree of parliamentary bipartisanship which has largely prevailed throughout Westminster over some 50 years of terrorism, violence, sectarianism and bigotry in Northern Ireland. That bipartisan approach has had a helpful and forceful influence on events.

There is no doubt about the ongoing difficulties and critical political issues that arise out of the 1998 Good Friday agreement. No words of mine today can do justice to the tremendous mental, physical and totally democratic commitment of Dr. Mowlam and her ministerial team or to the United Kingdom Government's support for the Good Friday agreement and the devolved Assembly. In a statement last Monday Dr. Mowlam said:
"It is too early to say whether Northern Ireland is a [working] example of conflict management and resolution. We still face many difficult problems that will take months even years to overcome. But I do think that the right way forward for Northern Ireland, as elsewhere, is an approach based on inclusivity, commitment to peace and democracy, public support and solid foundations of equality, justice and human rights".
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, called attention to the value of the Belfast agreement. I would have wished to quote paragraphs 2 to 4 of the Declaration of Support made by 108 elected Assembly representatives but, because of time constraints, I note only the following:
"I hold that [that] declaration pledges all Assembly Members to uphold the principles and precepts of parliamentary democracy and complete opposition to any 'use' or 'threat' of force by others for any political purposes".
All 108 have made their personal declaration of support to what is contained in the agreement.

A question arises about "credible decommissioning." On page 20 of the agreement there are six paragraphs under the heading "Decommissioning". Paragraph 4 states:
"The Independent Commission will monitor, review and verify progress on decommissioning of illegal arms, and will report to both Governments at regular intervals".
Perhaps it is now time to ask the commission whether it will consider producing such a report to be made generally available to the community. That would be most helpful at this time. It is a commitment that I feel should be undertaken by the commission.

The question is not just one of decommissioning but of the future for all the people of Northern Ireland. It concerns not only politicians, the political parties and their rank and file members. It is the future of our children, our families, our friends, our neighbours and our Province that is important. All peaceable people are at the heart of the present political issues.

The very nature of the Belfast agreement is its complexity. We are, as a community, required to build a climate of trust. Is it not the duty of every politician to declare wholehearted commitment to parliamentary democracy and to pledge to uphold the principles of justice in all aspects of community life? There should be full implementation of social equity and a commitment to a quality of mercy in the exercise of redress and in the face of human failure. The greatest contribution politicians and all in authority in our Province can make to lasting peace in the community is to work humbly and earnestly to build a better life for all in the Province.

4.5 p.m.

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew for initiating this debate. I know he does not need me to make points for him, but I was particularly disappointed to read the rather arrogant letter from the Minister in today's Daily Telegraph in which he claimed that this Government had done more than any other to reduce terrorism in the Province. I think that that is a bit of an overstatement.

The political process is in a dangerous stalemate caused by what is euphemistically referred to as the "decommissioning process" or, rather, the lack of it. Last year over 70 per cent. of the population in Northern Ireland voted "Yes" in the referendum because it offered hope of a better way: devolved government, power-sharing and a return to the democratic process, with the bomb and the bullet out of play. They did not, however, vote for peace at any price.

Those republicans who support Sinn Fein and the IRA and who voted "No" believe that a 32-county Ireland governed by their own particular brand of republicanism could be delivered by the bomb and the bullet. Their overall objective has not changed, but their strategy has moved from bomb and bullet to ballot box supported by bomb and bullet. The challenge today is the same as it has always been: to persuade Sinn Fein/IRA that this strategy can never work. They must wait for however long it takes for the demographic evolutionary process to deliver their objective.

Adams and McGuinness say that they cannot deliver decommissioning. I do not think that they can, even if they want to, which I do not believe they do at this time. The Secretary of State has at times recently—unwisely, in my opinion—allowed herself to appear to be far too close to the "Gerry and Martin" show and too soft on Sinn Fein/IRA. We know that she has always had their guns in her back, metaphorically speaking, but that is precisely why she cannot, and should not, expect David Trimble to share executive power with Sinn Fein/IRA without disarmament—I use that word advisedly—being well and truly under way; otherwise the majority of the population—namely, the unionist voters—will soon believe that David Trimble is suffering from the same treatment and he will lose their support and confidence, which he needs for his power base. Fortunately, at this time the Secretary of State has the full support—or so we are led to believe—of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister of Ireland and the President of the United States in resisting this expectation. And she must resist it.

However, delaying devolution will create more problems. Some might have been avoided; others not. A look at the calendar of projected events shows a date for devolution of 10th March 1999. I understand that that is likely to be put back. There is no date for the removal of Clauses 2 and 3 from the Irish Constitution. Perhaps I may quote from the Irish News of 27th April:
"changes in articles 2 and 3 would only come about when all other aspects of the deal had been put in place".
Where are we in respect of that? The Belfast Telegraph of 2nd May 1998 states:
"the new version of Article 29, which ensures that changes to Articles 2 and 3 will not come into effect until the Agreement as a whole is ready to come into effect following the passage of constitutional legislation at Westminster".
What else do we have to do to satisfy the Irish Government?

The marching season opens at Easter—it may be a bit early, but that is when it starts—and Drumcree has not gone away. Not only has it not gone away, but there is strong support for the Orange Order's right to march across all Loyalist terrain.

The Patten report on the RUC is due in June or thereabouts. Again, many of the unionist population and the forces themselves are intensely suspicious of its outcome. It is a pity it was not delayed a little. The date set in the agreement by which decommissioning is to be completed is two years from the date of signing on Good Friday 1998—I presume April 2000—but, as we know, there is no start date. Prisoner releases started immediately after the signing of the agreement. We all understand why they had to start, but their triumphalism has certainly sickened us.

I am a little concerned about the process and transparency of the prisoner releases. For example, I am told that the commission has little authority. The decisions as to who is released and when are almost always made by the Northern Ireland Office. What tests are carried out to see whether those being released have any dangerous personality disorders? Are they prone to pyschopathic behaviour? Have they criminal tendencies? Are they involved with drugs and so forth? Will they be good members of the community when they come out? And perhaps most importantly of all, what proof is available to show that they comply with the agreement and no longer have any affiliation to any paramilitaries?

The aim of my speech this afternoon is to try to point to what might lie ahead this summer if the miracle of decommissioning—I pray that it does—does not happen. David Trimble and the unionist majority are under seige while the Parades Commission tries in vain to manage the marching season. The RUC will be under seige, on one side from Patten and its side effects; on another from policing marches and trying to control the ever-increasing organised and local crime; and on the third, and perhaps the most sinister side, from the strategy of Sinn Fein-IRA and its campaign to discredit and embarrass the RUC whenever it can, particularly in areas it wishes to control.

I believe that the Government are doing their best to deliver, but they must prepare for the worst and the difficult summer ahead. That means winning back the confidence of the unionist population.

My Lords, I must stop the noble Lord. There will be no time for other noble Lords to speak.

My Lords, the Government must ensure that nothing is said or done to undermine the morale and capacity of the RUC. They must persuade the Republic Government that it is time they altered their constitution in relation to Articles 2 and 3, and continue to make it absolutely clear to Sinn Fein-IRA that there is only one way—decommissioning and ultimate disarmament. Those measures will go some way to redressing the balance.

4.13 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, in his opening remarks quite properly described the advantages that will come from this agreement if it follows through. He mentioned the agreement of the South to relinquish its claim on the North. That is most important and is already apparent in that Dublin and London are working much more closely together. That is good news and it is much more likely that, by working together, they will be able to pursue this problem to a sensible conclusion.

Only last week the Taoiseach made very clear that decommissioning must commence before Sinn Fein can be accepted as Ministers. That was an interesting point. He only said, of course, what everybody else knows to be true, but for him to say it was a landmark.

In Northern Ireland we desperately need the Assembly, though perhaps not with the £36 million cost attached to it. We desperately need democratic government. How far do we have to go to find an area the size of Northern Ireland where nobody has been able to vote for their government for almost 30 years? The decline in standards of administration and decision-making are only too clear. If Sinn Fein will not decommission then arrangements must be made to proceed with the Assembly and devolved government with it.

The agreement is designed to move towards peace in stages, in a maximum period of two years with early release of convicted terrorists on licence to recognise that. There will also be staged relaxation of security. It is grossly offensive for the Ulster people that early release of terrorists has been entirely one-sided. There is ample evidence that the main paramilitary groups are still active. The chief constable confirmed that, but it has been ignored and prisoners continue to be released at a fast pace. It is known that some terrorists have gone back to what they know best, but they have not been re-imprisoned. That confirms to the IRA that it can achieve its objectives without giving anything in return; that it pays to retain the threat of arms. Removal of important security check points in advance of any decommissioning sends the message that the Government are no longer interested in defending the citizens of Northern Ireland from terrorist attack, though the threat and capability remain unchanged.

Most people in Northern Ireland, of every religious persuasion, have deeply embedded standards of behaviour; honesty and straight dealing come naturally to us. The failure of the Government to do what they promise, the fudging of issues and what are perceived as lies are having a corrosive effect on beliefs and standards. That is a subject often discussed in Northern Ireland and does not augur well for the future. I am sorry to report that the belief is now widespread that the Government are not concerned about how many people are maimed or murdered in Northern Ireland; that the IRA will be given everything they want provided the threat of bombs in Great Britain is removed.

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. Is the noble Lord suggesting that the slaughter of individuals and those murdered is confined to the Catholics? The Protestants have done their share in recent times, have they not?

My Lords, of course. The present beatings and attacks on people have been criticised equally by both sides. I am merely talking about the decommissioning of arms.

The belief is widespread in Northern Ireland that the IRA and other terrorists will be given everything they want provided the threat of bombs in Great Britain is removed. That is an alarming state of affairs. The majority of those in Northern Ireland expect to be treated as citizens of the United Kingdom. The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, spoke at length about the police. It is a major concern in Northern Ireland that the report on the police may cause a substantial and totally unacceptable change in the police and it is very important that that does not happen.

I want to pay tribute to the many voluntary organisations which are working hard with the victims of terrorism and others in an attempt to support them. There are many, such as FAIT and others, which have done exceedingly important work and a great deal to destabilise the terrorists on either side and to show them that they do not have support. They are also probably responsible for the present ceasing of attacks which have occurred both by the IRA and the UDA.

With many others, I do not think that the IRA will decommission, but if it did and the agreement is implemented in full is it appreciated that we would not have peace as that word is understood? We would have a dozen splinter groups from the IRA, and probably as many Protestant groups. Those groups will comprise, particularly the IRA, the present hard-line men who will have sufficient arms to do whatever they want. They will continue to attempt to control "their areas"; they will continue to control drug distribution, and so on. The situation will not change. Can the Minister advise the House on whether the Government have thought about that, and what they should do?

4.20 p.m.

My Lords, I add my grateful thanks to those paid to my noble friend Lord Mayhew of Twysden for instigating this debate. I take the opportunity to recognise the powerful part he played during his time in the Province. Perhaps I may add that I pay tribute to my right honourable friend John Major for the tenacity he showed in his approach to the troubles in Northern Ireland. Of course, I salute all those who were involved in the difficult negotiations which culminated in the signing of the Belfast agreement 1998. an agreement I am sure all noble Lords wholeheartedly support.

It is both timely and important that we are debating the situation in Northern Ireland at this most sensitive stage. As we approach 10th March, the date designated as devolution day, and as we also near the anniversary of the Good Friday agreement, it seems appropriate to take stock, to see what has happened since then and how the lives of many of the people of Northern Ireland have been affected.

Expectations were raised for a calmer and safer society, with violence and misery being a thing of the past. I am sure that the men and women who voted in such numbers to support the agreement did so because they yearned to have the opportunity to raise their children in the same atmosphere that we experience here in mainland Britain. One can imagine the dreams they had of putting the brutal past behind them and the excitement of facing a new dawn and a fresh beginning in the Province. Of course, I am sure that no one was gullible enough to believe that everything would proceed without a hitch but, overall, that life would be better and safer for all families. I only wish that that had transpired.

Many families have had to face the horror of what has become known as "punishment beatings". But, as my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew said, they are nothing of the sort. They are acts of barbarism where people are viciously attacked, sometimes for hours, and left mutilated with injuries so hideous and shocking that permanent physical disability or even death has resulted in some extreme cases.

Perhaps I may illustrate the horror of the situation by referring to the terrible plight of Mrs. Maureen Kearney, whose son was murdered last July. He was in his flat on that fateful evening nursing his two week-old daughter when IRA men burst into his eighth floor flat and dragged him out into the stairwell while the baby's mother was held down. He was shot through both knees, severing an artery. They then jammed the lift, cut the telephone wire and made their escape. By the time his girlfriend was able to call for help, he had bled to death. His mother was, of course, distraught on hearing of this tragedy. She carries the burden with her and finds the daily round difficult to cope with. Recently, she came face to face with one of those she considered responsible. I do not have to tell your Lordships of her reaction. The baby will be raised without the benefit of having a father around to bestow the usual loving care.

I also wish to mention the case of Andrew Pedon who had both his legs amputated as a result of being "kneecapped". The effect on his wife and three young children has been devastating. His wife has to attend to all his needs, carrying him upstairs and sharing his agony. He was a father who enjoyed such lively pursuits as camping and fishing with his children, but obviously activities of this kind are not possible now. His injuries need daily professional attention. He attends a psychiatrist four times a week and, as a consequence of his injuries, his wife has given up her job to nurse him 24 hours a day. He relives the terrible events every night and rarely sleeps for longer than an hour at a time. As your Lordships can imagine, his children are devastated by what has happened to them all. One can understand why Mrs. Pedon said,
"It is a living nightmare—it has wrecked our family".
That is five people in that one family whose lives have been wrecked. As my right honourable friend Andrew MacKay said,
"on many estates paramilitaries are ruling by terror".
Those are just two examples. This must be a violation of the agreement and I can only wonder whether these people have renounced violence for good. I must admit that I cannot see it and I would have thought that no one else can either.

I understand from FAIT (Families Against Intimidation and Ten-or) that up to the end of January there have been 15 shootings, 35 beatings, 69 cases of intimidation and 65 cases of people who have had to leave their homes. I am sure that all Members of your Lordships' House welcome the fact that there have been no incidents since 2nd February. It seems that the organisations can end such activity when it suits them. I believe it has been as a result of pressure on the paramilitary organisations, not least by my right honourable friend William Hague by his persistent questioning of the Prime Minister. However, it is impossible to calculate the effect that that form of terrorism must have on family life. This behaviour seems to go on and on, with the paramilitaries refusing to give up any of their guns or bombs. It appears to me that these organisations are certainly violating the Good Friday agreement, as I understand it.

Perhaps one of the most difficult pieces of legislation with which we had to contend during the previous Session was the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act which gave the Secretary of State the power to accelerate the release of prisoners. The Act also gives the Secretary of State the additional power to halt the early release of prisoners who belong to organisations whose cease-fires are not complete and unequivocal. If the beatings and other unacceptable behaviour should start again, I believe she should take those powers and use them to protect those at risk and stop the slaughter which affects innocent women and children. Once the prisoners have been released a most important bargaining factor will have disappeared.

I see that my allocated time is over. It is with sorrow that I speak today, but I do so because I find the events taking place both profoundly disturbing and upsetting. I am sure all noble Lords would wish to send David Trimble and his colleagues the warmest wishes of support as he tackles the enormous challenges ahead.

4.28 p.m.

My Lords, this must be a unique occasion when a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland initiates a debate in your Lordships' House. Normally when they leave Northern Ireland, they come back over here, take a cold shower and hope that they can forget all the events that happened during their term in Northern Ireland. However, I think that it is worth while that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, has given us the opportunity to discuss and evaluate what has happened since the agreement.

The Northern Ireland agreement was complex. It took into account many issues which divided the people in Northern Ireland long before even partition, but particularly since partition, and the creation of the Northern Ireland state.

The agreement is multi-faceted. Today. we are trying to evaluate its effect. Of all the facets of that agreement, four burning issues continue to tear at the heartstrings of the people of Northern Ireland. The first of those is the release of prisoners. Prisoners are now being released who have committed the most terrible crimes in the history of Northern Ireland.

To realise the truth of that one had only to watch a television programme last Sunday evening on BBC2 in which loyalist murderers actually boasted about the number of times that they had stabbed their victims. I think of one victim, my closest colleague, Senator Paddy Wilson, who was murdered by a man called John White, who faced the cameras and said, -Yes, I stabbed him. I nearly decapitated him—and later I shook hands with the Prime Minister". Can your Lordships imagine what the relatives of that victim must have thought? And that is only one case; there are many others. Indeed, some of those now serving in the Northern Ireland Assembly have been convicted of the most atrocious murders.

This is a very emotional issue. Just think of the 301 policemen who were viciously and brutally murdered by the IRA in particular. Just think of how their relatives in Northern Ireland are feeling. Let us never forget that between 500 and 600 young British soldiers have also been viciously and brutally murdered. Their relatives live in England. How must they feel when they know that such prisoners are being released? Let us consider the brutal and vicious murders of the two British corporals. Their murderers are now to be released. What must the victims' relatives be feeling? That is the first issue: the release of prisoners.

The next issue is decommissioning. I was not involved in the talks, but, if I had been involved, there would have been decommissioning or there would have been no agreement. I could never have signed an agreement in Northern Ireland which said to one party. "You can have the prisoner releases", and to another, "You cannot have anything with regard to decommissioning". The Prime Minister of Britain went to Stormont. He stayed there for two or three days. I was not party to the agreement or the discussions, but that was the time for Mr. David Trimble, the leader of the Unionists, to say, "You cannot have the release of these prisoners unless you ally that with decommissioning". That would have been a very reasonable request in the circumstances. However, I understand that a gun was put to Mr. Trimble's head—perhaps that is an unfortunate phrase—and he was told, "Look, the IRA will not agree to this unless you release their prisoners". That is right; there would never have been an agreement without those releases. Then, when Mr. Trimble asked, "Can we not have decommissioning?", he was told, "No, you can't have decommissioning".

The pressure put on David Trimble then has led us to the position today when we are trying desperately to bring about decommissioning. However, that should have been achieved during the discussions. I ask your Lordships' House: what pressures were put on David Trimble in the discussions leading up to the agreement? What were the pressures that were put on him by the Prime Minister of this country and by the Taoiseach of the Republic to force him into an agreement that he knew that he could not carry? That is the second issue.

The next issue relates to the mutilations now taking place. I am glad to see that we have erased from our vocabulary the phrase "punishment beatings". The mutilations now taking place are done for decided reasons. I have with me a copy of a letter from Reverend Father Faul, one paragraph of which states:
"IRA beatings and expulsions have political purposes: (1) to exclude the police and to replace them or any new force other than themselves; (2) to intimidate the community; (3) to prevent normality in [the] community".
I well remember the former Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling, coming to Northern Ireland at the outbreak of the troubles. When he was leaving that evening, it is alleged that he looked out of the aeroplane and said, "What a bloody awful country". He was widely reported as having said that, but he also said something more significant during that visit. He said, "Perhaps we will have to live with an acceptable level of violence". Those words seared themselves into the minds of the people of Northern Ireland. People were prepared to accept "an acceptable level of violence". We now hear two other words which bring those earlier words back to me. I refer to the words "imperfect peace". Those words are substitutes for the words "an acceptable level of violence". Does that mean that we are prepared to accept the greater violence that there is now?

I remember the Labour Party strenuously opposing the Conservative Government's implementation of the exclusion orders, as they were called then. The IRA is opposing exclusion orders.

I realise that my time has now elapsed, but perhaps I may conclude by saying that there are now some very dangerous elements in Northern Ireland and unless both governments—not only this Government, but the government of the Republic also—take a firm stand against them and insist on decommissioning before Sinn Fein/IRA can take up its seats in the Assembly, we could be heading for trouble.

4.35 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew for introducing this very important debate this afternoon, especially at this crucial and difficult moment in the life of the agreement.

At home in Fermanagh—and, indeed, elsewhere—I cannot help noticing that a huge number of people are totally confused by the Government who appear to be making concession after concession to Sinn Fein/IRA without obtaining a single gesture in return concerning the implementation of the terms of the Good Friday agreement. Surely the time has come to say, "Enough is enough".

I should like to ask the Minister just two questions. First, would it not be wise to delay the release of prisoners until the very necessary co-operation has been demonstrated? Secondly, does the Minister not agree that his right honourable friend the Prime Minister should now come out and boldly say that he agrees with David Trimble, the First Minister, and his policies, as did the Taoiseach, Mr. Ahern, and give him the support that he so rightly deserves? If that were to take place, it would bring great comfort to a vast number of people in Northern Ireland who feel completely isolated.

We await the Patten report on the RUC with eager anticipation. Perhaps I may take this opportunity to say that in my opinion—and in the opinion of many others—the RUC is the finest police force in the world. Its courage and discipline over the years have been second to none. What other police force has been asked over and over again to undertake peace-keeping tasks where its members end up being attacked from both sides at once? They carry out those tasks with an "All-in-a-day's-work" attitude. What other police force has lost so many lives in the course of duty over the years?

If there are changes to be made to the RUC and to the political structure in Northern Ireland, I only hope that Her Majesty's Government will choose the right time to make those changes—and that they will be for the better.

4.38 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to speak in support of what was said by my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew and to emphasise at the same time the relevance to the Good Friday agreement of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Its work was difficult and dangerous enough, in all conscience, but the continued release of criminals, some of whom were convicted of terrible crimes, must increase both the difficulties and the danger. It has been reported that some of the released prisoners have already taken part in so-called "punishment beatings", so we should spare a thought for the police.

If, as we must hope, the agreement brings peace and stability to Northern Ireland, the Royal Ulster Constabulary will have its part to play and, if it does not, the RUC will have a very much larger and more dangerous part to play. So, in the context of the agreement, it is worth examining this police force and its record of public service.

It is unique among police forces in the world. In addition to normal police duties it has had to contend with an illegal but fully-armed army—sometimes active, sometimes dormant, but never wholly absent. That is why, unlike its neighbours the Garda Siochana, who police the Republic, it is an armed force. It has a roll of honour since 1922. Precise figures are hard to come by, but in the past 30 odd years 302 officers and reserve officers have been killed on duty. In addition, many have been seriously injured. Therefore, we could spare a thought for what all this means to their wives and families.

My noble and learned friend's Motion speaks of,
"the dangers inherent in failing to secure … the prompt and complete implementation",
of the provisions of the agreement. Not everything that is said encourages one to believe that it will be all that prompt. It is probable that not many of your Lordships ever watch broadcasts of the Irish news on television. I do. Two or three months ago I switched on the television while it was portraying the Sinn Fein conference in Dublin. Mr. McGuinness was addressing the conference and concluded his speech by saying that the RUC will have to go. One was left with the impression: to be replaced by gangsters like McGuinness. Judging by the enthusiastic reception from the audience, that was what was anticipated.

Last Friday I cut the following article out of The Times. I quote:
"Detonators found in an IRA arms cache seized in West Belfast on Tuesday were manufactured last year, when the IRA were supposed to be on ceasefire, the Royal Ulster Constabulary said yesterday.
"The announcement raised serious questions about the IRA's intentions and caused Unionist and Conservative politicians to redouble their demands for IRA disarmament …
"Sinn Fein officials responded angrily, calling the RUC the most discredited police force in Europe and accusing it of 'pursuing a political agenda with the intention of wrecking the peace process'".
Again, one was left with the impression that the detonators are part of the peace process.

One of the major problems in enforcing the law in Northern Ireland is the intimidation of witnesses—a disease which, incidentally, has now spread south of the border in the celebrated case of the murder of detective sergeant McCabe. If the Good Friday agreement could lessen that pernicious practice, though I doubt it, then it all would have been worth while.

We must all hope for the best, but a shadow hangs over the RUC in the shape of the Patten Commission. I do not think that that was part of the Good Friday agreement but somehow it got added on afterwards, probably under pressure from Dublin. If in July the commission brings forward a report—I am not saying that it will—which is damaging to the morale and hence the efficiency of the RUC, and the arms have not been decommissioned, that will be a nightmare situation for all the inhabitants of Northern Ireland.

Given the potentially dangerous situation if any of the various paramilitary forces should, so to speak, break loose, I suggest that this is not the time to run risks with the police. For the Good Friday agreement to be a success, the RUC should be left alone to do its job.

4.44 p.m.

My Lords, I welcome this debate very much indeed. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, for introducing it and should like to pay my own personal tribute to both him and Lady Mayhew for the role that they have played in the life of Northern Ireland in the past. As we have this debate we face a critical period in Northern Ireland in the long walk to stability and peace, with justice for unionist and nationalist, Protestant and Roman Catholic. I would assure the Minister that it is a time for steady nerves; that is, steady nerves by government and by all those who seek to influence public opinion. However, it is also a time for a full and honest understanding of what makes people react as they do to this situation. Each of use comes to this debate from differing starting points. We are united in our desire to see a peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland, but the differences remain. How do we achieve it?

I have 36 years of ministry within Northern Ireland, through years of experiences that I will never forget. I have seen suffering and death, bewilderment and frustration, as well as courage of a very high order. I have had to bury plastic bags because there was no recognisable body left. I have had to go into homes where the reaction to situations was unbelievable. Indeed, only recently—and there have been frequent references this afternoon to these atrocious attacks—I tried to comfort a mother whose son was viciously beaten almost to the point of death. It was a mercy that he was not killed.

Therefore, as I make a contribution to the debate, I feel that I must appeal for reality in this discussion of what in fact is happening at this moment on the ground in Northern Ireland. When the euphoria of Good Friday engulfed us all, I have to say that in my heart and mind I knew that the biggest battle remained. For it is in the hearts and minds of the people of Northern Ireland that this agreement, made on Good Friday, will either fail or succeed. However, we must recognise that we cannot legislate for reconciliation. Although we can put in place the structures that are necessary for reconciliation to be achieved, I can assure the Minister that we cannot legislate for it.

It is vital to this debate that your Lordships recognise the true situation on the ground. I believe that a new confidence is desperately needed in the political process. Decommissioning is not the only obstacle to be scaled. The real issue is not the agreement. The real issue is not even its terms. Indeed, I believe that the real issue is trust. That trust is lacking on the ground. In fact, in some places it is totally absent. Sectarian attitudes dominate and they run very, very deep. If trust is to emerge, the unionist/loyalist Protestant community needs, despite its current unease, to recognise how far republicanism has come. It needs to recognise the sensitivities of nationalism, constitutional nationalism, placed as it is at present in critical juxtaposition. Each side must be prepared to give a little. But I would be failing the majority of those to whom I minister if I did not warn your Lordships this afternoon of the depth of unease, frustration and discontent within the Protestant/unionist community.

Political point scoring has its own agenda: but that agenda does not necessarily include long-term accommodation. Northern Ireland cannot fade back into the depths from where we have come. Generations yet unborn will read the report of this debate and will ask,"Did you not see the signs; did you not read the signs that were there and act before it was too late?". The reality is that the price of the speed of political progress—the "peace process", as we are told we must call it—is too high for many to pay. But we have to act and ask: is the price for long-term accommodation, the inevitable short-term price that we have to pay, a price that we are prepared to pay?

The unease and disquiet on decommissioning within the Protestant community is genuine after all the years of the troubles. That unease must be addressed by the Government. The unease within the nationalist Roman Catholic community must be addressed by giving proof that they will never, never again be considered second-class citizens. They must find that they can trust their unionist and Protestant neighbours not because they are told they can trust them, but because they know in their hearts that they can trust them. Unless we are prepared to face that reality post-Good Friday agreement, the outlook is bleak.

Issues such as Drumcree have been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. Those issues must be solved, and solved quickly, for they are a festering sore. Drumcree itself is a cameo of the problems that the Belfast agreement came into being to solve. For too long such issues have held ordinary, decent people to ransom. There has to be life after Drumcree.

I recall the words spoken to me only a few days ago by the mother of two sons who were the victims of a sectarian murder some years ago—words that I leave with your Lordships. She said, "I have every reason to distrust, but I have a higher duty. I must find a new trust if there is to be any future for all of us". If the trust to which I refer is created—and I believe it can be—if government can not only act evenly with both communities, but be seen to act evenly with them, the Belfast agreement will not simply survive, but I believe in my heart that it will succeed.

4.51 p.m.

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend, Lord Mayhew, for introducing the debate. I support everything he said, with perhaps one exception regarding a tiger changing its spots. That is perhaps the only point on which I differ from him.

I wish to make three points. The first concerns decommissioning. The UK Army and security have seriously demilitarised. Only the LVF of the paramilitaries has made even a token gesture in that direction, hut not the UVF, the UFF or Sinn Fein. There is a two year term for decommissioning; we are approaching the half-way stage with little done.

There is a problem, which I hope the Minister can help me solve, for both Sinn Fein and Mr. Trimble. Both have to look over their shoulders to their supporters for fear that the latter will desert them. If Sinn Fein agrees to even a token decommissioning, will it be anxious that its supporters will desert it? If Mr. Trimble accepts Sinn Fein into the executive without any decommissioning on its part, will his supporters desert him? Can the Minister tell me if the Government are working on a formula to overcome the problem? I deliver a serious warning to him. If there is no decommissioning by the time of the European elections, will Mr. Paisley's party sweep the unionist vote on the point that the Belfast agreement is dead? There are some important issues for the future locked up in this matter.

It is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Eames. He talked about trust and relationships. I totally endorse what he said; namely, that there is a battle for the hearts and minds of people in Northern Ireland. Consent was achieved by the signatories to the Belfast agreement but there has been no disavowal of fighting by the paramilitaries; maintaining their armour is surely evidence of their intention not to do so at the present time. Are those who have been engaged in violence, whether against their opponents, or against their own people—as we have discussed often—trying for political dialogue today?

I was pleased to read—I believe it was last week—about five unionists and five republicans meeting for political talks. Are those talks continuing? I hope the Minister can tell me that. Any meetings across this divide will help to increase trust and build relationships. I believe that that is crucial. It is perhaps a pity that Mr. Adams is in Australia at this juncture. I am not quite sure how long he will be there, but he is obviously pivotal to any such discussions. People need to treat others as equals and need to spend time building relationships with other people across the divide.

The overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland want peace. Are they saying this loudly enough to the paramilitaries? Are the media reporting it? It seems to me that a strong media campaign against the mutilations resulted in a serious reduction in those mutilations. I believe that that was part of a public campaign. That is good. I hope there can be a build-up in Northern Ireland of people saying that peace must flow from the present political process.

I have talked about political issues and about relationships, but I believe that there are also spiritual issues involved. They constitute a strong element. I suggest to all the Churches of Northern Ireland that they plan a day of prayer on St. Patrick's Day, 17th March. I believe personally that the Almighty is one person who can be a real influence for change in Northern Ireland. Whether or not "D-day" slips from 10th March to 10th April—which would be one year on from the Belfast agreement—I believe that the Churches of Northern Ireland should plan for a day of concentrated prayer. That should be open to all people of good will and to all people who want to see total peace develop in Northern Ireland.

There will be a meeting in the Speaker's apartment in the Palace of Westminster and I believe that we shall have the privilege of being addressed by Lady Eames on that occasion. If we can do that here, I hope that people in the Churches in Northern Ireland will do so also. I believe with all my heart that all people of good will need to pray for the success of the Belfast agreement and for a solution to these problems.

4.57 p.m.

My Lords, I have been advised that I may say a few words with regard to the speech that I made late last night during the debate on Lords' reform. With your Lordships' permission, I shall do so. It is clear that I misjudged the mood of the House in that I crossed that invisible line when I made mention of a Member of another place. My breach of the Companion was entirely due to inexperience and not to intent. I cherish and respect the institutions and conventions of your Lordships' House and for that reason I apologised privately last night to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. He was gracious enough to accept that apology. I now wish to take this opportunity to apologise unreservedly to the whole House.

I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, for initiating this debate on the Belfast agreement this afternoon. I am not surprised that he has done so. He was, as a Secretary of State—and continues to be—a good friend to Northern Ireland. He laid the foundations upon which the present Government were able to build the peace process.

I have consistently supported the Belfast agreement since it was accepted on Good Friday last year. I supported it on the ground during the referendum in the Province and I supported it in your Lordships' House during the many debates on the subsequent Bills that cascaded through as a result of that agreement.

The Prime Minister recently said that the peace that it brought, whilst imperfect, was far better than no peace at all. Certainly in the 90 per cent. of the Province which incredibly managed some semblance of normality during nearly 30 years of terrorism, life, with the exception of the atrocity at Omagh, is more normal than ever.

However, the peace dividend has not struck deep into the republican and loyalist heartlands in Belfast, Strabane, Newry and elsewhere. The savage punishment beatings, mutilations and enforced exiles have continued for those unfortunate enough to cross or fall out with the local godfathers; all this culminating in a particularly brutal murder in Newry a few weeks ago.

Now we have a more or less cessation in these inhumane activities due to the unlikely, perhaps, intervention of Amnesty International. I do not believe that the republican cessation is a mere coincidence. I am in no doubt that it was instigated by Sinn Fein, worried about the effects that the damning report from Amnesty would have on their supporters, particularly in the United States.

However, the position is far from secure, largely as a result of the IRA at present refusing to decommission a single weapon. Sinn Fein says that it is powerless to persuade them so to do, but I find this hard to believe as it seems to have such influence over the mutilations.

Mr. Trimble and his security spokesman, Ken Maginnis, are, I believe, offering Sinn Fein and the IRA every opportunity. They say that they will sit down with Sinn Fein in an Executive within minutes of decommissioning commencing. Indeed, yesterday, Ken Maginnis went further, suggesting that a cast-iron, underwritten guarantee of a programme, leading to total disarmament by June 2000, would unblock the deadlocked peace process.

While I agree that the Belfast agreement does not specify a start date, I wholeheartedly support the Taoiseach in his recent unequivocal statement that decommissioning had to start some time, and that it was realistic to suppose that an Executive could be formed until such a start had been made.

One of the aspects of the agreement that was anathema to me and to many others was the early release of terrorist prisoners. We accepted that they had to be released under the terms of the deal struck by the agreement. While the agreement set a deadline of two years after the commencement of the release scheme for all prisoners to be released, it did not set a start time. However, the British Government and the Secretary of State, quite rightly, realised that a start had to be made.

We are now in a position where a very considerable number of qualifying prisoners have been released. Recently, there have been calls for the releases to be suspended in view of the mutilations, the lack of progress on decommissioning and so on. I find the equation of prisoner release linkage to decommissioning unattractive, and I do not for one minute expect the Secretary of State or the noble Lord the Minister to tell us that such an option is currently under consideration. However—and in extreme circumstances—I hope that the Secretary of State may be aware that she will have support if she does decide to suspend releases.

A further element of great concern is the question of the Patten Commission on police reform. I do not for one moment believe that Mr. Patten's report will be widely critical of the RUC, a force for which I have total respect and admiration. But while the chief constable, quite rightly, remains upbeat and confident, the rank and file of the RUC feel depressed and concerned about possible recommendations: not, I stress, through any feelings of guilt or inadequacy on their part, but because of inexorable demands from certain quarters for a somehow more democratic, community-based police service. Of course, there are some who would love to see the destruction of the RUC, the only body capable of preventing them from indulging in a life of organised crime and gangsterism.

Even now there are some who would claim that the RUC is the armed wing of the Unionist party. It is tragic, but well worthwhile to remember, that the first RUC officer to be killed, Constable Victor Arbuckle, in 1969, and the last, Constable Francis O'Reilly, in 1998, were both murdered by loyalist terrorists. For 30 years the RUC has been the thin line that has stood between democracy and anarchy. Shortly, another marching season will he upon us, when the RUC's resources and expertise will again be taxed to the limit.

In conclusion, my support for the Belfast agreement and for the Government remains firm. The euphoria of last spring has long gone and numerous questions—punishment beatings or mutilations, decommissioning, prisoner releases, reform of the RUC and the marching season—have yet to be resolved. However, we must press on if we are yet to see a bright and stable future for Northern Ireland.

5.4 p.m.

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, for initiating the debate. My good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, drew attention to the exceptional, if not unique, work involved in initiating the debate. I have noticed the noble Lords, Lord Prior and Lord Merlyn-Rees, sitting in the Chamber. The people of Northern Ireland are indebted to the good sense shown by politicians in sending to Northern Ireland people who not only do a very good job but who try to keep in their minds and in their hearts the objective of improving the situation.

I have been enormously humbled listening to the debate over the past two hours. I appreciate that, as I do not live in Northern Ireland, I cannot remotely sense or feel the impact of living there on either side of the divide.

There is a general welcome for the agreement. Any criticisms have been not so much of the agreement but of its implementation. As the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said, it is very complex. It is very complex, and we have a problem.

Noble Lords know of my strong connection with the co-operative movement. The first time I went to Northern Ireland was to visit the Belfast society. I landed on a Friday, a day when a co-op shop was held up and the takings stolen. But my deepest impression was when, on Saturday, 13 or 15 people were blown to smithereens at a place called McGurk's Bar. I may be different to others, but when I hear of an atrocity I do not remember whether it was republicans blowing up loyalists or loyalists blowing up republicans; all I remember is that it was an atrocity.

I can think of events in the past year. There were the three little children who were burned to death. They were neither loyalists nor nationalists; they were tiny little children. They were blown up simply because of bigotry and venom.

When I was again in Northern Ireland about 10 years later—which was about 10 years ago—I represented my party and spoke on Northern Ireland matters. I went to the Maze and Magilligan prisons. I went from Magilligan Prison to Derry and sat on the steps of the city hall—the same steps where Tom King, when carrying out his responsibilities, was struck to the ground by elected councillors who were there, ostensibly, to meet him and greet him.

It is very difficult for someone like myself—a British politician who lives here—to understand or appreciate what causes people in Northern Ireland to do that sort of thing to each other. We hear about absolutely awful atrocities. I cannot conceive of a situation which would lead a group or sect of people to do that sort of thing to other people living over here.

Northern Ireland is unique and exceptional. I would say to the politicians of Northern Ireland who sit as Members of your Lordships' House but who are active in politics over there that the people of this country cannot understand why—hundreds of years after a wrong that has not been righted—there is still a determination to persist in keeping the clan, the tribe and the hurt alive.

More than once today, noble Lords have said that the people of Northern Ireland want peace. I know they do—but, having listened and having had a taste of Northern Ireland, I also realise the enormous dilemma that ordinary people are in through living in enclaves where thugs, terrorists and murderers have a grip on the community. I understand that. I see the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, in the Chamber. We know that the noble Lord literally had to fight for his life because he was a politician. That does not happen here. Looking at the agreement I realise what an enormous amount of help in achieving it came from the former Prime Minister, John Major, from the present Prime Minister and from politicians in the United States. They recognised that this was just a beginning to what may blossom into something we have been denied for 30 or 40 years. No one who is involved is under any illusion that, having achieved the agreement, we have peace. That has been proved.

Today is a special day for Northern Ireland. Not only are we having this debate but there was Northern Ireland Question Time in the House of Commons. The Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam—we all love her—addressed a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party this morning. She gave us the latest news. She has the job of trying to make progress. She is an optimist, which in my view is better than being a pessimist, even though the record shows she is more entitled to be a pessimist than an optimist. Questions were raised about the release of terrorists. She said—it is not a secret but a fact of life—that more than 200 have been released and not one of them has broken the conditions of release. They have all, under pressure, I am sure, from their parties or groups, abided by the conditions of release. I noticed that John McFall, my parliamentary colleague, was listening to the debate earlier. I know what a terrible job he and my noble friend Lord Dubs have. They know what we want and the people they are dealing with are able to deliver, but for many reasons, which I cannot fathom, those people are not prepared to deliver.

I want to say to those in Northern Ireland that most if not all of the people on the mainland yearn for the time when they get rid of the people who are terrorising them and causing the potential in this country for a revisit of that terrorism. We have a vested interest in solving the problem in Northern Ireland because if we do not it will come here. I wish the agreement well. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Dubs for all that he is doing. I am certainly grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, for giving the House an opportunity to put on record our appreciation of the many people who are working hard for the peace and solitude we enjoy in Britain.

5.12 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, for initiating this debate. I am delighted to be positive about the progress of the Good Friday agreement. To be otherwise would be out of order, considering the consensus of agreement not only in the parties but among the people of Northern Ireland. Even Paisley and the DUP, who have opposed everything, are careful to ensure that they are not left outside the day-to-day activities in Stormont. When the executive is formed noble Lords will find that the DUP will reap its share of the benefits accruing as a result of the sheer dedication, hard work and sacrifice of others. What is new?

I want sincerely to pay tribute, as other noble Lords have done, to all those who have brought us this far. However, in the race against time and against the wrath of the Government Front Bench, I would merely endorse what has been said by others. But we have one last step, and that is for decommissioning to start. It is clear that the vast majority of people, not only in the Province but also in Great Britain and around the world, back the stance of the First Minister designate on this issue. It is also a fact that a "downpayment", as Ken Maginnis said in The Times yesterday, of weapons would be sufficient for an executive to be formed. If there is no decommissioning, we are stuck because public opinion, especially in the unionist camp, will, and I believe quite rightly so, not permit the executive to be formed.

Being speaker number 18 in the debate, I hope your Lordships will forgive me for tackling the issue of decommissioning from a slightly different point of view. I want to look at another reason why decommissioning is not taking place. An assumption I would dare to make is that if republican terrorists decommission, the loyalists will also do so. Sinn Fein/IRA ask us to agree with them that a handing in of any weapons is surrender. We are told that this is so firmly embedded in history and the republican psyche that there is no way round it. That is unreasonable and flawed.

I will look at it through their eyes for a moment. This was a just war and their efforts—"our efforts" in that case—have achieved the Sinn Fein/IRA aim shown by Sinn Fein when they accepted the Good Friday agreement, even if Gerry Adams says that it is only a step on the way to a united Ireland. There is hardly a case in the world of achieving a goal by armed force where there has not been demobilisation to some extent afterwards. After previous conflicts, did we or any other country portray demobilisation as surrender? Service personnel have gladly over centuries handed in weapons and uniforms and have thankfully returned to civilian life.

Surrender is an unsustainable interpretation of decommissioning. Demobilisation takes place as a result of instructions from a leadership. We know that the leadership of Sinn Fein/IRA are capable leaders when it comes to stopping or turning on violence. That brings us to paragraph 3 of decommissioning on page 20 of the agreement. All participants in this agreement, including Sinn Fein, agreed and signed up to,
"use any influence they have",
and so on.

It is my contention that Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and other senior Sinn Fein/IRA leaders are fostering the misinterpretation of decommissioning as surrender. They do this because to surrender is a degrading defeat when weapons are taken by the victors. In the human character, since Adam and Eve, this is the last and most humiliating option. The Sinn Fein/IRA leadership are not, and I say it unreservedly, carrying out their obligations to use "any influence", to which they signed up in the Good Friday agreement. They often ask for a quid pro quo from the security forces. They have no right to do so because they have not held weapons for the same purpose. Their only reason for being armed is to threaten and take life. The security forces' only reason for bearing arms is to save life.

Having said that, there has been significant demilitarisation, as we have heard. The paraphernalia of the fight against terrorism has been greatly decommissioned and yet no one is talking about surrender or victory. So why do Sinn Fein talk about surrender? This term binds in the most lowly terrorist activist with the fear of surrender and it suits the Sinn Fein/IRA leadership not to support decommissioning at this moment. They are wrong and it will be a tragedy for all of us if it is to continue.

For one moment I should like to look at one other aspect of the agreement, the future of policing in the Province. Initially there was great anxiety both inside and outside the RUC. However, due to the leadership of the Chief Constable and the senior ranks and the lengthy public discussion following the setting up of the Patten Commission, we are looking forward to a constructive report on reforms to the RUC.

Every police force needs to move forward. It is not just the RUC, as we have seen recently in London. It is no shame to say that the force should be reformed or at least modernised. To put it simply, the RUC has developed into the most competent and high tech anti-terrorist police force in the world over the past 30 years. Times are changing and more traditional policing is required. For example, RUC officers used to go on patrol only with military escorts. They could not even deliver a summons in some areas without a helicopter escort. Now, 20 per cent. of their recruits come from the nationalist minority. It is amazing that they have managed that in such a short period of time.

I conclude on an optimistic note. I believe that there is a small pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel where the executive is waiting. I am encouraged that there are no leaks from General de Chastelain's decommissioning discussions. I am a firm believer that where there are no leaks there is hope, if there is a will on the part of Sinn Fein/IRA.

My Lords, perhaps I may, with the leave of the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, explain to the House that his name was omitted in error from the list of speakers. As a result of careful management, he is able to take the usual time to speak.

5.20 p.m.

My Lords, I do not intend to detain your Lordships long. It is well known that I am very much in favour of permanent peace in Northern Ireland. That is what we all want. But at the same time we want to be sure that that is what we shall get, not just some mirage which may disappear before too long.

I am not at all happy about the early release of convicted terrorists, who are not repentant but quite proud of the crimes that they have committed. At the same time, the failure to hand over arms and ammunition produces what could be a very dangerous situation if those kinds of men have access in future to the arms and ammunition that they have used in the past. Therefore, we must be very careful.

The chief constable recently referred to the punishment beatings and other atrocities that have recently taken place. He is reported as saying that they were centrally organised by mainstream paramilitary groups whose political representatives were members of the Stormont Assembly. It is easy to say that a particular organisation is not presently waging terrorism when it is merely that some of its former members have taken on a new name—they have moved round the corner and they are doing it. And, of course, it has nothing whatever to do with the original organisation that they left! Anyone who believes that is rather naive, but that is what is being put forward for us to accept. I believe that we should look at these matters with care.

We have only to look at other parts of the world where there have been similar problems. In Lebanon, for instance, there was sectarian civil war. Over 200,000 people died. An accord was entered into, all weapons were handed over, and since then there has been very little trouble there. There was civil war for 16 years in Mozambique, with over 1 million casualties. Weapons were handed in, and there has been a great improvement there. There were 12 years of civil war in El Salvador, with 75,000 people killed. Weapons were destroyed and, again, there was very little further trouble there. The exception is South Africa, where weapons were not handed in, and where, since 1989, murder has increased by 61 per cent. and armed robbery by 119 per cent. So the examples in other countries do not support the contention that we should not bother about arms, that they do not really matter and they will not be used. I never understand why people want to keep arms that they are not going to use. It is a question of trying to understand their mentality.

I therefore urge the Government and all those responsible to take the utmost care before placating terrorists any further. I urge them to ensure that it is a good peace, that can be stood over and that will last.

5.25 p.m.

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, for initiating this debate. I echo the sentiments of my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby in paying tribute to the work that he has carried out in Northern Ireland. However, it was with a degree of disappointment that I listened to his speech. He seemed to highlight the negative aspects of the present situation in Northern Ireland. There are inherent problems with the peace process; that cannot be denied. However, anyone looking at the progress of the past three years and looking into the future would be incredulous at what has been achieved.

I have recently become Front Bench spokesman on this issue. As always, I find myself on an extremely steep learning curve. One of the things I have found most difficult to understand about the peace process is how it has managed to survive as long as it has. The more one looks at the parties involved, the more one realises how many fracture points there are in the process.

It is not just a question of the strongly opposed views of the main protagonists but of the positions that are held within the organisations themselves. The difficulty that Mr. Trimble has had recently in leading his party along in the process is an indication. But the difficulty is not only on the unionist side. The very difficult position within the IRA, as between those who would like to move forward and those who would return to violence, also has to be understood. It is only through an understanding of all these positions that the success of the peace process can be understood. Although the peace process seems to be constantly under threat, it has been making steady, if tortuous, progress towards its goal.

However, at present there is an impasse based on the issue of decommissioning. The briefings that I have had recently show that there is logic from both sides on the positions that the two sides are taking. Within the unionist community it is obvious that decommissioning has to take place before Sinn Fein is allowed to take its position within the executive. However, a logical position is also held by those within Sinn Fein who base their views upon the Good Friday agreement itself, which states that there is no specific start time for decommissioning to take place.

The position is becoming tenuous. It is imperative that a start is made. It is unacceptable to believe that in a year's time all arms will suddenly materialise in one place to be decommissioned. However, decommissioning can take many forms. Many questions have been asked about what it would actually entail. I believe, however, that it is an issue for General de Chastelain. He has undertaken some very good work, some of which has been very low profile. It should be left in his hands to verify what may be considered as a start to decommissioning.

In this light, I welcome the brave statement made by the Taoiseach, calling on the IRA to undertake a start to decommissioning. The Taoiseach reflects the opinion of almost everyone in the Republic of Ireland as well as the majority view in the North.

Pressure is growing for decommissioning to take place before 10th March. It would be extremely upsetting if no decommissioning came about and pressure from a number of quarters has been expressed. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, mentioned the situation in America and he was sceptical about the position the Americans may take. However, I believe they can have a degree of influence over the start of decommissioning. We should not forget that it was Senator Mitchell who, through his work, brought about so much in the peace process. It would be unfair not to mention the words he wrote in the Irish Times on 19th February. He said that decommissioning was:
"a very difficult, emotional and very important issue, but the political leaders must not let this chance of peace slip away after so much has happened and been done by the people, the governments and leaders. I believe there will be a way".
Many noble Lords have spoken this afternoon of the large number of mutilation attacks that have taken place. It is obviously a situation that all sides of the House find abhorrent. However, the attacks are undertaken by the men of violence. I believe that the future of Northern Ireland does not lie with them; it lies with the degree of trust being built up among the people of Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Eames, made a remarkable speech on the difficulties of building trust and the necessity for it. He made one of the finest speeches heard in your Lordships' House for some time. He spoke mostly from personal experience.

The cost of peace is high at the moment, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, made clear from his experiences. However, the cost of failure of the peace process could be higher. The cycle of violence must be broken and I believe that, considering the pressures on the peace process, it would be irresponsible of us at this point not to commit ourselves to it. We on these Benches are keen that the bipartisan agreement should continue at this time without let up. I ask the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, to give a commitment at this point to the bipartisan approach to Northern Ireland, especially now.

I have seen a lot of violence in South Africa, but have recently seen how that violence can be broken. I believe that the future of Northern Ireland is a great deal more optimistic than may be suggested by some of the actions taking place. I hope that the peace process survives.

5.33 p.m.

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew for initiating this timely debate. Few in your Lordships' House have had more direct recent experience of these matters, save perhaps the Minister himself. I agree with everything he said and hope that the Minister will answer the questions posed by my noble and learned friend, as I shall not repeat them.

My noble and learned friend explained that the Secretary of State has not made full use of the lever of specifying an organisation in order to stop its prisoners from being released. It is extremely unfortunate that the Secretary of State has sent out the wrong signal by stating that she can do nothing about the problems, that she does not have the power.

Some, including the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, have worried about where we are on these Benches with regard to a bipartisan policy. The answer is that there is no change. We do not regard the bipartisan policy as giving the Government a blank cheque. On the other hand, we will do nothing that provides succour to anyone involved in terrorism. We do not seek to rewrite the Belfast agreement. That would be fatal to it. On the contrary, we seek full implementation by all the parties. It is also not our intention to break the bipartisan approach to constitutional issues in Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, raised the matter of the cost of the Assembly. It was unfortunate that the costs were underestimated. This House would have provided a good financial model. On the other hand, the existence of the Assembly has gone so far already that I am sure it will be extremely helpful to the peace process. As for the budgetary implications, I am more concerned about the macro-economic effect of reductions in expenditure on security, particularly the RUC. This is a reserved matter, so any savings will go back to the Treasury, not to the Assembly.

Decommissioning is a show-stopper for the process, as was so well explained by my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew and many others. It has been suggested that my right honourable friend Mr. Mackay and others should apply pressure on Mr. Trimble. The fact is, as we know, Mr. Trimble has no room for manoeuvre whatever. However, while I cannot claim to be confident, I am hopeful, even optimistic that a start to decommissioning is the key to the process moving forward, and I hope that we will get past this hump.

The LVF has shown that the modalities for decommissioning actually work. It might not be significant decommissioning, but it works. This must increase the confidence of the paramilitaries to start the process. Yes, it may have to be step by step. No one would want to stand naked before their former adversaries, but the process must start.

I would also like to take the opportunity to restate what I said last week. It is the Mitchell principle that no one should regard decommissioning as a defeat, a victory or a surrender. I just see it as part of the process of moving from violence and confrontation to peace and democracy.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, drew attention to Sinn Fein's aspirations for the RUC to be disarmed as a quid pro quo. However, if we look at the continental police, we find that they are at least as heavily armed as the RUC.

Although progress on decommissioning is painfully slow at the moment, once it actually starts rapid progress could be made. This is important in order to avoid weapons falling into the hands of purely criminal organisations or so-called "splinter" groups, as we have already seen.

My noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew mentioned the dangers of Semtex and the need for it to be decommissioned. It has a long shelf life and can do far more political damage than firearms. In addition it is also a necessary precursor for using home-made explosives.

We on these Benches and elsewhere have raised the issue of what some euphemistically used to call punishment beatings; "terrorist mutilation assaults" is now the term in use. My noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew and the moving speech from my noble friend and colleague Lady Seccombe described the problem in detail. Any suggestion that these assaults are to do with civil administration is totally without foundation, as the assaults grossly violate all the principles of human rights: no properly constituted court, no representation, no appeal and it all ends with a cruel, unusual and illegal punishment.

Thanks partly to the efforts of my right honourable friend Mr. Mackay and the letter from my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew to the Daily Telegraph, and others, the incidence of assaults has been drastically reduced.

The noble Lord, Lord Eames, touched on the issue of parades. It is clear that the only course of action is for the organisers to have confidence, as I do, in the Parades Commission and to demonstrate a willingness to engage in discussions to meet residents' concerns, if necessary, through mediation. Finally, all parties need to abide by the determinations of the commission.

Many noble Lords have touched upon the restructuring of the RUC. I share their concerns. The RUC accepts that there will have to be some changes, but I am confident that the Patten commission will not be a pushover for those who have a rather different concept of community policing from your Lordships. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, referred to the fearful cost to the security forces during the troubles. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the sacrifices made by all members of the security forces. Many members of the RUC are worried that there are several ways to define the Prime Minister's offer of generous compensation. Certainly, the definition of the Treasury will be different from that of your Lordships.

My noble and learned friend's Motion refers to the value of the Belfast agreement. I believe that the value lies in the opportunity for peace and prosperity in the Province. These opportunities can be fully exploited only in an environment of genuine and enduring peace with no threat of violence. I was particularly pleased to hear the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. Noble Lords will be aware that many areas of the Province are not fully developed. To take tourism as an example, only 1.8 per cent. of GDP is derived from that activity in Northern Ireland compared with 5 per cent. in Scotland and 6.3 per cent. in the Republic. However, the City of Belfast has made significant progress. The RUC recently explained to me the challenge of policing the estimated 8,000 to 10,000 revellers who apparently go to the centre of Belfast every Friday to enjoy the night life.

It is also interesting to note that during the total of seven days that I recently spent in the Province this year I did not see any Army patrols or vehicles. Londonderry has great opportunities to develop its tourist trade. It is ideally situated as a major population centre in the north west and serves County Donegal just across the Border in the Republic. There is much opportunity to improve the city as a cultural centre and to make it more inviting as a social centre. That will make the area much more attractive to inward investors. Major retailers are already there and I am sure that more will follow their lead.

We know that unemployment is higher in the Province than on the mainland, but even in the black spots the rate is not much higher than the French national average. The Northern Ireland average is much better than that of France. The average age is lower and the educational standards rather higher than on the mainland. For instance, 90 per cent. of A level students achieve two or more passes compared with only 81 per cent. on the mainland. At the other end of the scale, only 4 per cent. leave with no GCSEs compared with 8 per cent. in England and 10 per cent. in Wales. That fact will not be lost upon potential inward investors who will be waiting to see how the peace process moves forward. I do not underestimate the problems: for example, Catholics suffer much higher rates of unemployment; but economic development by inward investment and SMEs will do much to help.

I believe that with full implementation of the agreement and the absence of violence, mayhem and intimidation, or fear of these, the Province presents great opportunities for business and thus for the people of the Province. But it is not just the Province that will benefit. The Republic has also suffered from the negative external impressions that flow from the troubles. That is why I believe in the value of the agreement, especially the need to implement all of its provisions.

5.43 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity given us today by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, to discuss the Belfast agreement and its implementation. I am also grateful for the contributions of noble Lords to this interesting debate. I understand the many concerns that have been raised and I shall attempt to address those in some detail in a few moments. I particularly welcome the optimism about the future of Northern Ireland demonstrated by many, although not all, of your Lordships. In particular I commend my noble friends Lord Blease, Lord Graham and Lord Clarke, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, should also be categorised as an optimist in speaking about the future of Northern Ireland.

It may be useful if I reflect briefly on the historic significance of the agreement. It is all too easy to become focused on the immediate difficulties so that one forgets the huge strides forward that the agreement represents. If I had asked your Lordships about a year ago whether the progress that has been made would be made I suspect that quite a number would have regarded it as impossible. The Belfast agreement represents a unique opportunity for a stable political settlement in Northern Ireland. For the first time the different communities have reached agreement on the way in which Northern Ireland should be governed. That is surely remarkable progress.

It is also right to call attention to the value of that agreement as the Motion of the noble and learned Lord does today. Of course the story did not end last April when the agreement was reached. In many ways that was only the beginning of a long and difficult process of implementation. At the same time, we must not forget that since last April progress has been made across a whole range of issues contained in the agreement. Perhaps I may take a moment or two to remind your Lordships of the many events that have taken place: the new Northern Ireland Assembly has been established and the right honourable Members for Upper Bann and Newry and South Armagh have been elected as shadow First and Deputy First Ministers; agreement has been reached on the future structure of the Northern Ireland departments and the functions of the North-South implementation bodies, and only last week that was endorsed by a substantial majority of the assembly; and the reviews of policing and criminal justice have been established and their work is well under way. I shall say a little more about the policing review shortly. Further, the human rights and equality commissions are being set up; there has been a steady normalisation of security measures in Northern Ireland consistent with the level of terrorist threat; there has been the release of paramilitary prisoners, which has been a contentious point in the debate this afternoon; and, finally, there have been a number of important initiatives relating to the victims of terrorism and violence in line with the recommendations of the Bloomfield Report. I believe that, taken together, they represent a tremendous amount of progress.

I do not need to remind noble Lords that the implementation of the agreement has not been easy. That has been the thrust of many of the speeches that we have heard this afternoon. None of us would have expected easy progress from the date of the establishment of the Good Friday agreement. There are people on both sides of the community who remain hostile to the political process. A tiny minority of people have used violence to try to destroy the agreement and continue to threaten to do so. Last summer the atrocity in Omagh and the murder of the three Quinn boys in Ballymoney were tragic reminders of the evils of sectarianism and paramilitary violence and of the past that the people of Northern Ireland so desperately want to put behind them. Efforts continue to try to bring the perpetrators of these vile acts to justice. Your Lordships will have noted the arrests in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of individuals alleged to have been involved in the atrocity in Omagh.

These tragedies have reinforced us in our efforts to press on with the process of implementing the agreement to try to ensure that never again will the people of Northern Ireland have to suffer in this way. Regrettably, there has been a continuing incidence of paramilitary attacks, beatings and mutilations. I share the disgust of all noble Lords at these barbaric attacks. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has met representatives of Sinn Fein and the Loyalist parties to stress that these attacks are totally unacceptable and that they must end. I am pleased that the level of attacks has now reduced significantly. The Government will continue to press for a total end to paramilitary violence. Even one paramilitary attack, mutilation or beating of this kind is one too many.

This is not just about violence but the threat of it and the forced exile of people from their homes and from Northern Ireland. Many noble Lords have referred to forced exile. This is a violation of human rights which is totally incompatible with the agreement. The Government call on all those who are in a position of influence to press for these forced exiles to end.

There have been other difficulties on the political front. Most significantly, there is the continuing stalemate over the formation of the executive committee and the refusal of the major paramilitary organisations to begin the decommissioning of their illegal weapons. Today many noble Lords have emphasised again and again the absolute necessity for all sides to live up to their obligations under the agreement. I wholly support those calls. It is essential to the implementation of the agreement and to the building of trust between the communities that all sides live up to all their commitments. The noble Lord, Lord Eames, spoke movingly about the need for trust to be established; and that trust was the key to significant progress in Northern Ireland. That is why the Government have continued to live up to their obligations even when that has been very difficult, most notably in the continuing release of paramilitary prisoners.

This fulfilment of obligations simply must be reciprocated by all sides. That means that we must move quickly to the establishment of the institutions of government in Northern Ireland, because when they are established there will be more trust and confidence in the whole process. It means a start to decommissioning.

Much has been said in this House and elsewhere about decommissioning. I want to say today that the issue of decommissioning is not about creating new pre-conditions. It is not about seeking to exclude people from Government. Quite the opposite. It is about creating the conditions necessary for inclusive and democratic government. Nor is it about surrender, as the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, said. That was demonstrated by the beginning of LVF decommissioning in December. That showed that decommissioning is politically possible. No one was humiliated. It was not an act of surrender. It was an act of good faith, living up to the obligations of the agreement.

Much has been made of the fact that the agreement does not specify a start date for decommissioning, only an end date. But nor does the agreement set a start date for the early release of prisoners and yet the two Governments have clearly demonstrated their good faith by taking forward this aspect of the agreement.

Decommissioning cannot be argued away. It is integral to the very spirit of the agreement as a demonstration of the transition from the violence and threat of violence of the past to the democratic politics of the future. It is a demonstration of the commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

When we started the debate, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was answering questions in another place. I believe that it would be appropriate for me to quote what he said in answer to a Question from David Trimble about decommissioning. It is too soon to be able to quote from Hansard; but I think that it would be wrong if I did not repeat this to the House. The Prime Minister said:
"The advice is very clear. They should decommission their weapons. I agree with what the Taoiseach said. The whole of the agreement must be implemented and we must know that violence has been given up for good; and it is unreasonable to expect people to sit down together unless they know that that is the case".
It is now time for parties associated with paramilitary organisations to demonstrate their good faith by making real progress on decommissioning, just as it is time for inclusive, democratic government to begin. I agree with noble Lords that all obligations under the agreement must be met in full.

I welcome the continued commitment to bipartisan support of the main thrust of the Government's policies from the Opposition party and the Liberal Democrats. Of course that does not mean that we expect a blank cheque. But we welcome the continuation of that bipartisan support. It is important that people in Northern Ireland know that that is the case so that they do not seek to divide us here on the main thrust of what we seek in Northern Ireland.

Many questions were asked. Consistent with time, I shall do my best to do justice to them. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, asked a number of questions. I totally condemn the vile attack in Beesbrook last night. Every effort will be made to bring those responsible to justice. If convicted they will not be eligible for early release under the agreement. It has not yet been possible to determine which organisation, if any, was responsible for the attack. The RUC investigation is continuing.

I cannot confirm the statistics of the noble and learned Lord about the number of people forced into exile. However, as I said earlier, I totally agree that such activity is a disgraceful violation of human rights and must end.

The noble and learned Lord asked about the judgement of the ceasefire becoming more rigorous over time. The Secretary of State will make her judgment in the round taking into account all relevant facts. The noble and learned Lord will agree that it is not an easy judgment to make. Over time, as the implementation of the agreement continues, the consideration of the relevant factors will become more stringent. But it is a serious judgment and noble Lords must be aware of the serious consequence of declaring that the ceasefires are at an end. It is clear that to say the ceasefires are at an end would prejudice all the progress that has been made and might take us way back to where we were before the peace process began under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew.

The noble and learned Lord also referred to the possession of Semtex. I agree with him that the holding of explosives of any form is incompatible with a commitment to exclusively peaceful means. The RUC will continue to do all it can to secure the removal of all illegal weapons and explosives and to bring to justice those in possession of them. At the same time I believe that the full implementation of the agreement is the best way to secure the decommissioning of these weapons.

Reference was made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and other noble Lords to the number of paramilitary beatings and attacks. There have been some indications of a decline in number. Nevertheless I share the disgust of all noble Lords at these barbaric attacks. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has met with representatives of the Sinn Fein and loyalist parties to stress that they must come to an end. By their nature, the statistics are unreliable. However, I can confirm the indications that there has been recently a significant reduction, in particular of those attributed to the republicans; but one attack is one too many.

The noble and learned Lord also asked why we did not use the lever of stopping releases. If that were to happen, the consequences would be immense for the whole process in Northern Ireland. I do not say that it would never be right to come to that judgment; it is just that I do not believe that such a judgment would be right at this point in time. To demand a decision to be reached that the ceasefires are at an end, when we judge that they are not, would bring down the whole Good Friday agreement. That would be a consequence. The view that stopping prisoner releases would increase the chances of the Good Friday agreement being implemented is not one that I share. I do not believe that it would have that effect. The situation is never perfect, but in 18 months we have come further than people believed we could; and that has been with all the difficulties—tactical, strategic and of principle—inherent in the situation.

The judgment about the ceasefire must take into account all the evidence, including the security advice we receive. On the basis of that evidence, we do not believe that it is justified to conclude that the ceasefires have broken down. In saying that, I repeat that I do not minimize our anxiety about continuing paramilitary attacks.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, and the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, asked about support in the United States for the Continuity IRA as evidenced by the collection of funds. The support of the US Government and of President Clinton in particular has been an invaluable factor in the peace process. President Clinton has made clear that there should be no support from America for those who would seek to wreck the agreement through continuing violence. There is close co-operation between the agencies of the British and United States Governments to prevent the illegal funding of dissident terrorist groups, including of course the Continuity IRA.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, and many other noble Lords asked about policing. Under the Good Friday agreement, the Government have appointed an independent commission on policing with Chris Patten in the chair. Its broad terms of reference are set out in the agreement. It is to report next summer, and is consulting widely throughout Northern Ireland. We want the best possible policing service for the people of Northern Ireland based on principles of fairness, impartiality and effectiveness, which works in partnership with and is supported by the community.

I do not know what Chris Patten's commission will decide. However, the Prime Minister has made it clear that the RUC will not be disbanded, so that is not on the Government's agenda. I join the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, in paying tribute to the RUC and the work it has done over many years in extremely difficult circumstances. Its members are very brave men and, tragically, many of them lost their lives in defending their communities in Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, in what I thought was a pessimistic speech, asked about the release of prisoners. He used the word "amnesty". There is no amnesty for prisoners. Under the legislation agreed by this House, prisoners are given early release on licence, in line with the agreement.

The noble Lord and others suggested that it was wrong to reduce security when a threat remains. Individual normalisation measures are operational decisions for the Chief Constable to take in the light of his assessment of the threat. As a result of his advice, certain security measures have been scaled down. The advice of the Chief Constable and the GOC determines the Government's response and the closing of any establishments.

Several references were made to the running costs of the Assembly. With devolution, it is fitting that Northern Ireland's locally elected politicians and leaders should take decisions on how to allocate resources within the transferred field. One cannot say, "We are giving you devolution", and then tell them how to exercise their responsibilities. That would be inconsistent. Therefore, the cost of the Assembly is a matter for the Assembly itself. I do not wish to comment in detail on the figures which were quoted, but they refer to the next financial year when, all being well, the Assembly will be responsible for its finances and will have to live with the consequences of any expenditure under one heading at the expense of others.

The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, referred to the Washington Summit. The United States Government have provided vital support to the political process in Northern Ireland. That includes work by the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, as well as the President himself. A number of political leaders from Northern Ireland, as well as the Secretary of State, will be in the United States in the middle of March. We expect that those who are in contact with them will encourage them to show the courage and determination needed to make further progress.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, spoke about changes to Articles 2 and 3. The constitutional amendments were approved by a referendum on 22nd May 1998 in accordance with Article 4 of the British-Irish agreement. The Irish Government are bound to ensure that these amendments take effect immediately on entry into force of the agreement. This will occur immediately on the transfer of powers and the formal establishment of other institutional aspects of the Belfast agreement.

The noble Marquess, Lord Donegall, said that punishment attacks had been committed by released prisoners. There have been allegations of that, but we have no firm evidence and the Government cannot and will not act on the basis of media speculation.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. I recently read in a responsible newspaper that one released prisoner had been returned to custody. I do not know to which grouping he belonged, his religion or where he came from, but I am reasonably confident that that is a fact.

My Lords, there has been one recall. All prisoners are released under licence—

My Lords, I said that there had been attacks because it was reported in the Irish Independent, which I read.

My Lords, perhaps I can help. I understand that the man was recalled for a normal criminal/civil offence.

My Lords, I believe that that is the case. All prisoners are released under licence and therefore are subject to recall. The point at issue was whether released prisoners have taken part in paramilitary assaults and beatings. We have no evidence of that. If there were evidence of the involvement of released prisoners, as in any other criminal matter the licence would be suspended and they would be back inside gaol. I confirm that one prisoner who was released has been arrested, not in relation to a terrorist offence and therefore not in breach of his licence. Nevertheless, he has been arrested for the further offence which he committed.

I must bring my remarks to a close. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, encourages me to continue and there are only two or three specific points that I wish to make. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said that the Secretary of State was soft on terrorism and the like. I reject that entirely; it is not the case. The noble Lord, Lord Cooke, said that the Government were not interested in protecting people from attacks. That is entirely wrong. The Government take the security of every individual person in Northern Ireland as being a matter of importance. My noble friend Lord Fitt referred to the release of prisoners and the effect on local people of seeing those who had killed their relatives. I understand that. It is extremely painful—we said so at the time of the legislation—for the relatives to see such people coming out of prison. However, I do not accept my noble friend's suggestion that there is any acceptable level of violence. We do not go along with that; there is no acceptable level of violence. I reject the suggestion entirely.

We have had a useful and interesting debate. There is an enormous prize ahead for all of us in the United Kingdom, in particular for the people of Northern Ireland, provided that we have decommissioning and the peace process moves forward. I believe that it will. I believe that we stand on the brink of a significant step forward and one which we cannot afford to miss. We have come too far to contemplate going back. The people of Northern Ireland have voted overwhelmingly for the agreement. They want it to happen; they want it implemented in full. That includes decommissioning, an integral component of the agreement, and it includes the establishment of inclusive democratic government in Northern Ireland.

There is still a sense of optimism in Northern Ireland. I know of the difficulties and I know that people are worried. I join noble Lords today in urging the parties to show the courage and determination which they have exhibited throughout the process and to make the decision necessary to take the next step on the road to a better future for Northern Ireland.

6.7 p.m.

My Lords, time is minuscule and I must redeem myself for having spoken for an extra minute by saving time now. The debate will repay careful reading. Therefore, I wish to confine my remarks to only three issues, all of which concern my gratitude. First, I am most grateful to the Minister for the careful way in which he addressed himself to the questions which were asked. His answers will bring some reassurance to those in Northern Ireland who have deep anxieties which were focused upon in the debate.

Secondly, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in such a knowledgeable, serious, well informed and well attended debate. Again, that will help to bring confidence to Northern Ireland. Finally, I am grateful to noble Lords who made kind remarks about myself and my wife. I comment only that in the case of my wife they are thoroughly well deserved. On that proudly uxorious and deeply grateful note, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report: Publication

6.8 p.m.

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I wish to repeat a Statement made earlier in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows: "Madam Speaker, with permission I should like to make a Statement about the report of the inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence.

"Copies of the inquiry's report and appendices are available from the Vote Office. Honourable members will themselves want time to read and consider the report, and I can therefore tell the House that my right honourable friend the Leader of the House has agreed that there should be a full day's debate on the report as soon as possible.

"Stephen Lawrence was a bright 18 year-old student with a promising future. He wanted to be an architect and was studying hard for his A-levels. At about 10.30 p.m. on Thursday 22nd April 1993 Stephen was waiting for a bus With his friend Duwayne Brooks in Well Hall Road, Eltham in south London. He was set upon in an unprovoked knife attack and was killed. There was only one reason for his murder. Stephen was black.

"Any parents faced with the death of their son in such circumstances would have been devastated. But for Stephen's parents, Doreen and Neville Lawrence, their sense of despair has been compounded by the failure of our criminal justice system to deliver them justice, to secure the conviction of those responsible. I think I can speak for the whole House when I say that Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence's campaign for the truth has been pursued by them with enormous dignity, courage and determination. I pay my personal tribute to them today.

"I first met the family in early 1997 and saw both parents again shortly after becoming Home Secretary in May that year. They persuaded me of the case for a thorough, independent scrutiny of the investigation into their son's murder and the lessons which could be learnt from it. In July 1997 I therefore announced to the House that I had appointed the former judge of the High Court, Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, to conduct a full judicial inquiry. This was the first such inquiry under the Police Act since Lord Scarman's into the 1981 Brixton riots. The terms of reference of this new inquiry were as follows:
'To inquire into the matters arising from the death of Stephen Lawrence on 22nd April 1993 to date, in order particularly to identify the lessons to be learned for the investigation and prosecution of racially motivated crimes'.
"The inquiry examined the handling of the case in comprehensive detail. It held 69 days of public hearings, heard 88 witnesses and received some 100,000 pages of evidence. I wish to put on the record my deep gratitude to Sir William Macpherson and his three advisers. They were Mr. Tom Cook, former Deputy Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, the Right Reverend Dr. John Sentamu, the Bishop of Stepney, and Dr. Richard Stone, Chairman of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality. I should also like to thank the inquiry team for their commitment and sensitivity in handling this very important inquiry.

"The report is divided into two parts. The first covers the police investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the second part the wider lessons to be learnt. The main findings of the first part of the inquiry are these:
'The conclusions to be drawn from all the evidence in connection with the investigation of Stephen Lawrence's racist murder are clear. There is no doubt but that there were fundamental errors. The investigation was marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership by senior officers. A flawed [Metropolitan Police] review failed to expose these inadequacies. The second investigation could not salvage the faults of the first investigation'. (46.1)
"That first investigation of the murder, the inquiry finds, was 'palpably flawed' (2.10) and deserves severe criticism. The inquiry concludes:
'There can be no excuses for such a series of errors, failures, and lack of direction and control'. (46.20–46.23)
"A review of the case was conducted in autumn 1993 by Detective Chief Superintendent John Barker. The inquiry has found that this review was factually incorrect and inadequate. The inquiry was concerned that no senior officer at any level tested or analysed the review and that Mr. Barker had produced a 'flawed and indefensible' report. (46.21 and 46.22) "In 1994 a second investigation of the case was established and this attempted to salvage the situation. The inquiry makes clear that this second investigation, led by Detective Superintendent William Mellish, was conducted with great imagination, skill and sensitivity by the officers involved. (46.23 and 46.24)

"The inquiry also identified work by police officers and others at other stages which was exemplary. They have been praised for their unstinting commitment to bring the racist killers to justice. But their efforts, in the view of the inquiry, were not sufficient to overcome the catalogue of errors and basic incompetence in the handling of this investigation.

"The report also concludes that:
'no collusion or corruption is proved to have infected the investigation of Stephen Lawrence's murder'. (8.18)
"The Government accept the findings and conclusions of the first part of this inquiry, which relates to the investigation into Stephen's murder. The House will share my sense of shame that the criminal justice system, and the Metropolitan Police in particular, failed the Lawrence family so badly. The Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, has asked me to tell the House that he shares that sense of shame too. He has also asked that I should tell the House that, as head of the Metropolitan Police Service, he fully accepts the findings of the inquiry, including those that are made relating to him.

"Sir Paul Condon took over as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in February 1993. Since he came into office he has given strong personal leadership to improving the quality of service which the Metropolitan Police provides to all sections of the community. A great deal has been achieved. For example, reported crime in London is at its lowest for nine years and Sir Paul is tackling the problems of police corruption with vigour. I have asked Sir Paul to continue to lead the Metropolitan Police to deliver the programme of work which is now required. He has agreed. He will use the remaining 10 months of his office to take that work forward, including the agenda set by this report. I shall be supporting him and his successor in the work which lies ahead.

"The central and most important issue for the inquiry was racism and whether and how this affected the handling of the case. The inquiry has addressed this matter with care and sensitivity. On the critical issue of institutional racism the inquiry's definition is as follows:
'The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can he seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people'. (6.34)
"The inquiry found that on this definition:
'institutional racism … exists both in the Metropolitan Police Service and in other Police Services and other institutions countrywide'. (6.39)
"The report says that institutional racism was apparent in a number of areas of the police handling of the case. The inquiry emphasises, however, that its findings do not suggest or imply that all police officers are racist or that the Metropolitan Police Service is racist in its policies. The inquiry emphasises that by the establishment, under Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve, of the Metropolitan Police Service Racial and Violent Crime Task Force. The signs are that the problem is being recognised and tackled.(6.47)

"The report then says:
'the catharsis of this Inquiry will lead to constructive action and not to further divisive views and outcomes'. (6.47)
This is a new definition of institutional racism which I accept—and so does the commissioner. The inquiry's assessment is clear and sensible. In my view, any long established, white-dominated organisation is liable to have procedures, practices and a culture which tend to exclude or to disadvantage non-white people. The police service in this respect is little different from other parts of the criminal justice system, or from government departments, including the Home Office, and many other institutions.

"The Report makes 70 wide-ranging recommendations. I welcome them all. I am sure that honourable Members will not expect me to go through each of these recommendations in turn today. I shall instead lay a detailed response and action plan before the House, prior to the promised full day's debate on the report. I want however to use this opportunity to spell out how we are implementing the main recommendations of the report as part of our major and continuing programme of change for the police service and criminal justice system.

"First, the police service: I have ordered an immediate inspection of the Metropolitan Police Service by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and this includes a thorough scrutiny of unsolved murders and review of each case. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary already incorporates much of the approach of OFSTED in its inspections of police services and will be moving further in the direction of applying standards similar to those used by OFSTED, as the report recommends.

"A new police discipline regime will be brought in from 1st April this year. We will ensure that this is subject to effective monitoring and consider any further changes in the light of that experience. I will make an improvement in the trust and confidence in policing among ethnic minority communities a key ministerial priority for the police. I will use my statutory powers to ensure that every police force sets clear objectives the better to deal with racist crime and establishes effective ways of demonstrating fairness in all aspects of policing.

"I will set targets for the recruitment, retention and promotion of ethnic minority police and civilian staff. I announced last October our plans to ensure that every force reflects the ethnic diversity of the communities which they serve. I will chair a national conference of all chief constables and police authorities on this issue in April.

"Stop-and-search powers under current legislation will remain unchanged, as recommended by the inquiry report. But I will ensure that these powers are used more effectively and fairly. Londoners for the first time will be given a proper say in the running of their police service. From July next year a policy authority for London will sit alongside the new mayor and assembly. Legislation for this is already before the House.

"Clear standards of performance will be put in place to ensure more effective police investigations into racist crime. We have already changed the law to establish new offences of racially motivated crimes. The report makes wider recommendations for the criminal justice system. New guidelines will enable parties to an inquest from next month to receive advance disclosure of evidence and documents. I have asked the Law Commission to consider the inquiry's proposal that the Court of Appeal he given power to permit prosecution after acquittal where fresh and viable evidence is presented.

"As the inquiry proposes, we are already ensuring that victims, victims' families and vulnerable witnesses are treated more sensitively and fairly. The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill currently before Parliament will extend greater support to vulnerable witnesses. Yesterday I announced a 50 per cent. increase in funding to Victim Support. I should also tell the House that I will be publishing next week the report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary which examines police community relations across the country. The inspectorate's report supports and reinforces the messages which emerge from this inquiry.

"Madam Speaker, this report challenges us all and not just the police service, and I want to use the opportunity which the report brings to tackle discrimination wherever it is found. So today I can announce that we shall be extending the Race Relations Act not just to cover the police, as this report recommends, but to cover all of the public services. That means in the Civil Service, the Immigration Service and the National Health Service, the law will back those who have been the subject of discrimination. The new law will allow the Commission for Racial Equality to investigate what is happening within individual police forces and other public services. Companies and other organisations in the private sector have long been subject to this legislation. But government have so far failed to keep their own house in order.

"Madam Speaker, the Macpherson Inquiry demonstrated the failings of one very important public institution—the police service. The police have a special responsibility in our society because, day by day, they are the immediate guardians of fairness and justice. But we would be deluding ourselves if we believed that the issues thrown up by this inquiry affect only the police. The implications of this report go much wider. The very process of the inquiry has opened all our eyes to what it is like to be black or Asian in Britain today. And the inquiry process revealed some fundamental truths about the nature of our society and about our relationships one with another. Some of these truths are uncomfortable, but we must confront them.

"I want this report to serve as a watershed in our attitudes to racism. I want it to act as a catalyst for permanent and irrevocable change not just across our public services but across the whole of our society. This report does not place a responsibility on someone else; it places a responsibility on each one of us. We have to make racial equality a reality.

"The vision is clear: to create a society where every individual, regardless of colour, creed or race, has the same opportunities and respect as his or her neighbour. On race equality, let us make Britain a beacon to the world. Many countries already envy our record on race relations. The race relations legislation of the 1960s and 1970s has made a significant difference to the treatment of black and Asian people in our country. But it has plainly not been enough. Over the coming weeks the Prime Minister and I will spell out what the Government will be doing to drive home this programme of change. This report must mark the beginning of this process, not the end.

"In her evidence to the inquiry Mrs. Lawrence said,
'I would like Stephen to be remembered as a young man who had a future. He was well loved and had he been given the chance to survive, maybe he would have been the one to bridge the gap between black and white'.
This report was born of the courage and determination of the Lawrences; of their desire to get to the truth of what happened, and of their desire to ensure that their son was never forgotten. This report is a testament to them. And upon this report we must build a lasting testament to Stephen".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

6.26 p.m.

My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement of the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary. Today is a very serious day for our country. It is of the utmost importance for the future of our society as a whole that we respond to the multiple challenges raised by this report with both vision and energy.

We have all had a brief time to look at the whole report, but it is long and extremely detailed and needs careful and reflective study by us all. The Home Secretary, as we heard, had the approval of the Leader of another place to announce a day's debate. Can the Minister similarly confirm that this House will have a full debate on the report as soon as convenient?

The report is primarily about a terrible, callous and brutal murder—a racist murder—which should have been investigated with the utmost vigour and expertise, but was not. The first part of the report tells a shameful story of that investigation. The Statement sets out in summary what it found. Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence, their family, friends and supporters deserve our full sympathy, but they also have our highest respect for what they have been able to achieve out of this situation.

The blame for the murder itself does not lie with the police. But the failure to investigate the case with the vigour and rigour that it deserved does lie with the policemen concerned. The Home Secretary was quite right to point out in his Statement that some police are praised in the report, and also to confirm Sir Paul Condon in office. But the report also contains a long and important section about the definition of "racism" and particularly "institutional racism".

It is difficult to form a succinct definition, but we all know what is meant by such phrases, particularly "institutional racism". The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, defined it in summary as an institution in which racism is a deliberate act of policy. However, the Metropolitan Police Force is not guilty of that. But, that is a specific finding of the report.

Sir William's report has a definition which is more complex and includes, in particular, unintentional racism. We all hate and deplore racism, however defined, and whenever it occurs, both intentional and unintentional. It must be rooted out in the police force and elsewhere. Therefore, we support the principles behind the recommendations which the Government have accepted for extending the Race Relations Act. If nothing were to be done, the reaction to this report might increase alienation within the ethnic minority communities and defensiveness within our institutions, including the police force. It is therefore important to look forward with determination to do better. The police, government and we in Parliament can and must start that process. However, it is important that everyone within the ethnic minority communities who feels upset by what has happened should also work with the police to try to improve the situation. There is no future in feeling alienated, natural though that may be.

Most policemen and policewomen are not racist; they are trying even more as a result of these events and this report to put things right. The actions put in train in the Metropolitan Police Force are evidence of that fact. Since September last year, the number of racially-motivated crimes solved has increased by 73 per cent. However, they need the help of everyone if they are to succeed.

Perhaps I may make a few detailed points. These are, of course, preliminary' questions. All 70 specific recommendations need to be studied in detail. The report recommends that double jeopardy should be examined by the Law Commission. We all know of some cases that we would love to see tried again. That is not the preserve of ethnic minorities or of any group. However, it is an extremely difficult matter which has all sorts of consequences. Therefore, I think it is right that the Law Commission should examine it. I hope that that means that the Law Commission in Scotland as well as the Law Commission in England and Wales will consider the matter, possibly jointly. I understand that race relations is a reserved matter as far as Scotland is concerned, although law and order is a devolved matter. However, clearly the Scottish Law Commission should be involved in such considerations.

The report recommends that the new police authority for London should appoint the chief officers of the Metropolitan Police. That is not quite the Government's present proposal in the Bill in another place. However, it is the proposal in an amendment to that Bill tabled by my party in another place. That is in line with the recommendation in the report and I hope that it will find acceptance in due course.

Can the Government give careful thought to the problem I mentioned briefly the other day? I refer to the difficulty of achieving a greater number, and hence a higher proportion, of ethnic minority officers when forces have had to freeze recruitment and cannot afford, in some cases, to replace officers who retire. The numbers in the police have reduced by about 780 since March 1997.

On a slightly lighter note, I am sure that your Lordships were all delighted to know that the Minister cannot have been the source of the disgraceful leak of the report which took place at the weekend, according to what we read in the newspapers. However, the Home Office was responsible for that leak. It failed to take the sort of precautions that, for example, the Treasury takes in looking after Budget secrets. However, unless the Minister can give us any more information about the progress of the inquiry into that matter, I believe that the freedom of the press and the Government's persistent leaking are matters for another day.

Our police do an extremely tough and difficult job on behalf of us all. In the main, they do it better and more sensitively than practically any other police force in the world. However, change is required to retain and, in many cases, rebuild policing by consent. I hope that the report will prove a springboard for better relations, and not only for the police force. It is important that the police and all of us rise to this challenge.

6.35 p.m.

My Lords, we welcome the report of Sir William Macpherson's inquiry into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence. We also welcome the Statement from the Home Secretary. Those who, in the past few days, have concentrated their criticism on the issue of the injunction or the sacking of the Metropolitan Commissioner on the basis of the leaked report have done a great disservice to the central theme of the report. It diverts attention from the real issues facing policing in this country. It also gives comfort to those officers who are corrupt, racist or sexist and who would love to see the back of Sir Paul. We must not give comfort to them. But we are entitled to ask, are we not, now that the recommendations are known: what will Sir Paul do about it?

The report does not demand the commissioner's resignation. It is about pernicious racism that seems to have affected police and policing decisions in London. But, taken in its widest sense, it is about racism that is endemic in our society. Stephen Lawrence died because we all failed in arresting racism that has affected our lives, our attitudes and our society. To discuss injunctions and resignations, as we have seen, is simply to direct attention away from this important publication. We have a record second to none on race relations in the western world. Our race legislation is also second to none in Western Europe. My noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead must be given great credit for introducing that in Parliament. It should be a surprise to no one that persons, be they police, prosecutors, lawyers, magistrates or prison officers, represent the same strengths and weaknesses as the society and community from which they come.

This is the most important report since the publication of the Scarman Report on the Brixton disorders in November 1981. The fundamental difference is that the noble and learned Lord did not accept institutional racism then. Sir William, on the other hand, explains what this is all about.

It is now almost 40 years since the Notting Hill disturbances in 1958. Casting my mind back, black people were systematically exposed to violence perpetrated by local youths and supplemented by extreme Right-wing movements in the country. At that time, Kelso Cochrane, a young black man was murdered for no other reason than that he was black. That was 40 years ago. In those days Kelso's death became a uniting force when black and white residents stood together at the funeral procession giving a clear message that they would not tolerate racist attacks. I know because I was there.

Almost 40 years on, I wish I could say the same thing following the death of Stephen Lawrence. The black community has lost confidence and it does not believe that the establishment is able to protect it. That is sad. The sooner we rebuild confidence, the better it will be for our multi-racial society.

In the sorry state of what happened to Stephen Lawrence, few people emerge with credit, and it is right that we should single them out. It took courage for Jack Straw to set up the public inquiry, and we are grateful to him for that. Despite their horrendous suffering, Doreen and Neville Lawrence continue to demonstrate the dignity with which they have pursued their case. They, as individuals, have never lost faith in our system of justice although justice deserted them when they needed it most. In the end, we praise them and they can hold their heads high with dignity and respect from us all. Of course, we failed them, because those who perpetrated this heinous crime are still free.

We can all argue about what institutional racism is all about. However, that too is to distract and divert attention away from the key fact that not only in policing, but also in other key aspects of our institutions, it is now recognised that differential treatment exists. We now have a clear definition and we should accept it as a first step in building a decent, fair and just society. I am glad that Sir Paul Condon now accepts that as a basis for progress.

Some years ago we set up a Royal Commission on Criminal Justice. It then reported on some important research about the position of black people in the criminal justice system. Many of those issues are still surfacing now in Sir William's report. Black youths are especially likely to be stopped by the police and arrested. Although only a small proportion of those arrests result from stops, if only one in 10 results in a criminal justice process, it is no surprise that nine out of 10 have an adversarial relationship with the police in this country. Once arrested, black youngsters are less likely to be cautioned than are whites. The overall pattern of charges brought against blacks differs from that for whites. Black defendants are more likely to be remanded into custody. They are more likely to plead not guilty to the charges brought against them. Black defendants are more likely to be tried in a Crown Court and more likely to be acquitted, but when black defendants are found guilty of a crime, they are likely to receive longer and more custodial sentences and a different range of non-custodial options.

The result of all that is that 18 per cent. of the male prison population and 26 per cent. of the female prison population in this country is black as against their proportion of just under 6 per cent. in the community. The Home Office will have to ask why within the criminal justice system we have produced that discrepancy. Black people see this in the context of the definition provided by Sir William Macpherson's analysis:
"The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amounts to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people".
I think that Sir William Macpherson is spot on. He has all the evidence to back this up.

But call it "institutional racism" or call it what you like, in the case of Stephen Lawrence this process seems to be evident and he paid with his life. Those who would have been brought to justice remain unconvicted. That is the stark reality of racism if it remains unchecked.

The black community remains unconvinced—and this is confirmed by the report—that those conducting the investigation possessed the appropriate skills and understanding to determine whether institutional racism had any effect on the decisions made by them.

We have a police force which is the envy of the world, but that does not mean that it could not be better. There is a general acceptance that police officers have such far-reaching powers over the lives of ordinary people that there must be effective safeguards against misuse. The fall of public confidence in the police service in recent years has mainly been due to well-publicised cases. What it demonstrates is that we have civilian oversight on the matter of police discipline; we have consultative processes on the matter of community involvement, but we have no accountability in the matter of the operations that the police carry out. Is it not time that there should also be civilian oversight of such matters?

We leave it to the Government to decide as and when a full debate on this report is possible. We shall certainly examine whatever suggestions are made in any such debate.

Perhaps I may now refer to a few issues reflected in the report. The first relates to responsibility. Acting on this report (the most important development for race and criminal justice systems since Scarman) is the responsibility of the whole criminal justice system and not only of the police. The Crown Prosecution Service, the courts, the legal professions and the Prison and Probation Services must work with local authorities and communities and must guarantee justice and equality for all.

The Criminal Justice Consultative Council must give a clear lead to the 23 area criminal justice liaison committees to make this their top priority for the coming months. They must play a pivotal co-ordinating role across national and local government agencies.

The Government must give top-level commitment to implementing the recommendations. That must be sustained over many years and not forgotten after a year when the media interest dies down.

The second issue relates to repairing the damage. This is an opportunity to repair the damage done to community relations and to redress unfairness and discrimination in the criminal justice system. It is an opportunity which must not be wasted. Confidence in justice must be restored.

Responses to racially motivated crime must be seen in the context of overall police operations. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act, stop and search and other police powers which have a disproportionate impact on black communities must not only be monitored but investigated urgently.

There is also the question of accountability. Accountability and consultation with local communities must be restructured, strengthened and properly resourced. A two-way dialogue between young people and police officers is crucial. A realistic debate is needed on the problem of local crime and police responses to it.

There is also the matter of training, which features heavily in Sir William Macpherson's report. Joint training across the criminal justice agencies should be introduced on how to promote a co-ordinated and consistent approach to fairness and equality in the delivery of justice. Training must have a direct impact on daily operations and working practices. It must tackle the stereotyping and assumptions that lead black people to be perceived as suspects, rather than victims, witnesses, professional colleagues or partners in tackling crime.

The report of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary has pointed to disturbing evidence of racist banter and discriminatory behaviour directed by the police at their minority colleagues. The question of education is also heavily reflected in Sir William's report.

However, I think that the most important aspect of the report is the review of the race relations legislation. We welcome that initiative on the part of the Government. The Race Relations Act was designed to eliminate discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity. What can no longer be tolerated are the exemptions granted to the police and criminal justice agencies under the provisions of that Act.

Perhaps I may conclude by repeating what President Johnson said when addressing the American nation after the Warren Commission report:
"The only genuine long-range solution for what has happened lies in an attack—mounted at every level—upon the conditions that breed despair and violence. All of us know what those conditions are: ignorance, discrimination, slums, poverty, disease, and not enough jobs. We should attack these conditions—not because we are frightened by conflict, but because we are fired by conscience. We should attack them because there is simply no other way to achieve a decent and orderly society".
Those words are as true today as they were during President Johnson's administration. I am glad that the Minister quoted Doreen Lawrence in a tribute to Stephen, saying—perhaps I may repeat it—
"He treated people like people—he would have bridged the divide between the police and black people".
That is the greatest tribute to Stephen Lawrence.

6.48 p.m.

My Lords, both noble Lords have responded with the decency and scruple that we always expect of them. Both invited me to respond to their request for a full day's debate which Jack Straw has already announced for the Commons. Obviously that is a matter for the usual channels, but I cannot leave this without pointing out the importance which I personally attach to it.

Both noble Lords rightly said that this is a cause of shame and both spoke of the deep respect which we have for Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence. I can confirm that from recent personal experience, having shared a platform with them.

It is right that Sir Paul Condon has been asked to continue. He has a vast amount of work to do. I believe that he is an honest and honourable man. He is also dealing with other deficiencies in the Metropolitan Police service. I believe that it would have been a disservice to that police service and the community generally if he were not allowed to finish the work in which he has been engaged. He has 10 months to go and I think that the Home Secretary was morally right—courageously so—to take that step.

The definition of "institutional racism" is very important. I do not think that it is overstated as set out at paragraph 34 of Chapter Six of the report. I say that because it goes to outcomes. The most dangerous people are those—and they are among us daily—who say, "I don't have a racist bone in my body". They are dangerous because they believe it and they do not look at outcomes. If a young man of 16 asked me: "I am black, why have I been arrested on stop and search five times when your white daughter has never been arrested?", I think we would find the answer in the definition of institutional racism which appears in paragraph 6.34.

The only small caveat I would put in my general response to the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, relates to the fact that he said that the ethnic minorities are upset. That is not right: they are filled with anger, distress, bitterness and fury that we cannot even begin to guess at; and they are right. The noble Lord asked me about the Law Commission. Of course, we would expect the Scottish Law Commission to be involved.

I turn now to the question of the chief officer of police in the new police authority. The presently proposed scheme envisages that the post of commissioner will be a Royal appointment, but there will be an appointment procedure. The police authority would have to advertise the post and shortlist and interview candidates, as happens with chief officers elsewhere. The Home Secretary would then submit the name of the recommended candidate to Her Majesty.

There is no difficulty in setting targets, not quotas, for the recruitment, retention and promotion of those from ethnic minorities. That applies whether they are uniformed police officers or civilian employees, both of whom are important and both of whom are commended and referred to in detail in the report. If any police authority or chief constable says, "Financial pressures prevent us carrying out this elementary duty", I reject it. It should be rejected as firmly as possible.

I can confirm that I was not the source of the leak. Indeed, I am happy to reaffirm what the noble Lord, Lord Cope, said. The latter spoke about the question of the injunction and I shall spend a few moments only on the issue. There was no question here of trying to protect government secrets. Jack Straw made it plain from day one, and before, that he would publish the report in full. He wanted the Lawrence family to have the elementary decency afforded to them of a view of it in full. Was he right?

My Lords, the purpose of the injunction, whether it was right or wrong, was based on decent scruple; namely, that the family should suffer no further if it could be avoided. As it happened, Jack Straw had made arrangements for them to see the report because the newspaper, taking its view about the public interest—which it is entitled to have in a free society—published it earlier than today. The Lawrences were brought in at relatively short notice to the Home Office to have that decent courtesy afforded to them. I shall say no more about the injunction.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and I are absolutely at one here. He is quite right: this is not simply an inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence because he was black. He is also right to say that the repercussions of this inquiry will define this report as the most important since Scarman. Indeed, without disrespect to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, I believe that it will have infinitely greater consequences in the way that we conduct ourselves in our society, and not just in the police force. A police service only reflects the good points and the more ignoble points about the society it lives in and serves.

The noble Lord is right to say that the murderers of that young man are still free. That is a constant source of reproach and shame to all of us. The noble Lord is also right to say that racism is endemic in our community. The sooner we recognise it the better. If we do not have within ourselves the resource to recognise that elementary proposition, then we shall be meeting again in 20 years' time with a similar report, wringing our hands and wondering why we failed so abysmally.

The noble Lord is right to point out that this is not limited to the police service and right to point to the way that there are distortions in the criminal justice system, which statistics demonstrate, about charging, acquittals, sentences and the consequences of bail applications. That is another most important aspect of the report.

In the context of the Prison Service to which the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, referred, I am sure that he will know that Richard Tilt, the out-going director general, has already set up a task force to examine racism in the service. That also applies in the Probation Service. Indeed, it applies in the wider context as regards whether or not young black children and those from other ethnic minorities are fairly served by the education service at any level. It is perhaps a good idea occasionally to look also at the legal profession, which is far from perfect if you want to consider attitudes, prejudices and outcomes.

The noble Lord's final point of detail related to the question of how we deal with consultation of local communities. As the noble Lord implied, the latter differ infinitely. I believe that we have made a good beginning in the Crime and Disorder Act. It is a limited beginning but I recognise it as such. The legislation requires local partnerships and local audits in this very difficult area so that we shall no longer be able to say "We do well", when evidence, circumstance and statistics demonstrate that we do not.

6.56 p.m.

My Lords, I welcome the report. I do not often speak on police or race matters in your Lordships' House. However, I find it somewhat strange that no one has been punished in this case—that is to say, neither the murderers, nor indeed the police officers for incompetence. I do not want to put my noble friend the Minister on the spot, but does he not have some sympathy with the notion that if the football manager of England can be sacked for making a remark which some people may find offensive, surely it is surprising that no one has been sacked for this horrendous mess?

My Lords, I shall stick to the focused point put by the noble Lord, Lord Desai; namely, that no one has been punished. That is absolutely right and, indeed, absolutely disgraceful. No one has been punished for killing a young man and the police officers have been allowed to retire. That is a consequence of the present police discipline regulations. The latter was the subject of Chris Mullin's excellent committee report which, as I remember it, was unanimous. Immediately on receipt of that report, Jack Straw said that we must attend to a change in the police discipline regulations so that mere early retirement will not be a total shield to disciplinary proceedings possibly involving financial sanction, which may include limitation of pension rights. I do not think that anyone can say that Jack Straw did not respond immediately to that defect in the police discipline regulations. Moreover, it is not limited to the police. There are other services with similar aspects, which I am personally considering at present.

My Lords, will the Minister accept that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that the Home Secretary should be congratulated on having set up the inquiry? Will the Minister also accept that this is a very detailed report and I have, therefore, not tried to get the gist of it in the few minutes that have been available to me? Nevertheless, I am sure that the Home Secretary is right not to have allowed Sir Paul Condon to be drummed out of office when in fact he has made a great contribution to policing in the metropolis.

Does the Minister agree that there is some danger in accusing a whole force of institutionalised racism simply because, to most people, it is a phrase of uncertain meaning, as acknowledged by Sir William himself at one stage when he said that for 10 people there were four different definitions? In spite of the statement in the report that the finding does not imply that all police officers are racists, is there not a risk that the use of the phrase will taint all police officers in the force when the vast majority are not racist and at the same time may let individual racist officers off the hook when we really have to see that they are brought to book? It is important to recognise that the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence was appallingly badly handled; that the Lawrence family has suffered appallingly; and that the police must never allow anything like this to happen again and must give the highest priority to cracking down on racist officers and racially motivated crime.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, for his agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. It is, of course, a detailed report. One needs days, not hours, to study it with care. However, I have to disagree with his proposition. The definition in paragraph 6.34 is worth repeating and remembering:

"The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination"—
outcomes, in other words—
"through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people".
If we do not take that on board, understand it, and be shamed by it, we shall get nowhere.

Chapter 6 is an interesting chapter. Obviously the brief headline accounts of this report are limited. It is a thoughtful discussion of different definitions of racism. Sir William's report quotes—rightly, I think—at paragraph 6.43 what Lord Justice Leggatt said in the well-known case of Querishi v. London Borough of Newham:
"Incompetence does not, without more, become discrimination merely because the person affected by it is from an ethnic minority".
The inquiry takes that fully on board and directs its mind accordingly. Paragraph 6.44 states:
"We heed this warning, but upon all the facts we assert that the conclusion that racism played its part in this case is fully justified. Mere incompetence cannot of itself account for the whole catalogue of failures, mistakes, misjudgements, and lack of direction and control which bedevilled the Stephen Lawrence investigation".
I ask the following question, if we think that Sir William was wrong: if Stephen had been a young, white teenager from a middle class, white family, would it have been quite the same?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating this important Statement which today marks a milestone in beginning to put in place an accountable and just police force. I salute the comprehensive comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and the searching questions, which I wholly endorse. I take this opportunity to express gratitude for the bravery of my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary in honouring the persistence of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence in bringing to public attention the shameful conduct of those officers who today shame the whole of the Met. Sir Paul Condon is not an issue. I appreciate the difficult decision that the Home Secretary had to take and support him in that. I look forward to Sir Paul Condon placing much emphasis on the recommendations that are before us.

It would be unjust not to acknowledge also the vanguard action of Paul Dacre of the Daily Mail without whose action middle England might never have acquired the knowledge we have today. I also pay tribute to the numerous other families who still await justice on account of the death or severe disablement of their sons. I refer to the Ricky Reel, the Muktar Ahmed and Quddus Ali families, to name but a few. I am confident that the recommendations of the report and the commitment of the Government to scrutinise its implementation will result in some fundamental changes not just within the Met but also perhaps within wider society so that Stephen Lawrence can finally rest in peace.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, for those remarks. I believe that Jack Straw took the right decision in setting up a public inquiry, publicly funded and with an undertaking to publish its findings. He was right to support Sir Paul Condon when it would have been easy not to do so. I agree with the noble Baroness that the Daily Mail under the editorship of Paul Dacre has performed a valuable public service in expressing the real, bitter anger I mentioned earlier, and disseminating that widely to a critical audience in our society. I believe that he and his newspaper have done noble work which a free press ought to be able to do, even if a free press sometimes comes to conclusions with which we do not always agree.

In respect of the latter two points the noble Baroness raised, there is, of course—as mentioned in the Statement made by Jack Straw, which I repeated—the retrospective review of unsolved murders in this particular context. The noble Baroness and your Lordships will know of the reinvestigation of the death of Mr. Michael Manson, which is being conducted with real vigour—I can say that from personal knowledge— by Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve. I shall say no more about that because it is a continuing investigation.

My Lords, I believe that Sir Paul Condon is an issue. I was bishop in north London when Paul Condon became the ADC of north west London. He was responsible for the policing of the Notting Hill carnival. The transformation he brought to that event through community consent was remarkable. The community became calm and the carnival became a happy event which the police and other people thoroughly enjoyed. No one could have brought more commitment to the task of eradicating racism from the Metropolitan police force. When I came back to London last year I was sad to discover that as regards a murder which occurred "on the patch" in my diocese, Sir Paul had not been able to eradicate racism within the Metropolitan police force. It illustrates just what a difficult task this is. Frankly, if he could not complete that task, with his conviction and commitment, it will not be easily done. Why is that the case? I believe the problem arises from the enormous scale of the force.

I was a bishop in Leicester. The Leicester police have an enviable record of eradicating racism from within their ranks but it is a relatively small force and therefore the culture of the senior management can be imposed throughout the force. Every serving police officer has to spend several weekends living with a family from the ethnic minority community. However, the task is far more difficult as regards the Metropolitan force. Does the Minister agree that either Sir Paul or his successor who tackles this task, will need the support and encouragement of us all?

My Lords, I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his support of Sir Paul Condon. I absolutely agree with the proposition that he put to me finally, as I hope I have tried to make clear on every occasion when we have addressed these matters. It is not a question of police officers and the police service, nor of parts of the criminal justice system, nor of parts of the education system or the National Health Service. It is a question of attacking fundamental attitudes which we are reluctant to admit our society indulges in.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that Sir William Macpherson and his advisers are to be congratulated on the report, of which I have read a good deal between the time that Jack Straw sat down and the present time? It is an incisive, clear, unambiguous report. When you think that the inquiry considered 100,000 pages of documents and sat for 70 days in all, the report, of just over 300 pages, is a masterpiece of direct presentation and conclusion. I agree with the noble Lord that the influence of the report will be very much greater than that of the Scarman Report.

The noble Lord and I, between us, have probably been involved in many, many murder cases. He knows, as I do, that what is really at the root of this case—the horrific murder of a youngster by a gang—is that, from the outset, the reflex action of the officers was different from what we would have expected in those circumstances. The experience of Sir William—as a barrister and, later, as a High Court judge—and those advising him reflects this.

I am sure that the noble Lord will agree that there is institutionalised prejudice in our country and that we have to take steps to overcome it. He and I know, I am sure, that there are institutionalised prejudices in the robing room and even on the Bench. We have been aware of that. They have changed, perhaps, over the years and are changing. They continually change.

Having said that, there is one matter that I would ask the noble Lord to consider very carefully. It is the suggestion that the Court of Appeal be given power to permit prosecution after acquittal where fresh and viable evidence is presented. That would be a very, very dangerous step. Hard cases make bad law. This is a hard case. The evidence should have been there if the investigation had been properly undertaken. To change the law on this matter because of this case would he a very dangerous step indeed. Does the Minister not consider that a better solution might be to change the procedure of inquiry in serious criminal cases of this kind?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hooson is right. There is institutionalised prejudice, and—reverting to what I said earlier—not least in the apparently respectable areas of our society like the legal profession, as the noble Lord has just described. I will do no more than say that there is a wide spectrum in the legal profession—from the Law Society to the Bar Council, to practitioners, to the Bench, as the noble Lord mentioned, and to the Inns of Court—if we want to think about outcomes.

The noble Lord is right to say that one does not want to change the law in a hurried, ill-considered way. Again, that is why I think it is absolutely right that we should ask the Law Commission to look at this very difficult area of the law. At the moment there is of course an exception if the facts demonstrate that the acquittal was by virtue of interference with, or intimidation of, witnesses or jurors. Sections 54 to 57 of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 do, I agree exceptionally, allow the acquittal to be overturned. The noble Lord is quite right. One has to be very careful indeed that one does not produce further wrongs in addressing this undoubted shame. It is right to ask the Law Commission to put its mind to this issue. If one looks at the productions the Law Commission has been able to bring about in discussing criminal law, one notices that they are of very high quality indeed.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on repeating the Statement and on the way he has responded to noble Lords. It has been most encouraging, informative and sensitive. I invite the Minister to reinforce the messages in the report about racism, both intended and unintended, and to say that these messages are for every organisation, not just those the subject of the inquiry. Those message are for us all.

Does the Minister agree that it is only by everyone being willing to explore our prejudices and stereotypes that progress will be made? Does the Minister further agree that the real challenge of the report is not only for those organisations but for every one of us and every part of society?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. But we have to focus on particular organisations. As Jack Straw said, it is very important that he accepts immediately the expansion of the remit of the race relations legislation to the police and other similar institutions. He is, after all, the Home Secretary, and he made a point of indicating that he does not simply want to pass by on the other side. He said that we have not got things right in the Home Office; we have not got things right in government departments. I agree with the noble Lord that attitudes must change, but the only significant way to change attitudes is to have structural mechanisms which are capable of enforcement. The secret thoughts of the human heart are not capable of monitoring or enforcement.

My Lords, we are aware of and admire the programme that Sir Paul has introduced in London in the full glare of publicity. It will be taken forward under the eye of the Home Office, which is still effectively—but not for long—the police authority. Can the Minister tell us how similar programmes will be taken forward in other forces? In paragraph 46.27, the report tells us that similar conditions exist in other forces, and the Statement states that this is confirmed by HMI reports. I am afraid that the other question I would ask the noble Lord is curtailed by the clock.

My Lords, if the noble Lord is forgiving, I would ask him whether he subscribes to the views touched on by the right reverend Prelate, which seem to suggest that racism not only causes but arises from fear and mistrust. Communities are separated by cultural differences, as by a screen, and until that screen is removed, people cannot learn to respect, like or trust members of communities they do not understand and discover that there are good and bad people among those of other colours as there are among their own. Therefore, programmes of home visits—which seem incredibly expensive—are nevertheless the only way we will resolve the problem.

My Lords, I think I was right to trespass on your Lordships' prerogative. I thought that the noble Lord should be invited to ask his second question. I agree that racism derives from a number of subtle causes. It comes from history; it comes from culture; and, as the noble Lord said, it comes from deep, profound ignorance, from not knowing. Part of what needs to be done is teaching people at a very early stage in school that racism—apart from being foul and wrong—is simply based on ignorance and not wanting to know, or having the ability to know, that there may be a difference in other people. That is a lesson to us all.

The immediate step of Jack Straw has been to convene a conference in April of all chief constables and police authorities to discuss immediately the lessons of Sir William Macpherson's excellent report. I said a few days ago in answer to another question that Sir William is a very remarkable public servant. He has produced an extremely distinguished, thoughtful report, as the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said, and I should have responded more promptly. It is a phenomenal achievement to produce something so coherent, so focused and so comprehensive in such a short time.


7.19 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on Kosovo which has been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Statement is as follows: "With permission I should like to make a Statement on the Kosovo talks. In my Statement three weeks ago I reported that the Contact Group had agreed to summon both sides to negotiations for a political settlement on the basis of the documents tabled by the Contact Group.

"Both sides responded to that summons and took part in peace talks held until yesterday at Rambouillet. As co-chair of the talks, the United Kingdom was fully engaged in brokering agreement between the two parties, and the House will wish to recognise the immense effort put in by officials, some of whom have worked without break and occasionally without sleep. I would record the appreciation of all the British team for the close co-operation of France, both as co-chair and host of the talks.

"At the outset both parties to the talks had a large number of reservations to the Contact Group proposals for the constitution of a self-governing Kosovo. The majority of them were resolved. But the Yugoslav delegation still have some difficulties, such as the limited role of the Serbian courts. The Albanian side are still particularly concerned by the absence of a commitment to a referendum on independence at the end of the three-year period.

"These problems remain, but nevertheless we obtained consensus from both sides to a democratic, self-governing Kosovo, and agreement to the main elements in the detailed texts on its constitution. These texts provide for Kosovo its own assembly, constitution, president, government, taxes, laws, and police and security. They provide a sweeping measure of autonomy for Kosovo, including the right to conduct foreign relations in respect of the areas within the competence of the Kosovar Assembly. The constitution also provides full protection for the national communities within Kosovo, including the right of both Serb and Albanian communities to representative bodies to protect and promote their respective language, culture, religion and educational curriculum.

"There was broad agreement on both sides to a major international presence in support of the political settlement. Elections to the assembly, local communes, and community bodies are to be supervised by the OSCE. Both parties agreed to the appointment of an international ombudsman to monitor human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the texts provide for the European Commission to take the lead role in co-ordinating the economic reconstruction of Kosovo.

"The most difficult issue of all was the proposal for an international military presence in Kosovo. The Yugoslav delegation refused to accept that the presence of foreign troops was consistent with their national sovereignty. There were also serious difficulties on the Albanian side, among whom the representatives of the Kosovo Liberation Army found it hard to accept that a condition of an international military force was that they must demilitarise and surrender their weapons.

"Throughout the talks I made clear the willingness of Britain to provide ground troops to underpin the interim settlement, but that there could be no question of us or our allies doing so without a clear commitment to such a ceasefire and to the withdrawal or disarmament on both sides necessary to make it a reality. Both parties agreed to meet again on 15th March to discuss all aspects of the implementation of the new constitution of Kosovo, including the civilian and military international presence.

"My colleague Hubert Vedrine and I are considering how we can best use the interval between now and then to convince the wider public in Kosovo and Serbia that the outcome is a good bargain for both, and the best deal they will have to end the conflict.

"I regret to inform the House that violent conflict continues in Kosovo. On Monday there was fighting near Vucitrn. Yesterday there was further fighting at Bukos, in which we know that at least one Serb was killed and five injured. We do not yet have figures for casualties on the Albanian side. Today there have been further exchanges of fire near Suva Reka.

"Last night Javier Solana confirmed that NATO expects both sides to respect the ceasefire and remains ready to use whatever means are necessary in support of it. Yesterday all the NATO members of the Contact Group repeated their support for decisive NATO action if Belgrade makes a disproportionate response or takes violent reprisals against the civilian population. We also hold the Kosovo Liberation Army responsible for its part in maintaining a ceasefire. Both sides should use the next three weeks to build on the new agreement for peace, not to break down the existing agreement for a ceasefire.

"When I spoke to the House last on this issue, I ended by saying that I could not confirm that the talks which we were seeking would take place, nor guarantee that they would succeed. We were successful in getting both sides to take part in the talks. As a result, we have created a peace process, and the end of the Rambouillet talks is not the end of that process, but only the conclusion of its first phase. Both sides have committed themselves to taking part in its next phase.

"I cannot report to the House that we have yet reached complete agreement to the Contact Group texts, but we have secured agreement to the overwhelming majority of them. That result proves that we were right to try for peace by summoning these talks. But it also demonstrates the extra mile we still have to travel. I can assure the House that we will maintain our pressure on both sides to end the conflict through negotiations.

"Neither side is going to end this conflict through military action. Neither side can gain from prolonging it. The longer Belgrade continues to try to resolve the conflict by military repression, the more difficult it makes any final outcome that stops short of independence for Kosovo. And the longer the Kosovo Liberation Army continues to provoke repression, the more difficult it makes it for the international community to stop the bloodshed among its people.

"Both sides have recognised the value of the Contact Group proposals. I urge them now to work with us in implementing those proposals and to turn their commitments on paper into reality on the ground; the reality of a Kosovo free from fear and governed by free elections".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

7.26 p.m.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place and for the details that she has given to your Lordships' House of the partial political agreement that has been reached as a result of the Rambouillet talks. From the outset, I should like to take this opportunity to reiterate the support of these Benches for the Government both in their active efforts to seek a political solution to the ongoing crisis in Kosovo under the auspices of the Contact Group, and in their preparations for the anticipated deployment of the British contingent of peacekeeping troops.

I should also like to assure the Minister that we appreciate the complexity and the difficulty of the issues under negotiation. We welcome the news that Belgrade has moved towards a substantial degree of autonomy for a democratic Kosovo, with its own assembly, courts and police and with safeguards for the protection of human rights and members of national communities. However, given the partial nature of this provisional agreement and in the absence of a more substantial concession, I fear that the impression left by the Rambouillet talks remains one of a failure to bring forth anything more than the most meagre of fruits. What once was an event has now become a process.

I should like to ask the Minister how far these talks have in fact altered the status quo that was reached by the ceasefire deal agreed last October, when the noble Baroness told the House that a,
"central part of the Holbrooke package was the agreement by President Milosevic to a political framework to deliver self-government for Kosovo".—[Official Report, 19/10/98; col. 1202.]
Does the Minister accept that when neither party has signed the agreement and when one delegation's acceptance is conditional and the other's is partial, any attempt to claim major progress has all the ingredients of a face-saver? After a year of fighting, after a year of repeated threats of action by the international community as yet unfulfilled, after 17 days of intensive talks, it remains the case that, today, there is still no peace in Kosovo; there is still no agreement on a peacekeeping force; and there is only a half-hearted conditional commitment from both parties to a future political structure for the province.

Does the Minister accept that the three-week period until both sides reconvene on 15th March to work on the implementation of the deal simply represents a postponement of the most intractable issues? Does the Minister further accept that the failure to reach a comprehensive agreement and the subsequent three-week delay may well provide hard-liners on both sides with the opportunity to entrench their obdurate positions yet further?

The Foreign Secretary has said that the next three weeks will be used to,
"seek to convince both the Serbs and the Albanians that the texts that have been discussed and agreed to provide a good bargain for both sides".
Can the Minister elaborate on how that will he done and whether the Foreign Secretary or any other Contact Group Minister will be travelling to Belgrade during that period?

Assessing the Serb perspective, what prospect does the Minister see for Serb agreement in March to the deployment of the proposed 30,000 strong NATO-led peacekeeping force, given the failure to reach agreement on that to date, and given the US Secretary of State's belief that the Serbs must bear the lion's share of responsibility for that, since they did not "engage at all" on this question during the Rambouillet talks?

Will the Minister confirm that it is the Government's position that the political agreement will not work without an international military presence to ensure stability in the province? Will she further confirm that the presence of a NATO-led peacekeeping force is non-negotiable, that such a force must be NATO led and NATO commanded, and that without agreement from the Serbs to such a military presence there can be no deal?

Is the Minister in a position to enlarge on the Foreign Secretary's comments that,
"if other countries want to take part [in such a force] we would welcome that and would explore how they could take part"?
Will the Minister confirm that the threat of NATO action remains a very real one if the Kosovar Albanians agree to the deal while the Serbs do not? Will she give an assurance that President Milosevic should not be lulled into a false sense of security by perceptions that NATO is once again crying wolf?

Does the Minister accept the growing concern that the often repeated threat of NATO air strikes against Serbia is ringing increasingly hollow, and that once the linkage between diplomacy and the threat of the use of force is made, that linkage must be credible, or else the international community risks undermining its authority? Although any such NATO action is presently hamstrung by Kosovo procrastination, it remains the case that while President Milosevic continues to flout the will of the international community and the result is a three-week consultation period instead of the promised air strikes, it will only serve to encourage him in his defiance.

On that note, is the Minister in a position to confirm Major-General Drewienkiewicz's reported warnings that the Kosovo Verification Mission has received direct indications from the Serbian authorities that they are preparing to launch a major offensive of 50,000 soldiers in Kosovo, in the event of further delay by the Kosovo delegation? And, of very considerable importance, can the Minister outline the Russian contribution to the Rambouillet talks, and can she say what action, if any, the Russian Government have indicated they will take to prevent NATO air strikes against Serbia?

From the Kosovo Albanian perspective, what expectations does the Minister have that the Kosovo Albanians will agree to a deal which does not contain the right to a binding referendum on independence at the end of the three-year interim period, particularly in the light of KLA veteran Adem Demaci's statement that the Rambouillet talks could not bring peace, that KLA disarmament was "out of the question" and that the struggle would continue?

What action will the Government take, together with their Contact Group partners, if the consultations which will take place in Kosovo over the next three weeks lead to a rejection of the deal? In that event, will the Government seek international support to cut off the supply lines to the KLA?

We offer the Government our support for the negotiations when the talks are reconvened in March; but, without doubt, there will be, and should be, reflection on the fact that during the next three weeks the ceasefire will continue to be breached in Kosovo on a daily basis as the fighting grows ever more intense with the onset of spring and more refugees will he forced to leave their homes to add to the 9,000 which the UNHCR estimates have fled in the past few days, while, regrettably, the prospect of a lasting and comprehensive settlement for peace remains as elusive as ever.

7.35 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, wish to thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place. I do not wholly accept the harsh strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. I believe that he underestimates the extraordinary difficulty of the problems that have arisen time and again as the former Yugoslavia gradually disintegrates. Perhaps there is no more appropriate quotation than that from the famous social scientist, Max Weber, that politics is like the boring of hard boards. No harder boards exist than the position of the government of the former republic of Yugoslavia. That said, some of the problems that the Contact Group faced in the most recent discussions over Kosovo had their origins in the inadequate, and certainly inadequately spelt out, conditions of the original Holbrooke-Milosevic agreement, which among other things left very unclear just what was the position of the Yugoslav army or the Serbian police within the province of Kosovo.

I wish briefly to ask the Minister a few questions. First, will she confirm that the situation reached in the recent discussions at Rambouillet took the position with regard to the autonomous government of Kosovo further than it was in 1989, when it was breached by President Milosevic? In other words, will she confirm that advances were made in respect of the spelling out of what is meant by autonomy for Kosovo?

Will she also confirm that the Contact Group was placed in an extremely difficult position by the unwillingness of the Albanian Kosovan delegation to take any single united position; and that the willingness of some in that delegation, in particular those with an elected situation, to proceed to some kind of compromise agreement was much greater than those who happened to lead the Kosovo Liberation Army?

In regard to the discussions that are to take place in the next three weeks, can the Minister tell us what, if anything, the position of the Kosovo Verification Mission is likely to be? Will it continue to stay in the province, or will it be pulled out? Does the Minister believe that there is any future for a civilian mission in the event that there is no decision to agree to the presence of NATO troops, as seems all too probable, on the part of the government of the former republic of Yugoslavia? Finally, will the Minister tell the House whether in any proceedings in an attempt to reach a compromise agreement there will be an attempt to spell out the precise position of the Serbian police and of the army of the former republic of Yugoslavia in much more detail than was ever achieved in the former talks with Milosevic which, I repeat, was one of the problems faced by the Contact Group in the recent negotiations?

7.38 p.m.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for their general support. I think that I can say that. Although the noble Lord placed a number of strictures upon the agreement, I thought that he was nonetheless supportive of the Government's position.

It is no secret that this is a partial agreement. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that in making his Statement in another place my right honourable friend was very clear that more had been achieved in these talks than he had thought possible when they began. I believe that was clear in the previous Statement that I repeated, in which he indicated that he was not even sure that the relevant parties would go to Rambouillet for the discussions in the first place.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is right in stressing the complexities that there have been in these discussions. They are enormously complex and difficult. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, was somewhat shortsighted in the view that he took about Belgrade's position on Kosovo autonomy. The Statement which I repeated on behalf of my right honourable friend spelt out in some detail the areas of autonomy in respect not only of the constitution but also of the president, the government, taxes, police, security and conducting foreign relations in respect of the areas within the competence of the Kosovar assembly. That is a substantial step forward and that view is taken not only by my right honourable friend but also by the EU foreign ministers to whom he reported earlier this week.

The noble Lord is right. It has been enormously difficult. I have made Statements to your Lordships since autumn last year about the difficulties we were running into on the political track under the stewardship of Ambassador Hill.

The noble Lord asked whether the next few weeks were not just an opportunity to put off some dreadful decisions. I do not believe that is so. I think this is genuinely a time for consultation. One of the reasons it is so important is not only on the Serb side but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, it is about complexities on the Kosovar side. We are not just dealing with the KLA but with a complex number of groupings and individuals on the Kosovar side who have indicated that they need extra time to talk and consult about what they were being asked to sign up to. If it takes the extra three weeks to secure an agreement, I believe we will all feel it was time well spent.

Of course, there have been disappointments. However, I do not think it is fair to say that the discussions have been in any sense a failure. They have not been ideal, nor have they been perfect. But they are considerably better than no agreement at all. I thought that the noble Baroness showed a firm and sensible grasp of the realities of international negotiations.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, asked: "What if the Serbs continue to refuse a NATO ground force?" The Serbs have agreed to discuss the scope and character of an international presence in Kosovo to implement the agreement. That is the crucial point. It is an international grouping to implement the agreement. The Serbs are well aware that they will be held responsible if they block agreement on 15th March.

The noble Lord asked about the position vis-à-vis Russian troops. Russia is a full member of the contact group. The Russian negotiator played a key role at Rambouillet, alongside the EU negotiators and US negotiators. Russia supports the ground force deployment, to underpin a political settlement in Kosovo, so long as it is agreed with the Serbs. Partly for domestic political reasons, of which I am sure we are aware, they find it difficult to accept a purely NATO force. But they have agreed that if the Serbs agree, they want to take part in that ground force.

The noble Lord also asked me to reflect on what triggers there might be for NATO action. The NATO strategy is to halt the violence and support the completion of the negotiations on this interim political settlement and to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe of the kind that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, described to us. Steps to that end should, in our view, involve the completion of the negotiations within the specified timescale. They should involve immediate observance of the cease-fire by the FRY authorities and also of their commitments, including the reduction to agreed levels of forces. There must also be an end to the excessive and disproportionate use of force.

I was asked about other countries which might join some kind of ground force. Several allies have announced that they would be willing to use forces: France, around 5,000; Germany, over 5,000; the United States, nearly 4,000; Canada, between 500 and 800. Italy and some smaller allies have also agreed to contribute. That is important because, although it is the United Kingdom which suggested that we put in 8,000 to 9,000 personnel, we are heavily supported in it by our allies, should the ground force go in.

The key message is that we must keep up the pressure on both sides to accept all aspects of the agreement and to take concrete steps to prepare for implementation.

To answer the specific point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, we are clear that NATO will not lower its guard. Her Majesty's Government are urging both sides to use restraint in the next three weeks, to refrain from provocative acts and to use this time constructively for the consultation which they have both said they need.

7.45 p.m.

My Lords, if my confidence in the Government needed bolstering, it would have received support from what has taken place this evening. We heard a Statement from the Government which indicated an outcome—though not a final outcome—which most of us can regard as something which we hoped against hope would be achieved. However, we had no confidence that it would. It is not a final result, but when one heard the Opposition response to the Statement, one could only thank goodness that the control of the British contribution was not in their hands on this occasion or by now we would have been launched into a full-scale war. Under those circumstances, my support of the Government is reinforced. I was glad to hear in similar terms from the Liberal Benches.

The Opposition raised the question of air attacks. Is it not the case that air attacks have no part in the situation? They can only achieve a contrary result. Is it not the case, therefore, that if there were ever a situation in which one had to use the methods of peace and possibly peace reinforcement after the event—which one hopes will be the outcome—there is no place for air attacks. Let us hope we shall hear no more about that.

I congratulate the Government on their partial success so far, and not only the Government but all concerned in the discussions. I am grateful to those who participated from all sides. We are in a better position now than many of us thought we might be on this occasion.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Jenkins for his support. As he rightly indicated, this is not just something that has been achieved by Ministers—albeit partially successful—but, as I cannot overemphasise, on the part of officials who have worked tirelessly in order to try to achieve the agreement.

I must make a confession to noble Lords that I rather enjoy the rigorous questioning of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. He keeps us all on our toes on foreign affairs issues. The questions that he puts are tabled in the spirit of trying to ascertain that little bit more than the Government give in their Statements. I thought perhaps he could have been a little more generous, it is true, and I agree with my noble friend on the point; but I believe that the noble Lord was kind enough to indicate his broad support.

As for air strikes, I emphasise to my noble friend that he must not think that NATO is lowering its guard. I hope I made it clear that NATO will continue to watch the situation on the ground in Kosovo closely and will stand ready to act if either side provokes violent incidents or blocks the agreement. We all hope that that will not be the case and now we have the best chance of it not happening. I hope that we shall be able to go forward with an agreement on 15th March.

My Lords, without wishing to pre-empt the debate that will take place considerably later this evening, perhaps I may ask about the number of troops to be provided. Can the Minister explain why the vast majority of the troops appear to have been offered by Britain?

My Lords, yes, I can. The ground force that is envisaged will be about 30,000 strong. It is led by the Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps under General Sir Michael Jackson. The UK contribution will be between 8,000 and 9,000 men. As I understand it, it is the UK that takes the lead in that Rapid Reaction Corps. It is for that reason that the UK has offered such a substantial number of troops.

Sierra Leone: Foreign Affairs Committee Report

7.50 p.m.

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on the Foreign Affairs Committee report on Sierra Leone that has been made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Statement is as follows:

"Madam Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a Statement arising from my Parliamentary Answer of yesterday on the report of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Sierra Leone. Yesterday I set out the circumstances in which the Foreign Office received a draft of that report.
"In view of the subsequent comments made by a number of honourable Members I want to assure the House that neither the Foreign Office nor Ministers took any action on that draft. We did not in any way seek to interfere with the work of the committee or to offer comments on the draft. Indeed, the record shows that the honourable Member for Dundee West did not table any amendments to the draft. Nor did we publish or disclose any part of the draft to the media or to anyone else. I am therefore confident that neither I nor anyone else at the Foreign Office has committed any impropriety on the basis of the draft or broken any of the rules of procedure. But I shall, of course, accept any future ruling which you or the relevant committees may give on this matter.
"In the meantime, I would remind the House that I gave the Select Committee unprecedented access to Foreign Office internal documents and telegrams. Indeed, its report acknowledges that the access it obtained was a quantum leap in openness with Select Committees. I did not obstruct or impede the work of the committee. I did not interfere with the deliberations of the committee, and I have fully respected the role of scrutiny of both the committee and this Chamber".
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

7.52 p.m.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place. I fear that it may come as no surprise to your Lordships' House to hear the news that there has been yet another twist in this unfortunate catalogue of half-truths, obfuscations, misinformation, ill-kept minutes and disappearing documents that is the Sierra Leone affair. A leaked report and an attempt to undermine the inquiry into Sierra Leone conducted by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee can now be added to that sorry list. This raises grave questions about the extent of government collusion in the matter. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer those questions satisfactorily this evening.

As a result of a Written Question asked by the shadow spokesman for foreign affairs in another place, it came to light yesterday that although the Foreign Affairs Select Committee did not publish its report on Sierra Leone until Tuesday, 9th February the Private Office of the Foreign Secretary received a draft copy of the report in the second week of January. Moreover, around 5th and 6th February his office was made aware of certain key conclusions in the report. Can the Minister now inform the House when the Foreign Secretary first saw the report? The Foreign Secretary has apparently sought to justify his response to the leak by stating that in advance of the publication of the report he made no comment to the media about the report except in response to leaks by others to the press. Does the Minister agree that it is deeply flawed logic on the part of the Foreign Secretary to argue that somehow two wrongs cancel each other out?

In his response to a Written Question on 16th February asking who in the Foreign Office was the first person to have sight of the report, Mr. Lloyd, Minister of State, gave the following reply:
"Copies of the report were collected from the Foreign Affairs Committee office at 0800 on 9 February by the Head of Parliamentary Relations Department and the Parliamentary Clerk".—[Official Report, Commons, 16/2/99; col. WA 751.]
Given that that Written Answer has been shown to be misleading, the question of whether such deception was deliberate must be posed. Can the Minister now confirm whether the Minister of State in another place was aware that the report had been sent to his department in January? If he was not aware of it at that time, when did he first become appraised of it? Further, can the noble Baroness confirm whether the Minister of State approved the Written Answer of 16th February at a time when he was aware of the leak? Given that when in opposition the Foreign Secretary criticised the leak of a Health Select Committee report to the Department of Health, linked it to subsequent changes in the report, described it as extraordinary and a grave situation and sought guidance on whether the matter could be put before the Select Committee on Privileges, does the Minister agree that this is an extremely serious situation? Further, does the noble Baroness agree that should it be discovered that the Minister of State in another place knowingly and deliberately misled Parliament he will have forfeited the confidence of Parliament and that his position as a Minister will no longer be tenable?

As evidenced in the Minister's comprehensive responses to me on many occasions, I have learnt to appreciate that in delicate areas of information flows within the Foreign Office the noble Baroness takes great care to provide well-researched answers. Accordingly, can the Minister inform the House when she herself first had sight of the report? Furthermore, when to her knowledge did her Private Office first have sight of the report, or the draft report, and on what date was it drawn to her attention that the report had been leaked to the Foreign Secretary's Private Office? Can the noble Baroness say why, in her view, the Foreign Secretary did not reveal the leak immediately and inform the chairman of the Select Committee or Madam Speaker?

I believe that there is widespread agreement throughout this House that Select Committees play a vital constitutional role in holding the Executive to account. It is a grave matter indeed when committee members are found to have abused their position. In the light of the damning conclusions reached by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in its report, perhaps the Minister can answer one final question. In her view who should take responsibility for the Sierra Leone affair?

7.57 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has referred on a substantial number of occasions to matters in another place. This is a matter for another place. I do not consider that it is a matter of significance for this Chamber.

Perhaps I may address myself not to the substance of the Statement but to the appropriateness of repeating in one day in this Chamber three Statements that have been made in another place, in particular a Statement that is very much concerned with Commons business. Speaking with the support of the Leader and Chief Whip of my group, I believe that it is inappropriate that this Statement should have been repeated. We have just spent two days in this House debating the role of the second Chamber. In the course of a substantial number of speeches noble Lords made reference to the need for a different style and focus, not simply duplication of the business of the House of Commons. Tonight we have in consequence delayed substantially a debate on a timely and important subject. I regret that.

7.59 p.m.

My Lords, I am bound to say to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that there is not a great deal that I can add to the Statement made by my right honourable friend. The noble Lord will have the opportunity tomorrow to read in Hansard my right honourable friend's responses to questions put to him in another place today. I am sure that he will do that assiduously.

Perhaps I may deal with some of the points on which I am able to assist the noble Lord a little further. However, I may not be able to go into the full detail that some of the noble Lord's questions require because I do not have the first-hand knowledge so to do. The noble Lord will be aware that the Foreign Secretary has been extraordinarily busy at Rambouillet. The noble Lord may not be aware that my honourable friend Mr. Lloyd is at present in the Great Lakes region to try to secure a ceasefire. I should have thought that that was a rather better use of my honourable friend's time at present than worrying about bits of paper, seriously as we take this issue.

In the second week of January the Foreign Secretary's office received a copy of the draft report. So the answer to that question is the second week of January. Shortly before publication of the report, and at around the same time as leaks critical of FCO officials appeared in the press, the FCO was also made aware of certain key conclusions of the report. I repeat this to the noble Lord. Neither my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary nor any other FCO Minister, official or special adviser took any action to publish or disclose any part of any version of the report or to interfere with the committee's deliberations.

The noble Lord asked me about my own position on this. A copy of the report was delivered to my office about half an hour after the reports were released to the FCO. That is about 8.30 a. m. on 9th February. That was the first time I saw the report in any form. I saw no copy of the report in draft. I saw no part of the report. No one told me that there might be a copy somewhere in the Foreign Office, and no one discussed it with me at any time.

My right honourable friend has complied fully with his obligations to the Foreign Affairs Committee. He did not obstruct or impede the work of the committee. He did not interfere in the deliberations of the committee. He has told another place today that he was guilty of no impropriety, and neither were any other Ministers, and there was no leak to the press from the FCO.

I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. I know he has enjoyed going over what has, after all, been a certain amount of government discomfiture over Sierra Leone. I understand that. But it really is time to put this issue to bed. The Legg Report made it clear that Ministers were not to blame for what happened over Sierra Leone, the subject of the Legg Report. The FAC report does not blame Ministers. Others have been the subject of criticisms; those criticisms have been dealt with. It is not right to go on worrying away at these issues with officials, who have already been criticised and the criticisms dealt with. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, will accept that in the friendly spirit in which it is meant.

8.2 p.m.

My Lords, at the risk of receiving strictures from the Liberal Democrat Benches, perhaps I may say that I am pleased that this opportunity has been given to the Minister to make it perfectly clear that she did not see any version of the report prior to the day on which it was released. It is important that she should have been able to make it absolutely clear, and the Statement has given her that opportunity.

I wonder whether the noble Baroness is able to assist me by answering this simple question. Who was the first person in the Foreign Office to have sight of a copy of the report; and when—I do not refer to the time of day—was that copy seen? I define "copy" in the common, normal English parlance of a copy: a first draft; a second draft; and a final copy. I should be grateful if the noble Baroness can help me with an answer to that question.

My Lords, the honest truth is that I do not know who had first sight of the report, which was received in the second week in January. I understand from my right honourable friend's Answer to Questions in another place today that it arrived by fax machine. So I suppose I must say to the noble Lord that it was the person who took it off the fax machine. I do not know who that person was.

I am grateful for what the noble Lord said about my position. I did not know that anyone thought I had seen the draft report. It is nice to know that if he had some cruel suspicions on that point, those have been allayed.

My Lords, I do not know whether an opportunity will arise later, so I hope that the House will forgive my saying this now. Since reference has been made to those responsible for the incompetence and the troubles of Sierra Leone, does the Minister agree that there are over 200 established posts still unfilled; that the Africa department has lost 100 people in the past few years; that the Sierra Leone desk was dealing with 13 countries; and that the officers concerned were working 70 hours a week? That should be noted and remembered.

I hope that the Minister will agree with me that it seems strange that the MPs on the committee do not seem to understand the convention by which civil servants speak under instruction from their Ministers and for their Ministers and are not allowed or expected to express private views. Having read the report, the way in which they were treated was disgraceful. They were bullied; they were harassed; and they were treated as though they were very low creatures indeed. That fact should be put on record.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for a great deal of what she said. Of course there were shortcomings over the Sierra Leone affair. That has been acknowledged widely. But we must not allow those shortcomings to characterise a view of the Foreign Office as a whole. As the noble Baroness said, the overwhelming majority of the people in the Foreign Office work extraordinarily hard. The people who have been the subject of criticism have worked extraordinarily hard. Those are good, honest people—

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. My point was never to suggest shortcomings. On the contrary, it was to suggest an explanation of the difficulties.

My Lords, I had no doubt that that was exactly what the noble Baroness was doing. I sought to reinforce her view by stating vigorously my own.

There are not only the 220-plus posts abroad. An enormous number of people work in the Foreign Office. I knew little about the Foreign Office before I became a Minister. I hope that that is not too shocking an admission to make to your Lordships. However, having worked there for 19 months, I am very proud to be a Foreign Office Minister because I am proud of the staff who work there.

My Lords, as the House will be aware, I have not intervened on this issue at any time since I left office in May 1997. However, can the Minister do something—I am not sure what—to persuade her colleagues that when papers are submitted to them in their boxes they are properly considered? Had that happened, we would not be in this sorry state; and perhaps (although it is not a sequitur) the people of Sierra Leone would not continue to suffer so much.

I learned a lot in 11½ years in that office, in particular about the staff—not only their commitment to their work but also about what makes it run smoothly. That is team work. I hope that the noble Baroness will find a way to put that right.

My Lords, we know a great deal about teamwork in the Foreign Office. As the noble Baroness may know, there has been an extraordinary amount of teamwork. I refer to the open days; the bringing in of young people from outside; and the enthusiasm with which officials throughout the Foreign Office have grasped the Government's agenda has been extraordinarily pleasing to Government. The noble Baroness shakes her head. But the team work we have had from officials has been exemplary. I have had cause often to congratulate them on the way that they have picked up on government initiatives.

It is only fair to remind the noble Baroness that after the former Prime Minister the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, had been in office, both she and Mr. Heseltine spoke of the enormous volume of papers that come into ministerial offices. The fact is that not every single one of those papers is always read. When giving evidence before the Scott Inquiry, the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, talked about a veritable snowstorm of papers. Mr. Heseltine also said that between 500 to 700 pieces of paper were coming into his office at any one time. Of course selections have to be made from those papers of what Ministers can or cannot read. Speaking for myself, I always read my box to the very end. I am conscious that my level of ignorance has to be compensated by the diligence of the officials who brief me. And I am much too frightened not to read to the end every evening.

Armed Forces

8.10 p.m.

rose to call attention to the problems of current deployment and overstretch in Her Majesty's Armed Forces and the implications of potential deployments to Kosovo; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

This is a crucial time for our Armed Forces. There are at present nearly 6,000 British military personnel in Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Greece. And earlier this week, we learnt that the Government have authorised another 2,225 additional personnel to Greece and Macedonia as the advance element of the UK's contribution to any NATO-led peace implementation force in Kosovo. I believe that these troops have now left for this deployment and I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that.

The Defence Secretary has said that this latest deployment represents,

"prudent military planning to ensure that the UK can continue to play its part in bringing about a peaceful settlement in Kosovo".

The news from Rambouillet, while well-spun by the Foreign Secretary on the "Today" programme this morning, is not, I fear, encouraging. Your Lordships will have heard the Statement repeated by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, a few minutes ago.

During my time at the Ministry of Defence, now long ago, world order was shaped by the Cold War. With the collapse of communism, some thought that the world would become a safer place. But the reality is far different. We face a situation of ever greater uncertainty, and one of the most complex situations is in Europe itself.

I would like to pay tribute to the members of the Armed Forces and their families for the commitment and dedication that they show under very difficult circumstances. As the recent Strategic Defence Review recognised, units and individuals, especially in key areas, are separated from their families and base units too often and for too long. And it is also acknowledged that overstretch and undermanning in the Armed Forces "are linked problems".

Back in April 1998, Army manpower stood at 109,800, representing a reduction of 28 per cent. since Options for Change. Now the Government's own SDR forecasts an increase in Army personnel by some 3,300. However, what may appear to be good news should be seen in the context of the fact that the Army is already significantly under establishment. And although further recruitment is taking place, the Army is having to cope with the problem of heavy wastage of personnel. I understand from figures provided by the Defence Analytical Services Agency that in the 12 months to October 1998, 1,612 officers, no less, left the Army compared with only 1,026 in the 12 months to October 1997—an increase of more than 50 per cent. Most of the exodus is a result of officers choosing to go rather than taking retirement or leaving because of ill health.

These problems are no less serious in the other services. I was fortunate to hear a recent lecture by the Chief of the Air Staff in which he recited at some length the stresses and strains being placed on his personnel by repeated and protracted deployment in various theatres, including the former Yugoslavia, southern Turkey and the no-fly zones in Iraq.

The problem is repeated in the Royal Navy, which has lost somewhere in the region of 12,000 personnel in the past two years. The frigate and destroyer flotilla is to be reduced by three ships and two submarines are to go, which will place a still greater burden on the remaining fleet.

These trends should be seen against the claim by the Defence Secretary in his opening statement in the SDR that he would modernise and reshape the Armed Forces to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and that the review would,

"give our services the firm foundation they need to plan for the long term".

One key to achieving the SDR's objective is a more effective recruiting policy. I understand that future recruitment is likely to be in signals, engineers and logistics troops.

I especially wish the Army well in recruiting more engineers. In my capacity as Chairman of the Engineering and Marine Training Authority, I can tell your Lordships that attracting young people into engineering is one of the most difficult and worrying issues facing the industry. I look forward to hearing how the Army proposes to recruit more engineers. It is not going to be easy and the problem will not be helped by the proposed reductions in the TA.

Until the modestly revised establishment level is achieved, which is not expected to happen until 2004, the problem of overstretch will remain or worsen. In addition, the vital support given to the regular Army by the Territorial Army is to be reduced. Most regular units deploy with a TA increment on operations or on exercises. In Bosnia, some 10 per cent. of the implementation force and the stabilisation force is supplied by reservists, a total of some 2,500 of whom nearly half are in the infantry.

I would like to turn to events in Kosovo. The Foreign Secretary has made clear that the Government would be willing to send more British troops if there were a clear agreement to a political settlement. He has also said that they will be,

"part of an international force to provide stability in Kosovo so that a political settlement can take root".

While it would appear that troops will not immediately be going to Kosovo following the failure to produce a breakthrough yesterday, the Government have still committed troops to that region. That commitment will have major implications for our Armed Forces and their ability to react to any future major crisis elsewhere.

Given that one division is already deployed indefinitely in Bosnia, the possible deployment of a corps headquarters and a brigade to Kosovo is a huge additional burden. The noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, admitted as much himself a fortnight ago when he told your Lordships that the deployment of troops in Kosovo,

"will add to overstretch in the Army, in particular if we end up deploying of the order of 8,000 men".—[Official Report, 11/2/99; col. 389.]

That number is now in prospect. Indeed, I heard the figure rise to a possible 9,000 from the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, a few moments ago.

It would seem that if and when we fulfil this commitment our Armed Forces will be at the limit of their resources. We are told that the deployment will be for three years. Is that up to three years, precisely three years or at least three years? I greatly fear that it will be the latter of those. We shall be the largest single contributor to the proposed NATO deployment in Kosovo and we are committing troops which we can ill spare from other tasks no less important. What will happen, for example, if the situation in Northern Ireland seriously deteriorates? From where will any extra troops which may be needed there be found?

It is a remarkable fact that our Armed Forces seem ever willing to respond to the demands placed upon them, come what may. Perhaps the Chiefs of Staff too easily acquiesce in meeting ministerial wishes. Has the time not come for the Government to recognise the validity of their own statement writ large in the SDR that we,

"must match the commitments we undertake to our planned resources."?

Hear, hear to that. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

8.18 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, has done your Lordships' House a service in introducing today's debate. He properly identified these as difficult times. Europe, which has enjoyed peace since the formation of NATO, no longer enjoys that same peace and stability. The noble Lord referred to the collapse of communism which has left the world with areas of great instability that present very real dangers. The Balkans and the current crisis in Kosovo referred to in the noble Lord's Motion make that place the most immediate flashpoint. Our readiness for such a crisis must be seen and related to the Government's Strategic Defence Review.

The defence review has been much debated and commented on in Parliament and in the country and it took place against the background and legacy of the previous administration. During 18 years in office, the previous government made profound changes in the scale and capacity of our defence provision. Defence spending as a percentage of GDP was cut from 5.3 per cent. in 1984 to 2.8 per cent. in 1997. Overall defence expenditure was cut by almost a third in real terms between 1985 and 1997. The number of UK jobs dependent on defence expenditure and defence exports almost halved under the Conservatives, from 740,000 in 1980 to around 400,000 when they left office. Total service manpower, excluding reserves and auxiliary forces, was cut by a third between 1979 and 1997. a cut of over 100,000. Under the Conservatives the number of regulars in the Air Force and the Navy were cut by 29,000 and 27,000 respectively. Over the same period civilian jobs were cut by more than half, a fall of 115,000.

Under the Conservatives the number of conventionally armed submarines was cut from 28 to 12; the number of destroyers and frigates was cut from 48 to 35; the number of infantry battalions in the British Army was cut from 55 to 40; the number of tanks was cut by 45 per cent.; and the number of aircraft in service with the Royal Air Force was cut by some 30 per cent. Meanwhile, the Conservative government left the Army under strength by over 5,000 personnel against its trained requirement.

The result of these cuts was that Her Majesty's Government inherited a damaging gap between commitments and resources, reduced morale among many service personnel and overstretch in many areas of our Armed Forces. If there is overstretch today, some responsibility for it must be accepted by the Benches opposite.

However, I believe that in the 22 months of this administration real progress has been made. There has been progress in the development of joint capabilities, an area of defence policy in which I am sure we shall see further developments. There has been progress in modernising—and I promise not to say "modernising" too often—the services, from plans to buy two new aircraft carriers to improving the deployability and usability of the Territorial Army, adding some 3,300 troops to the Regular Army and confirming the order for the Eurofighter. The list is too long to repeat now and I should simply be re-running information which we all received from the Ministry of Defence. The SDR was well received and is the basis for ensuring that our services meet all foreseeable demands that may be made upon them.

The Government have developed an ethical foreign policy, through that is not to say that other governments and administrations have not had an ethical basis for their policy in foreign affairs. That means that the defence arm of that policy must be backed up with the tools and personnel to do the job. We want to play our part as a nation in preventing conflict, supporting the United Nations peace support operations, promoting international arms control and, where appropriate, arms reduction and minimising our nuclear deterrent to that which is necessary and essential. The ban on import, export, manufacture and transfer of anti-personnel landmines is a very real success of our policy.

We shall not fail now, or in the future, to meet our commitments to NATO. The Government are addressing the question of recruitment, to which the noble Lord referred. It is vital that we achieve that objective. Recruitment is always difficult in times of high employment. It is a problem brought about to some extent by the successful management of the economy, resulting in a choice of jobs for our young people. We must ensure that that choice includes the offer of a rewarding career in our armed services.

I know that my noble friend Lord Gilbert is concerned to see progress in recruitment from our ethnic communities and an expansion of posts open to women. That is something I hope to follow up in the future in your Lordship's House. I wish to congratulate my noble friend on all that he is doing in that regard.

The world is not a safe place, a matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, properly referred. Ensuring our domestic defence while fulfilling our role in the community of free nations must be the central principle of defence policy. I believe that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence has won the support of the country for the policies correctly being pursued and that we can and shall meet all our obligations.

8.24 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgame, for raising this crucial issue. For the past 10 years, to my certain knowledge, the Ministry of Defence has expounded a consistent, if rather monotonous, line on overstretch: yes, it is admitted, we have a problem over manning and overstretch, but we have turned the corner and noble Lords can be assured that in two or three years' time recruiting will have improved, units will be manned to establishment and tour intervals will be back to the 24 months which is considered necessary for proper balance and longer-term retention and morale.

Of course, two to three years on the situation was seen to be broadly the same and the story was exactly the same: be patient for another two to three years. I imagine that today the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, would have to admit that, although recruiting has improved considerably, poor retention means that the Armed Forces—particularly the Army, but the other services as well—are still significantly undermanned and grossly overstretched, which induces still poorer retention and a more or less chronic situation. I am sure that the noble Lord, of all people, will not again trot out that long-playing gramophone record.

The question is: does overstretch matter and what should we be doing about it? I should prefer to see the forces overstretched than understretched. After all, men and women join the services for activity in the service of their country and welcome variety and interesting challenges. Besides, if they were invariably understretched, the Treasury would quickly seize the opportunity to erode the Defence Vote even more than usual. Long experience has taught me that only high profile activity in the national interest can keep the Treasury at bay.

I certainly would not want the Government's professional military advisers to advise against a commitment and the legitimate use of force in the country's interests purely on the grounds of overstretch. If you spend billions on your forces, you want to be able to use them. There may, of course, be other reasons why they should not be used. For instance, what is the aim of the whole exercise and can the forces available to be deployed go any way to meeting that aim?

But, of course, overstretch matters. It degrades performance; it sours the families; it leads to cannibalisation of establishments to produce proper front-line strength; and it has a cumulative effect on retention.

What should the Government be doing about it? First, I am sad to say that it is, rather, a question of what should not have been done over the past six to seven years which has made matters worse. The Army manpower ceiling was set too low, and that may have to be corrected further. One of the most serious consequences of the medical shambles has been the inordinate time wasted by front-line soldiers, who are therefore not available for deployment, in waiting for medical appointments because of shortages of doctors and specialists. That has a direct effect on internal unit overstretch.

As the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne said, there have also been excessive cuts in the TA, particularly in the infantry and the engineers, which have needlessly reduced the only reserve we had at this crucial time and when TA soldiers could help to fill the gaps when sudden emergency operations occur.

There has also been a steady erosion of the regimental system, that great motivating force, starting at the rather impersonal Army Training Regiment. The regimental system has received another body-blow—in some cases totally unnecessarily, in my opinion—from the way the cuts in the TA infantry have been implemented on the ground by the military.

What can be done to improve the situation? We clearly need more units, if they can be recruited. I will deal with only one step which could so easily he taken and which I strongly commend to noble Lords; that is, to make more use of the Brigade of Gurkhas, behind whom there is an almost inexhaustible and immediate supply of first-class, trainable soldiers whose forefathers have loyally served the British Crown for over 180 years, who have long since thrown off any fallacious mercenary tag and who are recognised as an integral part of the British Army. Indeed, in recent years they have served in most places that British troops have served including, on an individual basis, Northern Ireland. Such use of the brigade would be splendid and provide an extra deterrent element in any international peacekeeping or peace enforcement operation.

As noble Lords will know, there are in addition to the two Gurkha Rifle Battalions and supporting arms squadrons, five independent companies at Brecon and Sandhurst attached to, in order to strengthen, three British battalions including a parachute company. I hope that the Minister can give an assurance that at least those extra companies will be kept on well past the original date of the year 2000. But a third battalion headquarters would also be an enormous help, both to administer those companies and perhaps to command others which could and should be formed. A third Gurkha Rifle Battalion of five companies and stronger supporting arms would make a significant contribution to a less stretched arms plot. I hope therefore that the Minister will look carefully at the question of a greater use of Gurkhas.

Finally, the important element to ensure that the Armed Forces continue to be ready for any eventuality is not to be complacent. The old story of "very soon everything in the garden will be lovely" just will not wash. Unless positive steps are taken, that situation will not happen and the overstretch will become infinitely worse.

8.31 p.m.

My Lords, I join with those who congratulate my noble friend Lord Trefgarne not only on securing this debate but also on the powerful speech he made. I shall certainly pick up some of the themes he addressed.

I am also particularly glad to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, even if, as a mere major, I am sandwiched between a Field Marshal and a Marshal of the Royal Air Force in the form of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley. One reason I am glad to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, is that we have both addressed this theme in your Lordships' House before. I am particularly thinking of the debates we had on Options for Change some years ago, the defence White Papers which emerged at around that time, and discussions also held in this House about Front Line First. Indeed, the noble and gallant Lord referred to the number of times he has addressed this issue.

Some of the noble and gallant Lord's most trenchant words were in a debate on the infantry held on 10th February 1992 at cols. 556 to 558 of the Official Report. It was interesting to read them again earlier today. It appears that many of the forecasts of the noble and gallant Lord have come about. I well remember his remarks in relation to Options for Change and strongly agreed with him then that over-zealous application of the peace dividend and the cuts that Options for Change foreshadowed were bound to lead to huge and unforeseeable pressures on our Armed Forces. The Falklands War, the Gulf War and the situation in the former Yugoslavia are all largely unrelated to the Cold War. They were not predictable and, in the case of Bosnia and now possibly Kosovo, are of apparently indeterminate duration. If we couple that with a sadly still unresolved situation in Northern Ireland, to which my noble friend Lord Trefgarne referred, the potential for over-commitment of the Armed Forces is extraordinarily real. It seems as though nearly everything we feared and forecast six or seven years ago has come about.

The Chief of the General Staff said in a recent lecture that 41 per cent. of the Army is now or is being committed to operations. That struck me as a startling figure. Where does it leave the intentions expressed by my noble friend Lord Arran, speaking for the government on 10th February 1992, when he referred to the hope for 24 months between operational postings? Perhaps that is something which can be addressed by the Minister in his reply.

Because of the thoroughly professional attitude of our Armed Forces, we do not hear them voice concern about this problem. They cannot easily do so. Nor is it necessarily right that they should. No one has complained to me. It is for us, as politicians in this House, to draw attention to it if we perceive it. In this House there is almost the sole repository of military experience in Parliament, at least for the moment.

I am a trustee of my now much amalgamated regiment, the King's Royal Hussars. I am glad to see in his place the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, who served with me. As a trustee of certain benevolent and other funds, I do not become involved in operational matters. But I do what I can to keep abreast of what is going on. I am aware that overstretch is exceedingly real. Although the enthusiasm of all ranks to do their professional duty is marvellous, pressures exist, particularly with families. Last year my regiment had a comparatively quiet year—training in Poland twice; training in Canada; gunnery camp and all the usual activities. But even that quiet year resulted in around 130 nights out of barracks—less than the quiet many of us experienced when serving at the height of the Cold War.

What of this year? As I understand it, my regiment is to deploy one armoured squadron to Bosnia later in the year as part of the continuing SFOR presence. They were last there in 1997, coming back just before Christmas. In order to fulfil that role, the regiment is currently training. All well and good. It is admirable experience and I have no doubt it will be conducted to the highest standards. But now Kosovo arises. For that potential deployment two further squadrons have been warned off—one for the lead armoured battle group and one in another role. Of course regimental headquarters and administrative elements will deploy also.

Again, I have no doubt whatever—indeed I know it to be the case—that the King's Royal Hussars are operationally fit and will accomplish their tasks in the true spirit of the former regiments of which they are made up and of their own considerable reputation developed since they were formed. But there is a snag. My regiment has four armoured squadrons, each of four troops of three Challenger One tanks. In order to man the three potentially deployed squadrons, the fourth has had to be closed down. Why? Because training courses, leave and all the usual features of regimental life still have to go on. And the equivalent to the war establishment to undertake these tasks requires manning which would not normally be required in peacetime.

Additionally, soldiers must stay on the ground in Germany to guard the camp, look after families, maintain undeployed vehicles and so forth. Needless to say, there is a degree of undermanning to the extent of around 20 soldiers. All that speaks to me of overstretch; I cannot think of another word to describe it.

The SDR may aim to correct some of the imbalances of Options for Change and to that extent I welcome it. But it hardly gives confidence that there is any fat in the system and there seems no end in sight to such operational commitments. It was disturbing during the Gulf War that cannibalisation of vehicles, including armoured vehicles, for spares to ensure operational adequacy was such a feature. The tank parks of Germany and elsewhere were littered with cannibalised vehicles. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, can say to what extent cannibalisation of vehicles for Bosnia and Kosovo is an operational necessity, or whether suitable spares holdings have been made available and released.

What are the effects of this overstretch on recruitment and retention? Will the noble Lord give some figures of current undermanning in both the Royal Armoured Corps and the infantry? Will he give the numbers of young officers who have sought to retire early, who have not gone on to regular commissions from short service? Also, what is likely to be the effect of the new, I believe, three-stage commissioning process soon to be introduced?

It goes without saying that my former regiment, as others, will set about its duties in a highly efficient and professional way. It will bring great credit to the Army and to the country, as it has always done. It certainly does not complain about its role. But that superb skill and versatility should not mask the stresses and strains which our over-stretched Army sustains and to which it is our duty, in this House, to draw attention. The elastic cannot be stretched indefinitely. What comfort can the Minister give us that this is not a real possibility?

8.40 p.m.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur's very trenchant speech. As highlighted in last year's SDR, and as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, who we must all thank for raising this topic tonight, our forces were and are under-manned and over-committed. Although well-known, the frank acknowledgement in the SDR of this crisis was most welcome. It is said that a trouble shared is a trouble halved. Eight months on, how far have the Government gone in halving that problem?

Looking first to commitment, and acknowledging that we live in a troubled world, I am concerned that the resources of the Royal Air Force are still so heavily over-committed. The RAF, although halved in size in the past decade, is more widely deployed than ever it was during the decade before. For many months past, perhaps years, squadrons have been operating at rates of effort far higher than is normal and provisioned for in peacetime.

Such sustained rates of effort, real live operations, flying from overseas locations far from home, place exceptional demands on resources of both men and material. That cannot be sustained unless extra consumables and overhauls are provided for. Are the additional resources available? If not, the defence shoe will once again pinch, and pinch hard, in areas of acute interest to personnel, such as their quality of life, identified in the SDR as of such crucial importance. It was depressing to read in last week's Sunday Telegraph a report that the Royal Navy ships were being required to cut speeds from 18 knots to 12 knots to save fuel and, presumably, cost.

Meanwhile, widescale logistic support is required if our forces in the frontline are not to grind to a halt. Many of us have viewed with strong misgivings the massive logistic restructuring put in hand by the SDR at the insistence of Ministers. With live operations and an overstretched front line dependent upon superhuman logistical effort, now seems a very inopportune moment to be forging ahead with new, untried and untested arrangements.

How, indeed, can single service chiefs discharge their responsibility for the efficiency of their service if they are deprived of responsibility for their overall logistics? I have already questioned the decision to press ahead with this restructuring when we are so operationally committed. It takes time and a great deal of effort to put in place such major and critically important new arrangements.

If there are teething problems—and there will be—I fear for their impact on our frontline effectiveness. We have been marvellously, incredibly, fortunate that in none of our recent operations have we been faced with any major loss of life or equipment. But we cannot assume that that is the norm. Overstretch could be dramatically increased, by serious loss of life or equipment, due to enemy action, mere accident or even logistic failings.

Against that background, I ask how far have the services been able to find the spare capacity and the time to put in place the "Policy for People" package which was given so much prominence in the SDR. The package, we were told, was to place clear emphasis on providing practical help to servicemen and women. Education and training (vocational and academic) were to underpin promises that people would not be disadvantaged in civilian employment markets. How have we done? Recruitment is better, but what about retention? Are enough of the best seeking to stay on, happy with their lot? I hope that the Minister can give us the picture. I hope that we can be reassured that retention of air crews, in particular, is very much better than it was and that we are seeing the really good people, whom we want to retain to fill the next generation of senior appointments and responsibilities, staying in, not voting with their feet.

A year ago, when we considered the Human Rights Bill, I reminded this House that we treat the Armed Forces in law quite differently from all other members of the public. The Armed Forces Acts are there to ensure that legitimate orders are obeyed and that discipline—essential to the successful use of armed force—can be enforced if necessary. Such legal requirements may impinge on some of the human rights of individuals in the forces.

Sir Roger Wheeler, the Chief of the General Staff, is only the latest of a number of senior serving officers who have spoken in public about this. We must not undermine the structure and ethos of the Armed Forces. The kernel of all military authority relies on a sense of duty by individuals to their colleagues and their service; a duty to obey a lawful command; a duty to be loyal and supportive of their unit; a duty which at times may have to be given greater weight than any of their own individual human rights.

I hope that the Minister will confirm that one United Kingdom court, perhaps the courts martial appeal court, will be the only one to hear human rights cases brought by service personnel under the new Act. Consistency of treatment across the three services and throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, and overseas, is vital if we are not to confuse our servicemen and women and undermine their sense of duty and commitment to their comrades and to military authority.

I was relieved to see that the Government were seized of the dreadful mess to which the Defence Medical Services have been reduced over a long period of years, and that they were determined to get that right. Against the pressures to recruit into the National Health Service, it will not be easy for the Defence Medical Services to recover to a reasonable level of manning and expertise. It would be interesting to hear tonight how far the many actions now being put in hand for the Defence Medical Services are beginning to bear fruit.

8.47 p.m.

My Lords, the resources chapter in the Strategic Defence Review states that the defence share of GDP is to drop from 2.7 to 2.4 per cent. by 2002. We continue to suffer serious problems of overstretch and undermanning.

According to press reports, upon which I hope the Minister will be able to comment, members of the armed services are being encouraged to take out private insurance for life and injury cover, and even insurance to cover loss of kit. According to the Defence Committee Report of December 1997 on our peace support operations in Bosnia, some of the troops posted there from Germany actually lost pay and the rising rents of married quarters for families left behind— which were encouraging soldiers to become owner-occupiers—would, the troops feared, have significant adverse effects on morale. Now the arms plot is in serious danger.

No one can doubt that, thanks largely to Options for Change and Frontline First in the first place, the Armed Forces have serious problems of retention and overstretch. There is every reason for many of them to vote with their feet when it seems to them that they are undervalued.

We have just had a defence review which said categorically that we can provide the troops and resources for,
"one relatively short war-fighting deployment and one enduring non-war fighting operation".
The latter seems likely to be Bosnia, where we have been in one guise or another for some years, and are committed to at least, I believe, another three. The other commitment can only be "relatively short". That will presumably be the 8,000 to 9,000 troops earmarked for Kosovo, to say nothing of naval, air and logistical back-up. How likely are we to extricate ourselves from that commitment should it come about in fewer than three or four years? We still have 2,000 servicemen committed in Iraq. We seem only too likely to see a return to violence, and hence a military commitment in support of the RUC, in Northern Ireland. As our defence strategy is driven by foreign affairs, it seems that we have just offered to commit troops to a UN-sponsored peacekeeping force in East Timor. No doubt there will be more such admirable gestures in terms of peacekeeping. Where will it end?

When will the Government recognise that our defence forces have achieved their present high standing only because of their professionalism, which rested on good training, high morale and the knowledge that they are valued? That is what makes them good peacekeepers. If the whole of our forces are tied down to that, professionalism will go and all desire to remain in, or to join, the forces will go too. The best will leave and it will take many years to replace them.

Meanwhile, there are real threats which demand highly trained, highly motivated, coherent armed services—not a series of agencies and privatised units. Russia itself may pose no serious threat for the present, although I wonder how helpful Russia has been over Kosovo. However, Russia's surrogates do pose a threat. Russia's new weapon is proliferation, and that is our new enemy which can be contained only by good intelligence and professional, trained, well motivated troops. I recognise that the Government are taking the whole issue of proliferation seriously and I am most grateful for the excellent briefing papers on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction which I have received from the Minister. However, Russia is to sell 2 billion dollars-worth of military technology and arms to Syria. She has been found (as she was when she continued to make biological weapons) to be selling the techniques of double purpose technologies in the field of nuclear and chemical weapons to Iran and chemical weapons to Syria. She recently sent Russian specialists to Iraq, ostensibly to repair an electrical power plant in the south which was damaged by American/British bombing.

The new head of the state arms sales corporation is Grigori Rapota, the former deputy director of the Foreign Intelligence Service, and Primakov's appointment. Primakov's longstanding links with Iraq, Iran and Libya are well known. I am not citing the extensive Russian arms sales to India and China; nor the sale of fighter aircraft to both Ethiopia and Eritrea, because they are essentially conventional weapons. My concern is for the power to destabilise and the disproportionate threat to peace which the proliferation of weapons, biological, chemical and nuclear, which Russia is vesting in unstable, irresponsible and dangerous countries can pose. Russia has still not signed the START 2 Treaty. She has still not destroyed her stock of chemical weapons; instead, she is selling the know-how.

In those circumstances, I find it deeply disturbing that we are seeing our splendid Armed Forces tied up by a series of political gestures in long-lasting commitments, however worthy they may be. As we form a significant part of NATO's armed forces, NATO also is being effectively neutralised. So far as I know, there has been no serious, major debate in Parliament about committing our forces to what may prove to be a debilitating war in the Balkans. We have had Statements, as we have had today, but that is not enough. But if it has to be—and, alas, it is the service tradition to accept tasks and to do the impossible to fulfil them—at least action should be taken by the Government both to raise morale and increase retention and to ensure proper training and proper consideration for the needs of families, including, as has been mentioned, the medical services.

There must be more money, if that is what is needed, and the Treasury must learn that value is expressed not only in terms of pounds, shillings and pence—or, as it seems, euros—but in terms of human resources.

There has been too much bad news for the forces lately, from the TA cuts to the unremitting overstretch. The Government seem to want to apply business standards and the language of the market to everything. I can tell them that no self-respecting and successful large business enterprise would dream of neglecting the need to reward professional success, to provide the opportunity for the ambitious to advance, to value status and to listen.

Fortunately, some small but significant step towards reminding society that we have troops—and splendid ones—has been taken in the decision to allow uniforms to be seen on the streets again. But I still think that COs must be having a difficult time convincing not only the men but their families, whose well-being is a vital part of morale, that they are valued by the country. Once they feel that they are not, they will vote with their feet—and who can blame them?

8.54 p.m.

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for providing us with this opportunity. It is entirely right that from time to time we should consider the conditions of Her Majesty's Forces and, in the present context, see how relevant the Strategic Defence Review continues to be. It was seen as a mature and sensible approach last year. I believe that its significance continues, despite the very serious commitments and burdens which our forces are bearing and which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, mentioned in his reference to the Royal Air Force.

The prospect of a strategic defence review was criticised and derided for between three and four years before 1997, yet it followed a series of cuts and contractions which bore harshly upon our forces. The contraction was frequently married to dogma as there was apparently an inclination to serve the cause of private loot. That did not help to maintain morale in Her Majesty's Forces. Indeed, I recall suggesting—frivolously, I thought—to some of our political opponents that they would next be selling off Royal Air Force runways and establishing a company that would charge whenever a Royal Air Force aircraft took off or landed. I had not expected an opponent to say, "What a good idea!", but he did. Fortunately, the Conservative Government were too busy mishandling the sale of married quarters to move in that direction—and then the electorate made that wise decision at the last election. We saw too much of that sort of thing previously and morale was inevitably affected.

Had the Government taken a wiser course and pursued a different approach, there may well have been some benefits. It may have been better if they had devoted their energies to persuading our European Atlantic partners to make a more equitable contribution to both European security and international need.

We had reached a situation where morale was at rock bottom. Reference has been made to the Defence Medical Services. The House of Commons Select Committee on Defence remarked that lower morale had been perceived than had ever before been experienced. That was a serious comment from a group in which Conservative Members were heavily involved.

This Government have maintained the responsibilities and commitments. They continue. However, this Government have at least recognised that the burdens on the servicemen and their families are severe. I am delighted that in recent months we have seen the Government embark on a policy which will help to sustain those affected by the very heavy commitments undertaken.

I also think it significant and worth mentioning that the Government have embarked upon training and educational initiatives in the Armed Forces. That is most important. In a modern world it is essential that those entering the services are given the opportunity to train and to equip themselves with skills which benefit not only the services but, in due course, society also.

However, I urge the Government to pursue a more vigorous course in regard to our partners. Some neighbouring European states, which contribute very little towards Europe having a meaningful defence capacity, are extremely eager to see the common security policy—that is, the second pillar—established at a rate of knots. I make that point because some of our partner countries are eager to welcome a British contribution and to commend our sense of responsibility yet, as I have said, they contribute remarkably little themselves, although they may have at least as much economic capacity as we do. In the meantime, our forces continue to pull more than their weight. They need to know that, sooner or later, there will be some relief rather than facing the incessant demands which are placed upon us because the United Kingdom acts rather more responsibly than others.

I do not wish to take very much longer, but I have just one other point to make which relates to retention and recruitment. Before the last debate we assumed that the Government and the service chiefs were seeking to achieve a sensible arrangement in regard to the transfer of pilots from the services to civil aviation. It seems that the airlines tend to lure pilots away from the services whenever demand for pilots increases. I believe that a sensible attitude was adopted by the MoD which sought to obtain a more orderly arrangement whereby pilots could leave the services at appropriate stages in their careers when they perhaps did not wish to go along the command route but wished to enter civil flying, which may well be rather more rewarding financially. However, I do not know whether any advance has been made in that respect. I still believe that it could be a cause for serious concern, even though I welcome the fact that we now have a significant number of pilots serving in the Royal Air Force in a reserve capacity. Indeed, my noble friend the Minister may care to comment on that.

However, as far as concerns recruitment, I should like to refer to a visit which the all-party group made a little while ago to RAF Halton to look at the training of recruits. It was a most interesting visit and I see one or two noble Lords who took part in it are present in the Chamber. I found it delightful because it revealed a wise change in the attitudes which may have dominated recruit training in Her Majesty's Forces until recently. We saw an attempt to lead rather than drive and, indeed, to encourage rather than merely to provide demand. I believe that the quality of that recruit training was first class.

I should add that I was also delighted to find out that one of the recruits who passed out on the day of our visit—and did so with some credit—was a member of the Air Training Corps squadron of which I am president. I wish to conclude by making some references to the Air Training Corps, but I shall be extremely brief.

There is an anxiety that resources will not allow that degree of contact with the service which such a cadet organisation requires. It is not the fault of the present Government. The Royal Air Force suffered enormous cuts so that the stations which are responsible to the variety of squadrons within their region may face an enormous problem. However, there needs to be contact and there needs to be a quality of training because the recruits entering the service from the Air Training Corps tend to be very much more above average, with an interest in commitment and with intention, which we need to see. When he concludes the debate, I hope that my noble friend will be able to offer us reassurance that the quality of opportunity which that organisation offers to young people will certainly be maintained in the future.

9.2 p.m.

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Trefgarne for introducing this debate at a most timely moment. I remind the House that I do have an interest, but I shall be very brief. The Minister knows that we support his policy with regard to Kosovo, but we are extremely concerned regarding overstretch. The noble Lord, Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld, made a brilliant job of turning his brief into a quite excellent speech. The noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, also did not disappoint us. But the fact is we still spend a considerable proportion of our GDP on defence and we must remember that there is a guns and butter curve. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Hogg, would advocate actually increasing defence expenditure and replacing the cuts. On balance, I found that I have more to agree with in the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, especially when he addressed the problems with our European partners.

It seems to me that the problem is that the Army is trying to man three major operations at once—we have Bosnia, Northern Ireland and now, potentially, we have Kosovo. But the problem is that we are running them continuously. The Gulf operation had a military objective that was achieved in about six months. The problem with these operations is that they are continuous and go on for years on end. As we know, the effect is an increase on overstretch. However, if we go to Kosovo, we would need two sets of logistics to support the operation. We would need two transport regiments running at the same time, two engineer regiments, two REME battalions (with which I am involved), two signals battalions and, most importantly, as has already been mentioned, two medical field ambulances.

The latter will result in terrible pressure especially on the families. I have certainly seen the problems in Bosnia. The wives of our servicemen are tending to say, "It's either me or the Army and divorce". I have also been involved with the management of soldiers in such operations who are facing the break up of their marriages. They know that when they go home there may not be a wife waiting for them. Indeed, the divorce rate in the services is horrendous. Moreover, the PVR rate must be of great concern to the Minister. The solution is not easy. However, I believe that the SDR should have managed to balance our commitments with our resources. We are not doing so at present. I have grave concerns regarding the sustainability of our current level of operations. I hope that the Minister is able, at least to some extent, to give us some reassurance tonight.

9.6 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for introducing the debate this evening. We have heard some very good contributions and I hope that my small contribution will also help. Since the autumn of 1989—some 10 years ago—the pace of political and military conflict has accelerated markedly. Starting with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, there has been the unification of Germany and the wind-up of the Warsaw Pact as a military organisation, which took place in March 1991.

We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld, the sad story of the cuts under successive defence reviews up to and including the most recent Strategic Defence Review. However, I should like to ask noble Lords: who would have forecast the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq eight days after the announcement of the options for change?

All these defence reviews are aimed at restructuring our Armed Forces without really attempting to describe realistically the circumstances in which they will be most likely to operate. In the past some people have said that the reductions in our Armed Forces were an arbitrary imposed cut on the part of the Treasury. Personally I do not believe that to be entirely true, although obviously the Treasury had a hand in it. The service chiefs nowadays have much tighter budgets. They have much greater financial responsibility and they alone control where they set their priorities.

Since the Gulf War, and probably even before then, there has been a chain reaction which has led, to put it simply, to a description of our forces as undermanned and overstretched. This in turn has led to an ongoing change of attitude among our servicemen and service women today. I shall attempt to explain this. First, there is the loss of image and links with the civilian population. Today, as regards image, our Armed Forces have a worse image than the National Health Service and the education service, which we read about every day in the papers. There are few large shows of military strength except the Queen's Birthday Parade, the Edinburgh Tattoo and the Royal Tournament, and even that will end next year for good reasons. There are no longer eye-catching events which attract young people into the Armed Forces. I have repeatedly bemoaned the demise of the Junior Leaders Regiments of the Army and I applaud the efforts to bring back apprentice training to enable young people to join the Army straight from school.

Together with the enhancement of the cadet organisation, I hope there will be some improvement in our recruitment and retention efforts. I have to tell your Lordships that as of last Friday there are 503 "true" vacancies in the Army up until the end of April and a further 341 apprentice vacancies. Those two figures added together amount to another battalion. I hope those vacancies will be filled, if not the undermanning situation will continue to worsen, as we have heard.

My second point of explanation is career expectancy, which is possibly better described as career horizons. Over recent years, due to the much reduced places to serve, especially overseas, the length of careers are shortening particularly as regards the technical arms where offers of civilian employment are numerous because of the training that the Armed Services give. I give an example. British Telecom offers signallers of all three services a good career when leaving the services.

We have already heard of visits made by the defence group. Last week the defence group visited 24 Air Mobile Brigade and talked to a great many of the soldiers in that brigade. It was noticeable that they did not complain about service pay or conditions, but they all complained about a lack of manpower and having to do two jobs, including guarding the barracks. Where does this all lead? Shortages and undermanning in many areas lead to a loss of morale. The well known saying "rob Peter to pay Paul" is as true today as it ever was.

The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, has already referred to the King's Royal Hussars who are currently on their way to a possible deployment in Kosovo. This regiment has had to receive reinforcements which they have neither trained nor worked with. While this is inevitable, it is the numbers of the reinforcements which causes concern and when those reinforcements return to their parent regiment they may well have to redeploy elsewhere at short notice.

Other shortages which face those who may have to deploy to Kosovo comprise trained medical specialists and technicians, dental technicians and certain mechanical and electrical tradesmen. Of course they will cope—they have always done so—but the real concern must be whether the Kosovo operation has a long-term implication requiring large numbers of troops, along with helicopters and other specialised monitoring equipment, as currently deployed in Northern Ireland. There may well be shortages and failures.

Our Armed Forces do a quite excellent job wherever they are deployed. They are, however, overstretched, as they have been for many years. By the turn of the century we must do something about that. Will the Minister say what action the Government propose to take as regards adopting a realistic view on recruitment to our Armed Forces to ensure that they are maintained at full strength to meet whatever exigency that may occur in the future? We must be prepared for the unexpected in the future in this dangerous and changing world in which we now live.

9.12 p.m.

My Lords, 12 years ago this month I resigned my commission in the British Army. I did so to protest at the defence cuts which were then introduced. One of the defence Ministers at the time was the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, to whom I am grateful for introducing this debate. But it was his fellow Minister, now Sir John Stanley, who wrote, answering my letter, to The Times. He replied to the letter but he did not answer my points. He gave a list of all the defence equipment that had been introduced while he had been Minister. That equipment, of course, had taken 10 to 13 years to produce.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, answered Sir John Stanley's letter saying that I had a point but that he rather wished I had not taken the decision to resign my commission. I understood later that the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, went down to the Royal Armoured Corp at Bovington to see what the situation was and whether I had a point. I understand that he came back with the message, yes, what I had said was true—but since I had said it, it should not be taken too much into account.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, who is not taking part today, because he, as Secretary to your Lordships' all-party defence group, enables us to visit various formations and units. I am reminded of last year when we visited 1st UK Armoured Division in British Forces Germany. We were taken to the cookhouse, where we lunched with the warrant officers and sergeants from rifle companies and support companies of the Royal Regiment of Wales. That splendid regiment had some very angry sergeants indeed. They said that they were undermanned, that NCO's of eight to 10 years service were leaving and that the situation was getting worse. I asked them the reasons for this situation. They said that they had recently completed a two-year tour of Northern Ireland, had gone straight into ceremonial duties in London, and were then going to deploy to Bosnia for six months, after six months training, much of which would be carried out away from their families.

We saw the brigadier later and I asked him about the situation in regard to the Royal Regiment of Wales. He said "Yes, this battalion has been hammered, but so have many others". Can the Minister assure us that, as far as possible, all regiments are treated fairly and that great care is taken when allocating troops to tasks in order that units are not over-committed?

We learn that the Army is 5,000 below strength. The Chief of the General Staff, Sir Roger Wheeler, in his excellent speech last Wednesday, 17th February, at the Royal United Services Institute, stated that:
"Manning the Army fully is my top priority and our investment in recruitment and retention measures reflect this."
I believe that recruiting is too serious a matter to be left to the armed services; it concerns us all. This year I have encouraged four young men from non-service backgrounds to join the Army. I suggested that two of them should apply for commissions. One of those who has applied for a commission received a letter from the Director of the Royal Armoured Corps, my friend and former brother officer in the 9/12th Lancers, and a visit to the Royal Armoured Corps is being arranged for later this year.

If the Minister has not already considered the following measures, I urge him to reflect upon them. I know that what I advocate are short-term measures. First, we should consider extending service beyond the 22-year point. Are we not chucking out of the services men and women in their prime who still have much to contribute? We visited the Royal Air Force at Royal Air Force Halton, as the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, has already mentioned, and I know that it is doing this. I understand that the Army and Navy are reluctant to adopt a policy of extending service because it blocks promotion. Secondly, is the Army doing enough to target those who have left the service and encouraging them to re-enlist? I understand that personnel can now rejoin if they reapply within a year. Could this not be extended to two years? Thirdly, we have recently shed numbers of well-trained members of the TA, some of whom are unemployed. Are we doing enough to attract them to join the regular forces?

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for giving way. A great deal is being done on exactly that point. In my own unit we have on orders all the time opportunities for operational tours and support to the regular Army in Canada.

My Lords, I am delighted to hear that from the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. I hope that in his reply the Minister will confirm that what is being done in the noble Earl's TA company is being done widely throughout the Army.

Finally, are the careers information offices and recruiting sergeants in the right place? Do we still have a satisfied soldier scheme whereby a young NCO or soldier is given leave to recruit in his area? I learnt with some concern that certain battalions and regiments are paying out of their regimental funds to recruit. If that is the case, I hope they will be reimbursed by the Treasury for those endeavours.

The Chief of the General Staff aims to fill the gaps by 2004. That is laudable; it is also necessary. But in his RUSI speech last Wednesday he also, I detected, gave us a warning. He said:
"The more libertarian values of modem Britain with their emphasis on the freedom of the individual rather than obligation to any collective identity are sometimes at odds with the values and behaviour needed to create the spirit and cohesiveness required in battle".
The Armed Forces are not a commercial corporation and must not be treated as such. They have, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, reminded us yet again, unique traditions, history and ethos where the core values are still courage, self-discipline and commitment.

I express concern that performance related pay may be introduced into the Armed Forces next year. Perhaps the Minister can confirm or deny that. We already have a perfectly good and well-tried system based on the annual confidential report system whereby merit is rewarded by promotion and, therefore, by additional pay. If it is introduced, I expect that PRP will cause friction, jealousy and rivalry. It involves commanders at all levels carrying out more what the Duke of Wellington called "quill driving". I hope the Minister can assure us that he. like the three Chiefs of Staff, will put recruitment and retention and the elimination of overstretch at the top of his agenda. And the word "agenda", I remind your Lordships, means, from the Latin, "things to be done".

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, he referred to me apparently in some connection with his resignation. May I assure the noble Earl, in case he is not aware of it, that I had nothing whatever to do with his resignation? I was not connected with it in any way. Nor have I ever, sadly to my regret, been a Minister in the Ministry of Defence. So I shall read with care what the noble Earl said and will certainly consider his remarks.

My Lords, I immediately withdraw what I said and apologise to the noble Lord. It was a slip of the tongue.

9.22 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Trefgarne for introducing this debate today. As your Lordships are aware, we already have 5,000 troops in Bosnia and face the prospect of deploying some 9,000 troops to Kosovo in the near future. In addition, there is cause for concern about the situation in Northern Ireland which may continue to require a greater commitment of resources than we had hoped. It is therefore right that your Lordships' House should have this opportunity to discuss the capacity of the Armed Forces to fulfil their commitments.

My only qualification to speak in this debate is nine years in the Territorial Army. I hesitate to speak in front of noble Lords with specialist military knowledge and real experience, especially the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Bramall and Lord Craig of Radley, both of whom led our Armed Forces with distinction and have tonight made such illuminating and helpful contributions to the debate. I am also very glad to follow the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, and congratulate him on his most interesting speech.

Since the ending of the Cold War the former central role of the Armed Forces to provide through NATO adequate defence against the threat of attack or invasion by the forces of the Soviet Union has disappeared. The Strategic Defence Review states that the objective today is to meet our purely national requirements and be able to make a reasonable contribution to multinational operations in support of our foreign and security policy objectives. Greater flexibility is now required of our Armed Forces to meet a wide range of perceived and unforeseen threats.

The SDR states that, in addition to providing whatever military support is required for continuing commitments such as Northern Ireland, we should be able to respond to a major international crisis, such as the Gulf War, or undertake up to two medium-sized deployments which might last up to six months. As your Lordships are aware, our deployment of troops in Bosnia has already lasted more than five years, and I expect that the situation in Kosovo will make it impossible for us to withdraw our forces, if and when deployed, within the prescribed six months.

It therefore appears that with troops committed to Bosnia and Kosovo, and given the situation in Northern Ireland, our Armed Forces would already be fully extended. Our soldiers, sailors and airmen are therefore having to spend longer periods away from home more often than was the case a decade or so ago. That, of course, has a detrimental effect on morale and on recruitment. The SDR makes clear that we cannot afford the luxury of having additional forces "just in case". A senior army officer told me this week that the Army does not want to be an army that people are reluctant to use. It likes to be used and likes to be stretched. But it is a delicate balance. The regular Armed Forces are already fully stretched, if not over-stretched.

What I find extraordinary is that in these circumstances the Government have decided to emasculate the Territorial Army in order to increase the regular establishment by 3,000. At a time when our regular forces are fully stretched, we need to maintain our reserves, or even to increase them. I am no advocate of the growing belief that we should always do things the way other countries do. The things that foreigners admire about this country, such as our Armed Forces, and your Lordships' House, are not generally things that we have copied from others. But on this occasion we should ask ourselves why we are reducing the TA by one-third, from 60,000 to a little over 40,000, whereas most of our NATO allies currently maintain a roughly equal balance between regular and reserved armed forces. The United States volunteer reserves outnumber their regular counterparts; the Australians maintain a balance near parity.

The real outcome for the TA is even worse than the cut of one-third suggests. The TA infantry is to be cut by more than half, from 16,000 to 7,200. London is set to suffer disproportionately, especially so on the basis of its daytime population.

The Secretary of State for Defence has said that the TA should be useable, relevant and better integrated into the regular Army. However, the destruction of the regimental system in the TA infantry, predicated by the replacement of battalion units by multi-cap badge regional headquarters, will do precisely the opposite, besides having a devastating effect on morale and on both TA and regular recruitment. I was proud to serve with 4th Battalion The Royal Green Jackets, the successor to, inter alia, Queen Victoria's Rifles, Queen's Westminster Rifles and the London Rifle Brigade. Two companies will survive, but they will be subsumed into the new London Regiment, which, incidentally, I doubt will ever be able to parade as a battalion; marching in step will clearly be impossible. I rather doubt whether the two surviving Green Jackets companies will possess the critical mass necessary to continue the regiment's identity, spirit, traditions and historical links with London and its boroughs.

Fourth Battalion The Royal Green Jackets has recently been seconding on a continuing basis between 10 and 20 TA soldiers to supplement the two regular Green Jackets battalions. There were around a dozen 4th Battalion TA soldiers with the 2nd Battalion in Bosnia recently; and I understand that there are 11 TA soldiers waiting to join the 1st Battalion when it moves to Northern Ireland shortly. I doubt that the London Regiment will be able to maintain the close connections and identify equally closely with all the regular Army regiments of which its predecessors currently form part. I do not think that the two regular Green Jackets battalions will be able to rely on the TA for additional support in this way in the future as they have in the past.

I am disappointed that the Army Board was prepared to sacrifice the TA for such a small benefit to the regular Army. I do not think that the closure of 180 drill halls and the resulting disappearance of much of the framework of the TA is going to help fill the 8,000 regular Army vacancies which will exist under the expanded establishment. The Minister told me that only some 7 per cent. of regular Army recruits have seen service with the TA. The proportion of former cadets is much higher. But I fear the noble Lord may not recognise the point that the cadets themselves depend heavily on the existence and co-location of TA units.

The station commander of Royal Air Force Halton told me the other day that the RAF also recruits a number of people who have seen service with the TA. Many potential Army recruits, even though they may never see service with the TA, first inquire about an Army career by visiting a TA centre. TA centres are the Army's shop window.

It was perhaps not the responsibility of the generals to take account of the social benefits that the TA provides to the community, but I am frankly amazed that the Government, who talk a great deal about social inclusiveness, have also missed this important point. In London and many other cities the TA offers much needed opportunities and a sense of belonging to disadvantaged sections of the community such as members of ethnic minorities and single parent families. Twenty one per cent. of the members of 4 RGJ are from ethnic minorities. The Government want to see a more inclusive regular Army and in this respect the TA can provide leadership. There is certainly no institutional racism in the TA.

My recollection of the TA and the extraordinary breadth of skills and experience that weekend soldiers bring to it lead me to believe that its usefulness and relevance to the regular Army are enhanced and not diminished by the changed role of the Armed Forces today.

The TA has given the nation good value for money in defence terms and also bridges the gap between civilian and military life—another of the Government's declared aims. Its emasculation removes our insurance policy that we could, at a time when our regular forces are fully stretched, nevertheless rely on reserve forces to meet an unforeseen threat or natural disaster such as a serious flood.

I hope that the Government will think again and reverse the cuts in the TA now being implemented before it is too late and the Army's footprint fades across vast areas of the country. Our fully stretched Armed Forces deserve to be complemented and backed up by adequate reserves who themselves deserve the country's full support and appreciation.

9.32 p.m.

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for giving us the opportunity once again to debate briefly issues which are close to the heart and the interests of the Armed Forces. I am sorry that the debate is taking place so late at night and in such a sparsely populated House.

I wish to concentrate my remarks this evening on the Army, although the Motion refers to the "Armed Forces". I wish particularly to speak of the Army because a long time ago I had personal experience of handling the problem in the British Army. Way back in the 1950s, I was a staff officer in the War Office, as it then was, in a branch which was, for some obscure military reason, called "staff duties". It had nothing to do with staff duties; it was entirely to do with the organisation and manpower planning of the regular Army. My task at that time was to plan, or take part in planning, the shape and size of the Armed Forces, with special reference to the requirements of the notorious 1957 White Paper. Older Members of the House will recall it with some nostalgia.

We had two golden rules when we were carrying out all the planning and number-crunching. One was that if you are faced with over-stretch in your Armed Forces you must either increase your resources or reduce your commitments. It all sounds simple but we kept it constantly in the front of our minds. The other lesson, still equally relevant today, is that if you plan an Army which is designed only for low intensity operations and peace-keeping operations, it is almost impossible to move into a high intensity situation with the same Army. However, if you plan a high intensity Army, there is no difficulty in performing low intensity tasks.

Most contributors to the debate this evening have, quite rightly, spoken of the need to maximise resources. I should like to place greater emphasis on what we do about our commitments. At the moment it is unrealistic, especially so shortly after the Strategic Defence Review, to expect any substantial increase in military resources. I mention the Strategic Defence Review because it was, as at least one other noble Lord has said, a serious and imaginative attempt to plan a post-Cold War army and match commitments with our resources. Of course there was Treasury involvement in it. It would be foolish to expect that there should not be Treasury involvement in a spending department of this kind.

However, generally speaking, it is true that the shape and size of the forces brought about by the Strategic Defence Review was based on the views and operational analysis of the General Staff. One cannot want much more than that. We heard that later all three Chiefs of Staff told the Defence Select Committee of another place that each individually signed up to the Strategic Defence Review. What results from that very careful, constructive and effective review is that now we have an Army—I shall not go into the details of its deployment—that is able to solve the high intensity/low intensity problem. We have an Army which, although small, is designed for high-intensity operations and is also trained for other forms of activity short of war.

General Wheeler, Chief of the General Staff, who has already been referred to this evening, said recently that in his view the Army was better balanced and nearer the manpower need than it was three or four years ago. Incidentally, for those noble Lords who are especially interested in this area of national policy—I imagine that that includes all noble Lords who are in the House at the moment—there is a fascinating interview with General Wheeler in the current issue of Jane's Defence Weekly. There he gives his views on overstretch, commitments and resources. That is an extraordinarily upbeat and confident article that I believe will provide considerable comfort to a good number of people.

But as to resources and commitments, perhaps we have not quite solved the problem. Other noble Lords have already mentioned this, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and, specifically in relation to retention, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, who made the very important point that this was a vicious circle. If one has overstretch and loss of morale not only recruitment but retention of the forces that one already has also suffers.

It would be foolish to expect any great increase in defence resources at this moment. To ask what may sound a rather crass question, can we reduce our commitments? I believe that we must consider that question although it may not be a matter for the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, himself to answer. We should bear in mind that armed forces are basically for military purposes. The following are perhaps the three most important roles for our Armed Forces: first, the defence of the realm; secondly, as a contribution to alliances; and, thirdly, as backing for our foreign policy. But it now appears that we expect our Armed Forces to become involved in a broad range of other rather dubious commitments. I mean "dubious" in the sense that the problems do not always seem to me to be ones with which the British Army should deal.

There may be a case for peacekeeping operations but there is often a far less strong case for British forces being involved in humanitarian activities. I am not entirely sure about demands that are often made on our Armed Forces in the area of disaster relief. It is possible that some of those activities are justifiable and are a necessary demand on our resources. But I suggest that the British Armed Forces should not be expected to act as the world's policeman or the world's welfare officer, intervening in crisis after crisis—not always military crises. It seems to me that sometimes—I slide now into the field of foreign policy—we are intervening perilously near the internal affairs of other states. However, I leave that for the moment. We should not expect to take a disproportionate share of military responsibilities.

The noble Lord, Lord Hardy, mentioned our allies. It is true that we have close to us France and Germany and, not so close, the United States. France has an army of over 200,000; Germany has an army of nearly a quarter of a million; and the United States has an army of 480,000, nearly half a million. Yet we are expected apparently to take on the heaviest share of Kosovo operations. Eight thousand to 9,000 troops have been mentioned today.

I conclude with two quotations from the Strategic Defence Review. We now have,
"designed a future force structure matched to level of commitments we plan to be able to undertake".
Those are important words. Later there is this sentence:
"We must match the commitments we undertake to our planned resources".
Noble Lords will note the emphasis there.

I leave it there. I only ask the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, who I know has the welfare and efficiency of the Armed Forces very much at the centre of his attention, whether it is still the policy of Her Majesty's Government to ensure that we do not take on more commitments than we can match with our resources.

9.41 p.m.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for initiating the debate, enabling us to have a discussion, effectively, on defence matters. He has, of course, laid himself open to contributions from this side of the House as well as from his own side.

I need not elaborate on the interesting contribution of my noble friend Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld. He pointed out the enormous reductions in defence capability under the Conservatives. My noble friend Lord Hardy of Wath also picked up that point. It is worth considering how the Conservative government did that. There were two major reductions in defence expenditure. Many believe that the first, at the beginning of the 1980s, resulted directly in the Falklands campaign. The second, in the early 1990s, resulted in a horrendous situation for those members of the Armed Forces who were subject to it. Both were easily seen to be completely Treasury driven. They were nothing to do with foreign or defence commitments.

Let us compare that situation with what has happened since the advent of the new Labour Government. The Strategic Defence Review received plaudits from all parts of society and the Armed Forces in this country. It was also recognised as being sensible by others outside the United Kingdom. We need to say "Well done" to the Government for their Strategic Defence Review.

It has been a fascinating debate. One of the advantages of speaking late is that many of the points have already been made so I do not need to repeat them. However, it gives one the opportunity to highlight and pick up points already made. I was impressed by the contribution from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. He pointed out that overstretch was better than understretch. Perhaps we should push the Treasury in the direction that the Armed Forces would wish.

I was fascinated by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, who pointed out that his old regiment spent 130 nights out of barracks. I suddenly remembered that, on average, Members of the House of Lords spend 134 days away from home; that is, if they are regular attenders and live outside London. That puts the issue in perspective.

We need to recognise that there are serious problems for individual units in the Armed Forces which are required to do tour after tour of duty, whether in Northern Ireland or Bosnia, which take them away from their families for a number of consecutive Christmases. I hope that my noble friend Lord Gilbert will assure us that individual units will not be subjected to that dislocation of family life which is so distressing.

Much has been said about recruitment and retention. The overall figures suggest that recruitment is on the increase and we have heard that the Government are taking action on a number of fronts in respect of retention. I am sure that my noble friend will comment on that. The previous government first introduced the higher activity levels of women in the Armed Forces and I pay tribute to them for that. This Government have continued the policy and have also sought a higher level of recruitment of the black and Asian members of our society who are under-represented in the Armed Forces. I am sure that my noble friend will reassure us on those issues and recognise that one of the pleasant aspects of such a debate is that it gives Members on all sides of the House the opportunity to pay tribute to the sterling service which our Armed Forces perform for our society.

9.47 p.m.

My Lords, first, I apologise to your Lordships and to the noble Lord. Lord Trefgarne, in particular for being absent at the beginning of the debate. I was scribbling away upstairs and did not look at the monitor. I was therefore unaware that the previous debate on the Statement had finished.

I must declare an interest in that I have recently completed an Industry and Parliament Trust fellowship with Shorts Bombardier which manufactures some defence systems and some aircraft which may be used in the military world.

I have seen the overstretch at first hand over a considerable length of time. I was in the armed services for 23 years, 17 of which were spent in Northern Ireland with the Ulster Defence Regiment and later the Royal Irish Regiment. We saw many units coming in under-strength which provided more work for us. I am not saying that it was as hard as it might seem. We were part-time, so the more work we did the more we were paid. However, there were shortfalls in the strength.

I thank this Government and the previous government for the way in which they resourced the equipment we had. We were never short of it at any stage, and in the fight against terrorism that is most important.

My noble friend Lord Allenby spoke about unpredictability and the invasion of Kuwait. I remember that we were on an All-Party Defence Study Group trip to SHAPE during the week prior to the invasion. We asked the Deputy Supreme Commander about the various threats. When we dealt with the southern flank, which included Turkey and Kuwait, he said, "Don't worry about that. We have got far bigger problems elsewhere". So the world is very unpredictable!

We were led to understand in the SDR that, although there would be a reduction in total manpower of reserves and regulars, that would be compensated for by directing more resources into fully equipping our services. Does the Minister accept that in some key areas the Government are failing to do that? That is not to say that they are the only culprits; it applies to the previous government as well. Things have not improved a great deal and perhaps not as much as the Government would like to think.

For example, I should like to turn to my recent experience with Shorts. The short-range anti-aircraft capability includes the Shorts-built self-propelled, high-velocity missile Starstreak, which is new in service. This is a revolutionary short-range anti-helicopter and anti-aircraft system. Without encroaching on confidential information, I can say that it transforms the time taken from acquisition to a hit on the target and that it has an unsurpassed percentage rate of hits. It has ground-to-air and air-to-air capability. In testing in the US in November it achieved a 100 per cent. success rate when fired from an Apache attack helicopter.

I believe that, since the Government introduced the 3 per cent. year-on-year budget reduction, it has been decided to equip fewer Royal Artillery sub-units with the system than was originally envisaged. In effect, that is a cancellation which is in the public domain. It means two things. First, there will be a reduction of high-tech support for the soldiers on the ground and for friendly aircraft in the air, contrary to the Government's stated policy. Secondly, it is not a good message for exports when we are seen to be slightly less supportive than previously of our own British systems. It will also mean a higher unit cost, and any orders lost overseas may mean a net loss to the Exchequer of more than it would have cost to equip an additional sub-unit.

We have recently been introduced to the phrase, "joined up government", or co-operation between departments. Can the Minister tell us whether the reduction in units to be supplied with this system is permanent and, if not, how soon the position will be rectified? In addition, I believe that the MOD has delayed any requirement for air-to-air capability of this system on the UK Apache fleet until 2005.

In order to reduce the effect of overstretch and lack of manpower, we must complete essential programmes taken on and not leave them half-finished. Here we have the most sophisticated attack helicopter but we deny it the most effective weapons system to support those on the ground.

The Government are fully aware of the importance of air superiority, which as the years go on becomes the major issue in the modern field of conflict, as has been proved in the Gulf War and the no-fly zone over Iraq and Bosnia. Can the Minister tell us whether this serious delay can be shortened to ensure that our forces are sent into operational areas with the most up-to-date equipment, especially when it is British?

I have a question relating to this system and its export to America. It is far superior to any system there in the short-range field. What are the Government doing to help overcome US protectionism, when additional sales overseas would reduce the unit cost to the MOD? Her Majesty's Government could then afford more systems, thus reducing the effect of overstretch.

I wish to talk for a moment about another programme in which Shorts is involved. Astor is a long-distance, airborne surveillance system, which the MOD has indicated that it will purchase. It is of use in both peaceful and war-time environments. In fact, 95 per cent. of surveillance takes place in peace-time. The system will be mounted on one of two long-range, converted intercontinental executive jets. Operationally, it could be tasked from this country to central Africa and back without refuelling.

I believe that a couple of years ago over 50,000 refugees were lost, having fled their homes in central Africa. It took some days or weeks for aid workers on he around to find them. It could have been done with Astor in a day or two.

I have two questions to ask the Minister. First, opinion is that the optimum number of aircraft is five or six o ensure that enough are operational at all times. However, there is a feeling that only four may be ordered. How many will be ordered? If it is only four, will that not be yet another overstretch of an important resource?

Secondly, the two aircraft involved are the Gulf Stream 5 and the Shorts Bombardier Global Express. Of course there is a question of jobs in Ulster, but I do not want to be too parochial about it. From a long-term point of view, Gulf Stream 5 is an older design and airframe, perhaps coming to the limit of future modifications which it can withstand. It is also much smaller and only just large enough to carry this equipment. An Astor will use the maximum amount of inboard electronic power that can be carried.

No doubt in the future there will be developments to that on-board surveillance equipment and any requirement for additional power, which is almost a certainty, or additional manpower could be catered for only in an aircraft the size of the Global Express, which is brand new and can therefore be modified more easily in the future. Can the Minister tell us which way he sees things going?

Overstretch is a problem, and not for the first time. The only way to help reduce its effect is to procure the latest and best equipment available, especially when it is British.

9.55 p.m.

My Lords, I was slightly surprised by some of the speeches from the Benches opposite, which tried to make party political capital from what has happened in the past. I believed this debate to be about the future. Towards the end of another long day I shall not detain the House for many minutes, but I should like to make a few brief points some of which have been referred to already this evening.

In the main, service personnel are superbly trained. However, it is clear that the standard of training is at risk as a result of the frequency of operational tasks. I am sure the whole House will join me in not wanting inadequately trained personnel to be put at risk through a lack of training.

I understand that there is a great problem from poaching in relation to retention, particularly in relation to signals, helicopters and pilots. I throw in as a thought: should we look to longer-term "contracts of employment" for the major categories at risk who have, after all, been trained extensively and expensively by the taxpayer? I have been advised that there is also a problem with retention payments; that the reward for signing on for a further period of service is greater at three years than at six years. Someone who has been trained for three years is of great use thereafter; but someone trained for six years is a trainer and has much greater experience. Why should he receive less in the way of retention payment than someone with three years' experience? I find that extremely difficult to understand.

My next remarks are directed to the training corps. I believe the position is increasingly difficult, as painted by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath. Will the Minister give a commitment to continue the funding and backing of the cadets, particularly maintaining, if not increasing, the flying and gliding opportunities which attract the better quality cadets to the Air Training Corps. Around 30 per cent. of the RAF recruits come from the Air Training Corps and I understand that around 40 per cent. of the current officers started their service lives as cadets. If funding was to be reduced it would impact either on the poorer areas where the greatest recruitment problems arise already, or on areas where the best recruits come from, neither of which makes any sense and is certainly not desirable.

I should like to refer briefly to Astor, the Short aeroplane. I had not intended to do so but the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, mentioned it. I am sure that it is absolutely fine, but is he aware that the radar capability in Astor is already 16 years-old and upgraded, whereas the other team Astor has brand new radar developed by Racal? Two hundred people have been employed on it. The Government have already spent over £100 million on this development.

My Lords, I apologise. I am probably not as well informed as the noble Lord.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Trefgarne for giving us the opportunity to have this discussion.

10 p.m.

My Lords, having already spoken only two days ago on the debate on the future of the Lords, I should not wish to speak again too soon lest your Lordships accuse me of chattering. However, I received a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Defence Group, as I suspect did many of your Lordships who are speaking today. He is unfortunately not able to be with us due to the unforeseen circumstances of the debate being put forward. It is events which catch us all. However, it is not quite as ill a wind as all that because we have gained the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, to open the debate and it has blown back a little sooner the dear and noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, who is not technically my noble friend, at least on this side of the House, although of course she is.

It has also been a pleasure listening to my noble and gallant friends, and, indeed, to all noble Lords who have spoken. Having spent the past two days in the Chamber listening to over 95 of your Lordships and to some of the best speeches I have ever had the pleasure to hear, it was in the early hours of this morning that my noble friend Lady Warnock dropped me off in Lambeth. All I could think of was to crawl into bed with one or two useful books which I thought I might run through later in the day when it came to writing a speech. Unfortunately, when I woke up later this morning, I discovered that they were a little out of date. So, I have many grateful thanks to the office of the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, at the MOD for its help and kindness and for the accurate and up-to-date information.

However, as this debate is all about overstretch, I was rather interested in the correlation between the two sets of MOD figures then and now, as I am sure your Lordships will be also. I only hope that there is no significance in the fact that in 1992 the figures were produced on 1st April, whereas now they are produced in January or December. To be fair, I should say that five of those years were under the Conservative government and two under Labour.

In the Royal Navy in 1992 there were 62,100 people on the strength. On 1st January this year there were 39,325, a drop of nearly 23,000. In the Army in 1992 there were 145,000 men. On 1st December last year there were 96,822, a drop of nearly 48,000. In the Royal Air Force there were, in 1992, 86,000 and on 1st January this year, 55,905, a drop of nearly 30,000.

I think that those figures speak for themselves. Seven years ago we did not have any more commitments than we have now. In fact, with Bosnia now an ongoing situation and Kosovo possibly starting, perhaps less. Yet we have 23,000 fewer people in the Royal Navy, 48,000 fewer in the Army and 30,000 fewer in the Royal Air Force.

Although we are always working towards the magic and desirable figure of 24 months between front-line tours, it is still never more than 18 months and sometimes very considerably less. I hope that those figures will indeed draw attention to the thinness of the red line. We are talking about people. However well trained, efficient, brave and loyal they all are, they are still people and cannot be stretched too far.

Now to Kosovo, on which we have already had a Statement, so I can cut out huge chunks of my speech. As we know, there are 1,250 international observers in considerable danger, of whom 101 are British, and the rescue force, which is currently called an extradition force, of 500 is currently on standby in Macedonia, awaiting the arrival of ships carrying the necessary equipment which were due to dock at six o'clock tonight.

Here, I do not think that it does matter that my books are a little bit out of date, because the whole situation in Kosovo goes back to the foundation of the Ottoman Empire, with its founder Othram, or rather his son, Orchan, whose vizier, Black Habil, conceived the idea of trained slave armies of Janissaries, made up of captured Christian children trained as professional fighters. At the same time as that was happening in Asia, Serbia, under Stephan Dushan, was emerging as a battling and patriotic Christian state. Stephan Dushan's son was Lazarus, who was a sort of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce rolled into one. He started a great Christian campaign against the Moslems with a huge assorted army of Serbs, Bulgars, Poles, Hungarians, Bosnians, Albanians and Mongols, none of whom spoke the same language, and when they met the Moslem army at Kosovo under Orchan's son, Murad, composed of Christian enslaved children, now grown-up and welded into a taut, professional fighting body, the great conglomerate did not stand a chance, and lost. But Murad, the Moslem leader, was killed. That was in 1389, about the time of the Battle of Poitiers. It was the Serbian Dunkirk, and is so celebrated.

However, before noble Lords move that I should be no longer heard because of talking irrelevantly, I can skip 600 years to 1989 when Slobodan Milosevic celebrated the 600th anniversary with a huge rally on the site and banners of himself and King Lazarus. By this time, Kosovo, a province of Serbia, had a population of over 90 per cent. Albanians. The land was the same, the battle site was the same, but the people were not. Speaking to my daughter in Washington early this morning, she said, "Everyone here is talking about the Battle of Kosovo". "The Battle of Kosovo?", I asked. "Yes", she said, "1389".

While we always pray for peace and do what we can to preserve it, we do not want to fight 600 year-old battles for other people. The protection of our own forces, however reduced they are, must always be our first priority.

10.7 p.m.

My Lords, I should thank the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, for referring to my distinguished ancestor, but my recollection of what I have read about the Battle of Stirling Bridge is that William Wallace's forces were neither very well trained, nor organised into trained regimental units, nor supplied with adequate reserves. Thankfully, the English were even worse supplied at the time.

I am grateful for this debate on such an important subject. In another place on Monday, the Secretary of State for Defence said very soberly that maintaining the deployment in Bosnia and Kosovo would be very demanding. I echo the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in saying that we have a number of other existing and potential commitments about which I hope the Minister will be able to say a little when he replies. I refer, for example, to the question of whether in East Timor there will be a need for a UN-sponsored peace keeping force. I understand that the Secretary of State for International Development is making a major speech the week after next on the use of armed forces in development and disaster relief. That is another potentially substantial role for our Armed Forces. There is also the whole question of defence diplomacy and defence training in central and eastern Europe. Those are all considerations.

The lesson that we are learning very rapidly from Bosnia and Kosovo is that, in the post-Cold-War world, we need flexible armed forces and we need the ability to expand and contract our full-time professional forces as different demands present themselves. As a number of noble Lords have suggested, that requires us to rethink the role of reserves. I recall that 100 years ago continental armies had a number of battalions which were held at CADRE strength with reserves to come in. That is perhaps the sort of thing that we need to consider ourselves. We clearly need an adequate and skilled ready reserve, from which individuals could be integrated into units at relatively short notice. After all, 10 per cent. of the forces in Bosnia have consisted of people called up from the reserves. There is considerable anxiety in this House and in another place that the cutbacks in the territorial forces have not provided sufficiently for this.

I should like now to raise a related question which I have mentioned on previous occasions. It seems to me that the preference of the Armed Forces for long-service personnel causes a number of problems. There has been much discussion during this debate about the problem of retention. Again, I should like to suggest that it might be worth considering moving towards a higher proportion of shorter serving soldiers, which would lead to a higher turnover of people on the full strength but also to a higher proportion of reserves. Fewer of those younger people would have wives and families and, therefore, the problems of morale and high turnover, and so on, would be rather less. I suggest that the MOD should consider encouraging a greater number of shorter term recruits by perhaps offering a period of full-time service followed by a priority reserve obligation. That is the sort of flexibility that we should consider.

I should also like to reiterate the point that several of my colleagues have made from these Benches on previous occasions; namely, that we perhaps may need to consider the "arms plot" under which whole units are moved around together. There are those in the services who consider that to be a source of inefficiency and misuse of manpower. A move towards multi-battalion regiments, in which sub-units and, indeed, even individuals, could be posted on a rolling basis, should also provide for more flexible arrangements when long overseas postings are necessary. One may anticipate that the obligation to maintain some military forces in Bosnia will be medium to long term. If a peacekeeping force goes into Kosovo, we may anticipate that that will also require a long-term commitment.

I should like to make one further suggestion in that respect. What we are seeing in Bosnia, and what I hope we might see if a force goes into Kosovo, is the demand for an initial, substantial heavily armed force and then, slowly, a reduction in the level of force and in the heaviness of the weapons provided. It seems to me that the sort of Petersburg tasks which the European militaries are now facing will require rather more gendarmerie-type armed forces. We have had some difficulties in Bosnia in matching the gap between the provision of the civilian police from Britain on secondment and full-scale highly-trained armed forces. There again, it seems to me that there is a cause for rethinking precisely where in between civilian police and full strength Army units we might perhaps need to have an intermediate force in the long term.

Moreover, in the long term it seems to me that there is a great deal to be said for encouraging closer European co-operation and more joint forces so that—and this relates to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy—others of our allies will be more effectively able to share the burden. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, commented on the larger size of the German Army. However, I am sure that he is well aware that, out of that larger size, the German Army has considerable difficulty in providing at short notice as substantial a number of troops as the British Army is able to provide. In that respect, it seems to me that the British Government's latest European defence initiative—the San Malo declaration, and so on—is exactly the right direction in which we should be moving. Indeed, I hope that they will move further with the pursuit of closer integration of British forces with those with whom we are most likely to find ourselves in joint operations in the future. Having said that, I intend to follow the good example of many speakers before me and sit down before my time is up.

10.15 p.m.

My Lords, it is particularly opportune that my noble friend Lord Trefgarne should have introduced this debate within minutes of the House receiving a Statement on Kosovo, because it is Kosovo and its associated problems which have revived the doubts as to whether the Armed Forces are capable of doing all that may be required of them. At the same time perhaps I may say what a joy it is to listen to my noble friend Lady Park. It is a gloomy joy in the light of what she had to say. However, my noble friend has returned to this House with a bang, making speeches in both of the two debates this afternoon.

Within the past week both the Chief of the General Staff and the Chief of the Air Staff have made speeches in which they have expressed their concern about overstretch. With 5,675 servicemen in Bosnia and its neighbouring countries and 2,225 as the advance guard of the peace implementation force in Kosovo, any senior commander must be looking nervously over his shoulder to see where the next demand will come from. Air Marshal Johns is already particularly concerned about overstretch in connection with aircrews.

But if we think we are overstretched now, there is undoubtedly worse to come. It must at least be possible that more troops will be sent to Northern Ireland if the situation deteriorates, as it well could. Within NATO there must be a major fear that Kosovo, if not Bosnia, will suck in an increasing number of men for a period of at least three years. Outside NATO, South Africa is already a far from happy place. Chile has apologised to the Argentine for its support of Britain at the time of the Falklands. It has problems. We have commitments to the United Arab Emirates, Brunei and Kuwait. Belize remains a hotspot, while Australia, as has been said, may have troubles with countries to the north, in particular East Timor. Today's Statement on Sierra Leone concerned another point, but a rescue mission—if not more—is already in place.

The proliferation of NATO is, almost more than anything else, due to the wish of many of the new members and applicants to make use of Article 5 of the treaty whereby they may call upon other members of the organisation to come to their aid if they are in trouble. It is unlikely indeed that all, or indeed a number of these, will hit us at once, but more than one could do so, and that would be a problem.

The position of the Secretary of State and all concerned with financing the Armed Forces is an extremely difficult one. It is not reasonable to expect expenditure to increase to a higher proportion of GNP in the face of other demands which are perceived to be of greater importance, particularly education and health. Therefore the generals and their equivalents have to do the best with what they have in the hope that those who have been responsible for formulating the foreign policy on which the SDR was based have got their sums right. It is at this moment that I must demand the resignation of the Minister who is recorded in Hansard yesterday as having described 3rd Mechanised Division and 4th Armoured Division as being "deplorable". I hope that he was misquoted.

It is not only a question of money. The SDR is now nine months old but its presumptions are already showing signs of strain. The trouble is that the British Armed Forces are too good, everyone wants them. Britain is the only country in NATO which has a rapid reaction corps and even that is only kept up to strength and maintained with relevance to any particular forthcoming operation by borrowing from other units. Those points were well made by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur and the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby.

The Un