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Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I have given my apologies to the noble Earl. Will he now expand on the matter of sponsored reserves in the draft Bill? Will he please tell us what it means? Will he also give the House an assurance not that the Bill will be introduced at the appropriate time when parliamentary time permits, but, given the urgency, that it will be introduced in the next Session?

Earl Howe: My Lords, it would not be appropriate for me to anticipate Her Majesty's gracious Speech. However, we have placed the Bill very high on our list of priorities. I hope that it will be included in the next Session.

To answer the specific question on sponsored reserves, this idea will permit the Ministry of Defence to let more of the support activities to contract, in the knowledge that the reserve element will allow that task to be continued in an operational environment by uniformed personnel. In other words, the contract would be let to people who are prepared to sign up for the reserves, that is, one or other of the reserve forces. During a time of conflict, it would be an easy matter for those people to don military uniform.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton: My Lords, I congratulate the Government on their good intentions for the reserves, but I hope that the noble Earl can assure me that they will not wallow in self-content. The regular forces in the Army are heavily stretched. Can the noble Earl assure us that the Government will not forget that a few second battalions in the Regular Army are an important aim in order to keep the country abreast of developments when the necessity arises?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. The United Kingdom has always relied on its reserve forces for its mobilised capability. However, I do not agree that our forces are stretched. We must ensure that we have the flexibility available to call up our reserves when we need them. That is what I believe the new Bill will deliver.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo: My Lords, will the Minister recognise the importance of the roles and the job of the Territorial Army associations and the Territorial

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Army Council? Will he assure the House that there will be no reduction in the numbers of the associations and recognise the important job they have done in promoting the territorial forces over recent months?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount because I am an enthusiast for the role of those bodies. I have had the privilege of meeting one or two of them in my short time so far with the Ministry of Defence.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, can the Minister confirm the value of the University Air Squadrons to the Royal Air Force in improving good relations between the Royal Air Force, service personnel and university people? Can he confirm that following the Defence Costs Study last year, in which it was decided that the University Air Squadrons have great value, there is now no intention of making any reduction in the numbers of the University Air Squadrons?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I too place great value on the role of the University Air Squadrons. The noble and gallant Lord may like to know that the flying hours of the squadrons are not being increased and we believe that that will be to the advantage of the squadrons. We are committed to maintaining the squadrons at their present level.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, it is satisfactory to note that the territorial force will be regarded as an integral part of the reserves. Can the noble Earl assure us that it will be provided with the necessary equipment and resources to perform its role? Can he say that we shall not again have the situation which arose at the start of the last world war, in which I was involved? My sole armament then was a Lee-Enfield rifle without ammunition!

Earl Howe: My Lords, the thought of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, without ammunition is almost beyond my understanding! I do not believe that there is any risk of underfunding of our reserves in the respect which the noble Lord fears. What we have done is to determine the future size and shape of the reserve forces. That decision has now been taken. As I said, we now need more flexibility in the governing legislation to ensure that the reserves can be used to best effect in operations which may be likely to arise.

Spelthorne, Surrey: Local Government Review

3.18 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What consultations took place before the Secretary of State for the Environment announced on 22nd June that the district of Spelthorne in the county of Surrey would be added to the list of reviews to be considered by the Local Government Commission with effect from the beginning of July.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, we decided that the case for a review of Spelthorne was made in the written representations we received and from the evidence presented by the Local Government Commission in its final report for Surrey.

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Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I accept that in his announcements on 2nd and 21st March the Secretary of State did not promise to consult on the rare additional requests for reviews from districts not individually named in the announcements. However, does the noble Lord recall that Spelthorne has a population of only about 90,000? That is many fewer than any of the six unitaries into which Berkshire may be divided and which, in his announcement, the Secretary of State compared with Spelthorne. There are probably fewer—

Noble Lords: Question!

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, is the Minister aware that Spelthorne also has fewer inhabitants than all the 20 other districts which are being referred to the new review process? Is he also aware that by far the largest number of those who replied to the MORI poll during the initial consultation were in favour of retaining the status quo? Has the Minister considered—

Noble Lords: Order! Too many questions.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I hope that the Minister will be able to reply. Perhaps I may write to him putting the questions that I was not able to ask.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, as the noble Baroness is doubtless aware, my right honourable friend acts in these matters as the final judge and jury when the commission reports. I therefore do not wish to be drawn on any of the particular matters that she raises. We are well aware that Surrey County Council opposes the idea that Spelthorne should be a unitary authority. We await the report of the commission, and I hope that my right honourable friend will arrive at an answer that is satisfactory to all.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Minister is not the final judge and jury on these matters? It is Parliament that is the final judge and jury.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I stand corrected.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, is the Minister able to tell the House whether exactly the same consultation took place in the case of this district of Surrey as took place with all the other districts and counties in England before the Secretary of State made his decision?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, so far as I understood the noble Baroness's question, yes.

Former Yugoslavia

3.21 p.m.

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What further action, if any, they propose to take, through the United Nations or NATO, regarding the situation in Bosnia and other parts of former Yugoslavia.

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, the situation in Bosnia and other parts of the former Yugoslavia is under constant review by Her Majesty's Government, each troop contributor and by the UN and NATO. The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution (SCR 1004) on 12th July condemning the Bosnian Serb offensive against Srebrenica. The international meeting in London tomorrow will consider the position of UN forces in Bosnia in the light of increased fighting there.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does she agree that British policy in former Yugoslavia should be dictated by what lies in the interests of this country? Will she further agree that British interests are not enhanced by a policy of appeasement; a policy that allows ethnic killing to go on; a policy that has undermined the authority of the United Nations; and a policy that has put into danger in future years small countries which may fear nationalist aggression? Is it not time that our policy of appeasement, and the West's policy of appeasement, stopped and that we played fair by the people of Bosnia and protected their lives and their interests?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I assure the House that British policy will be dictated by British interests. There is no way in which Britain can act alone and in defiance of, or disagreement with, others. I assure the noble Lord that there is, and will be, no appeasement. Britain is the second largest troop contributor; we have contributed some £271 million in assistance over the past three years; we have now agreed to raise the number of British troops from the 4,400 currently in theatre to over 8,000; we have by our efforts helped to reduce the number of lives lost, which was running at some 130,000 in 1992, down to about 2,500 in 1994 and less until very recently; and we will go on working on the political front, playing a key role in the contact group and fully supporting the work of Carl Bilt and Stoltenberg so that we do everything we can to bring the two sides to sense. The only sense is for them both to stop fighting.


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