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Lord Haskel: My Lords, the Government are well aware of this and priority has been given to elderly miners.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, are the Government actively considering compensation not just for coal-miners, which we welcome, but also for quarry- men who have suffered from lung damage through long employment in the slate quarries of north Wales?

Lord Haskel: No, my Lords; this judgment is specific to negligence by British Coal.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what size of financial provision the Government have made for these claims, both for this financial year and the next?

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Lord Haskel: My Lords, it is too early to say what the total cost will be as all the claims have not yet been evaluated. It is a huge task. There are tens of thousands of claimants and hundreds of millions of pounds involved. Indeed, it is just too early to be able to say.

Office of Science and Technology

2.58 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will consult with leading scientists as to whether it would be more beneficial in the national interest for the Office of Science and Technology to be located in the Cabinet Office rather than as at present in the Department of Trade and Industry.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury): My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Haskel made clear to your Lordships on 6th April, the Government have no plans to relocate the Office of Science and Technology from the Department of Trade and Industry, where it successfully fulfils a distinct and most valuable function. The Government, therefore, have no intention to undertake a consultation exercise in this respect.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, what a sad Answer. Is the Minister just dimly aware that this slavish following of a not particularly brilliant decision by the previous administration seems a little eccentric? I would be grateful if he could explain to the House how it is possible for the Office of Science and Technology to occupy a central and independent position among all departments, as it should and as the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, said it did on 6th April, when it is absorbed into and is part of the DTI, where it has no influence whatever on the remainder of the Government.

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I note that the previous time this Question was asked by the noble Lord the answer was less than dismal. I have tried to give the same one. The decision was taken by the previous administration on the grounds that it was its belief--it is one we share--that the development of our science and technology rides well with our industrial development policy and our ability to apply that policy for the benefit of Britain's competitiveness. We do not feel so strongly about where one locates offices; we feel very strongly about the quality of the people and the advice that they can give to government.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, given the reports in the media about the establishment of a Prime Minister's office or department in the event that such a reorganisation should take place, would that not be an appropriate moment to move the Office of Science and Technology into that new department?

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Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I do not think we have any details yet of the reorganisation of the central offices. As I said, we have no intention at present to undertake consultation on this matter. The system is well understood and functions successfully.

Lord Tordoff: My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that science and technology is not all about commerce and industry; it is about science, which is much more widely based than merely DTI matters?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I perfectly understand the noble Lord's point. At present we have a budget of £14.4 billion for science. That may be allocated to pure science--in industrial terms one can call that "blue skies" research--and to the application of science and the development of technology which is desperately needed to make our industry more competitive. That annual sum of £14.4 billion should be able to accommodate both aspects.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I was glad to hear the Minister mention "blue skies" research, but does he understand that the skies in the Department of Trade and Industry are not blue?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, today I can remember only seeing the sun shine through my windows.

Lord Porter of Luddenham: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, has asked whether Her Majesty's Government will consult with the leading scientists on this matter. If they do so, whom will they consult? The Chief Scientific Adviser and the director general of the research councils are part of the Department of Trade and Industry and are therefore hardly in a position to give independent advice. In this country we have a truly independent body of scientists; namely, the Royal Society. This is closely associated with other relevant bodies; for example, the Royal Academy of Engineers, the medical colleges and others. They understand that science extends far beyond trade and industry. Will the Government seek the advice of the scientists themselves on this matter?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, the noble Lord has asked a hypothetical question. As I said, we are not in the process of a formal consultation for the reasons I explained in a previous answer. All the time there is, of course, informal consultation with the scientific community. If that became formal consultation for reasons which I do not have at my fingertips--I do not believe they are in the plans--no doubt the learned bodies to which the noble Lord refers could play a part in that consultation.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I do not doubt that the reply has been inserted in his brief by his officials or some of his colleagues? It implies that the Government are not interested in the opinions of an eminent body such as the Royal Society. Is he aware that it is at least tinged with arrogance?

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Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I do not accept that. As I said, there is continuous consultation with the scientific community about the quality of our research and the strenuous efforts that are made by our scientific bodies. I refer to the Foresight Operations and the Business Link Operations. There is continuous consultation. As I said, at present formal consultation is not taking place. This Government have been a listening government and no doubt if there were formal consultation we would listen formally to the opinions of the bodies that the noble Lord has mentioned.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there has been much concern over a long period of time that scientific discoveries and inventions made in this country have been developed abroad and not in this country? Is it not therefore sensible for the Department of Trade and Industry to be the lead department for science to enable us to develop discoveries which have been made in this country rather than allow foreign countries to reap the benefit of that?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for returning to the serious point of why the previous administration took the decision to locate the Office of Science and Technology in the DTI. That was done to add value to our science and to make our businesses more competitive. I believe that decision was correct. I quote from the report of the House of Commons Select Committee which was published just before the election. It states:

    "There may be a temptation for Government to reconsider the system for managing, reviewing and allocating funds for public research; the evidence we have received leads us to conclude that the present system is now working well and there is, accordingly, no requirement for major change, with all the disruptions that it would bring".

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I hope I may pester the noble Lord again. He referred to a listening government. That tempts me into observing that they have become very deaf.

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I am listening carefully to the noble Lord. I heard every word he said and I repeat that we are listening.

Sierra Leone: Arms Sales

3.6 p.m.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice, namely:

    Whether Her Majesty's Government will make a statement on reports concerning British sales of arms to Sierra Leone in breach of the United Nations arms embargo.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made a statement on this issue in another place on 6th May. I am glad to have the opportunity to give your

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Lordships as full a picture as I am able at this stage. We have consistently stressed the Government's intention to discover the full facts surrounding this case and to be as open as possible.

Let me put this into context. As the Prime Minister said today:

    "This affair has been more than a little overblown. Of course it is the case that nobody should be involved deliberately in breaking a UN arms embargo".

But he also said,

    "Don't let us forget that what was happening was that the UN and UK were both trying to help the democratic regime from an illegal military coup ... That is the background and people can see that a lot of the hoo-ha is overblown".

I think that is an admirable summary which we would do well to remember.

Having said that, I must re-emphasise to your Lordships that Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, which is investigating the allegations of breaches of the arms embargo on Sierra Leone, has requested that while its investigation proceeds, nothing should be said that could prejudice it. It is a matter of record that the Customs investigation resulted from notification of the alleged breach being passed to it by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I welcome that investigation, and I hope that it can be completed swiftly.

When that investigation has been completed, the Foreign Secretary has announced his intention to appoint a person from outside the Foreign Office and Diplomatic Service to carry out a full investigation. The report of that investigation will, of course, be made public. In the meantime I can confirm to your Lordships that my department is co-operating fully with the Customs investigation.

I should also like to make the point that it is important to recognise that just because allegations have been made against officials in my and other government departments, we should not assume that they are true. This is a matter on which it is important not to rush to judgment until we have seen the conclusions of the investigation.

There have been a number of questions raised in the last few days about the investigation which the Foreign Secretary announced on 6th May: who is to head it; what its terms of reference are to be; how wide its scope should be. Your Lordships will appreciate that before it is set up it would be wrong for me to speculate on those questions. What I can say is that as soon as possible after the Customs investigation has been completed we will make an announcement that covers all these points.

Your Lordships are aware of the background to the allegations that have been made about breaches of the UN arms embargo on Sierra Leone. In May 1997 President Kabbah, the democratically elected leader of Sierra Leone, was deposed in a military coup. In October 1997 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1132 which, among other things, imposed an arms embargo on Sierra Leone. That resolution was then implemented in the United Kingdom by an Order in Council. In March this year President Kabbah was restored to power in Sierra Leone with the assistance of military forces from the region.

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Allegations contained in a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in February that arms had been flown from Bulgaria to supply forces loyal to President Kabbah by arrangement through the British company, Sandline, were referred to H.M. Customs and Excise on 10th March. Since then the Foreign Office has given full, active co-operation to the Customs' investigation and full access to all relevant Foreign Office papers and officials.

The Foreign Secretary made clear on 6th May that he was first informed of the Customs and Excise investigation on 28th April and minuted the Permanent Secretary the following day stressing the importance he attached to full and open co-operation with the Customs and Excise investigation. The private office of the Minister of State with responsibility for Africa, Mr. Lloyd, received copies of papers on the Customs' investigation in early April and they were shown to him for noting in mid-April. However, he was not fully informed of the allegations made by Sandline of Foreign Office contacts until Friday 1st May.

There have been allegations in the press that Ministers had prior knowledge of or gave prior approval to breaches of the arms embargo on Sierra Leone. I can confirm to your Lordships that there was no such prior knowledge or approval. Your Lordships will understand that I cannot go into details which will be covered in full in the investigation by a person from outside the Foreign Office.

It is right and proper that this House should be fully informed of the events surrounding these allegations and I look forward to being able to present the report of the investigation to your Lordships when it has been completed. In the meantime, I would once again draw your Lordships' attention to the context of the allegations which are being made: the legitimate government of President Kabbah has been restored to power in a significant move for democracy in the region.

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