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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I would refer the noble Lord to the announcement made by HM Customs and Excise on 18th May that the Customs decision, confirmed by the Attorney-General, not to mount a prosecution was taken after considering all the circumstances leading up to the supply.

The noble Lord raised the unlawful means. There is no doubt that this matter has been considered very seriously. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and my honourable friend Mr. Lloyd and I have all said how seriously we take these issues. I reiterated that point again today in answering the noble Lord's Question, so I do not think there can be any doubt whatever about that.

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The noble Lord raised the question of military consultants and mentioned the interesting example of South Africa. I will ensure that I draw to the attention of my honourable friend Mr. Lloyd the very pertinent point that the noble Lord has made.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, on 14th May I asked the noble Baroness whether, only three days before Customs officers raided Sandline on Friday 3rd April, Tony Lloyd, the relevant Foreign Office Minister, was in fact in Sierra Leone. In her own words, she said that she was unsighted on this issue but that she would write to me. A month has passed and I have received no letter. Is the noble Baroness now in a position to say whether she knew of the Minister's visit to Sierra Leone? Further to her statement on 11th May that she would not have expected to see details of the Customs and Excise investigation into Sandline, is she aware that other Ministers did indeed receive papers on this subject? Finally, was the briefing that she received for the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in the House on 10th March either seen by or sent for the approval of any other Minister, given Sir John Kerr's evidence that a side copy of the brief was marked for Mr. Lloyd?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am very concerned that the noble Lord has not received a letter. On my return to the FCO today I shall ensure that a letter is sent to him as soon as possible.

The noble Lord raised other questions about the details of my briefing. In particular he asked whether my briefing had been sent to Mr. Lloyd. The noble Lord will know that Mr. Lloyd has said quite clearly that he did not receive any such briefing. He made a statement on this matter on 12th March. The exact statement was that he was not then briefed, told, advised or in any other way informed, either orally or in writing, either of alleged arms shipments or the Customs and Excise investigation. Clearly, this is a matter for Sir Thomas Legg. I think we must exercise some patience and look forward to what Sir Thomas Legg will have to say on these important issues.

Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, can the Minister tell us what is happening in Sierra Leone at the moment?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I can do my best. I made some reference to this in the Answer that I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. We understand that the forces of the RUF are regrouping. Sadly, reports of atrocities committed by them continue. Her Majesty's Government have taken a very strong lead in the international community. Since February we have been pursuing a consistent policy with close ministerial involvement. That involves securing a UN mandate for ECOMOG on the basis of a UN-approved disarmament and mobilisation plan; obtaining voluntary international funding to provide logistic support of ECOMOG needs; and providing humanitarian relief and plans for longer-term development and government with the Government of Sierra Leone. I hope that gives some flavour as to what is happening at the moment.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, in view of some the things that have been said on this subject since March, is

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the noble Baroness aware that on that occasion many of us--and I include myself--had the impression of a Minister who, under very difficult circumstances, was treating the House honestly, fairly and with considerable candour? I for one never had the impression that she was in any way misleading anybody and the Minister has confirmed that today. My next point goes rather wider than her concerns. Is she aware that some of the remarks addressed to Sir John Kerr in another place are very hard to go along with and, as far as I was concerned, were a source of considerable discomfort?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am truly grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said and I thank him very much. Sir John Kerr gave the same information on 9th June as he did on 14th May. In my briefing for 10th March there were references to allegations of illegal arms shipments being referred to the appropriate authority. I was, rightly, not briefed to reveal that referral for the very obvious reasons that I have given.

House of Lords' Offices: Select Committee Report

3.12 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Fifth Report from the Select Committee on the House of Lords' Offices be agreed to (HL Paper 109).--(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to:


    The Committee has met and been attended by the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.


    1. MILLENNIUM EXHIBITION


    The Committee considered proposals for an exhibition on parliamentary democracy to be held in Westminster Hall in 2000 to celebrate the new millennium. The exhibition will be organised jointly with the House of Commons. The Committee agreed expenditure provision to be made in respect of the House of Lords contribution.


    2. FILMING AND BROADCASTING IN THE HOUSE


    The Committee took note of an agreement reached with BBC News and Current Affairs to allow filming until the end of November of a documentary about the House. In addition, Wall to Wall Television Ltd will be allowed access to the House to research a prospective documentary of the House.


    3. HISTORY OF PARLIAMENT TRUST


    The Committee were informed that the History of Parliament Trust has decided that, from 1999-2000, the House of Lords should form part of the programme of work of the Trust. The Committee agreed that the House of Lords should in future contribute to the funding of the Trust.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, I would like to thank the committee members for the work they do on our behalf. I wish to ask a question about paragraph 1 of the report dealing with the millennium exhibition. It states that there is to be an exhibition in Westminster Hall, organised jointly with the Commons. It says also,


    "The Committee agreed expenditure provision to be made in respect of the House of Lords contribution".

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Can the Chairman of Committees say how much expenditure is involved? How much is capital expenditure and how much constitutes running costs? I cannot believe that in these times of financial prudence the House is being asked to give a blank cheque. So I look forward to details from the Chairman of Committees, because, if we do not get them now, in future, if there is dissent about this expenditure, I fear that we shall be given the formula that it has been considered by the relevant committees, approved by the House and a line will then be drawn underneath it. More details should be given when we have such reports. Otherwise the House is being treated unfairly and its authority sought without the fullest information being made available for people to make up their minds.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, says. One wonders where this proposal originated, how much it is going to cost and how much your Lordships' House is going to pay as opposed to the other place. Cannot the Chairman of Committees envisage the possibility that unkind people may suggest that it would be preferable if an exhibition on democracy in Westminster Hall were replaced by a constant display of democracy elsewhere, and particularly in another place down the road?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I shall deal with all of the matters raised by the noble Lords, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe and Lord Peyton. Perhaps I should not venture into speculation about the final point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, tempted though I am to do so.

As regards costs, the Administration and Works Sub-Committee and the Offices Committee, in making these recommendations to your Lordships, felt it right to agree in principle to a capital cost provided that the two Houses of Parliament went ahead together. I hope that your Lordships will feel that that is right. There can be no question of one House of Parliament going ahead with this idea. The Offices Committee, on the advice of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee, suggests that this House should contribute £50,000 towards the costs. If another place decides to join in supporting the project, it should authorise an equivalent sum.

The sum of £5,000, shared jointly between the two parties, has been spent so far in commissioning an adviser. She is an expert in interpreting historic buildings to the general public. I am advised that she has considerable experience in the matter. She was commissioned to help the working group of officials from the two Houses establish the basis of what became the proposal for an exhibition on parliamentary democracy.

I refer now to a specific point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe. At the moment, much as I would like to do so, I am unable to give your Lordships any information about running costs. I am advised that they would add quite considerably to the capital cost of £100,000 shared between the two Houses. Those costs are in the process of being assessed. It will probably not be until towards the end of the year--certainly later in the year--that I shall be able to advise your Lordships of the precise amount.

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In answer to another of the perfectly fair and valid points raised, there is no question at all of your Lordships' committees committing this House to any proposals. They will have to be scrutinised by the committees in the first place and then come before your Lordships for authorisation.


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