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House of Lords

Thursday, 26th November 1998.

The House met at three of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.

Pollution Prevention and Control Bill [H.L.]

3.7 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision for a new system of pollution prevention and control; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.--(Lord Whitty.)

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

Committee of Selection

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 in accordance with Standing Order 61 a Committee of Selection be appointed to select and propose to the House the names of the Lords to form each Select Committee of the House (except the Committee of Selection itself and any committee otherwise provided for by statute or by order of the House) or any other body not being a Select Committee referred to it by the Chairman of Committees, and the Panel of Deputy Chairmen of Committees; and that the following Lords together with the Chairman of Committees be named of the committee--

L. Burnham, L. Carter, V. Cranborne, L. Harris of Greenwich, B. Jay of Paddington, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L. Strathclyde, V. Tenby, L. Weatherill.--(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Address in Reply to Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech

Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Tuesday last by Lord Clinton-Davis--namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:

    "Most Gracious Sovereign--We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to

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    thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament".

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, part of the area to be discussed this afternoon is foreign affairs. I need to mention to your Lordships that the case of Senator Pinochet remains sub judice and, under the rules of the House, no reference should be made to that case in this debate.

3.8 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): My Lords, I am about to entertain your Lordships with discussion of one or two other matters that I am not going to talk about this afternoon. That is not out of any discourtesy to your Lordships, but because we have already considered certain defence matters fairly recently in this House and I hope that we shall debate them again in the near future.

As your Lordships will be aware, we debated NATO expansion not so long ago; we have twice discussed the future of the Territorial Army, and I hope that very shortly there will be time for a full debate on the Strategic Defence Review. The fact that I do not propose to refer to any of those matters in detail does not in any sense mean that I regard them as unimportant or that I would want--if I had the power, which, of course, I do not--to indicate that your Lordships might want to keep off those matters.

I thought that I should give your Lordships a brief tour d'horizon as we see it from the Ministry of Defence. I start with a brief resume of the current activities in which Her Majesty's forces are involved. As your Lordships will know, we concluded in the Strategic Defence Review that we were not prepared to stand idly by; we are prepared to take a lead in the international community and to live up to our responsibilities. The clearest examples of that are found in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq.

We consider that the United Kingdom, under this Government and their predecessor, has made a considerable contribution to ensuring peace in Bosnia. The British Army has been there since 1992. We are the second largest contributor to SFOR. We have about 5,000 troops there and considerable air assets. We are the second largest contributor after America. We are, of course, extremely proud of our servicemen and women who play a vital part in creating and maintaining a secure environment in Bosnia. That has enabled the Bosnian people to start rebuilding their country. We hope very much that the first SFOR review will provide scope for force reductions in that unhappy country. However, I emphasise that I do not want in any sense to prejudice the outcome of that review which will, of course, need to be agreed by our allies.

In Kosovo we have responded quickly to a fast-moving situation. I am told that some 60 UK verifiers, many of them service personnel, are currently in the region. More will follow, and we expect to provide up to 200 personnel to the OSCE verification

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mission. We are also making available two Canberra PR-9s to the NATO air verification mission and have provided the head of the Kosovo co-ordination cell which is to be set up in Macedonia.

I turn briefly to Iraq. Your Lordships will be fully aware of the latest developments there. Many noble Lords will shortly receive yet another letter from my noble friend Lady Symons and myself. That letter will bring noble Lords up to date, should any details have been missed. I assure the House that our forces in the Gulf remain on high alert and on station, and that the military option is still in place. Looking at the response from Saddam Hussein in the past few days, the inconclusive exchange of letters between Iraq and UNSCOM last weekend is a very bad omen. It sits very oddly with Saddam Hussein's undertaking to provide full and unrestricted co-operation with the UNSCOM team. If we are forced to take military action, there should be no doubt whatever where the blame for that will lie. I very much welcome the recent attitude of the overwhelming majority of governments in the immediate region in the run-up to the latest crisis.

I now turn to some more fundamental matters arising from or in the context of the review. I was waylaid--if I may say that of so gentle a Member of this House--by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, asking me why there was no reference to nuclear matters in the gracious Speech. I thought it appropriate to address a few remarks to that question. As I am sure noble Lords will understand, it is not because Her Majesty's Government regard nuclear matters as unimportant. We have said that we are reducing the number of missiles and nuclear warheads to what we consider to be the minimum for a sustained, credible deterrent.

There will never be few enough missiles and warheads for some of my noble friends. Understandably, they want a nuclear-free world. I think I can say without hesitation that we should all like to see a nuclear-free world. We should like to see a world free of bombs, torpedoes, missiles and mines, not to mention light arms and bayonets. However, we do ourselves and the public no great service to talk in such language in a world in which, sadly, weapons of mass destruction are constantly proliferating. A nuclear-free world is not just round the corner--and that is not due merely to the indifference, idleness or incompetence of this Government, predecessor governments or governments in other countries.

This Government, like their predecessors, believe firmly in the deterrent power of nuclear weapons. They also believe in them as weapons of last resort. The question then arises: how does one reconcile a belief in the value of nuclear deterrence with a desire to see a world free of all weapons of mass destruction? Why can we not set a timetable for the elimination of our nuclear weapons if we really want to see a nuclear-free world?

I offer two answers. First, there are other countries which are now friendly but which have struck hostile attitudes towards us in the past, and which have, or could acquire, the power to deliver nuclear warheads on to our soil. Secondly, for a country with as small a nuclear arsenal as ours, we must wait until the

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conventional weapons accumulated in malevolent hands are reduced to levels where they pose no threat to ourselves, our friends or our interests around the world before we can safely undertake further disarmament ourselves.

On the question of proliferation, it is a sad fact that there are some 15 to 20 countries which have, probably have, or possibly have a chemical warfare capability at this time. By that, I mean a capability to deliver chemical weapons. It is also our assessment that there are some 10 to 15 countries of concern around the world which have, may very well possess, or we believe are trying to possess, the same capability in respect of biological weapons.

I see no threat to this country today from hostile intercontinental ballistic missiles. I see no threat from Russian forces driving westwards. I see no threat from backfire bombers coming at us from over Ireland. I see no threat from Spetznatz forces landing on our shores. There are, however, many other possible dangers that we face, some of them even from our friends, quite innocently. Some arise from matters about which your Lordships read every day in the press. One example is the millennium bug--not just in terms of what it might do to other countries' weapons systems; in that respect we are relatively relaxed, because if the millennium bug does strike other people's weapons systems the great likelihood is that they will be neutralised rather than becoming active. However, there are other dangers, such as power supplies going down and serious potential difficulties with both conventional and nuclear generating stations in many other countries around the world.

That is not the only threat from which we suffer indirectly in regard to nuclear matters. Noble Lords may like to know some of the ways in which we are co-operating with our friends the Russians on improving national nuclear material accountancy and control arrangements. We have provided 20 nuclear weapon transport vehicles and 250 secure containers to help Russia transport weapons quickly and safely to dismantlement sites. We are exploring with Russia whether we can offer any practical experience in dismantling its chemical weapons stockpile. An expert MoD team visited Russia in September to look at possible options. With the United States and our European partners and others, we contribute to the funding of the International Science and Technology Centre in Moscow which provides research opportunities in Russia for former military scientists.

Last but by no means least, we have taken a number of steps to share information on our own appreciation of the Y2K problem with our Russian friends, as have the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and our American allies. The defence aspects of the year 2000 problem were discussed in the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council with the specific aim of anticipating and forestalling potential problems that might arise from the impact of year 2000 on key military systems.

Looking more widely, the United States in particular--and this is very much an American-Russian matter in which we have a great interest--has been

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active in raising a range of issues from the safety of ageing nuclear power stations to the continuity of supply of natural gas to central and eastern Europe. A great deal of progress has been made, including agreements to exchange key personnel between the United States and Russia who would work in the respective Year 2000 management centres over the millennium period.

Further work is being carried out to ensure that senior Russian political leaders are fully aware of the risk that the Year 2000 problem poses. Her Majesty's Government are providing active support to our American friends in all those measures.

There are other dangers that face this country and they face us directly in the years ahead. As your Lordships will be aware, the battlefields of the future will bear very little resemblance to the ones we are used to seeing on our television screens, dealing with wars gone by. The increasing dependence of all countries on high technology has encouraged some potential adversaries to look at alternative means of opposing us. Asymmetric threats to this country come at us in many forms. I list but a few. The challenge of a hostile biological or chemical environment is one of which we are keenly aware. We recognised in the Strategic Defence Review that a coherent national response was required to the threat from chemical and biological weapons. We have to maintain a balance of capabilities to deter, counter and defend ourselves against the use of these weapons. Protective measures play an important part, including above all detection capabilities.

Among the measures we have already taken is increased procurement of land-based biological detection equipment. To help protect our deployed forces, we have established a joint Army and Royal Air Force NBC capability available at high readiness. In addition, a detailed review of our national defence response to the risks posed by nuclear, biological and chemical weapons has been undertaken. We hope to announce its conclusions shortly.

Another area in which we shall have to get used to the need to defend ourselves is in our national information infrastructure. We are well aware of the risk of attacks on our information networks, not only the networks of government but of the economy and the private sector as a whole. We are determined not to underestimate the potential that threats of this kind have to degrade our fighting effectiveness. It is, of course, not just a defence issue about Y2K, it goes much wider than that. We are working across government, with our allies and suppliers of key services, to put in place security measures and technical solutions to defend our information infrastructure in both military and civilian fields. We will be working to ensure that we improve our ability to protect defence information networks, to deter those who would attack them and to provide us with the earliest possible warning of attack. In all those matters we are co-operating extremely closely with our American friends.

We shall have to test those arrangements and train our people to assure the security and availability of information vital to the conduct of defence and also to the wellbeing of our national economy.

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Finally, I thought I should say a word about European defence. Your Lordships will be aware that the Prime Minister recently made some remarks on the subject which were welcomed throughout Western Europe. He has spoken of the need particularly to improve Europe's defence capabilities within NATO. I cannot emphasise too strongly the importance of those last two words "within NATO".

We remain quite open-minded about institutions, but we are determined to do what we can to improve the output that we get for the input. There is one well-known statistic which is bandied about. I cannot vouch for its accuracy but it gives your Lordships a sense of the task in front of us when I tell the House that it is widely believed that Europe spends about 60 per cent. of what the United States spends on defence, but obtains only about 10 per cent. of the capability. We must somehow or other address that shortfall.

We are in the early stages of the debate, but at least it has started and it was started by Her Majesty's Government. The last 18 months have been a challenging period for Her Majesty's Government in the development and application of our policies in the areas of foreign affairs, defence and international development. The next 12 months are unlikely to be any less challenging. In my view, the Strategic Defence Review has given us an excellent platform from which to meet the country's security needs. I personally am grateful to noble Lords in all parts of the House who have written generously to us at the Ministry of Defence about the review. I look forward to debating it further at your Lordships' pleasure when we can review some of the many matters which I have not had time to discuss with your Lordships today.

3.27 p.m.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, today we have the opportunity to raise some of our on-going foreign policy concerns and to look ahead to the future, to anticipate the political landscape of the 21st century. Perhaps we may also reflect a little over the past 18 months on the Government's implementation of their foreign policies and on their handling of the shifting sands and, on occasion, the quicksands of international affairs.

Your Lordships' House needs no reminding of the challenges presented to the government of the day by the theatre of world events. Today is no exception. We are caught in the grip of a global economic downturn. In the Far East, the world's second largest economy, Japan, is deeply embedded in a stagnant economic rut, unable to kick-start its powerful economy. The ripple effect of this recession continues to be felt far beyond Japan and the immediate region. In south-east Asia, the Asian miracle has turned sour, engulfed by last summer's tidal wave of financial turbulence from which it has yet to recover, depressing some expectations that the 21st century would be the Asian century.

In Indonesia's struggle for democracy, the death toll continues to rise as this huge nation is threatened by disintegration under the pressures of deep-seated ethnic and religious tensions, with unrest, looting and violence now all too regular occurrences.

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In Africa, while regional efforts to resolve the conflict between President Laurent Kabila's government and rebel forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo seem doomed to failure, the threat that the deadly contagion of instability will spread from border to border and will create an epidemic of violence across the whole of central Africa draws ever nearer.

In Europe, this month Russia received international food aid for the first time in seven years. The situation there continues to look bleak. That was underlined only this week by the horrifying murder of the Russian member of parliament, Galina Starovoitova. Russia can ill afford the loss of this ceaseless advocate of democracy. In these difficult times for Russia, when politicians are sometimes silenced for their beliefs, we have a duty to keep faith with those who follow in her footsteps.

In the Middle East, the Wye River Memorandum breathed fresh hope into the seemingly moribund peace process whose obituary had already been written by many pundits. The continued glasnost in our relations with Iran is encouraging. Yet while Iran continues to support terrorist groups and to seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction there can be no appeals to lift its pariah status.

In a debate as broad as this it is all too easy for speeches to turn into travelogues with two sentences for each region of the world. I hope to avoid that pitfall today. Therefore, I wish to concentrate on three particular areas: the crises in Iraq and Kosovo--they are mentioned in the gracious Speech and continue to present major challenges for the Government, having tested their skills of international diplomacy to the limits--and the problem posed by the crisis in Central Africa.

I begin with Kosovo. In Kosovo, President Milosevic's regime of brutal repression threatens to turn a political problem into a severe humanitarian crisis. Following the crackdown by Serbian security forces against terrorists of the pro-independence KLA in March, the world was shocked and revulsed by the subsequent explosion of violence in the province. In the month-by-month, sometimes day-by-day, revelations of atrocities, the names of previously unfamiliar Kosovo towns and villages brought a tragic familiarity to our lips. Those names are now synonymous with death, destruction and grief.

NATO air strikes against Serbia were narrowly averted. We on these Benches welcome the agreement reached, in particular the work done to ensure full and verifiable compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1199. We commend the Government for the part they played in averting the crisis. It is a pity that the situation was allowed to deteriorate for so long before action was taken. Yet fears remain that Kosovo is an example of the "crisis averted, problem postponed" school of foreign policy. These fears have increased as a result of the news received from Kosovo in recent days, which I regret to say has not been positive. There are signs that the security situation in the province is deteriorating. Several Serbian policemen have been

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killed, allegedly by KLA separatists, while the number of Serbian special police in the province is increasing. There are reports of Serb road fortifications.

In winding up, perhaps the Minister can inform the House whether she accepts that continued ceasefire violations at the present level threaten to unravel the Holbrooke agreement. Moreover, what steps are the Government taking together with their NATO allies to break the deadlock on negotiations on political autonomy for the province, given that for the seventeenth consecutive occasion the ethnic Albanian leadership has failed to attend talks with representatives of Belgrade on the ground that talks should be held only through the mediation of the US envoy, Christopher Hill? Belgrade has refused on the basis that it constitutes international interference. Does the Minister agree that the publication last weekend of Serbia's own proposals for the future of the province, which the EU special envoy for Kosovo has criticised and the Kosovar Albanian leadership has rejected, was a far from helpful step?

Kosovo is not the only country in which in the past months the challenge to the will of the international community has been laid down. For seven years, Saddam Hussein has failed to comply with the terms of the ceasefire agreement which ended the Gulf War. For seven years, he has attempted to dictate his own terms to the international community, while forcing the UNSCOM inspectors to participate in round after round of his tortuous game of hide-and-seek. For seven years, he has shown himself willing to gamble with the lives and health of the Iraqi population in order to keep his weapons of mass destruction. All the while, the menacing threat of those weapons continues to cast dark shadows over peace in the region and in the world.

In the past year, confrontations with Iraq have multiplied as Saddam Hussein continues to ride his reckless rollercoaster of defiance in an attempt to wriggle free of the sanctions of the international community without surrendering his arsenal of biological and chemical weapons. In winding up, can the Minister give an assurance that while Iraq continues to dodge rather than comply with its obligations the Security Council's comprehensive review of Iraq's compliance with its resolutions will not take place given that at the moment we do not have co-operation, let alone compliance?

UNSCOM inspectors have been unable to carry out their job effectively for eight of the past 12 months. The chances that they will be able to continue their work with full and unfettered access are remote. Once again, mere days after the "shoot first and negotiate later" policy of the US and UK forced Iraq's climbdown, we are facing another crisis. The prospect of Iraq's complete and unconditional compliance with UN Security Council resolutions seems as distant as ever as the familiar merry-go-round of Iraqi accusations, obstruction, blocking, conniving and lies begins again, this time over the release of documents requested by UNSCOM.

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Less than two weeks ago, President Clinton told the world that Iraq must fulfil five obligations or face the consequences. Your Lordships will be well aware that one of those obligations was to,

    "turn over all relevant documents".
Can the Minister confirm two critical points: first, whether in the opinion of the Government this refusal to hand over sensitive documents constitutes a breach of Iraq's latest commitments; and, secondly, that it is not up to Iraq to dictate whether or not UNSOCM's requests are relevant?

We may be slipping back into the depressingly familiar pattern of repetitive crisis syndrome, where the international community is forced to respond to yet another Iraqi-engineered crisis. Having overplayed his hand once already by withdrawing all co-operation from UNSCOM--a decision that united the international community in universal condemnation--Saddam Hussein is again using his familiar tactic of salami-slicing erosion of the UNSCOM inspectors' ability to do their work, stopping just short of providing grounds for military action. Of course, professional and technical judgments must be made by Richard Butler and his team of experts to determine the extent to which the work of the weapons inspectors has been undermined. Nevertheless, when at the beginning of this week the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, insisted that,

    "It is crucially important that Iraq honours its commitments ... If those commitments are not honoured then Saddam Hussein understands very well the consequences that will follow",
what guarantees can the Government give that Saddam Hussein will be inhibited by the consequences, if those consequences do not follow?

While we have been firm supporters of the Government's robust line towards Iraq, there are three logistical questions that I believe it is important to raise. Clearly, the safety of the UNSCOM inspectors is paramount. First, can the Minister confirm that contingency plans have been drawn up to remove the UNSCOM inspectors in Baghdad to safety in the event of unannounced military action? Secondly, have discussions been held between the United Kingdom and the United States as to how this will be achieved without alerting the Iraqi regime to the prospect of imminent action? Thirdly, how long can the Government maintain the ability to strike immediately, given that this requires a high state of readiness which is burdensome on manpower, morale and equipment; and how is such a state of alert to be sustained indefinitely?

While the first flickers of hope in the Middle East process for peace are fanned, in Africa it seems that the contagion of violence is spreading. In Sierra Leone, despite the restoration of the elected government, the country remains wracked by a conflict bordering on out and out civil war. And your Lordships are well aware of the potential for the fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo to destabilise the whole eastern African subregion, risking a devastating humanitarian disaster. These fears were recently expressed by the

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Presidents of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Given their foreign policy, do the Government still consider that those problems are,

    "regional in nature and therefore require a regional approach wherever possible"?
The Foreign Secretary has said that the Government will make it a priority of their diplomacy in Africa to build peace and prevent conflict since,

    "without peace nothing else is possible".
How is that being put into practice in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Sierra Leone?

Will the Minister join the UN Secretary-General in condemning the extrajudicial executions in Sierra Leone which are a clear breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Can the noble Baroness tell the House, first, what conditions were laid down by the Government when they pledged £6.5 million to help resolve conflict by supporting the disarmament and reintegration of ex-combatants; secondly, whether those conditions have been met; and, thirdly, if in the future the government of Sierra Leone fail to ensure fair trials and a proper appeals process for all those accused of treason for their role in the junta, will that have any affect on future pledges of assistance?

I have been able to touch on only a few of the vast array of issues which we on these Benches believe will be of critical importance to the United Kingdom and worthy of the Government's immediate attention. In today's world, the champions of peace, democracy and security remain beset by great obstacles. The Government will need all the skills of leadership, diplomacy and statesmanship available to them to rise to the challenges ahead. I wish the Government well in their programme for the coming year and I look forward to the Minister's response.

3.42 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I congratulate the House on the fact that the debate is described as a debate on defence, international development and foreign affairs. I understand that in another place international development will not be addressed in its debate. That exemplifies how modern and in touch the Upper House is as regards affairs of the world globally.

I welcome, too, the one proposal for legislation in the field of international affairs; namely, that which touches on the CDC. I make it plain that Members on these Benches will do their very best to examine carefully and speed up the passage of the Bill--a Bill which is badly needed. My noble friend Lord Redesdale will say more on that later.

As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, the challenge would be to try to touch on the many crises in the world in a few minutes. The noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, said that the times were challenging. Indeed, one might say that they are tumultuous. I intend to devote my remarks largely to the serious global situation, touching in particular on Asia and Russia, to say a few words about some of the current crises in Europe, and to speak on enlargement, an issue that we cannot possibly avoid.

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I begin by referring to the serious continuing global economic position. In the quarter that is concluding, the United States economy is expected to grow at a continuing figure of 3.9 per cent. annually. So far the West has not been affected seriously by the scale of the global economic crisis. But when looking at the American figures we must consider alongside them the Japanese figures. I believe those figures to be frightening. The latest OECD projections indicating a decline in growth of 2.5 per cent. in the coming year suggest that the East Asian countries, which are so heavily dependent on Japanese purchases of their exports, will continue to be unable to look forward to any great prospects of growth. We have gone far beyond economic setbacks, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said. In countries such as Indonesia and Korea we are looking at the meltdown of early attempts to establish democracies and the rule of law. That is very serious.

However, equally serious is the situation in Russia. Noble Lords who care to consider the stabilisation programme proposed by the new Government of Mr. Primakov published on 20th November will see the scale of the crisis we now face. For reasons of time I shall quote only one paragraph from that stabilisation programme. It states:

    "The socioeconomic situation worsened in 1998. In the first six months, the growth of nonpayments accelerated, export earnings started to decline, the budget crisis became acute, and all segments of the financial market were destabilised".

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