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The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I appreciate that it was proposed by one of my noble friends, and he will remain one of my noble friends, but the enthusiasm of noble Lords opposite for an erroneous position does not encourage me.
Criminal legal aid has become a greedy Leviathan. Between the financial years 1991-92 and 1997-98 the cost of criminal legal aid in the higher courts rose by 87 per cent.; that is almost 70 per cent. above the rate of inflation. Average payments have increased by 65 per cent., again well above the rate of inflation. In the Crown Court the most expensive 1 per cent. of cases continue to consume more than 40 per cent. of the
Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. He mentioned that 1 per cent. of criminal cases absorbed over 40 per cent. of the legal aid budget. Does he agree that if he were able to target successfully that 1 per cent. of cases and control that money, that would be a simple and straightforward way of solving the problem that he is asked to confront by this amendment?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, would that it were so simple. I look forward to the noble Lord's strong support for my undoubted attempts to bring that part of the budget under control. The only people who could possibly be attracted to a ring-fenced budget for criminal cases would be lawyers. It would be of no benefit whatever to the public. On the other hand, our international obligations must be fulfilled. As I said earlier this afternoon when speaking to Amendment No. 86, we are going beyond the minimum of these obligations and we are going to increase access to justice.
I do not seek to conceal--and I apprehend that I shall have the support of the principal Opposition party--that I shall come down hard on excessive prices for legal services in criminal cases. I welcome the support of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, for that position.
My principal method for gaining control will be through contracting with the providers of legal services in criminal cases. Through monitoring and controlling the contracts I shall bring downward pressure on excessive fees. I make no secret of this fact. I must bear down on this budget if I am to have the funds that I want to be able to develop the community legal service, and I am determined to do so.
My earlier comments in Committee recognised that the criminal legal service fund budget must have a higher priority than civil when budgets are set because of the absolute nature of our international obligations, to which I imagine the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is as enthusiastically committed as I am.
The White Paper states expressly, in paragraph 6.10, that the Criminal Defence Service budget and the community legal service budget are separate. However, your Lordships should know that I must live within an expenditure settlement that is now settled for the next three years. In that context the proposal in this amendment to ring-fence one or both budgets is not to live in real world politics.
However, it is not ultimately a rigidly controlled budget. Circumstances could arise whereby it might be appropriate to make a claim on the Exchequer, but I should have to press my claim, perhaps in competition with others, on the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, one reassuring point has emerged; namely, that there is a continuum, according to my noble and learned friend, in the personal relations between us totally unsullied by anything that I have done during this debate.
The debate has been interesting. It has demonstrated the real dilemma confronting my noble and learned friend, which he has explained vividly. On the other hand, people are at least now aware, theoretically, of the problem confronting civil legal aid. It is to be subordinate.
Theoretically, a situation could arise whereby no money is available for the provision of civil legal aid. Realistically, I do not believe that that is a measurable risk. I am aware, and have been for a long time, of my noble and learned friend's position; he is not reticent in stating bluntly where he stands on most issues.
While it is true that the Government have limited resources, it is plain, having listened to this debate, that my noble friend is sensitive about the situation on civil legal aid. Therefore, I do not imagine that the draconian consequences spelt out by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, are likely to be as calamitous as he suggested.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, before we move to the Statement on Kosovo, I should like to take the opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion on the Statement should be
"As the House will be aware, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is currently at the Kosovo proximity talks at Rambouillet in France, which he is jointly chairing with the French Foreign Minister, Monsieur Hubert Vedrine. A news blockade has been imposed on the talks to encourage the parties to focus on the discussions, rather than on telling the world how they are going. It is clear, however, that progress is being made. Contact group foreign ministers will take stock of what remains to be achieved in the negotiations when they meet in Paris on Sunday.
"It is unclear at this stage whether a NATO force will be required to support any peace agreement. Any decision to proceed with such a force will have to be taken by Britain and its allies in NATO, following a satisfactory conclusion to the talks at Rambouillet. No such decision has yet been taken.
"What is clear, however, is that, should a force be required, it will have to be ready to go into Kosovo as quickly as possible after a peace agreement is reached. A military force which is to be effective must be assembled well in advance. This means that we and our allies must have our forces in the region, ready to go into action at short notice.
"It is for this reason that the Government have decided today to send to the region, at the beginning of next week, the vehicles and other heavy equipment of the units which would form the leading elements of any deployment. These will include Challenger tanks, Warrior armoured vehicles and artillery. The units principally involved are the King's Royal Hussars, the Irish Guards, 4 Regiment Royal Artillery, with a tactical headquarters being drawn from 4 Armoured Brigade. Other units will also be providing equipment. Loading of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships 'Sea Centurion' and 'Sea Crusader' will begin on Monday.
"Although these vehicles and heavy equipment will be accompanied by a small number of personnel, the majority of the personnel from the units involved will remain at their bases, at short notice to move and join their vehicles. The decision whether to deploy them will depend on how the situation develops.
"To prepare for the arrival of this equipment in the region, about 200 key logistics personnel will be deploying next week to Greece and Macedonia, where we already have an armoured infantry company deployed as part of the NATO Extraction Force.
"The House will draw from these decisions the clear message that the United Kingdom is determined to play its part in supporting a negotiated settlement in Kosovo, but we will only deploy our forces in support of an operation with a clear mission and clear objectives, and alongside our allies.
"Contingency planning is continuing at NATO with Britain playing a full part. Other allies are making preparations similar to our own. From my contacts with my fellow NATO defence ministers, I know that others will be on the ground alongside us should a decision be made to go ahead with the operation.
"The decision that I am announcing this evening represents prudent military contingency steps. In no way does it prejudge any decision to proceed with an operation. Whether a force is to be deployed into Kosovo will depend in large measure on the parties. Neither side can take it for granted that NATO will deploy a ground force. They must make the hard choices necessary to reach an agreement".
Lord Burnham: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement made by his right honourable friend in another place. There can be no doubt whatever that the Government are wise to take precautions and to prepare themselves for any problems that may arise from the situation in Kosovo and the current discussions in Rambouillet. On 4th February the Secretary of State announced a notice to move for what seemed like a very much larger force than that contained in the Statement. However, it is true that the force to be prepared on Monday which comprises the tactical headquarters of 4 Armoured Brigade will at the very least be a skeleton within which a larger force can be contained. We must make these preparations. I remember that a large force assembled on ships in the Clyde at the time of Suez. It did not do any good in the event but at least we were prepared.
On behalf of these Benches I state categorically that we support the dispatch of troops. This appears to be the first serious test of the SDR and I hope that it turns out well. There is no doubt that at the present moment sea transport is available. If it were necessary at any time to employ any further merchant shipping we would not have the same number of ships that were available to us at the time of the Falklands.
One has the very serious problem of overstretch. I hope that the Army can cope with that because there may be other matters for which troops are required. It is quite easy to say that such and such a unit will go to a place in crisis, in this case Macedonia or wherever it may be, but if it comprises the same people in one unit who have recently returned from Bosnia nominally in
I ask the Government to be more specific than they have been so far as to what other countries are doing. We understand that France and Germany are to provide sizeable forces. I have tried to interpret the comments of Mrs. Madeleine Albright. To my mind she speaks in riddles. My reading of the situation is that the United States will provide only a small number of ground troops. But when the force gets there what is it to do? If a peace agreement is agreed in Rambouillet we accept that the United Kingdom should be part of a large multinational force, but we need to plan well ahead. I accept that we must get the troops and all of their equipment onto the ships but before they get anywhere near action we must know the long-term plan. We would be rather less happy if that force were to be involved in conflict. There is a danger--let us pray that it does not happen, and I do not believe that it will--of another Vietnam which started on a very small scale. I remember the headline on the cover of the first edition of the colour magazine of the Daily Telegraph which read "Vietnam--the forgotten war". Let us hope that we are not entering, with whatever good intentions, something that leads to that. Having gone through Bosnia, that is probably all right.
Finally, can the Government clarify the rules of engagement of any force that may go to Kosovo? I suggest to the noble Lord that they must be the same as in Bosnia. If I understand correctly, UNPROFOR could interfere only if NATO personnel were under attack or were in any danger. They could not do so if atrocities were being committed by one part of the local population against another. Under Op Palatine in which our forces are currently engaged I believe that they can interfere in such cases. I hope that what any force is allowed to do will be made clear. Can the noble Lord confirm that the extraction unit is not part of the force to be deployed under the notice to move Statement? I do not believe that it is because it is a separate body. But however much we believe that the step that has been taken is the only course that the Government can follow, we hope that this evening the noble Lord will be able to provide some answers to one or two questions that remain unanswered.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I shall be brief. Clearly, this will not be the last Statement on Kosovo in the next few weeks. We support this action as clearly prudent military contingency planning. It is inappropriate to say that one welcomes the necessary commitment of troops. I recall that when the intervention in Bosnia occurred it took a remarkably long time to get the heavy equipment there. Therefore, it is sensible to make the necessary moves in advance even if we are not yet sure how much we may need to deploy. However, it seems to me likely that we shall have to deploy something.
We on these Benches also recognise that at this very delicate stage in the negotiations in Rambouillet the Government cannot say much about the exact deployment of the forces or even the rules of the deployment. I reiterate from these Benches what we said on the previous occasion a Statement was made. We recognise that this may well be a substantial and potentially long-term commitment. We see this as being a necessary commitment in Britain's national interests. On that very sober basis we give it our full support.
We recognise that deployment depends on there being a peace to enforce in which both sides in the conflict will have to come to an agreement. We also recognise that what is currently being discussed is only an advance guard of what has been referred to as an enlarged brigade of as many as 8,000 troops. We have already remarked that this means the problems of overstretch are likely to involve a substantial number of reserves being called up to maintain the commitment. Therefore, the future of the Territorial Army and how actively that is re-recruited seems an extremely important element. I support the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, in his request. What can the Minister tell us about parallel moves by other governments who are likely to take part in the force, not only the French and the Germans but also, if possible, the United States?
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, first, I express my unfeigned gratitude to both noble Lords who have just spoken for their acceptance of the necessity for the decisions taken today by Her Majesty's Government. They have both asked about the position of other governments. I do not believe that I can go further than to say that we confidently anticipate that all our major allies will be alongside us should it be necessary, I emphasise as strongly as I can, for us to take further steps and deploy troops and other assets inside Kosovo. I do not think that I can say more than that. We are in constant discussions not only with our French, German and American friends, countries which have been mentioned by both noble Lords, but also with other friends, in particular the Italians who are closest to this area of controversy.
The noble Lord, Lord Burnham, invites me to speculate on the size of any land contribution the United States may make. I think that it would be rash for me to do so, in particular since these matters are still under discussion with the American authorities and no doubt within the American Government.
The noble Lord said he would be less happy, as we all would be, if the United Kingdom force were to be involved in a conflict. I wish to assure noble Lords that it is absolutely no part of the intentions of Her Majesty's Government that we fight our way into Kosovo. Our present intention is only to deploy into Kosovo to help to enforce a peace agreement reached by the parties now negotiating in Rambouillet.
The noble Lord, Lord Burnham, asked about the extraction force. I may be able to help him. The advance party would be designated as part of the extraction force at this time because no status of forces agreement has
On a point of detail, the noble Lord believed that sea transport was available at present. By my silence I should not wish to mislead him. We shall have to look outside our present assets to find adequate maritime transport. However, we hope to be able to charter some vessels in the near future. The heavy assets will go by sea from Emden. However, in the long run more will go by sea from Marchwood.
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