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Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I shall not comment on aerial photographs. I did not mention them; they were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. As I indicated, I cannot comment on the evidence we have. However, I did say that it was conclusive and wide. It should be noted--I stress this and shall go into a little more detail than in the Answer--that the UK is not alone in considering the situation and in coming to that conclusion. Our view is shared, in particular, by the regional African states. Nigeria and Ghana have both severely criticised Liberia's continued support for the rebels. The United Nation's Security Council's statements and resolutions--most recently Resolution 1231 of 11th March 1999--as well as United States and European Union statements, have all expressed grave concern at the reports they have that arms and personnel are being supplied from the territory of Liberia. We, and our partners in the international community, would not be acting like this if the evidence of Liberian support for the rebels was not compelling.
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the most appalling aspects of the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone has been the widespread use of child soldiers? What assistance can the Government
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, the noble Lord raises one of the very many disturbing aspects of the appalling war in Sierra Leone. The people who will rebuild peace are the people of Sierra Leone. It is right that we must do all we can to help them. Britain, along with Nigeria, has been the principal supporter of Sierra Leone in the international community. Since President Kabbah was restored to power in March 1998 we have pledged over £20 million to help to reconstruct the economy, for humanitarian assistance and for the demobilisation and disarmament of former combatants. We have also helped to rally international support for Sierra Leone. We are very concerned about the humanitarian situation across the board including, in particular, the kind of issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. We have already provided 18 tonnes of emergency medical supplies, as well as rice and disinfectant. A DfID humanitarian co-ordinator is in Freetown to help target UK assistance and we constantly have this in mind.
Viscount Waverley: My Lords, is it official or non-official circles that stand accused? Is it recognised that President Taylor has offered financial inducement for Liberian mercenaries to leave Sierra Leone; that his suggestion of UN observers on the border has merit and that it is for the United States Government to exert some influence?
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, we welcome the recent statement from President Taylor to try to ensure that any kind of supplies and support from Liberia to Sierra Leone ceases. We consider that to be a positive and productive development. It was as a result of considerable international pressure that President Taylor made these offers. We shall continue to monitor closely the situation in Sierra Leone. We hope that the offers that have been made and the undertakings given will be concrete. We are all watching closely to see whether that is the case.
The noble Viscount raised the point of the joint monitoring of the Sierra Leone/Liberia border mentioned by President Taylor. He suggested that that should be a United Nations monitoring presence. We are not willing to support a United Nations monitoring presence while the security situation would undoubtedly endanger the safety of the UN personnel. The border between Sierra Leone and Liberia is long, heavily forested and extremely "porous"--to use the technical word--in the sense of anything being able to cross at
Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, would my noble friend reconsider what she said earlier? Many of us are concerned about the position with Liberia. Surely, if the Government have evidence that they are not co-operating and that they are supplying troops and so on, could not the evidence be produced and published so that we can judge it for ourselves?
Lord Stallard: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that not unexpected but nonetheless disappointing Answer. Is he aware of the widespread concern about the apparently uncontrolled proliferation of foul language as well as explicit scenes of the most intimate sexual behaviour of heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, transvestites and the like on our television screens and on accessible videos? Is my noble friend further aware of recent research that shows two-thirds of all schoolchildren have access to televisions and videos in their own rooms? So much for the watershed! Given that state of affairs, is it not time that, because of the potential effect of such images being shown so often on our screens, we should give some deeper consideration to the possibilities of a better scheme of control, even if that means some form of censorship?
Lord Renton: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that when immorality is displayed on television programmes, it is bound to lead to an increase in immoral behaviour, and that therefore television programmes should cease to display immorality?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord's conclusion follows from his premise. It is by no means certain that people follow the behaviour that they see on television or on video, and it certainly does not follow that there should be the sort of blanket ban which I understand the noble Lord to be advocating.
Lord Glenamara: My Lords, has my noble friend seen a recent drama series on the BBC, "The Lakes"? If he has, he will agree that it certainly does not reflect standards which are generally acceptable to the public. My noble friend should know that that series has caused widespread resentment in the Lake District and in the Roman Catholic Church. It is a sheer misuse of the television licence income.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: No, my Lords, I did not see those programmes. My wife watched them, but she did not reach quite the same conclusion as my noble friend. If he has specific complaints, he should make them to the relevant broadcasting authorities.
Viscount Falkland: My Lords, is it not the case that television and video follow what happens in society rather than leading society in terms of morality? With regard to the second part of the Question, perhaps I may put the position that we have always held on these Benches, which is that censorship in any form in a democracy is a very dangerous path to follow and is often much worse than the matters with which this Question is concerned.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it was because I appreciate the noble Viscount's first point that I refused to follow the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in his simple causal relationship between showing immorality and being immoral. The noble Viscount is right. We must not allow our aesthetic distaste for some things which we see around us to tempt us into seeking to ban them.
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