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Lord Elder: My Lords, I welcome the Minister to this rather fraught subject. I also greatly welcome the Statement. Perhaps he shares my surprise at the expressions coming from the Opposition when the Government are doing two things: first, accepting 129 MSPs, which was the number the Opposition argued for during the Bill's passage; and secondly, doing exactly what they said they would do in terms of listening to the Scottish Parliament once it was set up and therefore acting—as my noble friend Lord Sewel said they would—as a listening Government and responding to these thoughts from Holyrood.

Does the Minister agree that there is a case for taking a broader view with regard to the commission? There is a case relating to the good governance of Scotland for looking at the series of boundaries we now have: health boards; tourist boards; local authorities; Westminster; and Holyrood. It might be a sensible opportunity to extend slightly the commission's remit. We have an opportunity to give some thought to setting a structure for the better governance of Scotland.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, we wonder who has made the U-turn. The Opposition have argued

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that the Government have made a U-turn. Depending on which papers and ministerial Statements you have predating the setting-up of the Scottish Parliament it is easy to argue that a U-turn has been made by the other side.

I take my noble friend Lord Elder's important point about the commission's remit. This has not been set as it is early days, but I shall pass on to the Secretary of State his view that it should have a slightly broader perspective than that currently imagined.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I am sorry if I misunderstood that the purpose of these occasions was to make speeches and not to ask questions of the Minister about the Statement.

When he concluded the repeated Statement the Minister said that the Scottish Parliament was an effective institution. In preparing for repeating the Statement, is the Minister aware that the Scottish Executive, on its own figures, has acknowledged that since it was set up poverty in Scotland has increased; homelessness has increased; waiting lists have lengthened; and Scottish education has been sadly debased? Are they to get these extra numbers from this Westminster Government as a reward for that incompetence, or is it just for the nine members of the Labour Back-Benches who have yet to enjoy ministerial office—to give them a last opportunity to achieve that?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, for asking me a series of questions that have absolutely nothing to do with the Statement. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord missed the report of the Electoral Commission in today's Guardian which states:

    "Nevertheless, the research says that Scots 'continue to attach relatively high importance to the parliament'. The study again indicates strong support for extra powers".

The noble and learned Lord referred to certain areas where he feels that progress has not been made. Coming from the cultural sector, I have knowledge of and can point to huge successes in the cultural matters that have developed in Scotland over the past three years. It is a tremendous tribute to the Scottish Parliament that the treatment it has given to cultural matters, which have been put centre stage, has been a huge success.


6.32 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made earlier today in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence on the contingency preparations for possible military action against Iraq. The Statement is as follows:

    "My right honourable friend the Prime Minister, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and I have set out the Government's approach to

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    Iraq on a number of occasions. The Government's approach has not changed in any way. We are committed to the disarmament of Saddam Hussein's regime by ensuring its compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441. Our primary objective is to achieve this by peaceful means. Saddam Hussein is being given every opportunity to disarm voluntarily.

    "We hope that he will take this opportunity to do so. But, given his previous record, it would be foolish to assume that he will comply unless he faces clear and overwhelming pressure. That is why we must continue to present a credible threat of force.

    "When the House debated this issue on 25th November, and discussed it again at Defence Questions on 9th December, I made clear that we would continue with the prudent preparations and planning necessary for military action, should it be required. I said that we would continue to take appropriate steps to ensure that British forces were ready and had the training, equipment and support that they needed. What we are doing is ensuring that we have a range of military options available should they be required.

    "The House may find it helpful if I set out again the work which we have put in hand.

    "As I told the House on 25th November, we have already taken action to provide additional capabilities that may potentially be needed, either by bringing forward programmes which were already planned or by making new procurements against short timescales. As the House will recall, these measures include bringing forward the purchase of further temporary deployable accommodation, upgrading the infrastructure available in deployed field hospitals, improving battlefield ambulances and enhancing the ability of our forces to handle and exploit secure communications. We are approaching the shipping market this week to charter vessels which might be needed to move equipment and personnel. We are also acting on the lessons learnt from Exercise Saif Sareea II, particularly in relation to the Challenger II tank, the AS 90 artillery system and desert clothing and boots. I can assure the House that we are working closely with industry to ensure that British forces will have the capabilities they need for the contingencies they may face.

    "As I previously indicated to the House, we are also continuing to consider the number and mix of reservists who might be required in the event of military action and to ensure that the machinery and processes involved in mobilising reserves are ready to be used if and when the time comes. Relevant units and individual reservists will be informed of the possibility that they would be included in a call-out should that become necessary. We will take steps to identify individuals who may have genuine reasons for not being available in the months ahead. Information will also be made available to reservists for their employers.

    "More generally, I have authorised a range of steps to improve readiness. This includes training, ensuring that the right quantities of equipment are

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    available to those who may need them, as well as the procurement of stocks and spares. For some units it will involve a reduction in their notice to move. This does not mean that they are about to be deployed, but it does mean that they will be ready to deploy at relatively short notice if required. I would emphasise that the involvement of any particular unit in these processes does not mean that it will necessarily take part in any military action that may be required. The purpose of these preparations is to provide the necessary range of options, not a specific plan.

    "We have already announced the long-planned deployment of Naval Task Group 2003 in the new year, with scheduled visits and exercises in both the Gulf and the Asia-Pacific regions from February to August. This is a routine deployment which happens about every three years. But, like all maritime deployments, it remains available for a range of potential operations if required. The group will be led by HMS 'Ark Royal' and will include the Type 23 frigate HMS 'Marlborough', the Type 42 destroyer HMS 'Liverpool' and support from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels 'Fort Victoria' and 'Orangeleaf'. A nuclear-powered submarine will also be assigned to the group for part of its deployment. In addition, a Mine Countermeasures Group, comprising HMS 'Ramsey', HMS 'Grimsby', HMS 'Shoreham', HMS 'Ledbury' and RFA 'Sir Bedivere' will deploy ahead of the task group to undertake a series of exercises and port visits in the Gulf region.

    "Further to these routine deployments, we are also considering the deployment of additional maritime forces early in the new year in order to ensure the readiness of a broad range of maritime capabilities should they be required.

    "Finally, I want to emphasise once more that these are contingency preparations aimed at increasing the readiness of a range of options. This process does not lead inexorably to military action. The use of force is not inevitable. But as long as Saddam's compliance with UNSCR 1441 is in doubt, the threat of force must remain and must be real".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

6.38 p.m.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement of his right honourable friend. Late last night it was not on my radar, but it is a fast-moving situation. I remind the House that I have a direct interest as a serving officer in the TA.

We on these Benches and elsewhere are becoming increasingly frustrated that the media seem to be obtaining more detailed briefing than Parliament. For instance, during our recent debate I asked the Minister about the method of mobilising the TA and made some suggestions. I read the answer in yesterday's papers.

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The Statement refers to a "credible threat of force". I am slightly worried that that smacks of a bare minimum. Will the Minister confirm that the intent is that the US and the UK combined could deploy an overwhelming military force?

Does the Minister agree that it may be necessary to deploy a coercive force in order to leave Saddam and/or his generals in absolutely no doubt that they must comply with UNSCR 1441 or face serious consequences? Does the Minister further agree that this is more likely to avoid war than any other course of action? On previous occasions I have raised issues of sustainability. Those issues will not go away but there is no need to repeat them this evening.

The Statement will disappoint many regular and volunteer members of the Armed Forces because they still have little idea when or if they will have to deploy—even if they make assumptions about Saddam's course of action. This could well be their last break at home for some time. I am sure that they would like to know the situation. It might not be a quick operation. It could be more than six months. In addition, Members of both Houses are concerned that the long-term future of Iraq will have to be dealt with. A political power vacuum would be bad enough but a military one would be even worse.

Ministers have made significant and welcome improvements to the policy for the operational welfare package. The principal facilities now on offer are telephones, internet facilities and two weeks' rest and recuperation mid-tour. Those arrangements are entirely appropriate for peacekeeping operations and overseas training exercises and postings. However, they may be impractical for reasons of electronic and general security and because of hostile terrain and rapid movement. Will the Minister ensure that soldiers' expectations on any deployment that may occur are realistic? I know from personal experience how painful it can be when conditions a long way from home are significantly worse than expected.

The Statement referred to exploiting secure communications. Does the Minister agree that does not mean Bowman? Even if he had a few thousand Bowman radios in stock, there is not the time to undertake the complex fitting or to train operators. The Statement referred also to improving battlefield ambulances. What consideration is being given to fitting satellite tracking so that the staff can know where an ambulance is when it is deployed? The Minister may want to reply in writing to that question.

Many Members of your Lordships' House and in another place have questioned the nature of the deployment. We know that the Minister will say nothing about that but whatever the size of the deployment, it will be necessary to mobilise TA medical formed units. Does the Minister agree that any such deployment will have a significant effect on elective surgery in the NHS? Does he envisage mobilising other TA logistic units as formed units?

I am sure that all noble Lords will join me in wishing all members of the Armed Forces and their families a merry Christmas and every success in the new year.

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6.43 p.m.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I welcome the Statement that has been repeated in this House and emphasise the objective of resolving the situation peacefully. The Minister knows that we on these Benches have many reservations about war in Iraq. Having said that, if war were to come, it would be only prudent to make provision for that eventuality. I was interested by the sentence about Saif Sareea II. Many lessons have been learned, considering the shortcomings in artillery tanks, rifles and boots. I will not ask any questions about tanks because I realise that the Minister would not be able to answer them. However, I hope that the lessons from that exercise have been taken into account.

I echo the words of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. Our thoughts must be with the families of servicemen—especially those personnel who have been designated in the naval fleet that will be deployed straight after the new year. This will be a period of great distress for servicemen with families, considering the risks that they might face in the new year.

The Statement mentioned that HMS "Ark Royal" will be leading the task force. Can the Minister say whether HMS "Ocean" will be ready for deployment at some future point, if there were any difficulty with HMS "Ark Royal"? I share the concern of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, which we have raised a number of times in this House, about personnel availability for field hospitals. Can the Minister give any indication of the extent to which personnel are available for fitting out field hospitals? Is there still a gap in the availability of those personnel?

I hope that the Minister agrees that before action can be taken there must be a return to the Security Council for a further resolution. That seems only prudent. Will the House be recalled during the Christmas Recess for a debate if events move apace? I hope that the Minister agrees that military action will require a debate and vote in another place.

Finally, has all the information that can be provided by this country to the UN inspectors been provided? If further action is to be taken, so much will rest on a full and complete listing of information.

6.46 p.m.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I warmly thank both noble Lords, particularly for their kind, well-meant comments about the British Armed Forces and their families. I am sure that their messages will get back to those families. This House recognises just how superb our Armed Forces are—including their families. We say that all the time but we mean it every time that we say it. As a united House, we pass on our best wishes to them all.

As to deploying an "overwhelming" and "coercive" force, the noble Earl will understand better than most that I cannot possibly comment. I can say this and emphasise it. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, began his contribution by mentioning this aspect. No decision has been taken to launch military action against Iraq. Military action is neither inevitable nor imminent but it is very important that a credible threat

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of force is shown to Saddam Hussein. To ensure that credible threat of force, we have been undertaking prudent planning and preparation in close consultation with the United States. That preparation forms an incremental process to that end. It involves developing a state of readiness for a range of options, depending on what may happen in the future. Some of those preparations were set out in the Statement.

The noble Earl referred to the operational welfare package—which, as he knows, is specifically designed to ensure that our Armed Forces personnel have free access to the internet, telephones and letters to allow them to keep in touch with their families as far as is possible. I think that was the point that the noble Earl was making. He knows that the package has been used successfully on recent deployments to the Balkans, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone. We hope to build on those successes for future operations, if there are any.

I will not comment on Bowman but I will say that personal role radios—which are separate from the rest of Bowman—have been introduced into service this year. They have been used successfully in Afghanistan. Some 24,000 of them are now in service and are an important new form of communication for our Armed Forces.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, kindly asked a question about HMS "Ocean". When he asked me about HMS "Ocean" yesterday, he mentioned that his information was that the ship would not be available in the foreseeable future because of a refit. I thought yesterday that that was not right, but with a sense of discretion I did not comment on it. I have checked it out in the 24 hours or so since. I can tell the noble Lord that it was decided in early October this year to advance by two weeks the refit of "Ocean", the Royal Navy's helicopter landing platform. This was a prudent contingency measure to broaden the range of options available to the UK and it improves the fleet's readiness. She is now out of refit, but I shall, of course, not speculate on what part she might or might not play in anything that may or may not arise.

So far as concerns hospitals, there will be no gap in terms of personnel if people are needed. I believe I have answered the questions posed by the noble Lord.

6.51 p.m.

Lord Richard: My Lords, are the Government aware that they cannot go to war by stealth? Going to go to war requires evidence, sanctions and legality. Are my noble friend and the Government aware that many people in this country feel that, unless there is a second Security Council resolution specifically authorising the use of force, the Government will not be on the right track?

I know that my noble friend is responsible for moving soldiers—he is not a Minister at the Foreign Office, but he does represent the Government. One can at least say this to him, in the hope that the Government will listen. Will he take back to his colleagues the fact that the Government must reject the extraordinary proposition raised in the Security Council—of which I found an echo in the Statement by

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the Secretary of State for Defence—that a country or countries are entitled to use force in order to enforce a Security Council resolution even in circumstances where the Security Council itself does not wish that resolution to be enforced? It is a staggering proposition. I hope that on behalf of the Government my noble friend will reject it.

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