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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are working very hard to secure a second Security Council resolution. I will not say anything that would prejudice the chances of a

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successful outcome for those negotiations. I said what I had to say about reserving our position in my Answer.

The noble Lord asked about the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Kofi Annan has been saying—we have all been saying—that it is important for the United Nations to come together. That is exactly what we have been trying to ensure. It is why we have tried to provide a basis—a compromise—even at this late stage, on which we can resolve the matter properly. Trying to secure agreement in the United Nations is more complicated when one member of the P5 says that it will veto a resolution in any circumstances.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I hope that the Minister will accept that many of us did not hear the Secretary-General saying what he said. Yesterday, the Prime Minister spoke of bringing the international community as a whole together on the issue. There are questions of legality with regard to the UN Charter and to voting procedures, which require nine votes. There is also the broader question of legitimacy and acceptance by the international community that action is justified. Does the Minister accept that, by that standard, the British and American Governments have not yet succeeded in persuading the international community in the way that the Prime Minister suggested yesterday?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I concede that there is a strongly argued position to be held on both sides of the question. It would be extraordinary to succeed in persuading the whole international community to adopt one position, as things stand and given the events of the past few days.

I remind the noble Lord that the international community came together effectively around UNSCR 1441. My right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are negotiating with every ounce of their strength to ensure that that international consensus survives.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the case for military action against Iraq does not begin or rest with the draft resolution referred to in the Question or with Resolution 1441? It rests with Resolution 678 of 1990 and all the subsequent Chapter VII resolutions about Iraq.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree very strongly with my noble friend. It is not just a question of Resolution 678, the resolution containing the decision to take military action against Iraq. There is also Resolution 687, which led to the suspension of that military action.

We sometimes refer to what we are discussing as the "second resolution". I remind your Lordships that it is the 18th resolution on the issue. As my noble friend pointed out, the resolutions were made under the mandatory chapter, Chapter VII.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree, further to the remarks made by the

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noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, that, as members of the United Nations have voted no fewer than 17 times to compel Saddam Hussein to disarm and to use all measures to do so, it would be reasonable to conclude that any further pressure, including force, had UN approval and was internationally legal? They are complex matters, on which we all, understandably, seek reassurance.

We appreciate that legal advice from the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General is confidential, as is right and proper. However, would it not be helpful, in the debate to be introduced by the Liberal Democrats on Monday, to have his presence and guidance? If he cannot help us on this difficult issue, he could help us with the broader issues affecting the Armed Forces in a conflict, now that we operate under the International Criminal Court system, which raises new and complex problems.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, in answer to the first part of the noble Lord's question, I shall repeat what the Prime Minister said yesterday in another place:


    "As the Foreign Secretary has pointed out, resolution 1441 gives the legal basis for this. The reason we have been seeking a second resolution is . . . that it is highly desirable to demonstrate the unified will of the international community".—[Official Report, Commons, 12/3/03; col. 284.]

That is the Prime Minister's view. It is good enough for me and, I hope, for the noble Lord.

I thank the noble Lord for the way in which he put his question about the advice of the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General. I remind him, however, that, by a long-standing convention that has been observed by successive governments, the fact and substance of Law Officers' advice are not disclosed outside the Government. That convention is reflected in paragraph 24 of the ministerial code. I believe that the noble Lord will also find it reflected on page 389 of Erskine May.

Law Officers' advice is given to the Government in confidence. If the department to which the advice is given wishes to disclose the advice, it may do so with the consent of the Law Officers. In practice, that is rarely done.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords—

Lord Sheldon: My Lords—

Lord Grocott: My Lords, we shall hear from my noble friend Lord Sheldon.

Lord Sheldon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in Stalinist times in the post-war years the Foreign Minister at the time drew the distinction between a "No" vote and a veto? When he voted "No", the Security Council assumed it was a veto. He said, "No, it was not". That is the precedent for our times, which

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has not been changed. We must not assume that any "No" votes will be a veto in the event of such votes being cast.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord raises an interesting point—which I am sure has already registered with my right honourable friends in another place. I shall ensure that it is conveyed to them. What has been so difficult about the position articulated from the other side of the Channel this week is the use of the words, "in any circumstances whatsoever". That has been very difficult. However, I shall certainly convey the point raised by my noble friend Lord Sheldon and I thank him for it.

Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill

3.30 p.m.

House again in Committee on Clause 1.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Allenby of Megiddo): I call Amendment No. 3.

Baroness Hamwee: I believe that, just before the sitting was suspended, we were about to hear the Minister respond to the previous group of amendments.

Lord Rooker: We were about to hear the Minister only if no one else stood up. I have already been told off today. I was a pupil of my noble friend Lord Stoddart when he was a Government Whip in another place. I learnt all the etiquette of procedure. I am aware that I am here to answer questions in Committee as often as required. I shall do my best—indeed, in the manner in which I was taught by my noble friend.

The expression "cart before the horse" was used. I throw that back at Members of the Committee who referred to it. If there was ever a case of the cart being before the horse, it was to demand detailed information about the functions and powers of a regional assembly in advance of the Bill on the referendum. It has been made clear that, before the referendum takes place, the electorate will have all that information at their disposal.

Those concerns were indicated at Second Reading. I accept that. They were put strongly. There were concerns about people voting for or against establishing an elected assembly before the legislation to set up the assemblies was enacted. The White Paper, Your Region, Your Choice, sets out our proposals. I could refer many of today's speakers to various sections of the report which would answer some of the questions put. It is not that the discussion has not taken place. The White Paper sets out in substantial detail from where the assemblies will draw their functions and powers.

The Government also said that that was the basis on which they hoped to introduce the legislation. I accept that we have not done that. Once we have received the recommendations from the Boundary Committee for

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local government in the region, we shall publish details of our proposals again. That will include a statement on how we intend to deal with the Boundary Committee's recommendations arising out of the local government review. People will then understand the consequences for local government. We shall also publish a summary of what an assembly would do and how it would work—before people cast their vote in the referendum. Therefore, there will be no argument that people will not have the necessary information.

There is nothing new in that approach. It was a two-stage approach. It was used for London, Scotland and Wales. I take on board the spirit of the questions asked; namely, more information to be made available before people make a choice. We accept that in principle. We are not opposed—I repeat, not opposed—to publishing a draft Bill on the powers of the assemblies. However, there are timetable issues relating to that. Therefore, at present, I cannot give a firm commitment that it would be a draft Bill. Certainly, we shall publish a summary document of the issues on which the Bill will be based.

I accept that a draft Bill would provide an opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny. The Government have not ruled that out; it is a question of the timetable to which we are working. The argument concerning more information is covered in Amendments Nos. 5 and 6.

I can answer one specific question. As we left the Chamber, the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, said that he would not be back at 3.30 p.m. As Members were being so emollient and civilised, I told him the answer to his question at the doorway. Therefore, I had better put that answer on the record. The question posed by the noble Lord was: will an elected assembly be a local authority? The answer is, "No". It will be legally distinct from a local authority, the GLA, the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament. Those are different bodies with different functions. It will not be a local authority. There will be a legal distinction.

In some ways, it is putting the cart before the horse. Before the referendum, which would be after the Boundary Committee has published its proposals, the Government will make a statement about how they intend to take forward the proposals of the Boundary Committee in the regions and produce a summary document about the way in which the assemblies will work and be set up.


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