Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I strongly welcome the tone and content of what the Minister has said to the House today. I have two questions. My first question concerns the issue of deserters and the report that the half-brother of Saddam last night went into exile in Syria. Is the Minister able to share any information on both that move and the desertion of troops at the border with Kuwait? Will the Minister tell us how we shall prosecute those responsible for crimes of genocide? Is it our intention to use the International Criminal Court or will we be setting up a separate tribunal in order to ensure that those who have been responsible for such crimes against humanity inside Iraq are brought to justice? That is the reason why many of us have supported the Government in the stand that they have taken in prosecuting this war.

Does the Minister agree that the words spoken yesterday by Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Collins were both eloquent and moving and that he summed up the purpose of this conflict when he said,

Lord Bach: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his kind words. I cannot help him on his first two questions about deserters. I should rather make no comment on that at this stage, not having the information in front of me. Indeed, it would be dangerous to do so and we would not be keeping to our word unless we actually knew what occurred before announcing it.

Secondly, beyond saying that the Iraqi leadership should beware of prosecutions at the conclusion of hostilities, it is much too early to say under what provisions and to which court. I am sure that that is a matter to which we shall return. Thirdly, I back up the comments made by Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Collins. Many people heard them and thought that they were in the best tradition of the British Army.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I express appreciation of what the Minister said and I understand why he said that it would not be possible for the Government to comment on all the stories that appear and the inevitability of very widespread coverage, much of which will not originate from this

20 Mar 2003 : Column 396

country. If the inference is that the Government recognise at this stage that censorship would be unhelpful, I welcome that.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comments. One of the differences between us and Iraq is that we enjoy a free press. It infuriates us often but, at the same time, we would protect it to the death. That is exactly what our troops are doing.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, will the Minister comment more fully on the firefighters' strike? Are the Government taking, or considering taking, any action to stop this totally unjustified and deleterious action?

Lord Bach: My Lords, as I understand it, thankfully, the strike that was called for tomorrow has been called off. We know that there has been some conflict between the leadership and other parts of the Fire Brigades Union. We call on that union to say as soon as possible that it will agree the settlement and will call off the risks of any further strikes.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I want to press the Minister further on the prosecution of war criminals. For the sake of argument, let us assume that the Royal Irish Regiment captures Saddam Hussein. He is obviously, on what anyone has said, a barbarian of the first order. Would it not be an irony if he were caught and charged in front of the International Criminal Court when the United States does not recognise the ICC?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I do not want to go beyond my brief. If he was caught in the circumstances that the noble Earl mentioned, he would be prosecuted.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I turn to another aspect of what the Minister said in terms of deployment of our forces. Does it not make it absolutely clear that British forces are now a substantial part of a coalition and not, as some people have said, just an add-on to the Americans?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that question. What he says is absolutely right. We are an essential and important part of the coalition force. The best proof of that is that our American allies say precisely that. We have a very large proportion of our Armed Forces in theatre at present. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Vincent, made that point. The jobs and work that they will have to do will be essential if and when we are to win this conflict.

Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill

4.10 p.m.

House again in Committee on Clause 1, Amendment No. 25A.

20 Mar 2003 : Column 397

Lord Rooker: As we commence our tenth hour on Clause 1—I enjoyed the first nine hours and I am sure that I shall enjoy the second nine—I shall do my best to answer the questions that have been raised. First, however, I want to get one point out of the way, which I hope will bring a smile to the face of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. Earlier she asked me a question which I was not able to answer. She invited me to do so, but it was impossible and I could only think to myself, "She's got me here".

As the Bill stands, no order is made under Clause 12. So I can give an undertaking that no order will be made within the next 12 months. I know that that is something of a cheap answer, but when officials drew my attention to the clause I realised that it is not an order-making clause in that sense.

I wish to repeat an important point I made last week. In the scale of things, and because of what has been said about wrecking the constitution and the high level of urgency in this matter, I want once more to state that it will be at least 2006 or 2007 before any elected regional assembly is set up. I repeat: the earliest date will be at least 2006 or 2007. So while we have a timetable and a process governed by this paving Bill and a referendum, there is no rush on the establishment of the assemblies.

I wish to make a further preliminary point before turning to the specific issues relating to the amendment. No powers are being ceded from the Westminster Parliament. From time to time during our debates earlier today, the words "Parliament" and "government" were used interchangeably, which was unfortunate. No powers are to be ceded from Westminster, as opposed to Whitehall. Powers are to be ceded from Whitehall rather than from Westminster; that is, they will come from the executive, the Government, their agencies and quangos. The elected assemblies will not have powers to make primary or secondary legislation.

Baroness Blatch: The executive has no powers. Powers are parliamentary powers. The executive is a servant of Parliament. Parliament is sovereign and all powers lie either with Parliament or they will be ceded to local government. However, even the powers of local government are gained from Parliament. I do not know what the noble Lord means when he says that powers will be ceded from Whitehall and from the executive, but not from Parliament.

Lord Rooker: I do not think that that is a fair way of putting it. The noble Baroness has served as a Minister. She must understand the difference between the executive actions a government takes under existing statutory rules, such as the paying out of money and funds, all of which are approved by Parliament. In the main those are executive actions, certainly in terms of government offices of the regions.

I return to the words used this morning about powers from Westminster and from Parliament. The powers of parliamentary scrutiny over the Government will remain. I do not believe that people could think seriously that we are seeking to shut down

20 Mar 2003 : Column 398

the questioning of a whole range of public policy. Questions are asked about Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland since there have been devolved assemblies. Given a few moments' thought, it is easy to work out how to raise a point. While it is true that the Minister may not be able to provide the answer—because, in the case of, say, London, the Mayor for London has direct statutory powers in regard to certain functions—the ability to raise any issue in Parliament remains firmly in place.

As a Back-Bencher I never had any trouble raising issues that I wanted to raise, whether they were in order or out of order. Given a little thought, any issue can be raised. It may be that you did not always receive the answer, but sometimes the central aim was simply to ensure that the issue was raised.

There are no legislative powers for the assemblies, either primary or secondary. To that extent, I freely admit that the assemblies will not be like the National Assembly for Wales, which has powers to enact secondary legislation. The Scottish Parliament has primary legislative powers. No one says that the assemblies are all the same. Indeed, it would be wrong if we tried to make them all the same because the country is so diverse.

I turn now to the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. I almost referred to his "tricolour of questions", but I should not say that. I do not want to wind up the noble Lord. He put three questions to me. Yes, the Government do plan to implement paragraph 4.18 of the White Paper. Yes, the Government will continue to take responsibility for negotiations on the total amount of EU spending. Finally, yes, elected assemblies will have a power to raise taxes. I made that specific intervention in response to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I believe that the noble Lord—

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page