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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that is a matter for those who take part in debates on the Criminal Justice Bill. However, I should point out that the provision in Clause 93 of the Courts Bill, to which I referred, does not involve any extension of the provisions of the Contempt of Court Act 1981. Indeed, the prohibition on payments to witnesses in a case when proceedings are active is wholly compatible with the strict liability rule in the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

Lord McNally: My Lords, the Minister mentioned the freedom of the press. Does he accept that those of us critical of the performance of the Press Complaints Commission have just as much interest in seeing a free press as anyone else? Furthermore, did he notice the results of research from the University of Cardiff, showing that 10 per cent of the public believe what they read in our tabloid newspapers against 70 per cent who believe what they hear on broadcast news? Broadcast news has strict regulations about balance, truth and accuracy while the press does not. Does the Minister not believe that a press held in contempt by the general public is in danger of losing its freedom?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have never doubted, and would not think to doubt, the sincerity of those who take a different view from the Government on this matter. Clearly, there are different interpretations of the best way to achieve freedom of the press.

I am not clear from the subsequent question of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, whether he takes the view that there should be an objective of impartiality on individual newspapers as there is on individual broadcast channels. To start to say that individual newspapers should be impartial is, as I think I said in proceedings on the Communications Bill, a wholly new view of the relationship between the Government and the press. I would suggest that it is a much more interventionist view and one which puts at risk the freedom of the press in this country. I hold that view as sincerely as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, holds his views.

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Mental Incapacity

3.31 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it is expedient that a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons be appointed to consider and report on any draft Mental Incapacity Bill presented to both Houses by a Minister of the Crown, and that the Committee should report on the draft Bill by the end of October 2003.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to; and a message was ordered to be sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith.

Civil Contingencies

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it is expedient that a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons be appointed to consider and report on any draft Civil Contingencies Bill presented to both Houses by a Minister of the Crown, and that the Committee should report on the draft Bill by the end of October 2003.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to; and a message was ordered to be sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith.

Congo

3.32 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 this afternoon in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister for the Armed Forces.

    "With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on a British contribution to a multinational force for the Democratic Republic of Congo. I would also advise the House that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence is attending a NATO Defence Ministers' meeting in Brussels, which is why he is unable to be present for this Statement.

    "The House will be aware of the serious situation in the Ituri province in the Democratic Republic of Congo, particularly in and around the town of Bunia. There has been a resurgence of fighting, particularlybetween Hema and Lendu militia, and tens of thousands of people have fled from their homes.

    "Some of these are in refugee camps around Bunia, others are scattered in the surrounding countryside. There is a risk that renewed violence and disease could lead to many deaths.

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    "The UK is wholly committed to supporting the United Nations peacekeeping effort in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Ituri province and elsewhere good work has been done. But United Nations troops are faced with a new situation with which they do not have the numbers to deal.

    "Recognising this, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan requested the creation of a multinational force to stabilise Bunia. UN Security Council Resolution 1484, passed on 30th May, provides the mandate for the force and on 5th June, the EU decided that the operation would be under European defence and security policy auspices.

    "As framework nation, France will provide the military commander and the majority of the force. A number of EU member states and non-EU nations are also likely to contribute. We expect the EU Council of Ministers to agree today formally to launch the operation—the first EU-led operation outside Europe.

    "I can now tell the House how the United Kingdom intends to contribute to this EU-led force. We have offered to provide an engineer detachment and Hercules transport aircraft to help deploy the multinational force. The exact numbers of personnel needed will not be known until we have completed further detailed analysis of the engineering tasks required in Bunia.

    "Bearing in mind the importance of co-ordination between the United Nations and the multinational force and to assist with planning, we will also provide five staff officers to the force headquarters and a liaison officer to work with the United Nations.

    "I know that many right honourable and honourable Members are concerned that our Armed Forces have too many commitments. I understand that concern. But I can assure the House that this is a modest, realistic and sustainable deployment.

    "But in making this commitment, we are clear that there can be no military solution to the problems in the region. The multinational force is an interim measure, deployed to help the United Nations with a limited and short-term mandate and will begin to withdraw when UN reinforcements arrive later in the summer.

    "We hope that this force will help stabilise Ituri province. We hope that it will assist the wider discussions in Kinshasa on the establishment of a transitional national government. We call on all parties in Ituri, Kinshasa and the surrounding region to play a full part in achieving peace and stability in the region.

    "I am pleased that the EU has responded quickly and decisively to the situation in Bunia. It is exactly how we envisaged the EU's security and defence policy developing as the practical expression of the common foreign and security policy.

    "The United Kingdom takes its commitments to global security seriously. This operation fits into our own objectives in the region, including support for

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    the peace process in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I trust the House will recognise that through this contribution we are taking practical steps to help resolve a difficult situation. I commend it to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.36 p.m.

Lord Vivian: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement from another place. We support intervention by the international community in order to stem the bloodshed and bring peace to this most destabilised area. However, why has it been decided to involve the United Kingdom now when we already have so many international commitments and all our troops are in desperate need of rest and further training?

The force will consist, as we have heard, of an engineer detachment, six staff officers and Hercules transport aircraft. The Statement says that the exact numbers of personnel needed is not yet known, but surely the Ministry of Defence must have some planning figure in mind. It would be helpful to have been told that today.

Realistically, will this small number of personnel make any difference? What will it achieve? Surely, there are other countries that could send a similar force. Instead, once again, our tired Army is called upon, leading to yet more separation for the families. It is the Royal Engineers who will be deployed, a corps which has already suffered an inordinate amount of separation recently, and their families are fed up with it. All countries within Europe have military engineers and staff officers; why could they not be used for this operation?

This deployment raises many questions about the assurances given to Parliament as to how NATO would always be given first refusal in relation to military operations, and, in addition, would always have a role in planning EU operations. We should make no mistake: this is an EU-led military operation, small but complex, which will put our servicemen's lives once again at risk. Given the Government's commitment to NATO, and its proven and tested abilities to plan and command operations of this kind, why did we not discuss the matter with NATO and press it to lead the operation? An untried and untested EU operation of a complex nature is clearly more risky. Further, it would appear that the EU is acting unilaterally in this case.

Perhaps it is worth drawing to your Lordships' attention a report of a French military briefing paper. It described this operation as,


    "politically and militarily high risk, very sensitive and complex",

and reported that the current deployment of some 1,400 troops will have negligible impact on the tribal conflict.

Will the Minister say what is the military mission for this force and under whose command the British contingent will serve? What are the benchmarks for success and what are the major risks? Does he agree that a token force of some 1,400 troops will make little impact in a country the size of Europe? How can the

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force be protected? What humanitarian aid will be available? Finally, what are the provisions for reinforcement and what are the means for extracting the force in an emergency?

3.40 p.m.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I, too, welcome the Statement. However, in a different vein from the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, I do not believe that NATO would look at the operation and would be surprised if the Americans have even considered committing their forces to Africa. This is a humanitarian disaster that needs prompt action. It is to be welcomed that this is the first EU-led operation outside Europe. On that basis, it would be almost unacceptable for British forces not to be involved in such an operation, even on such a small scale.

The numbers should be put in context. A small force is being sent out, but the case of Sierra Leone shows how a few British troops can make a significant difference.

One of our areas of concern is that the operation is moving between the two areas of peacekeeping and peacemaking. It seems that, in a tribal conflict, which is so anarchic, it will be very difficult to stick to an envisaged time frame. However, I am sure that the Bangladeshi troops that will make up the next UN contingent will do their best to bring the situation under control. It should be remembered that the Bangladeshi troops did remarkable work in Sierra Leone. Their professionalism is to be noted.

We welcome this decision. We understand the associated risks and dangers. Many Members of this House have often talked about the need for intervention in Africa, especially in the Great Lakes region, therefore it would be unacceptable for us not to take part. I do not believe that it will be a short-term commitment; however, it is one that we must make.

3.41 p.m.

Lord Bach: I am grateful to both noble Lords for their remarks and, in particular, their support for the Government's stance in what has not been an easy decision, given all the circumstances. We are convinced that we are right to do what we are doing.

The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, asked a number of questions and made several comments. He asked the reasonable question whether we could be more precise about numbers at this stage. Our current plans are for up to one Royal Engineers squadron. The noble Lord will know that that implies up to 100 men, but it could be fewer than that. The noble Lord will also know, better than I, from his experience, that neither the Government nor I want to be held to that precise figure. I am trying to help the House as best I can.

The noble Lord also asked what the mission was. I can do no better than to answer by quoting from Security Council Resolution 1484, which I referred to in the Statement. It authorises,


    "the deployment until 1 September 2003"—

the date is important—

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    "of an Interim Emergency Multinational Force in Bunia in close coordination with MONUC, in particular its contingent currently deployed in the town, to contribute to the stabilization of the security conditions and the improvement of the humanitarian situation in Bunia, to ensure the protection of the airport, the internally displaced persons in the camps in Bunia and, if the situation requires it, to contribute to the safety of the civilian population, United Nations personnel and the humanitarian presence in the town".

That seems to answer the question about the mission.

The noble Lord asked, fairly, why this was not a NATO-led operation. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, dealt well, if I may say so, with that point. NATO, if it had wished, could have taken on the operation. That did not happen. The ESDP enables the European Union to plan, and, where NATO as a whole is not engaged, conduct crisis-management operations. NATO as a whole is not engaged in the DRC, nor need it be. It has never been envisaged that NATO has refusal over national or ESDP operations.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, made a good point about the dangers involved in this enterprise. He will know that the United Nations has asked for the force to be set up under Chapter VII. That means that the rules of engagement will be more robust than the existing Chapter VI rules under which MONUC operates at present.

I would have hoped that the reason why the United Kingdom is taking part would be clear to this House and the country. Our Armed Forces are among the very best in the world and have demonstrated that they can undertake a wide variety of commitments anywhere in the world. Our extensive peacekeeping operational experience means that our Armed Forces will be able to make a unique and highly positive contribution to the force.

The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, is right that we have asked a huge amount of our Armed Forces and their families recently. We acknowledge and accept that. But we would not be sending even this small force if we did not think that it was manageable.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, bearing in mind that this is as yet a small force, what costs are likely to be involved and where will those costs fall? Will they be found from the Ministry of Defence's budget or will additional resources be made available to it?


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