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Lord Chalfont: My Lords, in order to inform further consideration of the problem, can the noble and learned Lord the Lord President say whether there is any reasonconstitutional, legal, conventional or otherwhy the future occupant of the Woolsack should not be called Lord Chancellor?
As soon as I gave an impromptu answer, I realised that I should not have done so. I noticed the unfortunate coincidence, from my point of view, that sitting immediately next to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and I thought that I should not be offering legal answers in such august company.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, when I was first appointed a government Whip, I had drummed into me that it was not the Minister on the Bench but the Whip who was in charge of keeping order in this Houseunless the Leader was present in which case he naturally took that role. Will that role of the Leader of the House be examined by the Select Committee?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, certainly. It seems to me that anything relevant to any possible change in our arrangements should be considered. Speaking on behalf of the committee, of which I shall not be a member, we welcome representations from all quarters.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I congratulate the noble and learned Lord on reaching the conclusion to which many of us have come following informal soundings around the House. However, the questions addressed to him today show that the work of the Select Committee will encompass very complicated matters. Given that there are likely to be only 50 more sitting days before the state opening, how can he possibly expect the Select Committee to complete its work in the time-scale he envisages?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, first, I do not believe that Select Committees operate only on sitting days. Secondly, no one could suggest that the vast spectrum of alternatives has not been canvassed, at least on an initial basis. When we look at the work of other Select Committees, not least that which the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, was significantly responsible for setting up, I have no doubt that they work extremely efficiently and well, not least because they are extremely well served by the Clerks of this House, who do extremely good work.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, given that members of Select Committees are paid only when they meet on sitting days, we shall require some very noble Lords to sit on this committee. Is the noble and learned Lord aware that the Lord Chancellor's appearance in statute is about to be increased by one as a result of the draft civil contingencies fund Bill? There is therefore clearly a role for the Lord Chancellor beyond the mere Speakership of this House and his role in the judiciary and the conduct of law in this country. The committee might consider whether some additional powers which the Lord Chancellor now exercises should remain with
Perhaps I may take up a remark made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. When the noble and autolytic Lord on the Woolsack was taking the Sexual Offences Bill through this House, he introduced many government amendments, mostly in response to points made by the Liberal Democrats and ourselves. I should be sad if the Government ceased to bring forward amendments on that basis.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I was tempted to make that last point earlier but, not wishing to be unduly partisan, I did not. The ethos of this place appears to be more accommodating to accepting amendments where appropriate than the other place. That is one of the virtues of the way we work. My understanding is that the assumption of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, about remuneration is not correct.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, following the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, it is not the Leader of the House or the Whip on the Bench who keeps order. They merely voice the views of the House on who should speak. The House keeps order itself. They merely articulate what they perceive to be the views of the House.
When I first entered the House 23 years ago, there was no problem whatever. If two Peersparticularly at Question Timestood at the same time on opposite sides of the House to ask a supplementary question they would both sit down and say, "After you". Nowadays Peers stand and shout. I am sorry but it is a matter of manners. We need to return to the previous position.
Lord Dahrendorf: My Lords, when the terms of reference for the Select Committee are drafted will the Leader of the House seek to ensure that the issue of ceremonial functions outside the House is not overlooked? Such functions are often more than just ceremonial. When I was warden of St Antony's College, Oxford, it was a great pleasure to have the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, as visitor of the college. An interesting question is: who, in future, will undertake those functions? It may be the wish of the House that they should be undertaken by the Lord Chancellor on the Woolsack.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, that that is within the terms of reference as drafted following advice from the Clerk of the Parliaments. Visitors of universities
Recently, visiting Ottawa to speak to the Canadian Senate the point raised by the noble Lord was reinforced to me. Very often the Speaker of the Commons attends Speakers' Conferences and the existence of the House of Lords is sometimes overlooked. All those matters are appropriate for consideration.
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 yesterday evening in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence. The Statement is as follows:
"One incident occurred at around 7.30 this morning UK time. It involved members of the 1st Battalion The Parachute Regiment, who were conducting a routine patrol in the town of al Majar al Kabir, some 25 kilometres south of the town of al Amarah in the province of al Maysan. The two vehicles in which they were travelling were attacked with rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine guns and rifle fire from a large number of Iraqi gunmen. Our troops returned fire, and called for assistance from other UK forces.
"A quick reaction force, including a troop of Scimitar vehicles, additional troops, and a Chinook CH-47 helicopter, was dispatched to the scene to provide assistance. They also came under fire. A total of eight British personnel sustained injuries, one on the ground and seven in the helicopter. They were taken initially to 202 Field Hospital, south-west of Basra. Two have since been transferred to a United States field hospital in Kuwait to receive specialist treatment for very serious injuries. The other six are being treated in 202 Field Hospital.
"Separately, the bodies of six British personnel, who appear to have been killed in another incident, were recovered from the town of al Majar al Kabir at around midday UK time. These personnel were not part of the Parachute Regiment patrol but were members of the Royal Military Police. Local information suggests that they may have been involved in an incident at the police station in al Majar al Kabir. I regret that at this stage I am unable to provide any further information. British commanders are investigating the circumstances.
"We are in the process of informing the next of kin of all those who have been killed or injured. I know that the House would want to join me in sending our condolences to the families. Our thoughts are with them at this dreadful time.
"We are investigating whether there is any connection between these two incidents. British commanders in theatre are assessing the situation and have been in contact with local leaders. It would not be right to speculate further at this stage. I would certainly caution against reaching any wider conclusions about the overall security situation in southern Iraq, particularly in the United Kingdom's area of responsibility. Coalition forces have worked hard to secure Iraq in the aftermath of decisive combat operations. They will not be deflected from their efforts by the enemies of peace".My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
Lord Vivian: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement and from these Benches we wish to extend our deepest sympathy at this tragic time to the families of those who have been killed or wounded. Is the Minister able to tell the House whether the next of kin have now been informed of these two incidents and, if not, how long will it take for all next of kin to be informed?
Little information has been released relating to the sad deaths of the six members of the Royal Military Police, as stated in the Statement last night. I wondered whether the Minister is now in a position to be able to let the House know more details of that appalling tragedy.
While welcoming the proposed review of force levels for the Basra region there have been reports that the Government intend to review what protective clothing our troops should wear. I should be grateful if the Minister would confirm that report. If that should be the case, perhaps I may remind him that the people who should make those kind of decisions are the local commanders on the ground through the chain of command where the situation will be different from area to area. I do not believe that it is right to interfere with the chain of command and it would be most unwise for Ministers to dictate tactics from Whitehall. We must not suffer from some of the same problems that the US Army has suffered from due to interference by Congress.
We have the best trained and the best equipped troops to deal with the current situation within the British area of responsibility in the Basra region. This is a very sad setback for our troops, but one which they will quickly overcome and their determination to bring peace and security to the people of Iraq will continue unabated.
Finally, will the Minister confirm that the Ministry of Defence has provided everything that commanders have requested, and that military reinforcements will be sent, if asked for, to conduct operations as efficiently as possible to ensure the safety of the lives of
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. Our thoughts are with the injured and with the families of those injured and unfortunately killed. I was not alone in feeling shock yesterday when I heard the news about this event. That is perhaps because we have become complacent about the dangers in Iraq, due to the success of the British forces in their operations.
We have heard much about the operation to win hearts and minds, part of which is to swap body armour and helmets for berets. Obviously, that is an operational decision for the commanders in the field. For anyone in the situation of having to wear body armour, being safe depends not on the amount of body armour worn, but on the number of people who are prepared to shoot at you.
I have some questions. Following these attacks, will the British Government review with the Americans the strategy being undertaken and conducted in Iraq as to how the peace will be won? With the continued loss of American, and now British, soldiers there is a very real fear of an ongoing and sustained guerrilla campaign, which although small-scale seems to be consistent.
Do we have enough troops in Iraqnot just British but American troops? Is it realistic to believe that the number there, which seem pressed to meet all the needs being set out, will be sufficient? Will the Government push for further efforts to involve the international community and work with our American allies to make sure that as many countries as possible supply not just troops on the ground, but police units to rebuild the policing of Iraq? Obviously, the security of our troops depends on a return to a politically stable and peaceful Iraq.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their expressions of condolence, which will of course be passed on. The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, asked about the next of kin. The next of kin, both of those who died and those who were injured, have now been informed. Indeed, the names of those who died have now been released.
I am not able to give the noble Lord more detailsI do not think that he will be very surprisedeven those which have arisen since last night. An inquiry is going on. We feel that it is absolutely essential that we do not comment until the facts have been put together by those on the ground. Those facts will be made public and we shall then all be in a better position to discuss what actually occurred.
So far as concerns protective clothesagain I am not speaking about this particular incidentI just do not knownone of us knowswhat those soldiers were or were not wearing at the time the tragedies occurred. I can say that special efforts have been made
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked about numbers. We are satisfied that the number of British troops now in Iraq and in theatre is sufficient; 14,000 remain in Iraq and Kuwait10,250 of whom are in Iraq. Other troops could be sent if requested by commanders on the ground. We certainly have troops to send. I remind the House that the 19,000 troops who had to be retained for Operation Fresco have now been stood down.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, made an excellent point about the dangers involved. It is a very long time nowI think it was 6th Aprilsince the last British fatality occurred. This absolutely shocking news brings us all up short and tells us what we really in our hearts knew; that at present Iraq is a fantastically dangerous place for our troops.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I preface my question by saying that there may be more than one reason why the Minister cannot or will not answer it. If so, I shall quite understand. Can he say how the soldiers of the Royal Military Police died?
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