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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as the noble Lord says, it is more a matter for this House. However, I re-emphasise words of the Prime Minister on Hong Kong last October. He reiterated that we retain a political and moral commitment towards Hong Kong, and that we are committed to upholding the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which is an international treaty, until the year 2047. The noble Lord raises the particular issue of the currency. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has responded robustly and with a high degree of autonomy to defend the Hong Kong dollar ong Honagainst attacks by speculators and to defend the fixed exchange rate with the United States dollar. There is also the question of the Court of Final Appeal and the
Lord Borrie: My Lords, will my noble friend indicate what conditions are required of the Hong Kong authorities as to political and democratic freedoms and judicial independence if UK judges, some of whom are Members of this House, are to assist and continue to assist in the judicial work of Hong Kong?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, these are complex and difficult questions. There has been an interchange between the CFA in Hong Kong and the standing committee of the National People's Congress on the complex issues surrounding immigration, which I believe is what the noble Lord has in mind, between Hong Kong and mainland China. There are a number of different interpretations of these issues. It is clearly important that the key principles are upheld; namely, the authority and standing of the CFA, the independence of the judicial system in Hong Kong and the robustness of the rule of law there.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, will the Minister agree that, by and large, the Basic Law has been recognised and accepted by the Republic of China to an extent that beggared expectations? But having said that, and given the statement by Martin Lee, who is perhaps the leading figure in the democracy movement in Hong Kong, that he thought the decision of the NPC to override the Court of Final Appeal constituted, to use his phrase, the beginning of the end of the rule of law in Hong Kong, will the Government do everything possible to encourage links between Commonwealth judges and the Court of Final Appeal in order to strengthen the standing of that body?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I, like many in this House, have the highest possible regard for Mr Martin Lee, who is very courageous in a number of the things that he says. It is the case that he has on previous occasions been rather more apocalyptic in his thoughts about what would happen next in Hong Kong than has been the case when we have seen how matters have worked out. If the noble Baroness looks at the report, which is now in the Library of the House, she will see that there are many positive signs of the freedoms that the people of Hong Kong enjoy, and that, as she rightly notes, the Basic Law has been upheld to a remarkable degree. There are undoubtedly questions of interpretation which are difficult to resolve. However, we must hang on to what the SAR government have said about the importance of the rule of law.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, given the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the transfer of Hong Kong, which guaranteed the territory of 6.7 million people its capitalist freedoms and quasi-autonomy under the auspices of English common law, and given that the
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as I have already said to the House, it is an enormously complex and difficult area. There are a number of different interpretations. Today, when I asked exactly the same point as the noble Baroness raised just now, I was told that there were four lawyers and five opinions on the subject. That does not necessarily distinguish it from a wide range of different legal issues.
I wish to bring the noble Baroness back to the basic point: the principles on which the CFA operates in Hong Kong. They have recently been upheld by the SAR government, they have re-committed themselves to it and we welcome the SAR's assurances that their request for interpretation was based on what they termed "exceptional and unprecedented circumstances".
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): My Lords, we are able to meet our current obligations. The Memorandum of Understanding agreed with the United Nations last month is not an open commitment to provide troops. The decision to commit UK troops to UN operations remains a national one and will be considered case by case.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that distinctly "un-full" reply. This morning the Secretary of State agreed that there is serious overstretch and undermanning and an unprecedented level of commitment. He said that people should not be asked to do too much. Does the Minister agree that overstretch is hitting the families harder than ever? Does
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, we have been thinking about people right from the beginning--since this Government took office. It is one of the essential elements of the Strategic Defence Review, as I am sure the noble Baroness knows. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence has made several suggestions and we are now starting a review to see where we can reduce commitments.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that while there is enormous strain in the services--partly because of the high quality of the services--the Government have introduced ameliorative arrangements to ease the difficulties? Can my noble friend tell the House how the number of troops and personnel in training compares with the number two or three years ago?
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I confess that I have not come to the House today armed with the number of troops in training. I shall happily give my noble friend such statistics as I can raise when I return to the department. There is no question but that the Army is suffering a considerable overstretch at the moment. However, we hope considerably to reduce the numbers of our forces in KFOR over the next few months. My right honourable friend announced his intentions only yesterday in the other place. By the end of October, all being well, we shall be down to a total of the order of 5,000 or 6,000 as against a peak figure of around 14,000.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, can the Minister tell us how recruitment figures are going? Part of the problem is the difficulty of filling the recruitment target. In particular, since one of the problems of recruitment has been the failure to attract adequate numbers of people from the ethnic minorities, can he tell us how the new efforts to attract more ethnic minority groups are proceeding?
Lord Gilbert: The recruitment figures are extremely healthy. They do not convey the whole picture and we have a problem with retentions. I am glad to say that for the last month for which figures are available there is a net increase in recruitment over people leaving. It may be a blip, and I would not want to put too much weight upon it. But it is encouraging that recruitment has increased substantially since the beginning of operations in Kosovo.
As to ethnic recruiting, we are doing extremely well against, I have to say, fairly modest targets. In the Household Division we have been commended for our efforts. Two special campaigns were waged in Sandwell and Newham to penetrate the ethnic communities. Both
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House, first, what the average tour interval is now in the emergency tour plot? Secondly, can he tell us how many infantry battalions are less than 70 per cent up to establishment?
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