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Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister a few questions about the United Nations force. There is no doubt that the British forces have been competent and efficient and are responsible for what level of order there is in that country today. What about the United Nations forces? They have been pathetic. They seem unable to defend themselves and large numbers of prisoners have been taken by the rebels. Are the orders being changed? Is there any hope of a competent peacekeeping and peacemaking force emerging from the United Nations?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord's judgment on the United Nations forces in Sierra Leone is a little harsh. There has been widespread deployment by a number of different countries, which have been prepared to commit considerable numbers. A number of countries in the region have, understandably, been foremost among those who have deployed troops. I shall be happy to let the noble Lord have details of those numbers.
I agree with the noble Lord to the extent that there is now an issue about increasing the number of troops available to UNAMSIL. The United Nations has made it clear that it is looking for an increase in the numbers. The current shortfall has been exacerbated by the Indian authorities declaring that they wish to withdraw in due course. That is not a surprise. They always said that their involvement was time-limited.
We should be careful about leaping to judgments on the operation of the forces in Sierra Leone. We wish them well and believe that they are a power for good in that country. They are there to demonstrate the interest among the international community in securing peace in Sierra Leone.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, first, what commitment have we made to the UN under the Memorandum of Understanding? As I remember it, we have said that we will put up to a brigade at the disposal of the United Nations. Can we have an assurance that our troops will not be under United Nations command? Secondly, the UN's Brahimi report makes it clear that the unfortunate troops on the ground have to look to a command structure of about five people in New York operating until five o'clock on any day. Does not that make it even more important that we know what the mandate is?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, under the Memorandum of Understanding the rapid reaction capability could consist of a joint force headquarters with strategic communications support, together with transport, helicopters and medical units. I have already said that it could be of brigade size and could have logistic and administrative support assets. I hope that the noble Baroness understands that there are sound reasons why I cannot give a full breakdown of every part of the JRRF. A decision about the command structure would be taken at the time of deployment. I assure the noble Baroness that it would be a United Kingdom decision.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, one of the measures of insecurity in countries such as Sierra Leone is the number of internally displaced people. Will the noble Baroness confirm that the number of displaced people in the care of voluntary organisations and Churches has diminished, particularly around Freetown and the other centres? Does she have any breakdown of that number?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not have a breakdown of that number, but I assure the noble Earl that, with other development partners in the European Union, we are continuing to provide substantial support to meet the continuing humanitarian needs of the Sierra Leonean refugees. The noble Earl understands that we need to consider not just the number of refugees who have gone to neighbouring countries, but the number of individuals who are internally displaced within Sierra Leone. Such support is being channelled through the relevant UN agencies, such as the UNHCR and the international non-governmental organisations and their local partners. I shall try to get some figures for the noble Earl, but it is very difficult to get firm data about what is happening across Sierra Leone, because our troops
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, before we do so, perhaps I may intervene briefly. I wonder whether we should, indeed, again resolve ourselves into a Committee on the Bill. Noble Lords may wonder why the Minister has used the word "again". I would not blame them if they had forgotten that we have already had a day on this Bill. The first day of Committee took place as recently as 11th May and the Bill then disappeared into what I believe astronomers call a "black hole". That is my first point: that the thread or continuity of the Bill has been seriously disturbed by the long wait between the first and second days.
The second point that I want to make before we decide whether to proceed with the second day of Committee is that there are hundreds--and I mean hundreds--of government amendments. Since our first day in Committee, the Bill has been substantially rewritten. Indeed--this may be simply by accident but I suspect that it is by design--on the last day on which your Lordships sat at the end of July, 48 pages of government amendments arrived. I was here on the last day but the amendments did not catch up with me until the first week of the Recess, by which time, of course, people had scattered. Therefore, it was not a very convenient day on which to receive 48 pages of amendments.
The position is entirely unsatisfactory. This is an important Bill. It deals with the very fabric of our democratic society: free--I emphasise the word--political parties, free from government. It seems to me that the Bill unnecessarily ties up those free parties. The amendments--page after page of them--are a most unsatisfactory way for the Government to treat such issues. I shall not go into the manner in which the amendments have been drafted. The groupings, which we shall come to later, will be almost indigestible to your Lordships; they are certainly indigestible to me.
If this is the best that the Government can do, it would be far better if they decided not to proceed with the second day of Committee. They should take the Bill away for a new draftsman and new officials to see whether they can come up with a shorter and simpler measure which achieves the objectives without all the red tape.
Lord McNally: My Lords, it is probably par for the course for oppositions to express a certain synthetic outrage at the behaviour of governments. I am not sure that I want to go all the way with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, with regard to the Bill being taken away. However, the Minister's response is made all the more difficult by the weight and strength of the complaints of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay.
The situation would not be so bad if this were the only instance when this has happened. However, we are moving away from this House acting as a revisory and advisory Chamber almost to the point where we are dealing with Bills which are different from the ones considered in the other place. If we and the other place are to do our jobs properly, I believe that government or the usual channels must consider this matter.
I said to one of our researchers, "I intend to say X, Y and Z on Tuesday". He replied, "Actually, you said that on the first day of Committee"--not that that will stop me saying it again, of course. I believe that the combination of the inordinately long gap between the two Committee days and the extraordinary cascade of amendments make the complaint of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, valid and difficult for the Minister to reply to.
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