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House of Lords

Monday, 23rd October 1995.

The House met at half past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.

Bosnia: British Casualties

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many members of Her Majesty's forces have been killed and how many wounded in Bosnia.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe): My Lords, 18 British service personnel have been killed and a further 38 have sustained serious injuries in the course of military operations in the former Yugoslavia.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, in the light of these figures, can my noble friend say whether Her Majesty's Government are reconsidering exposing our forces to all the risks and dangers in that unhappy country of Bosnia or whether perhaps we have expended enough by way of casualties in order to prop up generally a deplorable set-up?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I fully understand my noble friend's distress at the British casualties in Bosnia. The lives lost and injuries sustained are greatly to be regretted. But we should also look at what has been achieved in Bosnia. It is perhaps appropriate to recall the words of Mr. Douglas Hurd when he told the other place in a debate on 29th April 1993 that the Government's key aims in Bosnia were threefold: first, to prevent the conflict from spreading; secondly, to relieve suffering; and, thirdly, to provide a framework for a political solution. I believe that it is fair to say that we have successfully met those objectives. We have prevented the conflict from spreading into a wider Balkans war; we have significantly reduced the killing and made a major contribution to the relief of the humanitarian situation. We have also played a major role in the peace process. I believe that there are now better prospects for peace in Bosnia than at any time since the conflict began. That has resulted from patient diplomacy and determined military action, where the United Kingdom has been at the forefront.

Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, when are we likely to withdraw?

Earl Howe: My Lords, we have always said that we shall remain in Bosnia as long as we can usefully contribute to the aims that I have outlined. As the noble Lord will be aware, there is now in prospect the talks in New York, followed by a further conference in London. After those discussions we shall be in a position to judge whether we wish to continue our contribution in some military way.

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Lord Ironside: My Lords, although we all admire very much the excellent job our forces are doing in Bosnia, these figures are very distressing indeed. Can my noble friend give figures as regards casualties and fatalities for UNPROFOR as a whole?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I do not have detailed, up-to- date figures, but I am led to understand that casualties among the UNPROFOR troops are approximately in proportion to each country's contribution to that force. I also understand that our own casualties are lower than those suffered by the French.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, are the Government concerned about the brittle nature of morale in some sections of the Armed Forces, particularly in the medical services, where it is epitomised by an excessively high outflow, poor recruiting and an acute shortage of senior consultants? Do the Government not recognise that an inability to provide medical care and treatment to our Armed Forces, particularly if they are injured, would not be to put Front Line First?

Earl Howe: My Lords, with respect to the noble and gallant Lord, I believe that the question he has asked falls slightly wide of that on the Order Paper. However, I can reassure him that the Government believe that the medical services available to our forces now and as a result of the re-organisation which is taking place will be sufficient to cater for their needs. In Bosnia there has been no shortage of medical attention and expertise available to our people.

Lord Mayhew: My Lords, I share the deep regrets expressed over the casualties, but would it not be true to say that not only have our Armed Forces behaved extremely well but, as the Minister said, they have had considerable effect, particularly at a critical moment in helping to free the Mount Igman route and raise the seige of Sarajevo?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. I recall that he expressed concern about the Mount Igman route during the debate on the Defence Estimates last summer. We can be proud of what our troops have achieved to secure that route. I am sure that the House will join with me in praising the skill and professionalism of all our servicemen and women involved in operations in the former Yugoslavia.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that there are very many families in this country who have given of their best and have had to experience the news that their sons have been slain? Is he further aware that that is causing grave concern and a vast amount of unhappiness? Many of the relatives are not sure whether other nations in the United Nations should not be doing a bit more along these lines and following the examples set by our country.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I do not believe that we can ever underestimate the suffering of families who have lost relatives in Bosnia. Of course, it is extremely sad when we receive news, as we have today, that a further two serviceman have been injured, although I am pleased to say that those injuries are reported as being

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light. I have already indicated to the noble Lord, Lord Mason, that the future make-up of the proposed implementation force is up for discussion. We shall seek to ensure that other nations, as well as our own, play a full part in that force.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo: My Lords, can the Minister tell us the current financial deficit that is due to us from the United Nations?

Earl Howe: My Lords, although that question does not relate specifically to the Question on the Order Paper, from memory I can tell the noble Viscount that the cost of our operations so far in Bosnia is of the order of £224 million, of which we have received reimbursement from the United Nations of approximately £70 million.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, while joining the noble Earl in rightly paying tribute to the performance of our Armed Forces in Bosnia and in his expression of sympathy to the relatives of those who have suffered, to continue the questioning of the noble Viscount, may I ask the Minister again whether there is any reason why the United Nations has not reimbursed the United Kingdom Government for the total cost of the Bosnian operation?

Earl Howe: My Lords, as it is a matter of topical discussion in the press, I am sure that the noble Lord is aware that the United Nations is suffering from severe cash flow problems at present. We are concerned by those problems. It is important that they are addressed. Indeed, that is one of the matters which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will address when he speaks to the United Nations today.

Channel Tunnel Rail Link: Claims for Blight

2.44 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why they have rejected the report of the House of Commons Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration upholding the finding of maladministration by the commissioner against the Department of Transport concerning a number of claims for blight caused by the Channel Tunnel rail link, and whether they will review this decision.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, the Government have not yet responded to the Select Committee's report, but we aim to do so shortly.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be wholly unprecedented for a government to ignore both the ombudsman's recommendations and those of the Select Committee? Does he further agree that the Select Committee has made its position absolutely plain on this: that there is a finding of maladministration to be supported and that

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the Government should act by granting compensation (in a very limited way) to those who have suffered the wrong? Does he also agree that Mr. Francis Maude, the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, gave evidence in December 1991, saying:

    "I am not aware of any circumstances in which [the Parliamentary Ombudsman's] recommendations have been ignored. This is the basis on which the Government has tended to work—and has, as far as I am aware, always worked—in that we do accept and implement the recommendations that are made"?

Does the Minister now agree that those people who have suffered from blight in this way are entitled to compensation?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, we responded fully to the Parliamentary Commissioner's initial investigation and when giving evidence to the Select Committee on this subject. My right honourable friend the then Secretary of State for Transport and, indeed, the Permanent Secretary gave full evidence to the Committee as to why they thought that the charges of maladministration should be rejected. Beyond that, we are due to make a full and formal response to the Select Committee's report and I would not want to pre-empt that response.

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