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House of Lords

Wednesday, 22nd November 1995.

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

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford.

Former Yugoslavia: Russian Co-operation

Lord Hooson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to encourage NATO, in particular, and the western powers generally, to work as closely as possible with the Russians to search for an eventual solution to the problems of former Yugoslavia.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, we have supported efforts to involve Russia in a NATO-led peace implementation force. Provided command and control questions are resolved, we look forward to working alongside Russian troops in implementing the Dayton agreement.

Lord Hooson: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is it not clear that, although to a degree the Question has been overtaken by events, the long-term solution to Yugoslavia must depend to a very great degree on the co-operation of the Russians? To what extent is the Minister convinced that the Russians are not only co-operating as regards the present agreement but that they have an intention to enforce any arms embargo; otherwise one might have a repeat of the previous history of Yugoslavia, with one side supplying arms to a participant and another supplying arms to the other?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. I believe that he had some perception when he put this Question on the Order Paper. I shall be repeating a Statement from the other place later this afternoon. As regards the Russians, not only have we had good co-operation, particularly latterly, with them in the UN missions in both Bosnia and Croatia, but the Russians have agreed to play a continuing role in the implementation of the agreement reached at Dayton. We already have discussions well advanced with them on the NATO-led implementation force with whom they will work.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, can the noble Baroness elaborate a little about command and control? As I understand it, the force which is going to move into the former Yugoslavia is under NATO command. That is one of the stipulations in the Dayton agreement. Without wishing to pre-empt the discussion which will come later on the Statement, can the Minister say whether the Russians are prepared to accept NATO command and control; and, if so, will not the Russians have to be instructed on NATO identification and command codes; and is that a very good idea?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the noble Lord anticipates the Statement and some of its detail.

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For the time being I can assure him that IFOR--the implementation force--will be NATO-led. It will be under NATO command and control and the details are being worked out.

Lord Finsberg: My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the discussions with the Russians are with people like Mr. Kosirov, the Defence Minister, and Mr. Yeltsin, or in fact with people who may disappear in a month's time when the new Duma is elected?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, Mr. Ivanov, the Deputy Foreign Minister, has been leading the Russian delegation in Dayton. It has played a constructive political role throughout. I have every confidence that both he and others with whom he has been working will remain.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, have the Russians agreed to co-operate fully with the work of the war crimes tribunal and in particular to extradite any person charged with offences before that tribunal like Mr. Karadzic and General Mladic?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, we are getting rather deep into this subject. I ask your Lordships to await the Statement.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton: My Lords, bearing in mind the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, is my noble friend somewhat in agreement with it? Bearing in mind the Russian attitude to this problem over the past 140 years, is it realistic to expect them to do a complete volte-face, because leopards do not change their spots that deep?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I know that it will be difficult to accept, but the agreement arrived at over 21 days at Dayton has been so difficult to achieve that I do not believe that the Russians would not have given their commitment. While I understand the anxiety of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, we have to find a way to go forward. We cannot keep looking back 140 years.

Counterfeit Currency

2.42 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether counterfeit currency in sterling and foreign banknotes is being discovered on an increasing scale in the United Kingdom.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, there has been an increase in the numbers of counterfeit sterling banknotes, including counterfeits of Bank of England notes and notes of the Scottish and Northern Ireland banks, discovered in the United Kingdom in recent years. The vast majority of those finds were bulk seizures before the notes could enter circulation. Significant quantities of counterfeit foreign banknotes have also been found, again mainly in bulk seizures.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer although it contains

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disturbing information. As most of those who ultimately suffer from counterfeit currency are shoppers on the high street, is progress being made in identifying the culprits, whether in Britain or abroad?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, as I have explained, the figures relate to counterfeit notes which have been seized, usually in bulk. People have then been charged. The authorities in this country take the matter very seriously and work with authorities in other countries to make sure that the international aspect of the trade is made as difficult as possible. By a combination of good policing and the banks attempting to make their notes safe from counterfeiting, we hope to keep the problem under control.

Lord Renton: My Lords, as some expertise and a lot a vigilance is needed for ordinary people to detect forged notes, is there any hope that advice could be given to the public on how to do so?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for asking that question because it so happens that I have with me a leaflet that has been distributed--

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: --and we did not even agree that I should be asked this question! It so happens that I have with me a leaflet entitled Know your Banknotes, of which 6.5 million copies have been distributed. It gives people advice on what to look for, such as the feel of the paper, the quality of the printing, the watermark and the windowed metal thread.

Lord Eatwell: My Lords, does the Minister recall that on 17th December 1993 his noble friend Lord St. Davids, speaking on behalf of the Government, told your Lordships' House that banknotes, particularly Bank of England banknotes, were designed to make them,

    "as secure as possible from the threat of counterfeiting".--[Official Report, 17/12/93; col. 1518.]
That was the Government's justification for the confusing and muddy design of the banknotes with which we are now assailed in this country--a design with which any government that had an ounce of self-respect or pride in the monetary instruments of this country would not be associated. Given the figures that the Minister has just given for the increase in counterfeiting, is this not yet another government policy that has failed dismally?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I cannot recall my noble friend's remarks in 1993, but as I did not give any figures I am surprised that the noble Lord can attack me for them. The facts are quite simply that in 1993 a total of some £18 million of sterling counterfeit banknotes was found; the figure for 1994 was £17 million. That represents something like 0.02 per cent. of the number of banknotes in circulation at any given time.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, while I have no desire to echo the tiresome lecture that has just been given by the noble Lord opposite, and although I have

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no expert knowledge, would I be right in thinking that the use of low quality paper for printing banknotes is itself a powerful aid to those whose business it is to circulate counterfeit banknotes?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I do not think that that is quite right. As I said earlier, the feel of the paper can be an indication of counterfeiting. The quality of the paper on which banknotes are printed is good and is usually better than that obtained by the counterfeiters. The counterfeiters have found life easier with superior and new printing technologies which have given them the opportunity to be cleverer in their counterfeiting. That means that the authorities must--and do--attempt to find even cleverer ways of preventing that counterfeiting by making proper notes look and feel proper.

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