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Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I am sorry the noble Baroness is not pleased with my replies; the person who tabled the Question seemed to be satisfied. The whole situation is changing. I thought I had made that extremely clear in my first two replies. I said in my first Answer that the draft guidance covers what the arrangements for commissioning specialist services should comprise and which services should be included. The draft guidance sets out as a starting point the long list of specialist services mentioned by the Audit Commission in its report Higher Purchase. That list will clearly need some amendment--additions, deletions and refinements--before the final guidance is issued.

I have been asked to consider what constitutes specialist services, and what should be included. The aim is to be as inclusive and cover as broad a range as possible in the consultation on the draft guidance. The document has been widely circulated. Recipients have been asked to suggest anyone they think has been wrongly omitted from distribution. The pack has been published on the NHS Internet site. The whole matter of guidance for groups such as the Muscular Dystrophy Groups is at the heart of the draft guidance which at the moment is subject to consultation. As I said, the system is changing.

Armed Forces: Minimum Age

2.48 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): My Lords, the UK has played, and will continue to play, an active role in the negotiations on the optional protocol. We have indicated in the past that we would prefer to retain our current policies the better

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to ensure full manning of the Armed Forces and their continued operational effectiveness. However, the text of the protocol has yet to be finalised and any decision on UK ratification will be made only once the text has been agreed.

Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is my noble friend aware that according to a report published in 1996, over 33 countries had young people under the age of 18 involved in armed conflicts, including the United Kingdom, which, again according to reports, employed about 200 in the Gulf area during the Gulf War? Is the Minister further aware that discussions on the protocol have continued since 1993? Therefore, would it not be a good idea for the UK Government to give a firm lead by stating publicly their support for the protocol, which surely would be in keeping with our ethical foreign policy?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, as regards progress on the protocol, the chairman of the working group is hoping to bring forward some proposals by the end of this year; and the working group will meet early next year to consider taking things further forward.

The practice of Her Majesty's Armed Forces varies from service to service. I understand that the Royal Air Force tries to ensure that none of its recruits under the age of 17½ years is exposed to operational situations. In the Army, the limit is 17¼. At the moment, there are 55 under 18 year-olds in the Army in Northern Ireland and 11 in the former Yugoslavia. However, in Northern Ireland recruits are confined to barracks until they are aged 18. As regards the Navy, exceptionally a few personnel may be deployed in Her Majesty's ships and as members of Royal Marine units which are located away from the United Kingdom and redeployed without returning to base. I have asked for this matter to be reviewed.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, will the Minister consider carefully the impact of the United Kingdom position on that of other nations now discussing the protocol? The noble Lord will be aware that in the spring of 1997 under the previous administration the United Kingdom raised a number of objections to the protocol. In view of the fact that today children as young as 12 and 10 are being recruited into armies, some of them non-governmental armies, will the noble Lord consider Britain taking a much stronger lead on such a matter which involves great suffering in many parts of the world?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I take seriously everything the noble Baroness says about what happens in other parts of the world which are outwith the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government. To a large extent, our policies are driven by the school leaving age in this country. If one loses the opportunity to recruit school leavers at the age of 16, one may never get them. That is part of the problem. There are two separate questions. The first is the recruitment age, and the second is the age at which one exposes young people to armed service in situations of conflict.

Lord Bridges: My Lords, is the heart of this difficulty the fact that the present text of the protocol

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does not distinguish between recruitment for training in the armed services and enlistment for active service? As this country has excellent training institutions for young servicemen--I think in particular of the Royal Navy at Dartmouth and the former HMS "Ganges"--would it not be in our interest to persuade those negotiating the protocol to make that distinction? Have the Government sought that endeavour? I speak as a former chairman of UNICEF, United Kingdom. I shall be attending a UNICEF conference in Switzerland in a few weeks' time. If it were of interest to the noble Lord, I could make some inquiries on this matter.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, the noble Lord makes exactly the same distinction as I initially made between recruitment for training and exposing young people to hostilities. I shall certainly be happy to avail myself of his very kind suggestion. I spent 12 happy months on HMS "Ganges" many years ago. I did not climb the mast, I am glad to say. I am fully seized of the excellent training that the services give to young people. That is something that we shall not lightly throw away.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, I accept the Minister's distinction between recruitment and engagement in hostilities, but does my noble friend recollect that ILO Convention 138 precludes the employment of the under-18s in any work which is liable to endanger their health or safety? While that convention does not apply to armed forces, do the Government agree that it would be curious to protect the under-18s from dangerous employment but actually to send them into battle?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am not sure of the date of the ILO convention to which my noble and learned friend refers. However, it is a situation which has been ongoing for many years. To confirm what I said in reply to my noble friend Lady Lockwood, I have asked for the situation of 16 year-olds serving in Her Majesty's ships to be reviewed.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I am sorry to hear what the Minister has to say. I can easily visualise him as a button boy on HMS "Ganges". To what extent do the Government differentiate between a minimum age for serving in the Armed Forces, for voting and for engaging in sexual activities?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, that takes us a little wide of the original Question. Only those who have had the pleasure of serving on HMS "Ganges" know that the noble Lord's reference to a "button boy" was in no way improper.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I cannot cap that! If my noble friend intends to persist in his present policies, how does he explain the logic, not to mention the morality, of denying the under-18s the right to vote on policies yet expecting them to fight, and if necessary to die, for those policies?

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Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am the last one to stand at the Dispatch Box in your Lordships' House and discourse upon matters of morality. However, I merely point out to my noble friend that all these young people are in Her Majesty's services as volunteers, of their own free will.

Litter and Refuse Problem

2.56 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to deal with the problem of litter both in town and country.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, local authorities and others are under a duty to ensure that their land is kept clear of litter and refuse, and it is a criminal offence for a person to drop anything in a public place that causes the defacement of that place by litter.

The Government fund the Tidy Britain Group to advise them on litter and to promote its proper disposal. Their National Spring Clean campaign is taking place this month.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the optimism of the former government in suggesting that the problem was rapidly diminishing was unjustified? Is my noble friend aware that last week in two 100-yard stretches of a country lane recently cleaned by a local authority, I counted over 100 and over 95 items of litter? In the centre of a small town there was at least five times as much litter within five yards of the litter bins provided by the local authority as there was within them. Is it not clear that the litter legislation is not effective? Can action be taken to improve the situation, otherwise the United Kingdom will remain the most litter strewn country in north west Europe?

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