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Lord Moynihan: My Lords, given that earlier today the Prime Minister argued that the end justifies the means, even if you have to breach UN arms embargoes, tear up your ethical foreign policy and allow your Foreign Secretary to tell the House of Commons a very different story from the one made public today by the Prime Minister, when did the Minister learn about the Prime Minister's new foreign policy? And can the Minister explain to the House why such an extraordinary intervention by the Prime Minister was made when a Customs and Excise investigation into possible criminal charges is under way?
Finally, is it true that when the Foreign Secretary's ministerial boxes are returned by him, civil servants in the Foreign Office take it as read that the Foreign Secretary is content if papers are returned without written comments on them?
The Prime Minister said that. I made that clear to your Lordships. When did I first hear about it? At about lunch time today. The Prime Minister made that statement this morning. I reiterate to your Lordships,
The Prime Minister has said exactly the same as the Foreign Secretary has made clear: we are seeing an investigation by Customs and Excise and my right honourable friend, the Foreign Secretary, has made it clear to everyone that as soon as that investigation is completed he will initiate the investigation in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by a person from outside the Diplomatic Service or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The noble Lord asked when I knew of Sandline's investigations. I saw a report in the Observer shortly before 10th March. These were allegations but I would not expect to see detailed papers. As the whole House will know, the Minister that deals with these questions in the Lords is briefed for Lords' debates and I would not expect to see, and nor indeed would it be proper and right for me to see, papers which are meant for other Ministers in their own areas of responsibility.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the noble Baroness recall that on 9th March before my Question the following day I wrote to her not only drawing attention to the Observer article but also to the fuller account, and perhaps the more reliable one, given in the US News and World Report which repeated the allegations that had been made as long ago as 31st July 1997 in the Toronto Globe and Mail?
Would the Minister agree that while we should not assume that the allegations that have been made are true, neither should we assume that they are false, and that the Prime Minister, in paying tribute to Mr. Peter Penfold, has undermined the future inquiry announced by the Foreign Secretary on the complicity of Foreign Office officials in the alleged violations of Security Council Resolution 1132? And has he not also undermined the position of the Foreign Secretary himself in describing as "hoo ha" alleged breaches of international law which Mr. Cook has treated with the seriousness that they deserve?
Does not the Minister also agree that a further matter has now arisen; that is, the role of the Royal Navy in helping to provide services to the firm of so-called military consultants who are at the centre of this controversy? Is the Minister aware that contrary to the impression given by the Prime Minister this morning that peace had been restored in Sierra Leone, one of the legacies of the counter coup is that they have been left with an ethnic militia known as the Kamajors which is hostile to other groups within the territory and that far from promoting reconciliation, the restored government have charged 59 people with treason and locked up
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord says that in the same way as we must not judge that the allegations that have been made are true, we should not judge that they are false. That is self-evidently so. That is the reason that there is a Customs and Excise investigation in process. That is the reason my department is co-operating fully with that Customs and Excise investigation. It is also the reason that we shall continue beyond that to look at any other pieces of information which may be of relevance in this business.
I do not accept that what the Prime Minister said this morning in any way undermined the Customs and Excise investigation, or the very robust position which my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has taken on these issues. They are very serious issues indeed; my right honourable friend has emphasised that at every turn. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister also emphasised that this morning, saying that nobody should be involved in deliberately breaking a UN arms embargo. He could not have been more unequivocal in his condemnation of any such breach, if that is the case.
The noble Lord also raised questions concerning President Kabbah's regime at the moment. I do not have information on what is happening at this moment in Sierra Leone, but I am happy to write to the noble Lord on the specific points he raises. All I can say to him is that this Government have supported the process of conciliation, as I hope I made clear in answering Questions in your Lordships' House on the day that President Kabbah was restored to Government on 10th March. But I shall of course be happy to write to the noble Lord on the detailed point he raises.
Lord Kennet: My Lords, this is not a hostile question but a request for a piece of information which I believe would help public understanding. What aspects of Customs law might have been broken by a firm which transported arms from Bulgaria to Sierra Leone without, as I understand it, touching down in the United Kingdom?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am not an expert on Customs and Excise. I understand the allegation is that a UN arms embargo has been broken. That is a very serious question; and it is taken very seriously by this Government. I am afraid that we shall have to await the Customs and Excise report. As I am sure all noble Lords will agree, it would be wrong in any way to prejudice the outcome of the Customs and Excise investigation.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, does the noble Baroness recollect that only about a week ago this whole affair was a disgraceful matter, all got up by a bunch of mercenaries called Sandline? However, according to the Prime Minister this morning, it was all rather a wizard
Will the Minister tell me whether the Government interpret the UN resolution as being an embargo on the sale and transport of arms to the country called Sierra Leone or to the previous military regime in Sierra Leone?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not recognise the definition with which the noble Lord sought to characterise this debate. Nobody has described this as what he calls--I assume in an effort to be light-hearted--a wizard idea. The Prime Minister has taken this issue enormously seriously, as has my right honourable friend in his very robust responses on the issue.
The noble Lord asked a serious question which I shall attempt to answer. As I understand it, the Sierra Leone United Nations sanctions order prohibited sale or supply of arms to any destination for the purposes of delivery, directly or indirectly, to or to the order of a person connected with Sierra Leone. I understand that that is what is in the Sierra Leone United Nations order. I hope that that answers the specific point the noble Lord made.
The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, I am sorry to have to lumber yet again to my feet at Question Time. However, I think that it is this side's turn and then no doubt that of the noble Baroness.
Lord Peston: My Lords, none of us will disagree that we must wait for the two inquiries to take place. However, I believe my noble friend said that Ministers had no prior knowledge and gave no prior approval. Being herself a Minister, I think that she included herself. As regards the proceedings of your Lordships' House, is it not therefore a matter of honour that we do not remotely question that statement? Ministers have said something; my noble friend has repeated that on behalf of Ministers and on her own behalf. I would not wish anyone to stop asking any other question. However, I should take a dim view if we were to impugn the honour of a Minister in our own House, or other Ministers, when they have put on record a statement which is easily tested. They know whether it is true or false. They have said that they had no prior knowledge and gave no prior approval. Will my noble friend repeat that so that at least we know according to which rules we are currently playing.
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