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Lord Whitty: My Lords, if the noble Earl refers to education action zone fora, that matter is covered by the school standards Bill before the House. The noble Baroness shakes her head. It is included in a clause that we shall, I hope, debate reasonably shortly. The education action zone forum will consist of representatives of the schools within the forum and members from local business and other interested bodies, including in most cases the local education authority.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that frank and open reply. I hope that a copy of the letter will be placed in the Library. Can the Minister explain to me why the Foreign Secretary regards this episode as a serious matter and cause for an inquiry or investigation, whereas the Prime Minister regards it all as an "overblown hoo-ha"? Is there a contradiction of attitudes there?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: No, my Lords, there is no contradiction at all. I shall explain why to the House. First, I shall ensure that a copy of the letter goes into the Library of the House. We all regard this issue as a serious matter. The Prime Minister made that very clear when he spoke earlier this week. He made it very clear indeed that the alleged breaking of UN sanctions was something that the Government could never condone. In that he was supporting my right honourable friend who, throughout all this, has made his position very clear as well. I think what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was referring to
Viscount Waverley: My Lords, has Parliament lost sight of the essence of the problem and the practical reality? Have we forgotten that a murderous regime, unanimously condemned by the Commonwealth, the OAU and the United Nations, has been brought to an end, that the arms were probably always destined for ECOMOG and were therefore not in defiance of the UN resolution and that we should now be encouraging a transparent trial of the perpetrators?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course I agree. What is important now is the future of Sierra Leone. On his return to Freetown, President Kabbah spoke of the need for reconciliation and the need to establish a broad-based government. We and others will continue to support President Kabbah and his government to implement such policies and to enable all Sierra Leoneans to participate in building a peaceful democratic future.
Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, since the Statement on Monday there have been press reports of a letter sent to the Prime Minister from President Kabbah. Without prejudice to the investigations which my noble friend mentioned, can she say whether the letter sheds any light on the situation?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I think my noble friend is referring to President Kabbah's letter which made it clear that his government were told by my right honourable friend the Minister of State at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh that we would provide diplomatic and other support to him, but that HMG could not provide arms.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, on the subject of President Kabbah's letter, would the Minister care to comment on the defamatory allegations made by President Kabbah against certain individuals in this country and the fact that copies of the letter were circulated by the Press Office in Downing Street?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am pleased to be able to confirm the Prime Minister's spokesman's briefing, which made clear that Her Majesty's Government could not associate with some parts of the letter, including the part to which the noble Lord referred. I can confirm that the Government do
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, can the Minister say whether three days before Customs officers raided Sandline on Friday 3rd April, Tony Lloyd, the relevant Foreign Office Minister, was in fact in Sierra Leone?
Lord Ewing of Kirkford: This side, Shirley, you will need to behave yourself! My Lords, will my noble friend accept my warm and sincere congratulations on the speed with which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office replied to the letter referred to in the Question? Seven days after the letter was received, the company received a reply. The noble Lord who tabled the Question is a very good friend of mine. He was a Minister in the Welsh Office in the last government. If you wrote to the Welsh Office at that time, you were lucky if you received a reply in seven weeks, let alone seven days!
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I apologise for trespassing on the excellent question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Ewing. I wish to ask the noble Baroness one question about the wider implications of the relationship between the Foreign Office and Sandline. It arose earlier in Papua New Guinea when the High Commission was used by the director of Sandline for a press conference. It has arisen again over Sierra Leone. Will the noble Baroness ask her office to look closely at the relationship and ensure that it is in every way consonant with the Foreign Office's responsibilities?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, my Lords, I can do that. I am unable to tell the noble Baroness whether the wider considerations to which she drew our attention will be within the terms of reference of the investigation which my right honourable friend has already announced. But I shall ensure that my right honourable friend is aware of the noble Baroness's suggestion.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, do the Government agree that the recent controversy indicates a real need to regulate mercenary companies? Will they do so within this country and seek mechanisms for international approval of mercenary operations?
Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on India: Nuclear Tests. I would like to take this opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion should be confined to brief comments and questions for clarification.