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Lord Higgins: We are grateful for that explanation. We will study what the Minister said very carefully.

Earl Russell: I, too, would like to thank the Minister warmly for that amendment and also for her further reflections. The Government say what I was afraid they would say, but a fact is a fact.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 25, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 26 agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Amendment of enactments relating to child support]:

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No 104:

(b) in subsection (1)(b), after "made" there shall be inserted "or, as the case may be, treated as made".").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No 105:

    Page 100, line 19, at end insert--

("( ) In section 33 (liability orders), after subsection (5) there shall be inserted--
"(6) Where regulations have been made under section 29(3)(a)--
(a) the liable person fails to make a payment (for the purposes of subsection (1)(a) of this section); and
(b) a payment is not paid (for the purposes of subsection (3)),
unless the payment is made to, or through, the person specified in or by virtue of those regulations for the case of the liable person in question."").

The noble Baroness said: This is the last of the amendments to the Child Support Act.

Amendment No. 105 is a technical amendment to put beyond doubt the intentions when maintenance remains due if payment has not been made in the way that the regulations require it to be made. When the CSA is arranging the collection of child support maintenance, it will notify the non-resident parent of the amount, how and when the payments are to be

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made and who should receive them. The notification which imposes a legal obligation on the non-resident parent will state that the payments should either be made direct to the parent with care to or through the Secretary of State to any other such persons that the Secretary of State may specify.

If the CSA is unable to obtain regular payments of maintenance, for example, where the non-resident parent is self-employed or where a deduction from earnings order is ineffective, enforcement action will be considered. The agency must, as a first step, obtain a liability order from magistrates' courts in England and Wales or sheriff courts in Scotland. Where such a liability order is considered being made the magistrates' or the sheriff's office have to be satisfied that the payments are due and have not been paid. The intention has always been that this means maintenance payments as directed by the CSA. However, some non-resident parents may claim that they have met their maintenance liability by making payment in a variety of other ways, for example, by giving pocket money direct to the child or paying for treats. To take such payments into account would be operationally difficult to manage and run counter to the objectives underlying the child support scheme. For example, the CSA might have to become involved in resolving disputes between the parents as to whether the payments had actually been made and, at the extreme, fathers could give all the maintenance to their children as pocket money and leave the mother unable to buy basics such as food and clothing.

This amendment will ensure that it is absolutely clear to everyone, both parents and the courts, that maintenance payments must be made to the person specified.

I would, therefore, ask your Lordships to accept this amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendments Nos 106 to 108:

    Page 100, line 36, at end insert (", and after "28A" there shall be inserted "or 28G"").

    Page 101, line 2, at end insert--

("( ) In section 58 (short title, commencement and extent)--
(a) in subsection (9), after "35" there shall be inserted ", 40"; and
(b) in subsection (10), after "28" there shall be inserted ", 40A".").
Page 101, line 5, after ("effect;") insert--

("( ) in paragraph 14 (which provides for consolidated applications and assessments), the existing text shall be sub-paragraph (1) of that paragraph, and after that sub-paragraph there shall be inserted--
"(2) In sub-paragraph (1), the references (however expressed) to applications for maintenance calculations include references to applications treated as made.";").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Baroness Amos: I beg to move that the House be now resumed.

15 May 2000 : Column 36

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Sierra Leone

4.36 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on Sierra Leone which has been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence. The Statement is as follows.

    "With permission, I would like to make a statement about Sierra Leone. In his statement last week my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary informed the House about the serious security situation in Sierra Leone and the implications for British citizens and others for whom we have consular responsibility. He said that the British Government had taken the precautionary measure of deploying military assets to the region. British forces were deployed to allow for the safe evacuation of British nationals and other entitled personnel.

    "Essential to this task has been the securing of Lungi Airport which, as the Foreign Secretary said, will be extremely valuable in allowing UN forces to build up to their mandated strength over the next month. We have seen evidence of this in the recent arrival of two additional Jordanian companies, numbering some 300 personnel. This remains the clear and unambiguous position on the deployment of British forces. It was re-affirmed by the Prime Minister on 11th May, and it remains our position today.

    "I am confident that the House would agree that the deployment of UK forces to Sierra Leone has been an outstanding success. Faced with a rapidly deteriorating security situation, UK forces have evacuated almost 450 people. The airport was secured quickly and effectively. Although we have consistently made it clear that UK forces will not be deployed in a combat role in support of UNAMSIL, the presence of UK troops on the ground has helped stabilise the situation in Sierra Leone. We are providing technical advice to the UN as to how matters might be further improved. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Armed Forces on the work they have done so far. It is a remarkable demonstration of their flexibility and speed of deployment identified as key requirements in the Strategic Defence Review. Both President Kabbah and Kofi Annan have welcomed the contribution that British forces are making.

    "The situation in Sierra Leone remains volatile and we must all be concerned about the situation, in particular, for the detainees. We have received reports that a number of UN personnel have been released, and I understand that the British officer, Major Andrew Harrison, is fit and well under the

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    protection of the Indian battalion in the east of Sierra Leone. While this is welcome news, we continue to work for the safe release of all those currently being detained by the RUF.

    "Freetown remains calm but tense. Outside Freetown, clashes between government troops and the rebels continue. For the moment, the rebels appear to be on the back foot. The government of Sierra Leone and UN forces have retaken the initiative. The arrival of Jordanian reinforcements at the weekend has been a significant boost to the UN mission. Reports to me this morning from the Chief of the Defence Staff have been encouraging.

    "The forces we have deployed are those we consider necessary to carry out their primary task effectively. The First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment is currently shouldering the main burden in Lungi. But the maritime forces we have deployed--including our amphibious capability--provide vital flexibility for the Joint Force Commander in what remains a volatile and potentially dangerous situation. If attacked, our forces have the rules of engagement and firepower to allow them to respond robustly.

    "In that context, while our forces remain, we shall do what we can to assist the UN mission. Its success is essential to ensuring long-term peace and stability in Sierra Leone. UN forces have been doing a difficult job under uncertain and dangerous circumstances, disarming large numbers of ex-combatants despite not being up to full strength in terms of numbers of personnel and equipment. Our presence has helped to increase confidence and has contributed to the stabilisation of the situation.

    "As a result of our force's presence we have been able to give significant assistance. British officers are providing advice to UNAMSIL. They are giving technical military advice to the government of Sierra Leone, and to the UN in New York. We have assisted the UN with the transport of vehicles into theatre by air. We have airlifted 230 Jordanians by helicopter from the airport at Lungi to Hastings, where the Jordanian battalion is strengthening its position.

    "I recognise that there have been questions about the length of our commitment. The UN plans to build up its forces to the authorised level of about 11,000 over the next month. We are in contact with those countries that are contributing troops to the UN force, particularly with India, Jordan, Bangladesh and Nigeria, urging them to bring in troops as soon as possible in order to reinforce UNAMSIL. We would expect that once the UN mission has been reinforced by these troops, our role at the airport would no longer be required. I can assure the House that UK forces will stay no longer than is necessary.

    "However, even when our forces do withdraw, we will not be ending our political or diplomatic support for the UN and for Sierra Leone. When it is safe to do so, we will continue with our programme of assistance to help train and build effective, democratically accountable Sierra Leonean armed forces, which we announced in April.

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    "We will also continue to contribute military observers to the UN mission, and if required, technical advice to UNAMSIL and other support.

    "I have made it clear that we are committed to the safe evacuation and protection of our nationals and to supporting the UN in its mission to restore stability in Sierra Leone. The deployment of British forces for a limited period on these tasks is a model of the rapid deployment concept that was at the heart of the Strategic Defence Review. It has been much admired and acknowledged by all concerned. Our Armed Forces are doing an excellent job, which is acknowledged around the world. But there is no question of the UK taking over the UN mission or of being drawn into the civil war".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I thank the Minister most warmly for repeating the Statement made by her right honourable friend in another place.

On Friday, while the noble Baroness did not answer many of the questions we asked, she gave us a very good sketch of what was going on in Sierra Leone. I am afraid that what the right honourable Member has said today has really not added anything to that.

My noble friends and I asked the noble Baroness a number of questions which I must now press. The first can be dealt with quickly. Who is to pay for all this? Will it come out of the Ministry of Defence budget or the Foreign Office contingency reserve? I hope most sincerely that the Ministry of Defence will not have to pay for it.

Secondly, I must return to what was a decent little skirmish between the noble Baroness and my noble friend Lord Attlee on the rules of engagement. Without intruding on private grief as to how it went, my noble friend did not press the matter but I am afraid that I must now do so. What are the rules of engagement in Sierra Leone? The Statement is less than clear about that. In what circumstances will British troops become involved? What if United Nations troops are attacked? That was a point which I raised on Friday, mentioning Zambians. I cannot remember whether Zambians are actually there. If a unit of the UN is attacked but the British forces are not, do they stand back and do nothing or do they become involved in the conflict?

Those British forces have now done what they set out to do. British citizens have been evacuated and Lungi airport has been secured. Why, therefore, will they remain? What is the purpose of that? Reports show that British troops are patrolling in Freetown itself and in the countryside in support of the United Nations. That does not seem to be limited solely to the aims for which they have gone there.

With those units has come a very large task force. Will Sea Harriers be involved and in what capacity? I am rather worried about the thought of keeping 1,800 Royal Marines on HMS "Ocean" for a month. I think there will not be very much left of the inside of HMS "Ocean".

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The period of deployment for which the British troops are there needs to be clarified. Is it to be four weeks, as we are told? What are they to do in that time? Will they then withdraw, regardless of the conditions? If they stay, what will be the effect on other countries planning to send troops as part of the United Nations force? It is inevitable, and always has been, that the British are carrying the bulk of the burden. That will not encourage other countries to send their people out at once. When we come to the end of the four weeks, how will the British troops get out? All those are vital questions to which I hope we shall have some replies.

I must remind the Government of what happened in Bosnia. There, UN troops stood by while local inhabitants were massacred. Do British forces have a mandate to prevent that?

In 1993, after the Somalia conflict, the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee produced a report in which it said that before the United Nations became involved in an area of conflict, that should be tested by the Security Council against the following key considerations: first, whether the UN has a role for itself in the conflict in question; secondly, whether the objectives of the proposed military intervention are realistic; thirdly, given the likelihood of escalation into more and more intervention of a political and military kind, whether the Security Council is prepared to recognised the full consequences. It then went on to state:

    "Finally, and most crucially, if the Security Council is so committed, are Member States prepared to mobilise the resources, manpower cash and equipment",

and so on. Have the Government considered all those matters, as they should have done?

I have one or two other small questions. What is General Guthrie doing there? The noble Baroness told me on Friday that his visit is coincidental and that he is travelling round the countryside. But it does seem a bit of a coincidence.

Even Brigadier Richards seems to present a problem. He is in Sierra Leone primarily as adviser to the lawful government and to help the United Nations forces to get things right. Command of British forces was given to him as an add-on. He must be suffering from wearing too many hats. It is not easy for him.

I suspect a lack of total co-operation between the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence. Can the Minister reassure noble Lords that those two departments are singing the same tune?

I must and do pay great tribute to what British forces are doing. However, we have not been told what it is. I wonder whether the Government know.

4.50 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for kindly repeating the Statement made in another place. We, on these Benches, fully support the actions taken by the Government. The collapse of the UN mission in Sierra Leone would have the most disastrous consequences for the whole of central Africa and for the United Nations.

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Those of us with long memories may recall what happened between the wars with regard to the situation in Abyssinia which heralded the end of the League of Nations. I believe that most of us would hate to see any such parallel drawn in the period after the Second World War. However, there are questions which need to be asked.

The increase in morale among government troops and United Nations troops as a result of the appearance of the British Parachute Regiment and supporting naval and military forces has been remarkable. It is clear that both government forces and UN forces are fighting with a degree of commitment they simply did not show before. That, by itself, is an astonishing tribute to the organisation, effectiveness and efficiency of British troops, which I am sure all in this House profoundly welcome.

Can the Minister confirm the most recent indications that, as a result of the intervention of Charles Taylor of Liberia, 150 hostage UN troops have now been released, or have the figures increased in the past few hours? Does the Minister agree that perhaps one of the less fortunate aspects of this welcome release of hostages is that Mr Taylor is a close ally of Foday Sankoh, who was the leader of the rebel movement? Can the Minister tell us whether she has any more up-to-date information about the whereabouts of Mr Sankoh? Perhaps I may suggest that it would be better to stop calling him "the leader of a rebel group" and call him what he is; namely, a bandit who has helped to betray his own government.

I strongly agree with the question posed by the Opposition spokesman on defence, the noble Lord, Lord Burnham; we need to press a little further on the issue of the rules of engagement and on whether the UN mandate might be strengthened. Given the breaking of the peace agreement by one of its major protagonists, it becomes more and more clear that we are looking not at a peacekeeping effort but at a peacemaking effort.

My final question is lengthy. It seems that the strategy of Her Majesty's Government--I may be misinterpreting it, but it seems a sensible strategy--is to hold Lungi airport and the surrounding area in order to ensure that reinforcements to the UN troops already in Sierra Leone can be made over the next few weeks. I understand that the governments of India, Bangladesh and Jordan have all confirmed their willingness to send additional troops. That is good news. If the UN can be built up to force, it may be able to re-establish an element of law and order and end the terrible atrocities occurring in Sierra Leone.

However, as I understand it, there is one serious problem. To get to the airport, those countries will require heavy lift equipment which is not available to them. From reports which I have not yet been able to confirm, I understand that that equipment would be available from the United States but that the price being asked is beyond the means of those poor governments to meet. Is it not an essential element in the strategy of United Nations peacemaking and peacekeeping that the wealthy member states of the

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UN begin to understand that their responsibility must be to provide essential equipment to enable the poor member states of the UN to do what they are doing; that is, to offer their soldiers who are risking their lives? It would be absurd and wrong for the wealthy member states of the UN not to do what they can do; that is, to ensure that those troops get to Sierra Leone within the next month in time to rescue the situation.

4.55 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for the welcome they gave the Statement. Having just listened to his right honourable colleague in another place, I am bound to say that I was not tremendously surprised by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Burnham. None the less, I was disappointed in the tone he took.

It is not surprising that the Statement did not particularly add anything to what I announced to your Lordships on Friday. Another place did not have the benefit of a defence debate. I was therefore able to bring your Lordships more up to date than those in another place. I thought that that was the right thing to do. If that was a judgment with which noble Lords wish to quarrel, I hope that they will say so. I thought it was correct and what your Lordships would have expected.

The noble Lord, Lord Burnham, asked who would pay for the operation. We are recording the costs involved. I can tell your Lordships that to date it looks as if about £3 million in extra costs have been identified. However, I am certain that further consequential costs will be identified. We have agreed with colleagues in Her Majesty's Treasury and the FCO to monitor such costs and shall decide attribution later.

A great deal has been said about rules of engagement. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, told me on Friday that he would not press that question. I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, decided that now is the time to do so. I informed your Lordships that there are robust rules of engagement. In my period in your Lordships' House--I am, of course, relatively inexperienced compared to the noble Lord, Lord Burnham--I have never heard your Lordships discuss rules of engagement in any detail. The reason for that is always that we do not want to undermine the operational effectiveness of our troops in theatre. If that has been true on previous occasions, it is equally true today. However, perhaps I can try to help the noble Lord a little further.

I repeat that there is no question of UK forces being deployed in a combat role in support of UNAMSIL. I repeat that, if attacked, United Kingdom forces have the rules of engagement and the fire power to allow them to respond robustly, and they will do so. The rules of engagement allow our troops to defend themselves in the way we would expect. I hope that the noble Lord is content with that answer. Although I may be willing to trust the noble Lord with more information, I am bound to tell him that I would not be willing to trust the RUF with further information on that issue.

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Our troops remain at Lungi airport. I believe it was clear from the comments made last week by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary that not only are they there to secure the egress of British and other nationals, for whom we have consular responsibility; they are also there to secure the access of UN forces. That was made clear last Monday as it has been on every occasion on which Government Ministers have addressed these issues.

The noble Lord asked about the presence of the Navy. The task force is there to secure flexibility for British troops. Let us not forget that when British troops went to Sierra Leone, we had little accurate information on what was happening on the ground. It was judged essential that we had the support of the British Navy offshore. That was the unanimous recommendation of the Chiefs of Staff. I believe that noble Lords would be extraordinarily disappointed and anxious had Ministers not taken that entirely sensible, right and proper advice.

The noble Lord asked about the period of deployment. General Sir Charles Guthrie has said that United Kingdom forces would remain in place for around a month. In interviews yesterday I believe that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said much the same. It is reasonable to suppose at this stage that the Government believe that it is important to have British troops in place in Sierra Leone for about that length of time. Of course we hope to see the imminent arrival of Jordanian, Indian, Bangladeshi and Nigerian forces. I do not believe that because we have gone in, others who have committed themselves in international fora to sending their troops will now decide that it is no longer necessary to go. I simply do not believe that that will be the case. We are urging those troops to move into Sierra Leone and it is for that purpose that we have secured the position at the airport.

I believe that from the beginning the British role has been entirely clear. I am sorry that the noble Lord is worried about the position on HMS "Ocean". As I have said, the presence of the ship in the area is precautionary and the move has been made on clear military advice.

I believe that I can be a little more welcoming in response to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. I agree with the noble Baroness that this has been a remarkable and effective operation by our British troops. I feel extraordinarily proud of them and I know that all my colleagues share those feelings. However, I have to say that I am sorry that the Official Opposition have perhaps decided to use this situation for political argument. I feel that that is inappropriate.

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