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There is no question but that this is an absolutely essential power in terrorist circumstances. Obviously the police need to keep people away from anywhere where they think a bomb may be liable to go off; they need to keep people away from land or buildings which are being searched for weapons or for evidence; and they need to keep people away from an area which is dangerous because of the damage caused to buildings by an explosion.
But, of course, the power can cause extreme inconvenience. People can be forced out of their homes; businesses in a cordoned-off area may have to close; and road closures obviously disrupt the activities of a locality. In most cases, closure would be necessary only for a matter of hours; where there has been an explosion, it could be a matter of perhaps two or three days in order to search for evidence and to remove debris. I wonder whether it is really necessary to provide that a police superintendent, on his or her own authority, can impose a cordon for as long as 14 days, and then extend it for a further 14 days.
The amendment seeks to impose a limitation of four days. I suggest that that would be sufficient in the great majority of cases. There may be a few cases where a longer period is needed but, given the serious effect of a cordon, I suggest that an extension beyond four days should require a court order. I beg to move.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: In our view, these amendments would significantly alter the way in which the cordon designation regime under the Bill would work. As the noble Lord explained, they would allow a cordon designation under police authorisation to last for only four days as compared with the current 14 days, extendable to 28 days, under the Bill. The amendments would also introduce a judicial involvement into the process.
This is, essentially, an operational matter. Having listened to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, of how one needs to be "expedient" in these circumstances--hence the use of that term in the earlier debate--we feel that this is a matter of expedience and of good operational sense. For that reason it would probably be entirely inappropriate to involve the courts.
I fully accept that a cordon imposes some limitation on the right of people to pass by and to have access to areas that they might otherwise freely use. But, after all, these powers are usually used in operational circumstances--for example, where an explosion has taken place; where evidence needs to be gathered; where the complexity of an investigation may grow; and in extreme circumstances of great tragedy, where many people have been affected, injured or perhaps even killed. It may well be necessary in such circumstances for the cordoned-off area to remain in that state for a particularly long period of time.
I think that the measures we have put in place, which allow 14 days and then a further period, will cover most circumstances. But, where the forensic examination of explosives at a bomb scene is involved, it may well be that the area will need to be cordoned
Ultimately, of course, the use of the power in any particular set of circumstances could be tested by judicial review. After 2nd October this year it will be open to those concerned properly to exercise convention rights.
Lord Monson: Before the Minister sits down, can he tell the Committee how many times in the past 30 years in the United Kingdom a cordon has been in place for longer than 96 hours, which is four days? It surely cannot have been very often.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I suspect that the noble Lord is right, that it has not been very often. I do not have the data in regard to the effect of cordons, the length of time they have been in place and the number of instances, but I undertake to make inquiries in that regard. I am sure that the noble Lord will accept that there may well be circumstances--perhaps as with Canary Wharf or the Manchester bombing and so on--where, in extremis, it will be essential to have an area cordoned off for quite a long period of time,
Lord Goodhart: We will consider carefully what the Minister said. I do not hold out much hope for judicial review as a remedy. Given that the maximum period of time that cordoning can last is 28 days, it would be a very hopeful litigant who thought he might get a decision from a court within that time. We will consider that. I should certainly find it helpful if before Report stage the Minister could let me know how many cases there have been where cordons have been maintained for a period of longer than four days.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I gave an indication to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, that I would make investigations about that and of course any information I produce as a result of my investigations I shall share with your Lordships and place a copy in the Library.
"In my Statement last week, I informed the House about our forces' deployments to Sierra Leone. British troops are in Sierra Leone to get British nationals out, and to help get UN reinforcements in. That is what our troops were sent to do. It is what they will carry on doing as long as is necessary. They are doing this job exceptionally well. British forces in Sierra Leone have secured Lungi airport while UN forces are building up and, following the attack on the Paras last week, they have moved light guns ashore and conducted reconnaissance flights to assist in that task.
"Separately, British officers are providing military advice to UNAMSIL, the government of Sierra Leone, and the UN in New York. Our aim is to help the UN create a more effective UN force in Sierra Leone, one that can restore peace and order in Sierra Leone and help the government of Sierra Leone re-establish stability.
"This strategy is making significant progress. In the past week we have seen the arrival of capable and effective UN reinforcements through Lungi airport. The RUF has been pushed back by the forces of the government of Sierra Leone. We have seen Foday Sankoh, the RUF leader, arrested and detained by the Sierra Leone authorities. This is significant. He is ultimately responsible for the actions of the rebels he leads. His future is for the government of Sierra Leone to decide, but the RUF must be clear that the violence must stop, and that the peace process must be carried forward.
"I should like to inform the House of changes in our military deployments following this encouraging progress in the UN build-up. As I made clear last week, our intention is that UK forces will stay in Sierra Leone no longer than is necessary. Indeed, UNAMSIL is preparing the way for a formal take-over of the UK's role at the airport in due course.
"The Spearhead Battalion group has played an outstandingly successful role in securing the airport since it arrived earlier this month. Conditions actually on the ground are difficult. Living conditions are extremely basic and the environment in which it is operating is hot, humid and thoroughly unpleasant. Furthermore, it needs now to prepare for other duties facing it later this year. The Government have therefore decided to replace the 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment, which will start to return to the UK this week, with 42 Commando Royal Marines. This has the practical advantage that it can be sustained logistically from the Amphibious Group of HMS "Ocean" just offshore. This will enable us to continue to secure Lungi during the continued build-up of UN forces over the period to mid-June, and to do so without ourselves over-taxing the limited infrastructure of the airport.
"This changeover will represent the first stage of our plan to withdraw the bulk of our deployed force by the previously announced timetable of mid-June. This recognises the other commitments that our Armed Forces have and my concern to avoid adding to the pressures on them. It also demonstrates the utility and effectiveness of the flexible, balanced force that we sent to the region.
"Looking ahead to when the main UK forces do withdraw, advance elements of the UK-led international military assistance training team, announced by the Prime Minister on 27th March, will be arriving in Freetown very shortly. The training team is part of the Government's wider programme of assistance in helping the government in Sierra Leone restore peace and stability after eight years of brutal civil war. The team will provide advice and training to help the government of Sierra Leone re-build a new, effective, democratically accountable armed force and Ministry of Defence in line with the Lome peace agreement.
"Perhaps I may also take this opportunity to assure the House that we will also continue to be very mindful of the situation regarding the detainees, the delicate position of Major Andrew Harrison, and work on the continuing search for the missing aid worker Alan Smith.
"Creating new, democratically accountable armed forces in Sierra Leone is vital to the long-term restoration of peace and security in the country. The UK will provide the majority of the personnel, but the team will be a multinational effort. We are encouraging other countries with an interest in building peace in Sierra Leone to contribute to building it up--as soon as it is safe to do so--to a team of about 90 strong.
"Given the return to violence by the RUF, we will also be giving the Sierra Leone army access, if needed for operations and under the supervision of British officers, to stocks of light weapons and ammunition. The precise distribution of arms and
"Our Armed Forces are doing an excellent job, as has been widely acknowledged both here and internationally. Our servicemen and women can be justifiably proud of the job they have done. What we are now setting in place are the arrangements for our continuing support to the government of Sierra Leone.
"Our deployment has been a practical example of the British ground forces being a force for good and has clearly demonstrated the flexible deployment concept that was at the heart of the Strategic Defence Review. We are showing both that we can deploy forces rapidly in response to a crisis but also that we will withdraw them when we judge it is right to do so.
"In summary, our immediate mission remains the same: to secure the airport for evacuation purposes and to allow the reinforcement of the UN force. Our assumptions on timing remain the same: the build-up of UN forces between now and mid-June is on schedule. The replacement of the Paras by the Marines is a sensible military step which preserves our capability on the ground for the remainder of this mission, while allowing the Parachute Regiment to return to the UK.
"We will continue to do all we reasonably can to help the UN achieve its mission, including with advice and logistical support. Britain will continue to stand by the people of Sierra Leone in their search for permanent peace."
Lord Burnham: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement made in another place by his right honourable friend the Secretary of State. As the Secretary of State has rightly said, a major and justified tribute should be paid to the work of the British forces in Sierra Leone. By all we see and hear, they are doing the most remarkable job. I am sure that they will continue to do so but I trust that they will not need to do so for too long.
I must again ask about the aims of the operation. The Statement says that the aims of going in were the evacuation of British nationals and to get United Nations reinforcements into Sierra Leone. There is no doubt that what has happened is wider than that. It has our complete support because it is designed to stabilise the political and military situation in Sierra Leone, but it is not quite what was stated at the beginning as being the aim.
What consideration is being given to the problem of the forthcoming rainy season? The Statement refers to the humid and unpleasant atmosphere on the spot, but that will be made very much worse when the place is a sea of mud, as it will be between quite shortly and November.
One or two questions come to mind which should be asked. Has the Sierra Leone Government full control of the Sierra Leone army? We are looking for political and military stability, but we can get that stability only if a responsible government are in charge. It is not certain whether the Sierra Leone army has the benefit of the training officers and advisers from this country. In the light of that, the infusion of officers to train the Sierra Leone army is very welcome. I am sure that they will do an extremely good job.
My noble friend Lord Attlee and I were strongly criticised by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, for talking about the rules of engagement. I shall not do that now. Rules of engagement are important at a certain level. They are written on pieces of plastic card so that soldiers know what they may or may not do. But I should like to ask the Minister about the concept of operations in Sierra Leone. I started off by saying that what seemed to be happening was wider than was originally designed. So what is the concept of operations? Do we have absolute clarity about our aims and where we intend the Sierra Leone government to end up?
I am sure that everything that can be done by British forces on the ground, in the air and at sea will be done, but there then comes a moment of how and when we get out. One of my noble friends told me that after the previous Statement a friend of his on the ground in Sierra Leone had been told that they would be there for 45 days, which is not the figure we had been quoted. No matter. But do we know how and when we will get out; and if the situation does deteriorate--let us hope that it does not, but in Kosovo and places like that it did deteriorate--what is going to happen and what plans have been made? Let us hope that our forces can be centred around HMS "Ocean" and they can get straight out, but I do not believe that it will necessarily be easy. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to tell us what plans have been made.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, we on these Benches warmly congratulate the commanding officer and the personnel of our Armed Forces in Sierra Leone on their professionalism and efficiency and on the remarkable transformation that they have wrought already in the morale of the Sierra Leone armed forces, which, as the Statement says, has turned the tide against the RUF.
Will the build-up of the United Nations forces in Sierra Leone to the new strengths that were requested by the Secretary-General in his report to the Security Council of 19th July be complete by the time we are scheduled to leave in mid-June? Will that build-up contain the particular mix of forces for which the Secretary-General has asked, including additional air transportation assets, helicopters, the maritime unit of six armed patrol boats and so on? Have promises been made by contributing states to provide those forces? Do we have the heavy lift capacity to bring them into the area by the middle of June when our forces are scheduled to withdraw?
The Statement says that we are aiming to build up an effective armed force in Sierra Leone. Pursuant to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, are the Government satisfied that within the proposed timescale the government of Sierra Leone will exert effective control over the three sets of armed forces that are engaged in the battle against the RUF? One is the Sierra Leone army proper, which I understand is quite small. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten us on that point.
When we are talking about training, I assume--he will correct me if I am wrong--that the training will be provided only for the regular armed forces and not for the Kamajors or for the forces under the control of Johnny Paul Koroma, which have been acting in support of the government but which, as I understand it, frequently do their own thing and therefore ought not to be supplied with weapons or ammunition or even training by the British Government. In connection with the transfer of weapons, which is mentioned in the Statement, will we make sure that the serial numbers of all weapons so transferred will be recorded so that if by any chance they do get into the hands of the RUF we can identify them and recover them if possible?
Have the Government considered whether, in consultation with the authorities in Sierra Leone, to request Foday Sankoh to make a radio broadcast calling on the members of the RUF to lay down their arms and to agree to the Lome accords which provide for their demobilisation and disbandment? Furthermore, the RUF should be requested to release the hostage peacekeepers, 290 of whom are still being held by RUF units. Will the Government join with me in thanking President Charles Taylor of Liberia for the efforts he has made to secure the release of some 260 of the hostages? Can we ask him whether there is anything that we could do to assist in the process of securing the release of the remainder?
Lord Burlison: My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Burnham and Lord Avebury, for their helpful comments on the Statement. I should like also to thank sincerely the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, for his well-meant comments in respect of the Government's present policy on this issue.
The noble Lord asked about the references made in the Statement to the mission of the UK forces. I simply say that, so far as concerns our troops--and as reaffirmed by the Defence Secretary in the House on 15th May--British forces were deployed to allow for the safe evacuation of British nationals and other entitled personnel. Essential to that has been the securing of Lungi airport, which, as the Foreign Secretary said, will be extremely valuable to the United Nations forces as they build up over the next month. That was confirmed by the Prime Minister on 11th May and remains our position today.
As regards the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, on the effect of the rainy season, which is due to begin shortly, I am sure that that comment will be borne in mind by the strategists when they consider the issue in the round. I am sure that noble Lords share my hope that by the time the rainy season arrives, we shall have been able to withdraw from operations in Sierra Leone.
On the concept of operation, I can say on that issue only that it remains the same. A general pattern has been developed that we should protect and also offer the safe evacuation of British nationals and other qualifying people; that we shall protect Lungi airport and assist the United Nations to bring in its peacekeeping forces over the coming month. The general pattern on plans for withdrawal is now well on course and, in terms of the time-scale that we have allowed for those plans, we are well on course.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised several issues. As regards morale, I think the actions taken on this occasion by Her Majesty's Government, not only to assist the government of Sierra Leone but also to assist the United Nations in its build-up of forces, have in themselves given a boost to the morale of those involved in Sierra Leone, and in particular the government.
As regards the build-up of United Nations forces and whether that is likely to be completed before our troops are in a position to withdraw, the present indications are that the UN has in place more than 11,000 troops. It appears that the figure that the United Nations has established for the peacekeeping force is well on course to be satisfied. It also appears that we shall be in a position to have the UN forces well established by the time the United Kingdom forces need to withdraw.
Furthermore, the United Nations will charter its own heavy lift equipment. United Nations forces have quickly been built up by the contributing nations. The Russians have provided four attack helicopters that are due to arrive shortly. Our replacement of forces and future withdrawal will be made in parallel with the build-up of the United Nations capability.
A further point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, concerned the training facilities which have been afforded by Her Majesty's Government. It is our intention that those will be dealt with in accordance with the wishes of the government of Sierra Leone. I am sure that his point about the regular armed forces
Lord Richard: My Lords, my noble friend has spelt out clearly and in great detail the aims and objectives of this intervention. I understand that he has told the House that two aims are being pursued: first, to create a more effective United Nations force; and, secondly, to enable the government of Sierra Leone to restore order in their own country. Those aims are perfectly acceptable and for my part I agree with them wholeheartedly. However, perhaps I may make the point that this has moved a long way from an emergency operation to remove from the airport at Lungi British citizenry who had gathered in a hotel in order for that removal to take place. The situation is no worse for that, but it is different. Because of that difference, I believe that certain extra considerations should now apply.
I should first say in parenthesis that of course I think that our troops have done a superb job. I also think that the rotation being proposed by the Government makes a great deal of sense. However, I think that two questions now arise. First, can my noble friend ensure that the Government do not set down in their plans a firm timetable for withdrawal? If they do, then they may well find themselves in a situation where they cannot live up to that timetable. Given the aims that have been detailed by my noble friend, with which I totally agree, it may be that progress takes longer than we can foresee at this stage, or indeed than we would wish. For those reasons, I hope that the Government will not paint themselves into a corner here.
Secondly, are the Government satisfied that we have obtained Security Council cover for the actions we are taking? I may be wrong, but as far as I know, I do not think that our participation in the recent events in Sierra Leone has been considered by the Security Council in New York. Obviously we are maintaining a close liaison with the United Nations itself and I sincerely hope that, broadly speaking, we are doing what the UN thinks is sensible and what we think it is sensible for the UN to think is sensible. It is important to get the legalities absolutely right. If we do not, we may find ourselves treading on difficult ground. I do not expect my noble friend the Minister--particularly since it is his birthday--to reply in detail on the intricacies of the legal situation so far as concerns the Security Council. I see that my noble friend Lady Scotland is sitting next to him. If one or other of them could undertake to write to me on the matter of Security Council authorisation, I should be grateful.
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