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Lord Burlison: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his comments and his well-meant words of support. I thank him particularly for the caution he expressed in relation to a timetable. I do not think that noble Lords would want me to comment hypothetically on a timetable or any of the issues concerning our involvement in Sierra Leone. The timetable is on course. British forces were indeed deployed to allow
In response to the further point made by my noble friend, I assure him that, throughout, close contact has been made with the United Nations. Indeed, Kofi Annan has welcomed British involvement. I assure my noble friend that the most deep and concerning consultation has taken place with the United Nations throughout the whole of our involvement.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, first, may I thank the Minister for informing the House of the stunningly original fact that West Africa is hot, damp and unhealthy? Secondly, will he please clarify a statement made by Mr Hain as reported in The Times--a journal of record? He is quoted as saying that,
Lord Burlison: My Lords, I am in some difficulty as regards the newspaper item referred to, and while I accept the noble Earl's back-handed compliment about informing the House of the conditions in Sierra Leone, it is not my intention to comment on any statement by Peter Hain as reported in the press. I hope noble Lords will appreciate that I would not wish to go down that particular route. On the noble Earl's further point, again that is a route that I do not wish to go down. We have set out what is our stated mission in Sierra Leone. It is our intention to carry that out on the basis on which it is presented. I do not want to indulge in hypothetical discussion on what is likely to happen afterwards. If there are further developments in relation to Sierra Leone, your Lordships will be informed in the normal fashion.
Viscount Waverley: My Lords, does the noble Lord believe that there should be a degree of flexibility as regards withdrawal? Do the Government feel obliged to keep our forces in Sierra Leone until all the hostages are released? Specifically, did the 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment have to borrow troops from other units before going to Sierra Leone in order to ensure full strength?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, perhaps I may put the question again. I apologise to my noble friend; I probably spoke too quickly. I asked what use the United Nations has been able to make of our holding the airport.
Lord Burlison: My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend for not catching her question initially. The United Nations has certainly appreciated our involvement and it has complimented us in relation to our activities. The United Nations has been quick to respond. Its response has been robust, effective and highly capable. It allows the UN to continue to build up the necessary resources, which will be helpful in our withdrawal from Sierra Leone.
Lord Blaker: My Lords, since the British Government played a major role last year in securing the Lome Agreement, which brought into government Mr. Foday Sankoh, the leader of the rebels, as Minister responsible for the diamond mines, have the Government given any thought to the kind of political solution they would like to see after the present troubles are resolved? If I understood the Statement correctly, the Secretary of State appears to have said that the situation after the settlement should be in line with the Lome agreement. As the agreement does what I have just described, and also brings the rebel forces into the armed forces of Sierra Leone, is that really what the Secretary of State said, and did he mean that?
Lord Burlison: My Lords, it is the wish and intention of Her Majesty's Government that we are able to assist in the establishment of a democratic regime in Sierra Leone. It is for the people of Sierra Leone eventually to determine the basis of that government.
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I echo his comments about the way in which British forces have performed their duties. One way of judging Her Majesty's Government's view about the future security situation is the advice being given to British nationals and others about leaving Sierra Leone and/or about when it may be safe for them to return. What advice is being given by the Foreign Office? If the
Lord Burlison: My Lords, the present advice remains that British nationals should leave Sierra Leone. So far there have been 442 evacuations of entitled persons from Sierra Leone. A good number of British nationals and others who are entitled to leave still remain in that country. Our advice is that they should leave. However, we shall constantly reflect upon the circumstances in Sierra Leone.
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, the other day the papers reported that when the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment visited a naval vessel he was asked to divest himself of his clothes which stank so that they could be laundered and he could have a bath. In that part of the world the climate is most unpleasant. What arrangements are being made for the troops to have proper laundry and bathing facilities for the sake of their health? In addition, I suspect that the troops are being fed on compo rations which at best can be described as boring. What arrangements are being made for troops to have fresh food, particularly fruit and vegetables? The noble Lord has already said that the Parachute Regiment is to be replaced by the Royal Marines. What is happening to the support troops? Are they also to be replaced in due course?
Lord Burlison: My Lords, I appreciate the noble Lord's concern about British troops. I regard the 1st Battalion as the creme de la creme of British Armed Forces. I am sure that those troops are capable of looking after themselves in the circumstances. In addition, it is the desire of the British Government that those troops should have all that they need to fulfil the role that they are now playing in Sierra Leone. I am sure that that will be forthcoming. If not, those troops are very capable of making us aware of the circumstances.
Lord Hoyle: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that already the presence of British troops has brought about greater stability in Sierra Leone? Will my noble friend join me in congratulating those troops on their efforts to bring about order and a peaceful solution to the unhappy state of affairs in that country?
Lord Burlison: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Hoyle for his good wishes. People who reach my age begin to try to forget birthdays. When I arose this morning I hoped that nobody would be aware that I was a year older. I thank my noble friend for his comment about the confidence that has been built up
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