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Lord Borrie: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some of the most senior and most dignified posts in the public and private sectors in recent years have been advertised for self-nomination, including posts for the higher judiciary? Does she agree that in no way is it abusive of the dignity of such positions that one should have the widest possible opportunity of being able to appoint the widest possible range of people to important posts?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. In relation to other potential criticisms of the outcome of this arrangement, one of the bases for election of Members to the other place and potentially of elections of Members to this House is that people self-nominate themselves and put their names forward for such positions. As I understand it, the party of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, is supportive of the idea that there should be an elected portion of the membership of this House.
Baroness Platt of Writtle: My Lords, does the Leader of the House agree that there should be more emphasis on nomination by groups of people, just as in local government people have to be put forward by
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the noble Baroness may be under a slight misapprehension as to what is happening. Self-nomination is only part of the process being undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. Obviously, there is capacity to extend the nominations procedure and for people to be nominated by the kind of bodies suggested by the noble Baroness, or indeed by a group of friends. Self-nomination is just one of the paths towards the appointment of Cross-Bench Peers which the noble Lord and his commission will be examining.
Lord McNally: My Lords, as one who had sight of a Prime Minister's postbag for three years, will the Minister accept that self-nomination is not so new an idea as might be thought? Has she also had time to consider an idea that I floated in The House Magazine that, because of the importance of the Cross-Benchers in the House of Lords, it might be as well if the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, ran the ruler over existing Cross-Benchers to judge their suitability as well?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as always the noble Lord, Lord McNally, comes forward with some fascinating and inventive ideas. I do not believe I break any code of family secrets as I suspect we are speaking of the same Prime Minister, in referring to the numbers of self-nominations, when I say that my noble friend Lord Callaghan always told me, as I am sure he did the noble Lord, that he carried a special piece of paper in his pocket for those who volunteered themselves in this capacity.
Lord Harris of High Cross: My Lords, in view of the noble Baroness's reference to the advertising of top jobs, and in view of the discontent some of us still feel about inciting an unseemly scramble for peerages in this way, may I suggest that she considers taking a leaf out of Iolanthe and offers her own exalted station for competitive examination?
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, does my noble friend recall that the present system is not without its critics? Does she remember that earlier this year her distinguished predecessor as Leader of the House, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, described one of this year's nominations for a life peerage by Mr William Hague as an affront to the dignity and standing of Parliament?
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, UK personnel in Sierra Leone liaise with those employed by the Government of Sierra Leone to pilot their helicopters. This is essential, not least to ensure that UK forces are not mistakenly attacked and to avoid the risk of collision between UK and Government of Sierra Leone helicopters. In addition, a British officer is advising the Government of Sierra Leone on the establishment of an air wing. He advises on air transport, reconnaissance and offensive capability requirements.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the mercenary force, using a helicopter gunship, bombarded civilian areas in Makeni, Lunsar and Kambia, killing many civilians? Does she feel it is appropriate for a British officer to advise a force engaged in committing war crimes? Also, does she appreciate that there have been numerous resolutions of the UN General Assembly condemning the use of mercenaries in internal armed conflicts? The UN rapporteur on the use of mercenaries reaffirmed that there is an absolute prohibition on the employment of those people. Will not the Government therefore persuade President Kabbah to dismiss the mercenaries and to get on with the job of training his own forces?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I understand the noble Lord's anxieties. He has an extraordinarily good record in pursuing these issues in Sierra Leone which I know cause him a good deal of concern. But we must look at the definition of "mercenary" in the first instance. The noble Lord will know that there is no universally accepted definition of what amounts to a mercenary. As regards the reports that have been received concerning the activities of the helicopter gunship, they are unconfirmed.
If the noble Lord has matters that he wishes to discuss in relation to specific incidents, I shall be happy to talk to him about that in private. However, in doing that I must stress that British troops are on the ground at the moment in Sierra Leone and are the subject of hostile activity. It is less than one month since the British soldier was killed. Therefore in discussing this matter I can say nothing in your Lordships' House that puts into the public arena information which may be of use to our potential enemies. I am sure the noble Lord
Lord Burnham: My Lords, is not the noble Lord's Question another reason why we should have a full debate or a Statement to this House on Sierra Leone? I asked the Minister for a debate about a month ago and confirmed the request in a conversation with her officials last week. I recognise what the noble Baroness says in relation to operational confidentiality. But are not the forces in Sierra Leone largely dependent on mercenaries--if that is the correct word--for the very efficient air traffic control in Sierra Leone?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I can confirm the noble Lord's point. I apologised to him in private, and I do so again in your Lordships' House, because I was not aware of the detailed contents of a letter that arrived when I was away. So the noble Lord is quite right. But so is the answer I gave him on Monday. These matters can be discussed through the usual channels if the noble Lord wishes to press a point over the debate.
In answer to whether or not the point of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, strengthens the argument here, as he probably already knows, the Government are committed to publishing a Green Paper on mercenary activity by November 2000 as the basis for consultation. I should have thought that that would be an ideal vehicle for further discussion, whether that is in your Lordships' House formally or by other means.
I am not sure whether the noble Lord is right in suggesting that the Government of Sierra Leone are dependent on mercenaries for air traffic control. There is a narrow delta of activity in Sierra Leone between Lungi airport and Freetown. That is where the activity is concentrated and it is through the proper liaison I described to your Lordships that collisions, as well as unnecessary attacks, are avoided.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I agree with the Minister that nothing should be said or done that would bring our troops into danger in Sierra Leone and I join him in congratulating our forces on the excellent job they are doing in training the new Sierre Leone army. But would he agree that the casualties and deaths which are being caused by the mercenaries' helicopter gunship are far away from any scene of operation in which British troops are engaged, particularly in Makeni, where civilians were killed in the lower part in the central market? If I provide the noble Baroness with details of the casualties, including the names of the persons who were killed, which have been reported by the Centre for Democracy and Development in Freetown and also by ABC Television in Australia, will she undertake to look into them and take the matter up with President Kabbah?
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