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The talks between the Government and the RUF are very important indeed. But it will be a matter for them to discuss how they can fashion a way forward. I cannot give the noble Lord any guarantees about the outcomes of those talks. I hope he will understand that it would be quite precipitous and wrong of me to attempt to do so.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the Government have given a clear commitment to the people of Sierra Leone in relation to training. There has not been drift, as some have sought to suggest in the past. Our exit strategy is to assist the people of Sierra Leone to have a clear, strong army which is well trained and able to meet the needs of Sierra Leone in the future. I cannot give the noble Baroness a specific date but it will be done as soon as is reasonably practicable. I reassure the noble Baroness that our troops and this Government are extremely efficient and do indeed comply with our commitments.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, they have not yet withdrawn, but the commitments made by some other countries were time-limited. We ask all our partners to join together in support of the democratic government of Sierra Leone. The people of Sierra Leone need our support. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State said clearly how moved he was when he visited Sierra Leone by the plight of hundreds of thousands of people whose limbs had been amputated. That is an appalling situation and we hope that the international community will continue to support Sierra Leone and its democratic government.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, all the efforts that the noble Lord has identified need to be employed to help in that task. The British troops have not been and will not be directly involved other than in the ways that have already been explained. Those who want to prolong the difficulties should be dissuaded from so doing. Co-ordination is under the control of UNAMSIL, which is doing well. We should not carp about its efforts. Instead, we should encourage it to do far better.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, we on these Benches strongly support the Government's action in Sierra Leone, in particular the recent appointment of Brigadier Alastair Duncan as Chief of Staff. Are those actions part of a wider strategy, given that we understand that the United States is committed to training Nigerian peacekeepers? Does the Minister believe that there are dangers beyond Sierra Leone to the order and safety of West African states?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, as usual, the noble Baroness has rightly highlighted a difficulty. The issues in West Africa are very complex and can be inter-dependent. It will be very important to re-establish security in a democratic Sierra Leone. That is bound to have a beneficial influence on the surrounding countries. Our strategy must be to look for security in that region. Our international partners are determined, as are we, to do everything reasonably possible to support democracy and good governance in the region.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, this is not intended as a critical question, but the Minister has referred to our policy and strategy. We know that the situation is not satisfactory. Are we to go it alone from now on?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, certainly not. UNAMSIL is playing a crucial active role. It is very important that the United Nations is seen to succeed in Sierra Leone, because that will send a message to the rest of the world about the unity of the international community and its effectiveness in facing such perilous situations. We do not stand alone. We should rejoice that we have so many good partners internationally who are standing with us.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, so often the presence of British and international forces overshadows what is happening among the regional armed forces. Will the Minister confirm that our Government are still supporting some of the regional forces in Africa, which will be well able to cope with the situation when the time comes?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am more than delighted to reaffirm that. The House rightly concentrates on what the British and Europeans are doing, but we should never underestimate the commitment given by other partners in Africa, Asia and elsewhere. Their efforts are as worthy of our support and praise as our own.
Lord Roper: My Lords, I support what has been said about the contribution of African forces and I commend the appointment of a distinguished Kenyan officer as the force commander. Will the Minister say something about the deployment of the headquarters elements of British forces to support UNAMSIL, which the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, referred to in her Statement about a month ago?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, on 10th October my noble friend Lady Symons made it clear that under our memorandum of understanding with the United Nations we are ready to deploy a rapid reaction force in support of UN peacekeeping, including in Sierra Leone. The deployment of an amphibious ready group to Sierra Leone this month is an early demonstration of the seriousness of that commitment. The group comprises elements of our joint rapid reaction forces. It will be headed by HMS "Ocean" and will include troops from 42 Commando Group Royal Marines, as well as the Royal Fleet Auxiliaries "Argus", "Sir Bedivere", "Brambleleaf" and "Fort Austin". It is not a new commitment, as the noble Lord rightly said, but we are happy to take this opportunity to give support.
Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement being made in another place on the Pre-Budget Report.
Lord Donaldson of Lymington: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to confirm the Parliament Act 1949 and other Acts; and to amend the Parliament Act 1911. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.