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Lord Palmer: My Lords, in the light of that exchange, can the Minister confirm just who is running the country--is it the civil servants, or, indeed, is it the Ministers?

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I hesitate to say that that is a fatuous question. However, it is apparent that we are the Government of the day; that we are responsible as a government; and that we take decisions and run the country.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, I welcome the reply of my noble friend the Minister to the Question. Although local police forces are invaluable in policing local communities, does my noble friend agree that it is absolutely essential that intelligence is shared? Of course, we have the police national computer and the National Criminal Intelligence Service, but we are talking here of the type of information that needs to be commonly held. If is it not commonly held within police forces, it should be held nationally. I urge my noble friend to expedite this project with due haste.

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I always listen most carefully to what my noble friend says on such matters. He is absolutely right. However, we also believe that it is right for us to have a combined development approach because that is the best practical solution to the problem of taking forward with minimal delay both the central register of certificate holders and the development of a link between the national DNA database and criminal records on the PNC. We believe that to be the right approach. I should add that that approach is supported by ACPO and other authorities within the police service.

Lord Monson: My Lords, there have been reports suggesting that the cost of setting up the central register will work out at something like six times the sum originally estimated. Can the Minister comment?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am unable to confirm whether or not that is the case. I do not recognise that estimate. However, I shall be happy to undertake further investigations and advise the noble Lord accordingly in due course.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the Minister may know that I was the Home Office Minister when this legislation passed through the House. At that time, I gave an assurance in very good faith that this work would be undertaken speedily. Therefore, I feel dishonoured by what has happened. Nearly four years later, almost nothing has happened. A letter written to Robin Corbett only this month stated that some 1,400 person days would be needed to complete the work. In that case, if there were 10 people involved, it would be only 140 days--a mere four or five months. The work could have been completed in one year, certainly in two years; but here we are, almost four years later, in this situation. Can the Minister explain why it is only now that there is a sense of urgency in the Home Office?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, there is always a sense of urgency in the Home Office. I refute the suggestion that we have been negligent in our approach. The noble Baroness is well aware that the legislation was passed in 1997. Indeed, I pay tribute to her for her role in that process. However, I repeat the point that I made a few moments ago. We believe that there are advantages in a combined development. I am sure that most Members of your Lordships' House recognise the value of having that DNA link. It is very important, valuable and powerful technology. It will enhance crime prevention and improve the quality of public safety. Those are our paramount concerns.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, is my noble friend familiar with the recent research by the University of Durham which shows a 52 per cent growth in the replica gun market over the past two years? Does he agree that this is a worrying and dangerous trend, not least because replica guns these days look terrifyingly like the real thing, cause real

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problems for the police in fighting crime and also have the undesirable effect of introducing children at a young age to a gun culture? Will he consider an amendment to what I believe is the 1968 Firearms Act to outlaw these undesirable toys so that we fall in line with countries such as France, Belgium and Holland which have already done so?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Firearms Act already applies to replica firearms that can be readily converted to fire live ammunition or use of replica firearms to cause fear of unlawful violence. The Government understand the public concern about the misuse of replica firearms and are giving active consideration to whether further steps are needed to deal with them. We are in this respect grateful for the advice recently received from the Home Affairs Committee of another place and also from the Firearms Consultative Committee. Therefore we are giving active consideration to the very point that the noble Lord makes.

Lord Renton: My Lords, are village post offices able to provide firearms application forms to be filled in, or have people got to go to the police station?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not know the answer to that. I shall happily find out and advise the noble Lord.

Sierra Leone: Aid Policy

11.21 a.m.

Baroness Rawlings asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their aid policy for Sierra Leone.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, our policy in Sierra Leone is to work to promote peace and security and to strengthen the democratic processes. This will lay the foundations for the sustainable long-term development that is needed to enable progress to be made towards meeting the international development targets. We shall continue to work closely with other government departments in the pursuit of these aims. We shall also continue to provide humanitarian support for the large number of people displaced by the conflict.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that detailed Answer. In the DfID development report of April 2000 emphasis is placed on the continuing support of the security sector. According to the report, that started in June 1999. Clearly this past strategy has been a failure. In the light of that will the Minister tell the House what appraisal Her Majesty's Government have carried out and how this package has been reconstructed?

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Baroness Amos: My Lords, I do not agree that our programme in Sierra Leone has been a failure. We have worked long and hard to promote peace and stability not only in Sierra Leone but also in the region. With respect to our programme in Sierra Leone, we have made it clear that we shall focus on help with security, the budget, good governance and humanitarian relief. In that respect we have worked with the police services and the defence services to ensure that we promote security within Sierra Leone.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, given that many of the problems associated with Sierra Leone are due to the collapse of the governmental process, will the Minister give some examples of DfID's work in good governance?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we are working to strengthen governance within Sierra Leone. For example, we support the establishment of an anti-corruption commission which is an initiative of the President of Sierra Leone. We are also taking forward work in preparation for next year's elections because in terms of establishing the long-term democratic process in Sierra Leone those elections will be extremely important.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I understand that the Government have spent some £35 million this year in Sierra Leone. How will this fund policy development in education, particularly primary education?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we have committed £35 million to spend in Sierra Leone this year. We are also allocating money to humanitarian activities and have made contributions not only to UN managed programmes and projects but also to both international and local NGOs. As regards specific education projects, we have a project with Christian Aid which is aimed at the resumption of a quality primary education for children in Freetown. We also have a project, Conciliation Resources, to equip vulnerable, disaffected and marginalised youth with the skills and education needed to sustain meaningful livelihoods.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, in the light of the substantial military commitment that the security aspects of the aid programme to Sierra Leone involve, has the noble Baroness consulted her noble friend on the Front Bench about the direct effects of that substantial commitment on military overstretch, particularly given the Government's propensity--as we read in the newspapers recently in regard to the Middle East--to make further offers of British troops for peacekeeping purposes? In the light of our tendency to make those commitments, will that overstretch be in any way mitigated by an increase in the defence budget?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we are in constant discussion across the departments that are engaged in work in Sierra Leone. Those departments are the

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Department for International Development, the Ministry of Defence and FCO. As the noble Viscount will be aware, the defence commitments in Sierra Leone involve training the Sierra Leone army. We think that it is important that that army is properly trained so that it is able to deal effectively with the rebels in Sierra Leone. On the specific matter of overstretch, the noble Viscount will be aware from comments of my noble friend Lady Symons in this House that this is constantly under review. In the Statement that my noble friend made to the House last month she made the position clear.

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